1. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Tips I've Found for Moving Stuck Novels out of Stagnation

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mallory, Jul 8, 2011.

    [Edit: Should this be moved to General Writing?]

    What to do when you're feeling frustrated because your word count has been sitting in the same spot for a while:

    --> Set a really small goal that you can stick to every day. Something small for you: this could be 100, 250, etc but shouldn't be more than 500 unless you're used to cranking out 2,000 words a day or something. No matter how crappy your day has gone or if you really don't feel like it, do the word count anyway, and it will be easy because it's a small goal. That's why you set a small goal. When you do it, even though 100 words isn't technically a lot to most people, it will still be satisfying to know you kept up with it even though you weren't feeling up for it at first. But then, most of the time, the goal should be easy to surpass, so you can feel good for having done MORE than you set out to do.

    Also, when you feel frustrated about other perceived failures (i.e. not having gone to the gym in a while, friends are all busy this weekend and you're bored, apartment has been a pit all week) at least you'll feel proud and empowered for making the word count, and this feeling will transfer over to help boost you in your other areas.

    --> If you have literally no idea where to go next with the story, read through it and add little things to bolster what you've already got. Reading through a scene you've already written will help you see a perfect line of dialogue you'd missed, add some extra detail to enhance the desired tone, etc. Not to say that you need to force extra words, because you might end up deleting some, but you'll still have made progress (and, probably, length progress as well).

    --> If you're not sure where you take a certain plot point, or if you're worried about digging a plot hole, don't worry about that part. Just focus on something else that you can always use later, like the description of them approaching the haunted house or the break-up scene. Something you know will happen at some point, but just aren't sure how to get there. This leaves you with an almost completed story with several tricky scenes to figure out, not a frustrating mess of unfinished slush that's all on hold because you can't figure out one aspect. (And don't try to force something you can't figure out: if you can't figure out something right now, either will your characters, and you don't want to dig a deep plot hole by having them do something that makes no sense and/or throws things way off course, unless of course it's in a good way for the story, because no one will have perfect hindsight, esp. not fictional characters...but you know, be careful)

    --> Have your own unique way of setting up a transition for when the above scenario happens and you can't think of a transition, or you want something written out of order. One of my friends who used to go to this site a lot, but stopped, had "Millie the Story Fairy" who would zap characters to the location she wanted them until she thought of a better transition. But writing a creative little paragraph about Millie got her in inventive mode, and sometimes helped her figure out the real transition more easily.

    --> If the current plotline seems like it's getting stale, or can't be exciting all of the time -- for example, they're on a journey and nothing much happens while they're hiking through the mountains every day -- throw in extra conflict. This could be an attack by hostile creatures, or a tension between characters, or any combination based on what type of story it is. Use the slogan "Put your MC in a tree and then throw rocks at him." If there's no tension or conflict, readers will get bored (and so will you, hence stagnation)

    --> Consider throwing in a subplot conflict for a secondary character. You can do this even if you're writing in first person or limited third: the POV character can still observe and interact with others after all.

    If you've got other tips, add em to the list :)
     
  2. Midnight_Adventurer
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    Midnight_Adventurer Active Member

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    Hi Mallory,

    These are some interesting strategies which I just might find handy soon, I feel as if I'm approaching that moment when everything comes to a screeching halt. Point number 3 is a strategy I've implemented lately and hopefully I can get the rest of the story to meet up with the scenes I've written.

    I don't know if my tip will be very useful, but I've found that re-familiarizing (if that’s a word, lol) myself with my characters and their motivation helps me get my story back on track. It's simple, but effective :)
     
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  3. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    You have some good valid points, Mallory. I do like your advices. Some of them apply to me, when you said that our story's plotline may contain holes and we cannot figure out how to fix them.

    This brings up another point I had been doing to even come up with a story idea.

    Have you ever wondered if someone has already written your story idea before? I am talking about writing stories about vampires, loved ones, falling in love, meeting new people, etc. These ideas get old and publishers will appreciate it if someone came up with an idea that has not been done before. If you have a story idea and is not sure if it will grab the reader’s attention, he or she may put the book down.

