One of the trickiest aspects of being a writer is crafting a compelling story from start to finish. Aside from limiting distraction (I’m looking at you, Pinterest), it’s absolutely necessary to be able to write a story that not only captures but holds your readers’ attention. I mean, if you want to be an effective writer. (*Shrug.*)
It’s easy to think up story ideas, right? I have a document full of notes and plotlines just waiting to become full-fledged novels. Coming up with new ideas is the easy part. Starting a new book is, too. Infused with fresh motivation and a new story to tell, I sit down eagerly with a giant cup of coffee and start writing. And it goes really well for a few days. Characters are growing, relationships are developing, and roadblocks are thwarting my protagonist’s efforts while ultimately making her stronger.
Then I hit the halfway mark.
I don’t know exactly what happens, but somewhere along the line, my smooth, productive writing days become cumbersome. I start to procrastinate. I spend more time researching and retweeting than actually writing. I wonder if I should start a new book and scrap this one altogether.
It is so. incredibly. frustrating.
So is it writer’s block? You could call it that, but I think that’s a cop out. In my case, it’s usually a matter of several things.
If you’re struggling to finish your story and keep your readers engaged, take a look at a few of these issues to figure out which ones are turning your story plot into a cemetery plot. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it. 😛 )
I’m a serious planner…until it comes to my books. I start with good intentions but end up veering off the path somewhere around chapter 8 or 9. Sometimes it’s because I’ve found a better way to tell the story. Sometimes it’s just because I didn’t plan well in the first place.
I didn’t understand the difference between “plotters” and “pantsers” until I read Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants! (Seriously, just go ahead and read it. It’s worth it.) She covers the benefits of planning and outlining your story before you write it. That’s counterintuitive for those of us who rely too heavily on inspiration to write because it requires forethought and discipline. But it can really make the difference between crafting an engaging story and a lifeless one.
Lack of focus.
One thing planning does is help you stay focused. But sometimes you know exactly what you’re supposed to write that day, but you can’t focus anyway. That’s when you know it’s time to check your distractions and start eliminating where necessary. If you regularly find yourself watching The Office reruns on Netflix instead of writing your book, try leaving your house to write. Or, if social media is your downfall, schedule your posts ahead of time using programs like Tailwind, BoardBooster, or Buffer. Also, look into programs that will help you eliminate distraction completely.
Misunderstanding your characters’ motivations.
You created your characters. You should know them better than anyone, right? Believe me, it’s entirely possible to misunderstand a character’s motivation. When you do, she’ll end up saying or doing something that doesn’t quite fit. Something that throws the story off. If you’re struggling to keep your plot moving forward, revisit each character’s major motivations (i.e. their reasons for doing what they do). If you don’t know what to write next, this will help you figure it out.
This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Each character has his or her individual “whys” for doing what they do. Your story has to have one, too. If you started your story on a whim one day, not really understanding where it was headed, you may run into this at some point (as I have many, many times). But just as each character has a reason why, you need one, too.
Why do you feel qualified to tell this story? How have your past experiences informed your writing? What do you hope to accomplish once the book is finished? Why did you feel compelled to start in the first place? When you’re working toward something with a steady goal in mind — call it your writing anchor — you’ll have something to focus on when all you want to do is quit.
Characters who are too perfect.
Okay, please tell me I’m not the only one who had to learn that characters don’t always make good decisions. Nor do their stories always end perfectly. If I pick up a book and get to know a protagonist who never makes mistakes and always knows what to do, I’m going to be incredibly frustrated. I probably won’t finish the book, honestly. Why? Because that’s not relatable.
I like getting to know characters who are just as imperfect as I am. I like learning about their quirks and laughing at their mistakes and rooting for their success, especially when it seems highly unlikely. I don’t think even the best-laid plot could redeem a character who is just too perfect to be real.
If you’re a writer, you’ll probably get stuck at some point. We all do. (To those who claim otherwise, I call BS.) But just because you get stuck doesn’t mean there’s no way out.
What techniques do you use to keep your story moving forward? Let me know in the comments!