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Help–I’m stuck!

by Denise Hunter

If you’ve been writing novels for any length of time, you’ve gotten stuck. I’m not talking about writer’s block, I’m talking about STUCK. When this happens to me, it means 1 of 2 things. Here they are, and here’s what I do about them.

1. There’s a foundational problem with my plot. (Goal, motivation, conflict, stakes, etc.) I try to make sure these core elements are solid before I start writing, but sometimes I’m wrong. This is my least favorite kind of stuck because it sometimes means reworking my idea and making major changes in previously written scenes. It’s messy, but necessary if this is your sticking point. Here’s what I do when this happens:

a. Diagnose the problem. Go over plot basics and see where the story is falling short.
b. Go to my writing library and pull out books (or chapters) on the subject. Read and weep–Ahem–I mean apply.
c. Brainstorm possible solutions with my critique partner.
d. Once I’ve decided on the appropriate “fix”, either go back and make changes or make a note to do so in re-writes. Continue writing with my new concept in mind.

2. I have no idea where my story’s going next.
Anyone can figure out a scene to write next. But you don’t just want any old scene. You want the right scene. Take your time and don’t jump on the first idea you have. Here’s what I do when I don’t know what comes next:

a. Go for a walk, drive; throw in a load of laundry and daydream about what could happen next until I have a plan I’m excited about.
b. Watch a movie or read a novel, keeping an eye out for plot developments that may work for my story–the entry of a romantic threat, an illness or injury, financial setbacks, family secret, etc.
c. Brainstorm possible ideas with my critique partner.
d. Make a list of possible scene ideas.
e. Put the scenes in a logical order. (Complications should go from smallest to biggest). Some writers use scene flashcards, some simply list them in order. My personal favorite is (for lack of a better title) scene bubbles. I write scene headings in each bubble and connect them in order like a trail–use a pencil! I shade the bubbles when the scene is in the hero’s POV and switch the scene order as necessary by changing the arrow directions.

Getting stuck isn’t the end of the world–or even a sign that your story’s a dud. It can happen to anyone, even after 20 books. So don’t get discouraged. Just forge ahead fearlessly and know that it will all work out in the end.

Barefoot SummerDenise Hunter is the best-selling romance author of over 20 books, including the newly released Barefoot Summer (Thomas Nelson). She’s been a member of ACFW for 8 years, has played drums for the ACFW worship team, and often encourages new writers to join the organization. When she’s not writing, Denise enjoys reading, traveling, playing drums, and eating chocolate (preferably dark).

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