We have arrived at week three of 2020’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m still zooming along in my accidental novel. However, this is the place in the month where many writers will fall by the way, as they lose the plot and then lose momentum.
The well of inspiration has gone dry.
When we are writing a story that encompasses 50,000 to 100,000 words, these mental stopping places are how we end up with bunny trails to nowhere. We’re trying to force getting our word count, so we go a bit off the rails.
There are ways around that.
If your employment isn’t a work-from-home kind of job, using the note-taking app on your cellphone to take down notes during business hours will be frowned on. In that case, I suggest keeping a pocket-sized notebook and pen to write those ideas down as they come to you.
This is an old-school solution but will enable you to discreetly make notes whenever you have an idea that would work well in your story. The best part is, you don’t appear to be distracted or off-task.
For me, ideas occur when I stop “pressing my brain” to work when it’s on its last legs. Trust me, pounding out 1,667 or more new words a day severely tests both your creativity and endurance.
We know that arcs of action drive the plot. However, random, disconnected events inserted for shock value can derail the best story. Therefore, when I am brainstorming where to go next in my plot, I keep both the ending and overall logic of how to get there in mind.
At the outset of the story, we find our protagonist and see him/her in their familiar surroundings. Once we have met them and seen them in their comfort zone, the inciting incident occurs.
This is the first point of no return and is often where an author’s ideas run out.
They had only visualized the character and the problem but hadn’t thought beyond that point.
A point of no return comes into play in every novel to some degree. The protagonists are in danger of losing everything because they didn’t recognize the warning signs, and they are pushed to the final confrontation, whether they are ready for it or not.
I’m writing a fantasy, and I know what must happen next in the novel because it’s an origin story. I’m writing it from a historical view. I see how this tale ends and am merely writing the motivations for that ending.
Try to identify the protagonist’s goals early on. The words will come as you clarify why the protagonist must struggle to achieve them.
- How does the protagonist react to being thwarted in their efforts?
- How does the antagonist currently control the situation?
- How does the protagonist react to pressure from the antagonist?
- How does the struggle deepen the relationships between the protagonist and their cohorts/romantic interest?
- What complications arise from a lack of information regarding the conflict?
- How will the characters acquire that necessary information?
Suppose your main character doesn’t want something bad enough to do just about anything to achieve it over the next couple hundred pages. In that case, they don’t deserve to have a story told about them.
At the inciting incident, our hero just wants to go back to their comfort zone. They want that desperately, but things happen that prevent it.
- What are the events that keep the main characters slogging through the roadblocks to happiness?
- Why should the reader care? Every scene and conversation will push the characters closer to either achieving that goal or failing, so if you make it a deeply personal quest, the reader will become as invested in it as you are.
Everything you write from the inciting incident to the last page will detail the quest and answer that second question. Your protagonist and antagonist must both desire nothing more than to achieve that objective.
If they care about the outcome, the reader will too.
I find it helps to have some idea of what the ending will be. Now, as I write my current unplanned novel, a broad outline of my intended story arc is evolving. As I’ve mentioned before, I keep my notes in an Excel workbook. It contains maps, calendars, and everything pertaining to any novel set in that world, keeping it in one easy to find place.
When logic forces things to change as I am writing, as it always does, I make notes to the growing outline and update my maps.
If you are stuck, it sometimes helps to go back to the beginning and consider these questions:
- What is the goal/objective?
- Is the objective compelling enough to warrant risking everything to acquire it?
- What choices will the protagonist have to make that challenge their moral values and sense of personal honor?
- Who is the antagonist? What do they want, and what are they willing to do to achieve it? Are they facing ethical quandaries too?
Every obstacle we throw in the path to happiness for both the protagonists and their opposition forces change and shapes the direction of our narrative.
When your creative mind needs a rest, step away from the keyboard, and do something else for a while. I find that when I take a break to cook or clean out a corner, random ideas for what to do next in my novel will occur to me.
Sometimes, these little flashes of inspiration are what I need to carry me a few chapters further into the novel.
Finally, let’s talk about murder as a way to kickstart your inspiration.
When a particular death was planned all along, it is one thing, but developing characters is a lot of work. If you kill off someone with an important role, who or what will you replace them with?
You may need to replace that character later, so plan your deaths accordingly.
in the meantime, happy writing! May the words flow freely for you and may you never run out of new ideas to write.