Remember them? That page or two (or ten!) that you started yesterday, or last month, or twelve years ago that was so good…that you got stuck on? Remember the frustration and self-loathing you went through as the words stopped coming? Remember shoving this in the back of the filing cabinet out of disgust that you, a writer, couldn’t finish writing it?
OK, Take A Deep Breath
So, let’s take a moment to pull out that old gem and dust it off. We’re not going to dwell on why we stopped. You might have had a very valid reason: an illness, holiday parties, summer vacation, constant school homework projects, etc. Life happens. It’s ok! You are STILL a writer and it’s going to work out, I promise. Even if this takes you the rest of the year at 30 minutes a week, you’re going to get through it and finish somehow. It’s not about our pace, but our product. *wink*
But Now It’s Outdated
So, reading this over, can you see your progress? Does the technology mentioned in the story now feel dated? Depending on your setting, it might do your characters justice to jump the clock forward and bring them into the present day a bit. It will be easier for you to keep the story congruent that way.
And if the issue is that your writing is now ten times better than that, well, so much the better! Let’s celebrate the fact that you’re a better writer now and can polish this baby so it will really shine this time around. Don’t beat yourself up. You put it away back then as a gift to yourself today. Now you see that progress has been made because you’re evolving as a writer.
But I’m Still Stuck
OK, so the technology and tone is fine, and your confident that things are polished…but you’re still stuck on where to take the story next. It happens. Think about a map to lay out in front of you. No, I’m not thinking road trip (haha) I’m thinking of giving yourself a visual of where your character starts and where you want them to end up.
Is this story one of personal transformation? Will they be maturing into a better person by the climax? Are they overcoming a societal issue? Think about what will be most interesting for YOU to write and then map out the ending so you can consider different ways for your character to get to the ending you want.
Character Against Character
If you’re writing a classic conflict, good guy and bad guy, for example, then write out who you want to ‘win’ in the end. If the good guy is going to win in the end, you’ll need him to struggle throughout the plot to finally get over the bad guy at the climax. Think of your favorite stories where the cowboy with the white hat wins in the end. You loved seeing the conflict he overcame, didn’t you? Give your character conflict he’s really got to struggle with in order to come out on top by the last page.
Character Against Nature
If you’re pitting your favorite character against a giant earthquake or meteor, you might be in this category. Forces of nature, natural disasters and even animals can be a great way to provide conflict that your character has to endure or overcome. Are they the last person on Earth? Do they have to survive a plane crash in the Peruvian jungle? Are they fighting off wild cats up in the mountains or caught in the destructive forces of an avalanche? Research the situation so you use the correct types of animals and correct geological terms for your reader.
Character Against Society
Especially these days, there are many strong societal changes that could spark an amazing story. If your character feels strongly about a global cause or a national issue, they might fall into this situation. You could have them work to find like-minded individuals to help them realize their goal. Their goal might be to pass a law to prevent the issue from hurting others, or to help alleviate the global cause, such as hunger or sexual abuse.
How would your character react if they were not able to reach their goal on the scale they had imagined? Will they be satisfied if they can only change the situation in their own neighborhood – instead of across the country?
Character Against Themselves
Yes, some stories have the main character being their own worst enemy. If your character is trying to overcome their fears and issues, then their evolution will be the climax of your story. This might arc over several years as they take baby steps in growing and maturing. Think about how addicts want to be clean but it might take several tries before they can finally break free of that habit. You will want your character to have gains and losses throughout the story in order for it to seem realistic for the reader.
Character Against Technology
Did your character get Alexa for Christmas and now finds that Alexa is coming to life with a mind of her own? This would be just one example of a character against some form of technology. It might be something your own character designed or created, even. Think of how they might be able to outsmart a machine. There are a lot of options in a story like this because of the leaps taking place in today’s own technology – search some tech blogs for ideas. Might your character not want to overcome this technological challenge…but bend it to their own gains?
Don’t Forget Ambiance
Once you decide the main thrust of your character’s story, draw your map and set up some conflict to help them get there in dramatic fashion. Inspire yourself with some of the shows and music of the time. Giving your story that flavor can help you picture where they are at in time and how their environment might influence them and the plot. What season of the year is it? What’s hot on the radio? What is the TV show that everyone is obsessed with? That layer can bring a plot to life.
Give Them Quirks, Too
Characters are only as good as their strangest quirk. OK, so that’s not entirely true, but a quirk or strange habit can sure add an interesting dimension to write about. Are they a clean freak that has a weakness for long-haired cats? Maybe your character has no enthusiasm for housework or laundry, but keeps an immaculate checkbook? Only eats peas? Changes their socks three times a day? Whatever it is, it can be endearing and help your reader bond with them on a totally different level. A quirk can even propel the story randomly when you get stuck!
But I Like Writing By The Seat Of My Pants
If planning a story before writing it doesn’t float your boat, write by the seat of your pants. Everybody is different and that might totally work for you. Just realize that this story landed in your drawer all those months and years ago because of that method. Why not try something new? If you hate planning everything, then allow yourself to change the sketch as you come up with a better idea.
Framework can seem stifling to the creative process, yet we don’t fight the road when we’re driving because we can always turn off on to another road. As long as you know how you want things to turn out, pick whatever way you want to help your character get there. Using a framework doesn't mean you're less creative!
Remember, Be Patient
In the end, give yourself permission to write and rewrite. If you write into a corner, go back and take that scene in a different direction. Don’t give up. Journal out your frustration and keep at it. Honor that there is a story inside you that WILL come out. All good things take time. Let me know what you’re writing so I can cheer you on. This is your year for the story you’ve always loved.
This is the year for that character you can never forget. Short story, novella or novel – you got this!