The Novelist’s Triage Center: Get Unstuck and Finish Your Book

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.


The NaNoWriMo Boogeyman

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 this November: a visit from the NaNoWriMo boogeyman, The Big Blank.


The big blank, the block, the curtain that draws across your story vision. It happens. Remain calm. Breathe. This is the triage center, a place for you to come when your writing stalls and you need some help to get moving again.

Choose your “blank” & click the links. Get the help you need so the words flow again and you’re back on track.


Introduce a Secret

Let’s face it, sometimes our characters seem a bit blah on the page. It might be your hero, the sidekick or even the villain. And while I’d normally suggest you dig deeper into your character to develop them more, mid-novel during NaNoWriMo, a person can’t always re-plan a character. So, try giving your character a secret. Not something lame-ass, but a secret with depth, birthing from a place of Guilt, Shame, Exploitation or Necessity.

Give Him or Her An Unusual Skill or Talent

To make your character stand out on the page, focus on how to make him unique. Is there a Talent or Skill that adds zing and factors into the plot? Here’s a list of ideas to get you started.

Make Him Worthy

Sometimes we need to work on the connection between a character and a reader, and the area to explore to create empathy is WORTHINESS.  Giving him an undeserved misfortune isn’t enough. It is what a character does despite his hardship that pulls readers in.


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.

Have Him 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. Follow this one-two-three punch of tension and complicate matters, forcing your hero to adapt to succeed. Remember though, when it comes to frustrating your characters, you need to make sure their reactions & ways of dealing with an upset fit the character.

Introduce a Pressure Point

If your plot is chugging like a car running on cheap 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 His Wounds

Emotional wounds are a big part of the story, so if the plot trail dries up, return to Character Arc and remember your Character is on a path of CHANGE. Understanding why his wound is important to the story will help lay down some plot pieces for you to follow.


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, Friend-o,  let’s personalize those stakes. Give your hero a compelling reason to ACT.

How we do that is make sure the character sees that if he doesn’t, something even worse will happen, like undeserved consequences falling in the lap of someone else.

Cross a Moral Line

If your tension is about as hardcore as limp celery, it’s time to bring about a belief 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 cast of characters, I get it. Pass around the flowers, have everyone hold hands and let them get the job done TOGETHER. Very sweet. The problem is, when everyone is playing nicey-nice, the story gets boring fast. Add a healthy dose of tension by creating some clashing personalities who will create story friction.

Emotion Amplifiers High ResAmplify Emotional Reactions

Nothing adds tension and conflict like a big ol’ stupid mistake. Screw ups are a story’s bread and butter! So let’s get your hero off his game by amplifying his emotions, piling on the stress or pain, or even distracting him 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 delicious story fallout.


Sometimes our brain turns to static. But during an event like NaNoWriMo, nobody’s got time for that. Pull out the big guns and get going.

One Stop For Writers: A Library Like No Other

Logo-OneStop-For-Writers-mediumTwo words, friends: Description Nirvana. When you’re struggling with finding the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures for a scene, check the Setting Thesaurus. Want to build mood? Try the Weather Thesaurus, or use the Symbolism and Motif to add depth.

With a click we can help you describe your characters’ physical features, their emotions, skills and talents, unique personality traits and a host of other things. Our bestselling resources (The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait & Negative Trait Thesaurus books, The Urban & Rural Setting Thesaurus books, and The Emotional Wound Thesaurus book) are at the site, too, but in their expanded forms.

(In fact at One Stop, The Emotion Thesaurus has nearly 100 entries!)

This massive descriptive database is only a piece of One Stop, though. Our Story Map, Scene Map and Timeline Tools, lessons, tutorials, generators and one-of-a-kind worksheets make this a true powerhouse library for writers.


If all else fails and you can’t seem to get over the Big Blank, go around him. 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 blanks. 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.

Image: Currens @ Pixabay










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, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Novelist’s Triage Center: Get Unstuck and Finish Your Book

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  9. Love, love, Love this post! And really needed it today!

  10. 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.

  11. Lidy says:

    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.

  12. 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!

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