“I don’t know what to write next.”
Sometimes our writing has been going really well and then we hit a wall. What to write next??
First things first: don’t panic. You haven’t run out of ideas, this isn't irrefutable proof that you're a lousy writer, and your story isn’t “broken.” You also don’t have to stop everything in order to re-read the last 180 pages and work up a detailed outline.
In today’s blog, I’m offering 3 questions to help you generate ideas for the next scene(s) in your story, plus a fun way to use these new ideas for your writing sessions.
These questions are all oriented around your main character, or protagonist — the character whose actions drive the story forward. But you can also use these questions to generate ideas for your antagonist, or the person(s) who opposes your main character or stands in the way of them achieving their desires. (If these are new terms to you, here's a great blog that explains the difference.)
To make the most of these questions and have some fun, start a brainstorm jar and spend some time just thinking of possible scene ideas. Write each scene idea on a separate piece of paper and fold them up so you can’t see what’s written on them, then toss them into your jar. Grab a piece of paper at the start of your writing session and write that scene. Brainstorm at least 8 ideas for each of the 3 questions below — that will push you to come up with creative new ideas and give you lots of material to work with.
Incidentally, these scenes don’t have to be written in chronological order — in my First Book Finish program, I teach that order and structure is a revision task, not a first draft task. Structure comes once we know the full story.
Here then are 3 questions to help you generate ideas for what to write next in your story…
1. What’s their biggest weakness?
We all have an internal flaw (or two!) that sometimes makes life difficult for us, despite our best intentions. What is your main character’s biggest internal struggle or character flaw? Write a scene in which this weakness gets them into trouble.
Think of this as “their own worst enemy” scene and write a scene that revolves around it. To keep the story moving forward, write the scene so that this weakness turns out to be a major obstacle keeping them from what they most desire. You can write multiple variations on this scene and keep the ones you like best.
2. What do they most desire?
Stories are driven by the desires of their protagonist. Get clear on what your main character most desires, and then you can write scenes that move them closer to achieving it, as well as scenes that move them further away from it.
This is a good recipe for strong scenes overall: always know what your protagonist wants in every scene you write.
For fun, you can brainstorm at least 8 ideas for these scenes and write them on separate pieces of paper — then you can pull a piece of paper at each of your writing sessions and write the scene you’ve chosen.
3. How can the current situation get any worse?
Often the biggest issue with our stories — especially in the middle — is that the stakes aren’t high enough and so the story lacks tension and falls flat. You can prevent this by thinking about the situation your protagonist is experiencing in the last scene you just wrote, and then writing the next scene to make things worse.
Sometimes we come to love our protagonists so much that we want to protect them from horrible things, but when we do that we leach tension from the story. Conflict and tension (even if these are internal) are essential for a story to truly engage the reader.
If you’re at a loss for what to write next, write a few scenes in which the situation gets progressively worse and the stakes (i.e. what’s at stake, or the risks your character is facing) get higher. Add to your brainstorm jar by thinking up at least 8 horrible things that can reasonably happen to your protagonist over the course of your book.
Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. — E.L. Doctorow
You don't need to know the whole story in order to write your first draft. You can get from the initial idea for your book all the way to the end just by answering these basic questions: what does your protagonist most desire and what obstacles will you place in their way? A brainstorm jar can add a bit of unpredictability and fun to the mix.