There you are, happily pounding out words, the click and rattle of the keyboard creating a musical symphony in your writing space. And then…it happens.
Your mind goes blank.
At first, you don’t understand. You stare at your fingers. Why aren’t they moving, directing fictional lives, creating worlds?
Come on, you urge. Get to work. They remain still, splayed out in knobby hooks of rigor mortis.
A familiar feeling curls through your belly, sliding around in a slow dance before fanning through your chest and netting it tight.
It’s happening, the thing you prayed would not come to pass: the Big Blank, a creative block that tries to stop you from writing.
If your mind goes blank about what to write next, don’t worry. Looking in the right places within your story can get going again. We’ve set up a triage center for you in case your writing stalls, and you need help to get moving again.
It isn’t unusual to hit a creative blank at some point, so the first step is to determine what’s holding you up.
If a character is a bit flat, and you’re having a hard time writing them because you can’t connect, the best thing to do is delve deeper into who they are and develop them more. But during NaNoWriMo, time is of the essence. There’s not always time to re-plan a character. So here are some shortcuts:
Introduce a Secret
Every character is hiding something, including your character. They will be motivated to protect it because they come from a place of guilt, shame, exploitation or necessity. This secret can shed light on their past, highlight their insecurities, and create conflict in the story…because you’ll want this secret to get out. Secrets are great to add character depth and the right one furthers the plot. Brainstorm the perfect secret here.
Give Them An Unusual Skill or Talent
Another way to help your character stand out is to focus on something that makes them unique. Can a talent, skill, or ability add zing to their stage presence and tie right into how they will achieve their goal?
(This list of talents and skills can get you started.)
Make Them Worthy
Sometimes we can tell the connection between the character and the reader isn’t there, because we don’t feel empathy for the character ourselves as we write. The area to explore in this case is WORTHINESS.
Giving a character a boatload of undeserved misfortune isn’t enough. We need to think about what the character does despite their hardship, and how that can pull readers in.
Questions to ask:
1) Is their goal worthy? (Here’s a checklist to find out.)
2) What makes them human? Do they struggle, make mistakes, and sometimes don’t know what to do?
3) Do they keep trying because they want something better?
4) Do readers see themselves in the character – their struggles, needs, hopes, and dreams?
When triage methods aren’t cutting it…
Sometimes a character needs so much work you need to do an overhaul to figure out what’s wrong. Here’s our tip: activate this FREE TRIAL and use One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder to diagnose what’s wrong and fix their Character Arc (the tool creates an accurate Character Arc Blueprint from your character’s details).
Story Middle Blanks
Focus on Motivation
Ran out of steam, did you? It’s okay, the middle of a story can be a tricky place. You don’t want to wrap things up too quickly, but at the same time, not…much…seems to be…happening. When you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, think MOTIVATION. Your hero should always be motivated to act, making decisions, choices, weighing options. Always know what is motivating your character, and you’ll be able to put one foot in front of the other again. If you are stuck for ideas on what is motivating your character, visit this list.
Have Them look In a Mirror
If you’re lost in the middle, make haste to the midpoint & mirror moment when your hero looks within, has an emotional epiphany, and that leads to change and purpose.
Seek Out an Expert
James Scott Bell knows all about writing the middle of a novel, so much that he’s written a book about it. A book, I might add, you should own (and all his others).
Throw a Curve Ball
Tension makes the world go round. If your characters are stalling on what to do, it’s time to amp things up and spread some pain. Use the Conflict Thesaurus to find the perfect story problem, complication, ticking clock or danger that will turn up the heat, forcing them to act.
And remember…it’s okay if they fail. In fact, failure is an important part of your story, and their journey of growth.
Introduce a Pressure Point
If your plot is chugging like a car that’s almost out of gas, it might be time to utilize a pressure point. There’s nothing like a temptation, a challenge, or an opportunity for redemption to push the story forward.
