Why Do Writers Get Stuck Even When Writing With An Outline?

A quick tips video for you today — two reasons why you might get stuck in the middle of your first draft, even if you’re writing with a detailed plot outline.


P.S. I’ve been working on a secret project for a couple of weeks now, and it’s almost time to pull back the curtain!  More news coming soon…

How to Create Powerful Internal Conflicts for Your Characters

I’m blogging at Savvy Authors today about how to construct internal conflicts so that they generate plot ideas and help you make the theme of your story stronger.

If you can complete the Internal Conflict Sentence, you’ll find out if your character’s internal conflict works (and it’ll be obvious how to fix it if it doesn’t work).  If you struggle to writing stories where the character’s inner struggles drive the external plot, this is where you start.

Read all about it at:

Hope to see you there!

Editing for Story, Episode 1: Plot Structure

In honor of those who’ve finished NaNoWriMo and will be editing their new baby later this month or next year, we’ll be talking about the editing process for fiction.

Today’s video: tips for editing, why plot structure is important, and how to analyze the plot structure of your story.

Also, don’t forget to download your free copy of Editing for Story:

How to Fill the Holes Between Major Plot Points in Your Story

Running out of plot for your novel? In honor of National Novel Writing Month, I’d like to share this excerpt from my workbook, The 30 Day Novel Success Journal, on how to fill in the holes in your story.

It’s not unusual to have some difficulty figuring out what happens in your story. What can you do when that happens?

It’s common to figure out some of the big story events first, and then go back and figure out how to connect them. The brainstorming we’ve already talked about is a great way to generate those big events.

How do you figure out what happens in the gaps between those big events?

Let’s say that your protagonist is an archaeologist, and you know that he’s going to discover a lost tomb containing a magical artifact that he’ll have to risk his life to retrieve.

And you know that later, your antagonist is going to ambush him and steal the artifact.

How do you get your protagonist from the tomb to the site of the ambush?

First, ask yourself: “What is the aftermath of the first event?”

In the process of retrieving the artifact, did your protagonist injure himself? Lose something important? Learn something new about the artifact or the danger he’s in?

How does he feel about having violated the ancient tomb? What does he intend to do with the artifact? Does he believe in the ancient curse that was inscribed on the wall of the tomb?

Does he have to go somewhere to get medical treatment or can he patch himself up?

Did he attract the attention of the antagonist, and if so, is the antagonist doing anything in response that might affect the protagonist?

Is there really a curse, and if so, what’s happening as a result of it being focused on the protagonist?

How is his concern about being cursed affecting his behavior? If he doesn’t believe in the curse, do those around him, and if so, does it affect how they treat him?

Now that the protagonist has the artifact, what does he plan to do with it? Get it to a museum? Have a wizard neutralize it? Sell it to someone who will use its powers for good?

Second, ask yourself: “What has to happen to set up the second event?”

Your protagonist has to have a reason to be in the place where the antagonist will ambush him. Why’s he there? Is he trying to show the artifact to an appraiser or a wizard or another archaeologist? Is he trying to get the curse lifted?

Also, how did the antagonist know he’d be there? Is the contagonist or some secondary character spying on the protagonist for the antagonist? Does the antagonist have the ability to track the artifact with magic?

How did the protagonist get to the ambush site, and what could go wrong on the way? Could the curse be causing problems that slow him down? Could his superstitious belief in a curse cause him to take a less-than-optimal route? Could he be betrayed by someone along the way? What dangers lie along his chosen route?

Does the protagonist know that the antagonist wants the artifact? If so, is he preparing to defend it? Or trying to find out what the antagonist is up to as he travels to the ambush site? Does he have allies he can visit to request help?

If you think about the fallout from the first event and how your character might react to it, as well as the things that have to be set up for your next big scene, you’ll start to get ideas for filling in the holes in your plot outline.

Also, there’s no rule that says you have to write every scene of your novel in order. If you need some time to figure out a story problem, it’s okay to put in a placeholder scene, and write it later once you’ve solved the problem:

[Clark escapes from Frank’s basement, and steals the Etruscan artifact.]*

Don’t forget to put an asterisk next to your placeholder so that it’s easy to search for when you’re ready to come back to it.

Problems as Inspiration

A story where things happen randomly to the characters tends to be episodic and unsatisfying—it’s crucial that readers understand why each event in the story is happening. If the events of the middle aren’t connected to the events in the beginning of the story in some way, your story will lose cohesion.

Mystery author Raymond Chandler used to say:

“When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”

In other words, if you don’t know what happens next in your story, give your character a new problem to solve.


…make sure that this new problem arises in some way from what’s already happened. The man with the gun in his hand might be someone that the protagonist frustrated in a previous scene. Or someone that the antagonist hired after learning about the protagonist’s earlier actions. Or a third party who found out about the protagonist’s intentions and decided to intervene.

Continuing our example from before, maybe the man with the gun is an antique dealer who learned about the artifact when the protagonist came to him for information about the tomb. Or maybe the man with the gun is one of the tomb’s guardians, brought back to life by the curse that the protagonist activated by stealing the artifact.

If you think of a cool problem to throw at the protagonist that doesn’t arise from what’s already happened in the story, make a note to yourself to add the necessary setup scene when you revise your novel.

Workshop: Dan Wells on Story Structure

NaNoWriMo’ers: This incredibly useful plotting workshop that shows how to identify multiple story arcs in your novel and weave them all together. Especially helpful if you want to include one or more subplots and aren’t sure how to work them in!

It’s split into five videos:

On a side note, his seven point outline is also great for plotting out short stories.

Interview and Contest at The Author’s Journal

The lovely Paula Millhouse interviews me on her blog, The Author’s Journal, about the evolution of the plot-as-you-go romance story blueprint and how this approach to writing can help both plotters and pantsers:

One lucky commenter will win a free copy of The 30 Day Novel Success Journal for Romance, just in time for NaNoWriMo!

New Writing Resources Available on the Downloads Page

For everyone doing JulNoWriMo, if you’d like an easy way to track your word count, I’ve created a Progress Tracker chart (PDF download) that you can use to record your daily word count and total word count.

Progress Tracker for Writing a Novel in 30 Days

For readers of The 30 Day Novel Success Journal, I’ve created worksheets for all the brainstorming questions in PDF.  So if you’re reading the kindle version or listening to the audiobook (or even reading the paperback, but would rather write on a worksheet than in the book)–you can download everything through these links:

Pre-writing Worksheets and Resources (zipped file)

30 Days of Worksheets and Productivity Questions (zipped file)

The pre-writing worksheets contain all the brainstorming questions to help you figure out your plot, setting, and characters.

The resource PDF lists all the writing books and other resources I recommended in the book, in one handy shopping list file.

The 30 days of worksheets are the daily writing prompts that guide you through the story blueprint, to prod your muse into revealing possible directions your story could take next.

If you follow the story prompts, you’ll write a story that fits into three-act structure, follows the hero’s journey, and contains a character growth arc for your protagonist.

The actual blueprint is contained in the book, so if you haven’t read it, you can still use the daily prompts, although it might not be entirely clear why the questions fall in the order that they do. But they will still work.

The productivity questions are intended to be answered each day after your writing session, to give you greater insight into your creative process and help you eliminate the blocks that are slowing you down or stopping you from writing altogether.

Even if you haven’t read the book, you may still find the worksheets useful, and did I mention, it costs you nothing to try them because they’re free?  🙂

(If you want to read The 30 Day Novel Success Journal, you can get it in Paperback, Kindle, or Audiobook.)

Happy writing!