Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Your Story Has HIT a WALL—What Now?

If you’ve been writing fiction any length of time, you’ve probably experienced getting stuck. There are authors who firmly believe there is no such thing as writer’s block, that it is lack of discipline and I agree that can often be the case.

Often…but not always.

I feel our subconscious is an excellent writing partner if we can learn to listen and stay in tune with it. Frequently, when something is very wrong, our subconscious will simply slam the breaks and not let us move forward because it is warning us there is something that needs to be fixed.

But, if we are unaware of the role the subconscious can play in story creation, we don’t recognize what is going on and do one of three things: 1) Shelve the project 2) Start a new project 3) Keep writing ourselves deeper into that hole by sheer force of will.

Thus, today I want to give you some tricks that might help you when you find yourself stuck.

Change POV

Different stories require different POVs. And I would love to give you some step-by-step explanation but I don’t have one. They just DO. Take a plot problem and seriously, POV changes the whole thing. Lord of the Rings written in first-person present-tense would be a very different ride.

Often we get a story idea and we just take off writing in the POV we find most comfortable…but it simply doesn’t work with the story. I had this happen with my debut novel The Devil’s Dance. I started writing in third limited and it was just….meh. I had never written fiction in first-person so to get unstuck? I changed POV and? It worked!

And the thing is, maybe you don’t stay in that POV. Sometimes just taking a scene and shifting POV is enough to nudge the subconscious over the hump.

Change Perspective

Also, if a scene is bugging you, literally change POV. Not the third person to first-person way I just mentioned. But switch heads. Tell what is happening from another character’s perspective. Again, probably not something you will keep because not every character is a POV character, but this can help get the mojo flowing again.

Recast

Sorry I am mentioning my debut novel a lot, but it was a hell of a learning curve. Again, this happened with The Devil’s Dance. I had my plot idea, which was pretty cool *gets cramp patting self on back*. I knew I wanted a small town in Texas and people dying and it had to do with the town’s newfound prosperity and Mexican drug cartels. My imaginary town, Bisby, was a wide space in the road that suddenly went BOOM. Instead of trailer parks, there were wine bars and million-dollar homes.

Why? How?

But originally I cast a resident of this small town and she was an Army veteran home from Afghanistan who was working at her uncle’s gun range. Nothing per se wrong with it, but she just kept falling flat. She was a former soldier and all badass and…boring as hell. So, I kept the plot idea and went the complete opposite direction.

Instead of some female action hero, I cast a protagonist who would be completely out of her depth. She was a disgraced software salesperson who’d done everything to escape Bisby and the trailer park where she grew up…who was then forced to go home to her crazy-as-a-bag-of-cats family and becomes the only one who can save the town she’d spent most of her life running from. I patterned her character off Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

And it ROCKED! The story flowed because the idea just worked better with an unlikely hero.

Skip Scenes

Again, our subconscious is our friend so let it work its magic. Recently I got onto my coauthor Cait about locking in her teeth and not letting go. We are writing a Western Horror and she’d had this scene she had been futzing with for weeks trying to get it perfect.

So first of all, perfect is the enemy of the good. On a first draft there is NO sense in perfecting anything because there is almost some hidden law that states the scenes most likely to be cut or completely rewritten are all the ones we spent far too much time fiddling with.

Sometimes, it helps to just write (in caps) what happens then move on.

Cait was tasked with killing a goat and apparently that was way tougher than either of us imagined it would be when plotting this goat’s demise. In our defense it is no average goat. It is a goat risen from the dead with a taste for human instead of petticoats. Now Cait messed with it and messed with it and finally got it to work but in fairness, if it had been my scene?

I would have written as much as I could then put AND THEY KILL GOAT IN SUPER SPECTACULAR WAY and then moved on and let my subconscious chew on it.

As you are writing, trust me, your subconscious is working on how to kill that goat D-E-A-D and often will come up with something FAR cooler than if we gut through it.

So my writing advice?

Sometimes the best way to kill a goat is to jump the goat.

Write Your Ending

A lot of writers cringe when we instructors mention doing this. You may be yelling, But I am not a plotter! I don’t outline! I am a pantser! And I will say, that is still no excuse. All stories must have a core story problem in need of being resolved. We should be able to say what our book is about in ONE sentence. Especially the pantsers. If all you know is the core problem in need of being solved? That is enough. And if you don’t know this, then prepare to spend months or years fixing a mess (if it can even be fixed).