    Hollywood and publishing companies want brilliant ideas, but most ideas have been done and written already. What do we do to separate those ordinary ideas from other people’s stories? Someone has come up with this term called “The High Concept.” The High Concept, as most screenwriters use, usually applies to writing movies. It can apply to novels as well. With a High Concept, we take existing ideas and add a twist or a “what if” situation to our story idea. If you are writing a story about a man who struggles to find a date (Proem Date), we can write something about that and still make the idea original. Someone else might want to write a novel about a man who finally finds a date turns out to be an alien, who has been stocking the man without him noticing. That may be an original story idea.

    The next thing you might want to know about a High Concept is it must be universal to the audience. In other words, it must be an idea that everyone can relate if it is about a man who wakes up the next morning only discovers that the government turned his house into a spaceship, it would question the reader’s belief. This idea may only work in the mind of the writer.

    The next thing you might want to know about to come up with an original idea is to combine a genre together. For instance, if you are trying to come up with an idea and are writing a story for Young Adult, you can mix the Young Adult genre in with Action or Science Fiction genre. Let the young adult or teenager do the murdering instead of the older person. On the other hand, have the kid activate a bomb instead of the older person. Many people say that this requires talent and a lot of devotion to incorporate a genre with another genre.

    If you love your idea, it is ok to write a Low Concept story, but if you want to win a contest after you have finished writing your story, you had better use the High Concept method. That does not mean that a Low Concept is unoriginal. That is just a point I want to come across for those who are having a hard time coming up with a new novel.
     
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  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Re-familiarizing is hugely important, even when not stuck, to do from time to time. Very good point.

    Reg, I agree with most of your post, but on some of those points, I'm not so sure. From what I gather, you're saying to use something that's been done and put a twist on it ("guy likes girl," "rivalry over girl/guy," "save town from killer" etc) and the uniqueness is in the telling and in the specific twists. But I think it's completely reasonable to strive for creating your own basic concept. After all ,the very first "guy likes girl and tries to win her over" fiction story had to be written at some point, and that story's author didn't have a commonly-used template to draw from (except real life).

    An important distinction is that between plotlines and themes. The theme -- sticking by your friends, standing up to odds, following your integrity etc -- can be found in virtually any story. But the plotline can be totally new. Let's use your example of the government turning someone's house into a spaceship. Here, we've got a cluster of themes which will likely include "fighting off invaders," a theme that's been done countless times because readers can draw it from anywhere. But let say no one's ever written a story about the government converting someone's home to a spaceship. The concept is new, the theme not.

    I know there's the general categories of plots.."man vs man," "man vs God/nature," "man vs self" etc. But later, someone down the road could write about "God vs God," "Dimension vs Galaxy" etc.

    Anything new can be innovated. The possibilities of someone's mind are endless.
     
  5. heyitsmary
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    heyitsmary Member

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    I've been "stuck" with my novel for a couple of weeks now and some of these tips are really helpful. Thanks guys!
     
  6. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd like to add create lots of useless background for your characters. I have a story I've struggled quite a bit with on the plot. Then I write four sentences about one of the character's life before the story, and the whole thing reveals itself to me, lol. And it sounds like it'll be pretty good too.
     
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  7. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    thank you Mallory, those were excellent advice. I especially recognize myself in the third one, because I practised it during the completing of my WIP. I did know the scenes and got stuck on something as trivial as how to get to that point where I could start off the scene. The transitions between scenes. So I just wrote the actual scene I knew and decided to worry abot the transitions later, and things started to get moving again.
     
  8. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Glad it was helpful, and spklvr's idea is great too: esp if you can tie the past in to make it relevant to the current story (i.e a character from the person's past plays a role unexpectedly now)
     
  9. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Aha! These tips worked.

    My story(I'm not sure of what length I want it to be), The Man with The Metal Glove, was stuck for a while because I cannot seem to write the semi-panicky, clearing up and moving out scene that happens after a fight(to cut a long story short, enemy agents discover the protag and co.'s safehouse and attack. They survive, but are worried about more attacks). I forced myself to crank out three paragraphs about it, then edited thrice, until it was perfect.

    Basically, instead of writing a perfect story when I can't seem to, I intentionally write a bland one, with just the events, and polish and edit it up afterwards.
     

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