Those who are pantsers (who write by the seat of the pants, rather than outlining a story) can run into a problem that outliners don’t encounter as much: the story stalling.
It’s happened to every pantser at least once, where they’re in a groove, the story is moving along nicely, and then bam, nothing seems to work. Everything they want to write seems flat or the story just doesn’t move in a compelling way anymore. So, if you’re a pantser and your story has stalled, here a couple of things to try to get your writing mojo flowing again.
Backtrack and start again. If the story seems to have stalled at a certain point, one way to get things going is to backtrack to the point where the story stopped getting interesting. Authors are readers, and so we know when a story, even our own, gets boring. If you’re a pantser and you’re 12 chapters into a book, and having trouble, go back and reread the whole thing. If you realize your interest started waning after chapter 10, then that’s likely the problem area. Make a copy of your file, and retitle the copy StoryName_AlternateEnding. Then go into the new copy, delete chapters 11 and 12 and pick up the story from there with something different. Going in a new direction can help.
Pause and do something else. Brain research has shown that our minds do their best problem solving when they’re not actively thinking about the problem. If the stalled story problem is what we’re focused on, we’re less likely to solve it. So, take a break and do something else. Write another story. Read a book. Do something that occupies the forefront of your mind, so your background brain can solve the problem of your story.
Write the end. If the story is sticking in the middle, and you’re a pantser, writing the end of the story is one way to get your juices flowing again. If you don’t know the end, it doesn’t have to be the end that you write. It can just be any part of the story that excites you and gets you in the mood to write. Writing other parts of the story may help your brain connect the dots and figure out what wasn’t working to the point that it stopped the forward progress. And nonlinear storytelling (like the book The Time Traveler’s Wife or the TV show How to Get Away with Murder) can be quite exciting. If you write a scene that’s fascinating, figuring out how your characters got to that point can kickstart your mojo.
Alpha time. Got a trusted friend/alpha reader who can critique your work? Let them have at it. Perhaps they can spot something that gives you some insight into why your story has stalled.
Write something drastic. This can be a real hit or a miss. But, some people find inspiration in writing in a very sudden, drastic turn of events. They might kill a character or suddenly bankrupt them. Something awful and serious that puts the character into a corner from which they must escape. Personally, I’m not a fan of this, as it can feel too gimmicky. However, in certain instances, that drastic turn might be the thing that was missing all along. If the drastic turn doesn’t work, there’s always the delete button.
Create an outline. Wait. yes, you’re a pantser. And for a pantser, this will likely be the last resort, which is why it’s last on the list. However, if being a pantser was the bee’s knees for you, you wouldn’t be stuck. And if you’re stuck, maybe sitting down, thinking about the story and outlining where you’d like it to go would help.
10 thoughts on “Tips to Help Pantsers Get Moving Again When the Story Stops”
Another solution is to become a Plantser, which is a pantser who starts with a mimimal outline which changes as the story progresses. I’ve been using this technique for years, and so far I’ve not gotten bogged down in a story, because in my method I always mentally note alternate paths, and quite often, midway through a story, I’ll completely change direction. I also always have the ending firmly in mind, if not already written, before I go beyond chapter 1.
Good tips, by the way. Thanks for sharing.
Ooh, I love the term, planster! That’s a good way to go. Minimal outlining can help the story stay focused, but give you a lot of room for creativity.
I do what Ray does as well. I am a pantser but I have three or so key scenes in my mind and I know where I want to end up. Somehow that works for me. If I do get to a point where I struggle I take a break, as you suggest, do something else that keeps my mind free to wander.
Yes, that does sound like a good approach. Having some key scenes in mind helps a lot.
If you’re a true panster you get stuck all the time, but you just jump to another part of the story, as you suggest, and keep writing. In spite of the fact that I become more “plansterish” as my writing career progresses, I still do this regularly. I sometimes even jump to another book.
A sure way to keep it fun.
Yes, that does keep it fun and busy. Sounds like you always have something interesting on your plate that way.
Thanks. Good ideas. Have resorted to most at times especially going to another part of the story, writing that, and coming back to the blockage. One blockage held me up for eight years. For some reason it ‘wasn’t the time’ to write it then.
– Paul Corrigan
Thank you, most interesting. It’s a new word for an old problem… It must happen countless times to all writers, whether sloggers who think they’ve got it all worked out and have their noses to the grindstone, or plodders like me who let the characters and mood change direction every now and then. Us writers are all so different in the way we work, aren’t we! Onwards and upwards.
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