As complex a story as Lord of the Rings is, I can fit it into ONE sentence.

A naive and innocent race of homebodies must traverse a dangerous realm to toss an evil ring in a particular volcano before a power-hungry necromancer takes over and destroys all they love.

How does this story end?

With a VOLCANO.

Say Tolkein got stuck somewhere in Rivendell. He could have theoretically skipped ahead to Mt. Doom and wrote that and then what is left are two defined points and a missing middle. It is often FAR easier to connect two defined points than to start from point A and keep going into infinity with no idea where it will end.

And again, you don’t have to keep that particular ending. It can be rewritten, but again, it gives the subconscious something to work with.

Ask yourself, How do I know when my story is over? And that is your ending. If you want help smooshing your tome into a single-sentence, I have a class coming up on that and I will help you do it and show you how you can do it yourself in the future (Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-line).

What are your thoughts? And make sure to check out the upcoming classes below! Especially the Book Bootcamp! The bootcamp has all the instruction you need to write your novel AND to learn to plot and write QUICKLY. They key to making money in this business (even in legacy) is lots of titles.

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33 thoughts on “Your Story Has HIT a WALL—What Now?”

  1. Jeanne FoguthJeanne Foguth

    LOL, I just cut the first chapter of my current WIP and changed location. Since the cut chapter is something that ‘takes place’ between the end of the previous book and the beginning of the next one, I’ve tucked it away and will probably use it in a blog a little before the next book becomes available.

    BTW, is The Devil’s Dance available?

  2. sharonhughsonsharonhughson

    As soon as I learned to write my ending before I started down the road to Mt. Doom, I stopped getting bogged down in the manic middle. I do plot my major story beats (subject to change if my characters go crazy on me), then I write the opening scene (sure to be rewritten 1001 times) and the closing scene (surprising how often the story ends there with only minor tweaks to wrap up subplots that emerged as I wrote). I used to only write linearly, but that sucker-punched my stories to a halt a few times, so I decided to try skipping ahead. And it works.
    My advice if you’re stuck? “Write what you know happens next to move the story forward.”
    And I tend to journal as my POV character if I start to lose touch with their voice or motivation. Yes, with a pen (or pencil) in a spiral notebook. Something about the scratch of lead on dead and highly processed wood infuses my muse with vigor for the character and story.

  3. Lanette KautenLanette Kauten

    When I started writing “Taylor and Blume,” I had in mind that it would be about a disgraced professor with a terminal illness trying to finish his magnum opus and regain his honor before he died, but life and mean people kept throwing obstacles in his way. Then I got stuck and didn’t know how to move forward. I completely outlined my book, knew exactly how it was going to end, and… still couldn’t get unstuck. Then my creative writing teacher told me that my book was about the professor’s reconciliation with his niece, and that his goal was to form a connection with her before he died.

    OMG! The perspective of someone who read my first 50 pages changed everything. I’d been rushing the story, trying to throw obstacles in this man’s way when I really needed to slow down and let things unfold in a more natural way. He’s still going to keep writing his book, and he’s still going to get opposition from the BBT who doesn’t want the professor’s voice to be heard, but the main story is a rather simple one. Knowing this has unlocked my writer’s block.

  4. Jini EllyneJini Ellyne

    This post was one of your best! Maybe next time I hit a wall it will help me. This time I had just finished climbing over my latest wall and was happy to hear you have had the wall problem too. My problem was of a different sort. I wasn’t trying to perfect a scene or anything like that. I was thinking. This was the fifth book in a series based on both Elven and Arthurian legends. This is the book where Arthur is killed or at least mortally wounded on the Camlan battlefield by his own son. I was having some problems. For the previous four books I had lots of research material available to me. I kinda knew how things should play out and had the research to prove it. I also had four clearly delineated stories leading up to the fifth one containing the battle of Camlan. Problem is, other than knowing there was such a battle, there is very little written material, either in legend or history about this battle and the things going on in the world at that time. I would have to make stuff up out of whole cloth it seemed. Another problem was I wondered if this should be the last book of the series, ending with Arthur’s death. There are some hints in the legend that perhaps Arthur was not totally dead, only mostly dead, and was taken to Avalon to be healed. Okay, so if I wrote that, what would happen next? I always wanted to know so this would be an opportunity to write it. I had half a plan to do just that. The final problem was how fans feel about the end of a series. After slogging through several epics, they are really looking forward to some final conclusion but at the same time hating the story to end because that means they are forcibly ejected from a world they have come to love.

