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October 13, 2023 | 6 min read

We’ve all hit that point in writing our project where you stare at the page, all the hard work and time that you’ve spent crafting your world and your characters, and think, “Where do I go next?” This point can be frustrating, but there are ways around it, all right at your fingertips. Hello, my name is William Boechler, and I’m a horror author and Freewrite user from Portland, Oregon. Here are five tips that I use when my stories need a little extra oomph to get them going.

As a mom, schedules during the day can be unpredictable but I set time aside every night from about 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. to write. At times, it was not easy to find the energy, but Freewrite helped me focus. I knew that as soon as I sat down to draft, I had a limited time to get my word count in.

Trust Your Characters: External vs. Internal Motivation

Sometimes when writing you may find yourself stuck because you don’t want to mess up your character’s characterization, or how they feel, or how they might act in a certain situation or scene. When I have trouble with this I try to look for two things: the external and the internal motivation for each character.

The external motivation depicts the basic goal of the character. In Cormac McCarthy’s hit apocalyptic book, The Road, the story revolves around a father and son moving about this long dead landscape. The goal: the father wants to travel south. That is the father’s external motivation. His internal motivation, however, is something much deeper and more personal and not as easily revealed up front. As the book goes on we realize that this father desperately wants to make sure that his son is safe in this new hellish world. This is his internal motivation. The very core at which his being operates. He wants to go south, but he really wants to make sure that his son is safe.

When I get stuck, I jot down in a notebook what I think my characters’ internal and external motivations may be for the scene, but also the entire work. Then, as I write, I can more clearly see what boundaries the character would push to get what they want.

Secondary Scenes

  • One of the entire story as if it was a plot summary, called the Paragraph Outline. Per its namesake, it should be no more than a paragraph or two.
  • Then you move one step closer and create the Full Outline, which gives you a better look at breaking the project up into acts. It's more detailed and can span several pages on its own. This outline also allows you to come up with specific beats that you want to hit in your story.
  • Lastly, there are the Scene Outlines, the closest of all, which let you break down the purpose of each scene in your story and explore their narrative weight. Ideally, you would have many Scene Outlines, which allows you to also reorganize the pacing of your story on a whim if you feel something doesn’t flow properly.

Using these outlines has allowed me to keep myself on track when I find I’m writing a scene where nothing really happens. I try to make sure there is a goal in each scene for multiple characters, and it’s easier to organize and change those by scene if you have an outline dedicated to it.

Soundscapes and Atmosphere

One of my favorite things to do when I’m stuck writing is take a step back from the story and imagine what the world sounds like around my characters. I ask myself a variety of questions, like:

Soundscapes and Atmosphere

  1. Where are they? What is the mood of the place?
  2. What is the character feeling in that moment? How can I emphasize that with sound?

What I do is find videos on YouTube that are two, maybe even three hours long that simulate the character’s environment in some way, and I loop them. This can be literally anything, from the Twin Peaks Double R Diner with smooth soft jazz and occasional dinner plates clanging, to a large gothic castle’s library in a medieval setting, complete with a fireplace crackling, old book pages rustling under studious fingers, and a distant rumble of thunder. Then, while that soundscape is playing, I go and find something musical to go along with it. It’s usually a film’s score of some sort that fits the scene’s mood, or a personal playlist for the character specifically (and if you aren’t already making playlists for your characters, I highly recommend it). As the soundscape continues and the music swirls around me, I find it easier to access my character.

What I do is find videos on YouTube that are two, maybe even three hours long that simulate the character’s environment in some way, and I loop them.
– Johnd Doe

What I do is find videos on YouTube that are two, maybe even three hours long that simulate the character’s environment in some way, and I loop them. This can be literally anything, from the Twin Peaks Double R Diner with smooth soft jazz and occasional dinner plates clanging, to a large gothic castle’s library in a medieval setting, complete with a fireplace crackling, old book pages rustling under studious fingers, and a distant rumble of thunder. Then, while that soundscape is playing, I go and find something musical to go along with it. It’s usually a film’s score of some sort that fits the scene’s mood, or a personal playlist for the character specifically (and if you aren’t already making playlists for your characters, I highly recommend it). As the soundscape continues and the music swirls around me, I find it easier to access my character.

Eric Smith is a literary agent, Young Adult author, and Freewrite Ambassador from Elizabeth, New Jersey. As an agent with P.S. Literary, he’s worked on New York Times bestselling and award-winning books. His recent novels include the YALSA Best Books for Young Readers selection Don’t Read the Comments (Inkyard Press, 2020), You Can Go Your Own Way (Inkyard Press, 2021), the anthologies Battle of the Bands (Candlewick, 2021) and First-Year Orientation (Candlewick, 2023), both co-edited with award-winning author Lauren Gibaldi, and Jagged Little Pill: The Novel, which was written in collaboration with Alanis Morissette, Academy award-winner Diablo Cody, and Glen Ballard, and is an adaptation of the Grammy and Tony award winning musical.

Not sure where to find your writing community?

We recommend starting with NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo helps you track your writing progress, set milestones, connect with other writers in a vast community, and participate in events that are designed to make sure you finish your novel. Freewrite is a proud sponsor of NaNoWrimo, with writing challenges every November, April, and July! Check it out.

 

Ohio author Monica Corwin is a data analyst by day

As a mom, schedules during the day can be unpredictable but I set time aside every night from about 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. to write. At times, it was not easy to find the energy, but Freewrite helped me focus. I knew that as soon as I sat down to draft, I had a limited time to get my word count in.

IP means "intellectual property," ie. instead of writing something you came up with on your own, you're hired by a publisher to write about something that already exists! People usually think of existing brands, like Neopets, Disney, Marvel, etc., but IP can also mean a concept that's developed in-house by an editor and then an author is hired to write it. You'd be surprised how many books are IP without anyone even knowing.

Trust Your Characters: External vs. Internal Motivation

Sometimes when writing you may find yourself stuck because you don’t want to mess up your character’s characterization, or how they feel, or how they might act in a certain situation or scene. When I have trouble with this I try to look for two things: the external and the internal motivation for each character.

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