As I was writing along a couple of days ago in the paranormal romance that I am working on, I finished writing a scene that was really exciting. I had done a rough outline of the book to start with, but my plans have recently changed, and my characters’ motivations have changed along with them. So, at this point—as I am mostly pantsing it—I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted to keep moving forward.
Anyway, this scene was really intense. It got my blood pumping and my heart racing. I wanted to run over and tell my husband all about it, even though he hasn’t the slightest interest in paranormal romance. However, when I sat down to write the next scene the following day, I felt a little stuck. Now that this big scene was over, there was definitely some conflict between my main characters, and neither knew just what to do to fix it and/or move on. I stared at the screen for a while before closing out Scrivener and switching over to my freelance work.
While I was working, I kept stewing on the situation in my story so that I could get my daily writing in later. At some point, I had my a-ha moment. What I had to do was to go back to the basics for a little while and ask myself questions that would give me the answers that I needed.
In my case, because my characters were not yet ready to kiss and make up, I went back to my character sheets and asked myself the question, “What do my characters do when they are stressed?” I had already answered the question for one of these characters without really realizing it. She liked to hike as a hobby, and she also liked to walk to relieve stress. In an earlier scene, when she was afraid and overwhelmed, she took off and walked the city streets. As for my other character, it was time to develop that side of her as well before moving on. She had already faced a life-or-death situation and reacted quickly, maybe rashly, to save the day (maybe), but how would she react when the woman she loved looked at her with hate in her eyes? Would she analyze it, run away, feed her feelings, take a run, get defensive? The answer to those questions will help me write the next scene and move on with the story. By taking notes, I will also have resources for future scenes that will help me to develop a more fully featured and believable character.
So, if you are stuck and have written an outline or taken notes, go back to your plan and see what is supposed to come next. Examine how your characters would react to the situation at hand in a way that is uniquely their own. If you haven’t got notes or an outline, now is the time to start! In the process, always make sure that your character motivations are well grounded and that the transitions from event to event are believable. It can be easy when outlining to list events A, B, and C without giving reasons why one leads to another.
So, sit down with your story, your notes, and your character sheets and ask yourself some general questions (like “What would X do when Y?”) until you find the answer that helps you move forward. Don’t be afraid to do a little revising of your plot if it doesn’t fit with your excellent characters or to do a little revising of your characters if they don’t fit with an excellent plot. It will give you what you need to keep your story moving forward.
Update October 8, 2016: This one move has helped me immensely since I wrote this six months ago. This book is now over 50,000 words long, and I expect to have finished it by the end of November. Knowing the ways in which my two main characters react to basic situations and feelings has moved the story along in a scene–sequel/action–reaction pace that is natural and feels good to write. I’m still learning and polishing this technique, but it’s proven indispensable!
“Writing Patterns Into Fiction: Scene and Sequel,” Raven Oak (guest blogger), at Writers Helping Writers