At the beginning of a new story, I often find that I’m stuck. Or that my scenes meander and feel fluffy and pointless. Or I have two or three scenes in which, more or less, the same thing is going on.

When this happens, I think a lot of writers try to force the story. They turn their brains upside-down trying to figure out what happens next.

Cheezburger animated GIF

That question haunts me sometimes, guys. What happens next? 

I have no idea.

But I’ve found a trick. I may not know what comes next, but my characters do.

So when you’re stuck, make a list of all your important players. Instead of asking What happens next? ask, What do you want in this moment, character, and how are you going to get it? If you have well-developed characters, they’ll tell you. And here’s a tip: write their answers down. It’s amazing how a vague impression can become a specific, solid reason when you develop it a little.

Once one character has acted, you’ll see how another character (or multiple characters) MUST react, which will create new problems and send your mind spinning off in all sorts of directions. It’s awesome. Like people, characters will always move toward their goals. When you don’t know what those goals are, your story will lack forward momentum.

This is how my stories are born. I discover characters, they make story. If you think about it, that’s how life works, anyway. Human choice dictates everything that isn’t an Act of Nature. Let your characters be human (even when they technically aren’t).

About Caitlyn McFarland

Mom of three girls, writer of fantasy novels.
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