Friday, May 25, 2012

Handling Writer's Block: Trouble Moving Forward

Last week I talked about how to overcome some of the challenges of getting started on a new project. Now let's look at what to do if you're bogged down in the middle and can't figure out where to go from here.

Let’s say you’ve written your first paragraph, or page, or scene. Perhaps you’ve even gotten pretty far in the story. But then you get stuck. For me, this usually means I don’t know what happens next. I may know where the story is going in the long term, but I’m not sure about the next piece.

If this happens, you can go back to your pre-writing exercises about plot or goals (see last week's post). But here’s another trick that might work faster.
 The Next Five Minutes

What will your character do in the next five minutes? That’s right, just five minutes. It’s easy enough to figure out that. Of course, sometimes the character doesn’t do anything interesting in the next five minutes. Keep looking ahead. What happens after that? And after that?

Here’s an example from my novel, The Well of Sacrifice. The heroine, a Mayan girl named Eveningstar, has been captured by the evil priest and sentenced to death by sacrifice. What does she do? Well, she’ll try to escape, of course. But how? There’s not much she can do during the day, with guards and other people all around. I’ll skip ahead.

Now it’s night time. Does she quietly go to sleep? Of course not! She’ll be thrown into the well of sacrifice in the morning, so she’s too anxious to sleep. She’ll sit up, listening to the guards outside her door. She’ll wait for her opportunity. 

What opportunity? Hmm.... What if one of the guards leaves for a few minutes, perhaps to go to the bathroom. With only one guard outside, she has a chance. She’ll look around for a weapon....

And my character is off and running, on the next part of her adventure.

Checking with the Enemy

You can also try looking at the action from another point of view—that of the villain. If you have a human antagonist, what is that person doing to foil your hero? Whether it’s an a bully at school, an evil sorcerer, or parents who “only want the best” for their child, keep them active in the story, causing trouble.

I used this technique for my middle grade historical mystery, The Eyes of Pharaoh, when the main characters were trying to find a missing friend. What would they do next? I couldn’t figure out anything exciting enough. Then I checked in with my villain. Was he just sitting around waiting for the heroes to act? No! He had plans of his own, plans to set a trap... and then I knew what would happen next.

Whether you're struggling to meet a deadline or just working at your own pace, chances are you will get stuck sometimes. 

Maybe these tips will help you move forward. Happy writing!

Do you have a way of handling writer's block? Please share in the comments!

Next week I’ll talk about when and how to take a break in your writing.


  1. You're right. Writing from the villain's perspective is just the thing to kick start a faltering scene.
    Great post!

  2. "The next five minutes" is great advice. I often worry about where I'm going, what's going to happen in the next chapter, what's the end gonna be, etc. I find that what I sometimes call writer's block is just laziness. But, I don't fight it. I go for a walk, go play with the grandkids, chat with friends, read.

  3. Often writer's block = brainstorming time! Thanks for your comments, Tracy and Karen.

  4. I try to break it down as much as possible and think of the next scene. I then outline it longhand, write myself some notes and include bits of dialogue if anything pops. When I have that, I feel more confident and have the necessary direction to move forward. Then I just start typing.

    Other times I read something else instead, to give myself a break and wait for my brain to figure out the next step and let me know.

  5. Great ideas. Get away from the computer, jot notes, and take a break if necessary!

  6. Go out for a brisk walk, fill your lungs with air, and breathe.

    Then come back to your desk, and write! Write anything, write a journal entry, write a character sketch, write a shopping list! Then, get back on your story.

    I've used this technique several times before, and find it works for me. Unless, I'm totally exhausted. Then, I'm afraid I just have to take a few days away from the desk to catch up on sleep.

    Good post.

  7. Janice Hardy has some more good tips here:

  8. This is brilliant! I love all of the tips and will most definitely use them when writing! Thanks again for sharing. The villain's point-of-view is a double stroke of genius because not only does it move the plot forward, but it will also create dramatic irony - because we the readers know the villain is up to something sneaky and dastardly, but the heroes and heroines are still blissfully unaware. Thanks again!

  9. Very true, Remmy, if you are doing multiple viewpoints or omniscient POV. It can work even if you stay close to the hero/heroine's POV as well. The villain's action may be more of a surprise, but because it's realistic for what he or she would actually do, it's a believable surprise.