I am stuck in my writing

by Mina Bancheva
(Bath England)

Dear Glen,

You have helped me before and I hope you can help me again. I am one third through my second novel and feel completely stuck with no idea how to continue. The structure of this novel is more complicated than that of my first novel as I started the narrative in the late 1920ies and then realized that the baby that was born in chapter 10 will in fact be the main character of the novel and everything I'd written so far would be a back story. So I went forward in time to 1958 when the baby, now in her late twenties visits the place where she was born (the USA). From then on the action takes place in Bulgaria between 1942-1960 and follows the highs and lows of the heroine's life during the war, the communist regime in Bulgaria, the camps etc. and her relationship with her boyfriend who is American.

Now I seem to have come to a dead end in the plot and can't think where to go from here. This is unusual for me, I have never before felt so stuck in a story, it is as if all my creativity and source of ideas has completely dried up!

Do you have any advice how I could unblock my creativity and get my inspiration back?

Many thanks,

Mina Bancheva

Response: Hi Mina,

I think every story has a "right" ending, but to find it, you have to know what your story is really about. You have to know what your story goal is -- the concern that affects or involves the majority of characters (perhaps something related to the war?). And you have to know what your main character's inner conflict is all about -- how she initially handles situations, how she comes to doubt herself and consider a different way, and whether she will make the right choice.

Sometimes it is easier if you know whether you want a happy ending or a tragedy (or perhaps a personal triumph).

For instance, if you know you want your main character to be better off, at peace, or happier in the end, then you know the crisis will be when her life is at its worst possible place. That also tells you that what comes before will build to that crisis point.

On the other hand, if she is to end up miserable, then the crisis will be the
point where she seems on top of the world. In the first half of the story, she will seem to be winning, making progress toward that high point. After the crisis, it will all collapse.

So if you look at how her life has been unfolding so far, that may give you a clue regarding what's coming.

The external plot, which concerns the story goal and the majority of characters, will proceed similarly. Tragedies build to a high point, after which it all goes south. Comedies build to a point where all seems lost, and then it all reverses.

Something else to consider is that in many stories the beginning offers a clue to the ending. For instance, Orson Scott Card suggests there are four types of stories:

A Milieu story begins when a character goes to a strange new world. It ends when she returns home a new person.

An Idea story begins with a question or mystery and ends with the answer or solution.

A Character story begins with an unhappy character who decides to find a new role or a new life. It ends when she finds a settles happily into whatever role/life she eventually chooses.

An Event story starts with a threat to the world order and ends with the establishment of a new order.

So you might ask yourself what type of problem you are setting up in the opening chapter, because that will suggest where you should end the story.

I would also suggest you try to write a one or two-sentence summary of the story. Something like...

"This is a story about a woman who tries to ____________ (do something) in order to avoid ______________ (threat) or achieve ____________ (goal). Despite __________________ (obstacles) she eventually ________________ (succeeds or fails to do something) and as a result ends up ___________________ (better or worse off)."

If you can find a way to express the spine of the story in a few words, the ending may become obvious.

Best of luck.

P.S. You might consider that the initial problem may have been created when she was born. That may be the setup of the story. If returning home in 1958 represents the resolution of that problem. If so, then the middle of the story (complication --> crisis) is the war. If so, then what is the crisis, the low point, that will force her to do what she needs to return home?

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