    What to do? I had to think. I don’t want to disappoint long time readers. So I wrote a short story (20,000 words) of Erotica having almost no plot, just lots of sex, and published it (under a pen name). Do you know those things sell like hot cakes? It cleared my mind and when I came back to book five of my series I knew what to do. I won’t tell how I’m ending book five but I knew what the ending would be after I took my break. I am partially solving the lack of available research problem by making book 5 a much shorter book than originally envisioned, not venturing much past what little research does exist. I think good solid research makes a story seem more real. I’m not fond of fantasies that are little more than adult fairy tales. Also I plan to keep fans happy by hinting that although the main story of the epic series has come to a conclusion, my protagonist will have further adventures in a different time and place as part of a new epic series, letting readers know there will always be other worlds (a line from the Dark Tower).

  5. Chelly PikeChelly Pike

    Yes! All of these. Writing AND THEN THIS HAPPENS and skipping ahead is the best way to get the best ideas. Plenty of times that’s not what should’ve happened at all at that’s why my brain was stuck. I leave [notes in brackets] even if it’s something as simple as not being able to find the right word. 🙂

  6. Alexandra AlgerAlexandra Alger

    Insightful post. Part of my problem is, I’m having trouble deciding on my ending. Not a good state of affairs! Must nail down!

  7. HR SinclairHR Sinclair

    I would love to give you some step-by-step explanation but I don’t have one – WHAT? But… 😉

    I’ve done the recast, and it made a huge difference! Everything started coming together. I’m going to try the Skip It today and see where that takes me. Ooo, maybe I’ll skip all the way to the ending. I like that idea.

  8. Ruth Ann NordinRuth Ann Nordin

    I have never tried to write the ending ahead of time, but it sounds like an interesting idea. I’ll try it for the next book and see how it goes.

  9. Linda Maye AdamsLinda Maye Adams

    Getting stuck doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Fear can also play a part, and there are fear points are various parts of the novel. Like starting one … I knew a writer who would do three chapters, race off for critique, get comments, abandon it as no good, and start a new project. My former cowriter was afraid of finishing, which I did not know at the time. That turned into a messy situation because he tried to sabotage the project. He could never finish one by himself, but with me, I was a finisher. I have problem at the 10K point. Every time I hit it, I stall out.

  10. RosannaRosanna

    Kristen, your post is so timely (and excellent as always)! I am editing my finished novel and am now stuck on a scene that occurs right after the midpoint of the novel. The scene is full of introspective blah blah and I can’t figure out how to make it compelling. I have been feeling like if I don’t get this right, I can’t edit the rest of the novel. But maybe that’s just me obsessing over making it perfect right now. I’m going to try skipping ahead and then rewiting the missing piece later. Thanks!

  11. Sean CarlinSean Carlin

    I absolutely second Kristen’s assertion that every single story, no matter how “character-driven” (Brooklyn) or epic in plot (Lord of the Rings), can be boiled down to a single compelling sentence, and that logline is the North Star of your entire narrative. It’s not merely a sales tool to be devised after the fact, but rather the conceptual nucleus of the story. If pantsers do nothing else before “going to pages,” they would be wise to at least summarize the story in a logline, and pin that on the wall over their desk; it’s the compass we keep with us as we venture into the wide-open world of our fiction.

  12. Bob FosterBob Foster

    I’m curious why you picked the name of Bisby, Texas for the setting of your new book Devil’s Dance? Bisbee is the real name of the town in Arizona that J.J. Jance made famous with her Sheriff Joanna Brady books. I know the spelling is different, but still…

    Which leads me to my real question: When is it appropriate to use real towns for settings in our stories? Large metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, et al. are fair game, but I get concerned when, for geography’s sake, I use a setting in a smaller real town that may only rarely have a homicide and all of a sudden I have the town full of really bad people doing really bad things. Even though everything is fictional, I don’t want some town council somewhere suing me for defaming their community.

