21 Best Techniques for Getting Unstuck When Writing a Story

Stuck in a plot twist that’s more like a plot knot?

Here are the techniques for getting unstuck when writing a story:

Techniques for getting unstuck when writing stories include the Storyteller’s Compass, a tool to refocus on character desires, and the Emotional Map for consistent character emotions. The Mythology Merge weaves rich mythological elements into your narrative for added depth and timelessness.

Fear “not,” as we unveil 21 untangling techniques to rescue your narrative from the jaws of confusion and mental mastication.

21 Tips for Getting Unstuck When Writing Stories

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Let’s explore some creative and research-backed techniques to get your storytelling back on track.

1. The Story Weaver’s Query

This technique involves a deep dive into the core elements of your character’s narrative.

Ask yourself: Who is your character? What do they want? Why can’t they have it? How will they get it?

This introspection brings clarity to your character’s journey, desires, and conflicts, guiding you back to the essence of your story.

Example: If you’re struggling with a scene, ask these questions about your protagonist. Suppose they want to find a lost city. Why is it challenging? Maybe it’s a forgotten myth, or they lack resources. How will they overcome these hurdles? This exploration can unlock new plot directions.

2. Dialogue Unbound

When you’re stuck, immerse yourself in your characters’ conversations.

Let them speak freely, without the constraints of the narrative structure. This technique, rooted in improvisational theater, can reveal surprising insights about your characters and their relationships.

Example: Imagine two characters debating over an inconsequential topic, like the choice of a meal. Their dialogue might unexpectedly expose deeper conflicts or secrets, providing a fresh perspective on your narrative.

3. Emotional Cartography

Map out your character’s emotional journey through the story.

This technique, borrowing from psychological analysis, involves plotting the emotional highs and lows experienced by your character in each scene.

It can highlight inconsistencies in your character’s development or the narrative’s emotional flow.

Example: If a character feels joyous without reason, revisit their emotional map. Perhaps there’s a missing link of events leading to this emotion, which needs to be developed to make the progression feel natural.

4. Historical Depths

Dive into the era your story is set in.

This involves researching the time period or setting to draw inspiration.

Even in non-historical fiction, understanding the cultural, social, and technological nuances can enrich your story’s backdrop.

Example: For a story set in the 1950s, explore that era’s fashion, politics, and societal norms. This context might inspire new character traits or subplots, making your story more engaging and authentic.

5. Narrative Inversion

Begin with the end. Write the conclusion of your story first and work backwards.

This approach, inspired by reverse engineering in design, helps focus your narrative, ensuring each element builds towards the known conclusion.

Example: If your story ends with a dramatic revelation, start there and trace back the steps. How did the characters arrive at this point? This method can guide you in planting foreshadowing and structuring your story more intentionally.

6. The “What-If Scenario

Challenge your narrative by asking a series of “what if” questions.

This brainstorming method from creative problem-solving can lead to innovative plot twists or character developments.

Example: What if your protagonist decides not to follow the expected path? What if an unforeseen event occurs? These questions can open up a multitude of narrative possibilities, rejuvenating your story.

7. Genre Fusion

Blend elements from different genres into your story.

This technique, drawing from the practice of genre-blending in literature, can add an unexpected twist to your narrative.

Example: If you’re writing a romance, infuse it with elements of a thriller. The unexpected combination can generate unique plot points and keep your storytelling dynamic.

8. Sensory Immersion

Enhance your scenes with rich sensory details.

This practice, rooted in descriptive writing, involves focusing on what characters see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.

Example: Describe the sensory experience of a character walking through a bustling market – the myriad of sounds, the aroma of spices, the vibrant colors. These details can vivify your scenes and engage your readers more deeply.

9. Memory Lane

Infuse your writing with personal memories.

Reflecting on your own experiences can lend authenticity and emotional depth to your narrative.

Example: If your story involves a character experiencing loss, draw on a personal memory of loss. The emotions and specifics from your experience can add a layer of realism and depth to your writing.

10. Character Conversations

Explanation: Conduct an imaginary interview with your character.

This method, inspired by character development techniques in acting, can reveal new aspects of your character’s personality and background.

Example: Ask your character about their greatest fear or happiest moment. Their responses can offer new insights into their motivations and decisions, enriching their portrayal in your story.

11. Scene Shuffle

Mix up the order of scenes in your story.

This method, akin to film editing techniques, can reveal new narrative connections or highlight pacing issues.

It can also spark creativity by presenting your story in a new light.

Example: Try moving a climactic scene earlier in the story. This could increase tension or offer a fresh angle on a character’s development arc, making the narrative more compelling.

12. Perspective Pivot

Rewrite a scene from another character’s viewpoint.

This practice, borrowed from narrative techniques in literature, can uncover hidden motivations and conflicts, adding layers to your story.

Example: Recount a key scene from the antagonist’s perspective. This might reveal their justifications and add complexity to their character, deepening the reader’s engagement with the story.

13. Mythological Threads

Weave mythological elements into your narrative.

Drawing inspiration from the rich tradition of mythology in storytelling, this technique can lend a timeless and universal quality to your tale.

Example: Integrate a Greek myth into your story. This can provide thematic depth or a parallel plot line, enriching the narrative and resonating with universal themes.

14. Thematic Echoes

Identify and reinforce your story’s central theme.

Ensuring that your scenes and character developments reflect this theme can create a cohesive and resonant narrative.

Example: If redemption is your theme, each major plot point should explore this concept, either challenging or affirming it, to weave a consistent thematic thread throughout your story.

