Have you ever gotten to the mid-point in a story or novel and found that you can’t go any further? Something isn’t working and you can’t quite pinpoint what it is.
Whether you’re a seat-of-the-pants plotter or an outline maker, there are countless things that can veer your story off course. How do you figure out where it all went wrong? It’s simple and complicated at the same time. Every story should have the four basic elements: Point, Theme(s), Character Arc(s), and Scenes that drive your plot to its conclusion. Any or all of these things can be the trouble spot.
When your plot grinds to a halt, usually the point at which you have stalled is not the place where the actual plot-related problem has occurred. If you go back about three chapters you can usually find where the plot failed.
Check the scene functions starting at that point. Does each scene perform at least one function related to any or all of the four elements? Does your main character’s personality speak to your plot’s needs or impede the progress? It is not always apparent when you first conceive of your main character whether you’ve picked the right one. Maybe one of the other major characters is actually the one who should be the hero. Maybe one of the minor characters has shown themselves more worthy of carrying the plot to its conclusion. Have you advanced the character arc for your hero or villain, or have they stalled? Does he have the right motivation?
If reading three chapters back does not reveal the sticking point, go back another chapter and continue in this fashion until you have found the place where everything went wrong. Reading for errors at any point in the writing process is always a good idea. More than likely you will find the problem within the first three chapters ahead of your stopping point, but be persistent until you find and fix the error. Read through several times using this method. If at first you don’t succeed, put it down, walk away for a day or two, and try again.
The solution is there waiting to be discovered. The complicated part is looking at the plot with fresh, objective eyes and taking the precious time out of your writing schedule to do so. The simple part is when you find and fix it.
As Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”
Where is your story stalling point? What techniques are the most helpful to you?