  13. Jordan McDowellJordan McDowell

    These are awesome ideas for dealing with writer’s block. I was recently working on a scene that just wasn’t coming together for me, and I finally decided not just to skip it entirely but to cut it out of the novel altogether and work the necessary information that the reader would’ve learned into later scenes. It worked so much better, and it kept the pace of the story going. Before I felt like it was falling flat.

  14. Maria D'MarcoMaria D'Marco

    okay….so I’m reading along, enjoying myself and cooling off after weedeating the front yard when I find some bug that’s tangled in my hair and start trying to get the damn thing loose…and I scroll without looking…and then glance at the screen, see upside-down cat, forget bug, fall off couch, dog attacks me thinking this is a new game, bug crawls onto my forehead, STINGS me! (what we in the midwest call a sweat bee) and pandemonium ensues.

    From now on, I demand warnings when a particularly stupid image is upcoming…

    oyeah — great post…especially the part about the goat…

  15. Deborah MakariosDeborah Makarios

    I love that upside down cat! I might try brainstorming my next novel that way…
    I find it can definitely help to just put in ‘stage directions’ where I don’t know the details yet. E.g. They fight. He dies. Sometimes just writing that is enough to make my creative depths start spluttering “you can’t just write that! it happened like this!”

  16. Ruth Hartman BergeRuth Hartman Berge

    For the first time ever I wrote the end of a book. I’m liking the whole thing. It helps shape the plot as I write because I know where the characters are going to end up. Love this blog post, Kristen. The “sometimes to kill a goat, you’ve got to jump the goat” is gold!

  17. Tarang SinhaTarang Sinha

    Very helpful pointers. I totally agree with ‘Write Your Ending’. When writing, you must know the ending of your story. If you don’t know the destination of your journey (story), you may find yourself wandering.

  18. DJ AustinDJ Austin

    I knew mine was done when I scribbled THE END, on the last day of the year, on page 1000. The strange thing is–it just worked out that way.

  19. Monica-Marie VincentMonica-Marie Vincent

    Stop probing my head for articles to write!!! (Ha ha! I’m just kidding! But it really IS spooky how you seem to put out the right article at JUST the right time!)

    This is a great article & it’s going to get one of those little stars at the top of my browser so I can refer to it again when it happens again (because I’m not naive enough to think that it’ll never happen to me again).

  20. Robin (darkocean)Robin (darkocean)

    Yarrg! This article is freeky! It made me think about how many different povs I tried with this book, before finding the ones that worked.

    As a newbie I’ve noticed writers tend to write in third person omni, so that was the first one for me too. Lots of telling and little showing with a narratorthat won’t get out of the readers way. Lol.

    After reading lots of articles on pov I switched to third person, hum it was okay but but bla too. Then I tried third person limited, better but still getting other writers giving critiques massive headaches. xD

    Then I found deep pov. Its hard! I still don’t always do it right, but it fits the best for some reason even though it’s a fantasy book. Go figure.

    Please more articles, I really like yours they have a ‘have a cup of joe with me while I teach you what I’ve learned,’ feel to them. 🙂

  21. Icy SedgwickIcy Sedgwick

    That whole “WRITE IN CAPS” and skip forward to the next bit is a total life saver. I do that all the time. Sometimes it’s a Godsend because it means I’ve actually ended up jumping over something that was going to be totally tedious and the story doesn’t even need it. Other times it means I can come back to it with new perspective from writing what happens later. Win!

  22. Rosemary JohnsonRosemary Johnson

    Thanks, Kirsten, very helpful as usual. I am VERY BOGGED down in my novel. My main concern is that I’m not getting to the really pivotal exciting bit soon enough. I’m writing from one characters’ pov, 1st person narrator, so I’m thinking hard about which scenes to skip.

    I really do take on board your point about hitting-the-wall being the writer’s subconscious telling her that something’s not right.

    Like all your posts, I wish I’d read it before I started writing, not now, but then I don’t think I would’ve appreciated the extent of the problem until I reached the hit-the-wall point. Btw, my novel has the working title of The Wall.

  23. BotanistBotanist

    I don’t know how I missed this post when it first came up, but it is so true. I gave a talk on writers block only a couple of weeks earlier and one recurring theme was the power of the subconscious mind to slam on the brakes if something’s amiss. And I’m so happy to hear someone else advocating skipping scenes. I do that all the time. I drop in my “then this happens” notes in a red font to make it easier to spot when I go back filling in the gaps.

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