On Writing – what do I do when a story stalls?

There are days when I can crank out a lot of words, and days when each one is like trying to pull an infected tooth.  My biggest frustration though, is when the story quits talking to me.  Usually it happens right before the start of the climax though sometimes it’s right in the first few chapters.  It just shuts up and won’t say a thing.

At this point I have two choices – 1) fight for every word and mumble incoherently while I try to feel my way ahead, or 2) shelve the project until the little voice starts whispering in my ear again.  Neither is very satisfying.

A not about my style and why this is doubly frustrating.  I am a pantser, one who never charts anything out and lets the story dictate its direction, the style of wording, and how deep emotionally it wants to go.   A skeleton would be really nice but it has always been an exercise in futility.  If you’ve read my story, ‘Hot Drop’, you’ll know the crazy ‘should have taken a left at Albuquerque’ moment where the story shifted.  I like it, don’t get me wrong, but it makes for trouble when I’m trying to see where the story’s going.

Putting stories aside does work, but it is an exercise in frustration for me as I hate unfinished anything.  Stories very much so.  I love discovering what happens next and to have to wait is not my strong suit.

But what I will do to loosen the story up is take the time to delve into the characters.  I like knowing them, and getting a handle on their likes, dislikes, and reactions to things really intrigues me.

To start I use a four question mini-pychology test.  I’ve written about it before, but to introduce it again here are the questions:

1)  What is your favorite color?  write three words and/or phrases on how it   makes you feel.

2) What is your favorite animal?  It can be real or fictional.  write three words and/or phrases on how it makes you feel.

3) You’re in a white room with no doors or windows.  Write three words and/or phrases on how this makes you feel.

4) You are on an open plain and can see as far as you want in any direction.  Write three words and/or phrases on how this makes you feel.

What each question means is this

Your favorite color is how you see yourself.

Your favorite animal is how you project yourself to others

The room represents your reaction to death

The plain represents your reaction to life.


With the characters I get some interesting results, and sometimes I just assign answers and change them when the character starts making their own choices in the story.

Whe whole point is that even when I’m stuck, there are things I can do to add more background even if I’m not writing.  More depth to the characters sometimes breaks something loose, or a short story of their own give me an alternate path to follow rather than the one I’m hung up on.

Nothing ever works every time, so having ways to expand information about the story and characters can help you get past roadblocks.

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