Stuck in the Middle of a Story?
If you started off strong but fizzled out, don't give up hope. Take a step back and rethink your story. Try one of these suggestions. (If you're stuck before you get to the middle, check out my tips for Getting Started.)
Ignite Your Imagination: Getting Unstuck
- Interview your main character on a mock TV show, or write her diary for a week. Let the character tell you where his story needs to go.
- If you’ve written in third person (“He went to school...” or “She picks up the phone...”), try rewriting at least part of your story in first person (“I went to school” or “I pick up the phone...”) Sometimes a new voice or tension will emerge that will take you where the story needs to go.
- Rewrite your story or just one part of it from another character’s point of view (e.g., a witness instead of the main actor, the villain instead of the hero, or a descendant of the characters the story is about). This new perspective on your story may lead you where it needs to go.
- Reread your work and pay attention to the weird bits you’ve written for no apparent reason – you may have left yourself clues as to where your story needs to go. (Tim Wynne-Jones told me this and he was SO right. In All Good Children, I made Max an artist and his neighbour Celeste a make-up artist just because they needed character traits. But holy smokes, did those things come in handy when I needed a new ending).
- Read about science, history, biography or current events—you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll find just the inspiration you need to get your plot back in gear.
- Lend your story to a trusted friend for suggestions on where to take it next. You might be agonizing over things your reader doesn’t even care about. What moves her most might spark new ideas.
- Take a break – walk your dog, exercise, play the drums, watch a movie – and trust that your story will wait for you. (Oh boy, I love this technique! It’s my favourite.)
- If you can’t get unstuck, then write the worst story ever written. You can only improve from there with your next work. All of us write lots of lousy stories along with a few really good ones, so don’t sweat it if it’s not working out. Your next one will be better.
Always remember the sage advice of the poet William Stafford, who said: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block for a writer whose standards are low enough.”