Writing a novel, so I’m finding, is a roller coaster of progress. There are times where you feel like you’re moving full steam ahead and others where you’re chugging along at snail speed. I hate feeling stuck, and stuck doesn’t have to mean at a dead stop. Stuck can mean bumbling along a cloudy path. Here are questions you can ask yourself to help:
1. Why am I doing this?
Remind yourself why you’re doing this. In theory, I hope it’s because you love writing. There was something that hooked you on your story and made you commit to this long haul. As simple as it sounds, think about what made you move forward from idea to putting words to paper/screen.
2. How would you react in your character’s circumstances?
First drafts aside, your characters should feel real. Their actions and dialogues need to read as natural and in response to the world around them, not forced by the author’s hand. I’m guilty of making my characters make a bold statement to force a plot point, but in taking a step back, I realize that it often reads as surface-level characterization and my characters speaking in a vacuum. Hone in on who this character is at their core and where their mindset is the moment before.
3. Have an idea of where you’re going.
If you’ve been reading this blog: one, thank you, and two, you know that I recently changed my writing routine. I used to write whatever came to my mind when I sat down each day; now, I continue where I left off the day before. My new approach makes me feel like where my story’s progression makes sense because it’s building off what was established. I think it’s important to state that I do not have an outline for my novel’s rewrite. I essentially started from scratch again for a third time.
I plan to take some time this week during meetings with friends to think about where my novel is heading (a.k.a. how does it end?). Maybe if I knew that, I could structure my novel more. I’m thinking of a loose plotting. I enjoy the discoveries I’ve made trudging headstrong into the unknown, but I’m now sensing a loss of direction. Ask yourself: What happens next, and how do we get there?
4. What is the story about?
Character-wise, not plot-wise. Why should readers care about your story? What do we get out of it? Sure, explosions and sex scenes entertain the mind’s eye, but what do those scenes mean? How are the characters impacted by the events? Do they propel their transformations over the course of the novel? In short, everything can happen in your novel but mean nothing if the reader doesn’t see why it matters. What are the character changes we see? How does your novel’s world change your characters, and how do they change their world?
Get your mind off your own novel by investing time in reading someone else’s. On top of reading a story, you can analyze the writer’s narrative techniques: dialogue, time jumps, point-of-view, imagery, character development, etc.
6. How have others done it?
I’m not saying go plagiarize someone else’s plot and story structure, but review storytelling that you admire and take your own crack at it. Think of the countless stories that fall under the Hero’s Journey plot structure. Let the style inspire you. I think one’s writing style is an amalgamation of all of those they’ve read with specific techniques rising to the top. So let your style be your style. You’re not reinventing the wheel; you’re seeing how it works then making it yours.