Poke at Backstory Wounds
Unresolved emotional wounds are a big part of what’s holding your character back in the story, so if the plot trail starts to dry up, return to their Character Arc and remember your protagonist will almost certainly need to change to succeed (if that’s your intent). Part of change is letting go of past hurts, so you should know what that is for your character.
Visit this EMOTIONAL WOUNDS database to delve into different types of trauma, and see how these events can negatively impact a character, and specific hurdles they must overcome. This will give you ideas on what should happen in your plot.
Raise the Stakes
If your conflict is flat-lining, it’s time to raise the stakes. No, I’m not talking about throwing more monsters at your hero for him to kill, or a bigger, nastier bomb for him to diffuse. Instead, let’s personalize those stakes because it pressures your protagonist to ACT.
Threaten something or someone they care about. An option is to pass on the fallout to someone else. In other words, if the character does nothing, another will suffer. This undeserved misfortune will push them to do all they can to avoid this.
And if you need ideas for a conflict scenario, what the fallout might look like, or what could be at stake, this Conflict Thesaurus will be your best friend.
Cross a Moral Line
If your tension is as hardcore as limp celery, bring about a personal crisis. Force your hero to do the unthinkable and cross a moral line for the “greater good.” When the lines between right and wrong grow fuzzy, everything gets complicated in a hurry, which is terrific for juicing up your story.
Friction & Fireworks
You love your characters, I get it. The problem is, when everyone is playing nice with one another, the story gets boring fast. Add a healthy dose of tension by creating some clashing personalities as this will create friction.
Amplify Emotional Reactions
Nothing adds tension and conflict like a stupid mistake. Screw ups are a story’s bread and butter, so amplify your character’s emotions, piling on the stress or pain, or even distracting them with primal pull of attraction, hunger or thirst. You pick the amplifier, apply it, and watch the emotional overreactions lead to bad judgement and rashness that creates terrific story fallout.
Sometimes our brain turns to static. But during an event like NaNoWriMo, nobody’s got time for that. This is where a show-don’t-tell database can help.
One Stop For Writers: Your Portal to Unlimited Creativity
No matter what it is you need help with — describing the setting, weather, symbolism, character motivations, backstory or more–you’ll find lists of important details to incorporate into your story, ones that push the plot forward, characterize, and infuse scenes with emotion. There’s no room in your story for “filler” details, so make sure everything you show readers has purpose, making your story strong and vivid.
Now, Keep Writing!
If all else fails, if you can’t solve your problem, go around it. Put in a sentence or two as a placeholder, and then move forward in the story to a point where you feel on solid ground again. Later, you can come back and fill in the blank.
Chances are, if your brain has time to think about the problem without feeling pressured to perform, you’ll sort it out on your own and be able to come back and add in the missing scenes.SaveSave
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Stephanie mary says
I like her presentation.
Wendy McLeod MacKnight says
Love, love, Love this post! And really needed it today!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Awesome–I love it when the right thing comes along at the perfect time. 🙂 Happy NaNoing!
Celia Lewis says
Thanks so much, Angela. I keep forgetting to give my characters more talents, or an unusual experience or skill. Newby. This is my 4th NaNo (Nov, April, Nov, Nov) and I’m enjoying it, and have a good group to write with as well, doing sprints.
These tips are so useful. Wish I could join up, but the budget is dry (retired on no pension). When I can, I certainly will. I feel as if I’m cheating every time I come here and find another great tip – free. Thank you again, you are so helpful.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
You come here as often as you like, that’s what we’re here for–no guilt allowed. 🙂 We’re happy to help!
Great post and very timely too. Already started to stall, so wrote some personal stakes for my characters. With help from Donald Mass’ Break Out Novel Workbook. Coupled with your ‘blanks,’ I’ll be able to keep writing until November 30th., a novel full of fireworks.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Fireworks means conflict which leads to GREAT fiction. Have a blast writing your novel–love Don Maass! 🙂
Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor says
This post is perfectly timed! I’ve been stalled in my NaNoWriMo writing over the past couple of days. Some great tips here to get unstuck. Thanks!
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Very happy to help! Good luck with your NaNo novel…I know you will knock it out of the park!