15. Structural Reimagining

Reexamine and possibly overhaul the structure of your story.

This technique, inspired by principles of architectural design, can significantly enhance your narrative’s flow and coherence.

Example: Consider if a non-linear structure or a more pronounced climax would better serve your story. Such a foundational change can transform the overall impact of your narrative.

16. Emotional Dynamics

Create a rollercoaster of emotions for your characters.

Developing intense emotional highs and lows, drawn from dramatic arcs, can make your story more gripping and relatable.

Example: Have a character experience a rapid shift from despair to joy. This stark contrast can captivate readers and add dynamism to your storytelling.

17. Symbolic Depth

Explanation: Integrate symbols and motifs to add layers of meaning to your story.

This practice, drawing from art and literature, enriches the narrative and invites deeper interpretation.

Example: Use a recurring symbol, like a broken mirror, to represent a character’s fractured identity, enhancing the story’s thematic depth.

18. Cultural Mosaic

Infuse your story with cultural details and influences.

Drawing from anthropology and cultural studies, this technique can lend authenticity and richness to your narrative.

Example: Incorporate cultural traditions or languages, providing a more immersive and realistic experience for your readers.

19. Lyrical Flow

Focus on the rhythm and cadence of your prose.

Employing poetic techniques can enhance the readability and mood of your story.

Example: In a tense scene, use short, choppy sentences to heighten the sense of urgency, mirroring the characters’ emotional state through your writing style.

20. Collaborative Resonance

Share your story with others and incorporate their feedback.

This collaborative approach can provide new perspectives and ideas, invaluable in refining your narrative.

Example: A friend or fellow writer might identify a plot inconsistency or suggest a character development you hadn’t considered, enriching your story.

21. Reflective Interlude

Take a mindful break from your story.

Drawing from mindfulness practices, this can help clear your mind and return to your writing with a fresh perspective.

Example: Engaging in a relaxing activity, like a walk or meditation, can help overcome writer’s block and spark new, creative ideas for your story.

Check out this video about how to get unstuck when writing a story:

YouTube Video by Reedsy – Techniques for Getting Unstuck When Writing a Story

How To Know Which Way to Get Unstuck When Writing Your Story

One thing I’ve learned is that solutions only matter when they are specific to your story problem.

That’s why this table provides a quick reference for writers facing different challenges in their storytelling and suggests the best techniques to apply for each specific issue.

Reasons for Getting StuckBest Techniques to Apply
Lost in plotThe Story Weaver’s Query, Narrative Inversion
Weak character developmentCharacter Conversations, Emotional Cartography
Lacking inspirationHistorical Depths, Genre Fusion
Stale narrativePerspective Pivot, Scene Shuffle
Emotional disconnectEmotional Dynamics, Reflective Interlude
Overwhelmed by ideasThe ‘What-If’ Scenario, Collaborative Resonance
Inconsistent pacingLyrical Flow, Structural Reimagining
Lack of depth or complexitySymbolic Depth, Cultural Mosaic
Trouble with dialogueDialogue Unbound, Character Conversations
Unsure of themeThematic Echoes, Mythological Threads
Creative burnoutReflective Interlude, Sensory Immersion
Chart: Techniques for Getting Unstuck When Writing a Story

What To Do If You Are Extremely Stuck When Writing a Novel?

Encountering a severe creative block while writing a novel can be disheartening.

It’s a critical juncture where you need to reassess your approach and consider some advanced techniques or tough decisions.

This situation calls for a blend of innovative strategies to reignite your creativity and a realistic evaluation of your work’s viability.

Knowing when to persist and when to set a story aside is crucial for your development as a writer.

Enhanced Untangling Techniques

Here are some enhanced tips and guidelines for navigating this challenging phase:

  • Enhanced Brainstorming Sessions: Engage in deep brainstorming activities, like mind mapping or free writing, to explore new angles and ideas for your story.
  • Change Your Environment: Sometimes, a change of scenery can stimulate creativity. Try writing in a new location or setting to gain fresh perspectives.
  • Collaborate with Other Writers: Seek input and ideas from fellow writers or join a writers’ workshop. Fresh eyes and different viewpoints can provide valuable insights.
  • Experiment with Different Storytelling Formats: If the traditional narrative structure isn’t working, experiment with alternate formats like epistolary, non-linear, or stream of consciousness narratives.
  • Seek Feedback from a Trusted Mentor: A mentor with experience in writing can offer guidance, constructive criticism, and motivation.
  • Consider a Temporary Hiatus: Taking a break from your novel can allow you to return with a fresh mindset and renewed enthusiasm.
  • Revisit Your Initial Inspiration: Reflect on what inspired you to start the novel. Reconnecting with your initial motivation can often reignite your passion for the story.
  • Study Successful Novels in Your Genre: Analyze how successful authors have tackled similar themes or story arcs. This can provide both inspiration and practical techniques to apply to your work.

Knowing When to Quit

  • Persistent Lack of Passion: If you consistently feel no excitement or interest in your story, it might be a sign to move on.
  • Intractable Plot Issues: If fundamental plot problems persist despite numerous attempts to resolve them, it may indicate that the story isn’t viable.
  • Feedback Consistently Negative: If feedback from multiple trusted sources is consistently negative, and you agree with their critiques, it might be time to consider a new project.
  • Writing Feels Like a Chore: Writing should be challenging yet rewarding. If it constantly feels like an unbearable chore, it could be a sign to explore new stories.

Final Thoughts: Techniques for Getting Unstuck When Writing a Story

Getting unstuck is just one colorful thread of storytelling—explore more vibrant stories on our website.

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