Fankle is a word we use here in the west of Scotland to mean a tangle, muddle, or state of confusion. It’s easy to get into a fankle with your fiction, so I’m here to make some suggestions that might help you out of it.
I had an idea and made a start but now I’m stuck. How do I figure out where to go next with my story?
This is bound to happen at some point but don’t worry, there are some things you can do to help.
Try Some of These:
Brainstorm the Possibilities: Tell yourself there are ways around the problem and try and see how many you can find. Write them all down, however improbable, and see if any of them look promising. Try not to see your problem as an insurmountable obstacle as much a challenge, or even a game. Lists or clusters of ideas can help with discovering all the possible reasons for jealousy, or all the places you might get rid of a body and so on.
Bring in the New: If you can’t think of what should, or could, come next in your story, introduce an unplanned trip, some unwelcome news, or an unexpected occurrence (stopping to help someone, or a flood), or bring in another character (someone your character can connect with) and create an event that will involve them both. You could also plant some subtext in the dialogue or elicit an emotion unfamiliar to your character.
Probe Deeper: On p59 of her book ‘Writing for your Life’, Deena Metzger
says that “a story is enlivened by details, by the insights and associations that flesh it out, take it deeper” and suggests an exercise to create a story. I have adapted her exercise slightly to show how this, more organic, approach, can also help to take stories in new directions. It will suit those of you who prefer to work in non-linear ways:
Take four events (or possible events) from your story (it doesn’t matter if you have not written much; just use your notes or the ideas you have so far) and free write around each of these until you discover something that connects them to three new imagined events. Now write down three things noticed as a result of these imagined events and connect them to the original four. Then look for a pattern, a relationship between all the pieces. You will find that your imagination will begin to link what at first appeared to be random ideas.
Let your Story Speak: Your story is part of you, so let parts of it speak to you. For example have an object speak to you in a monologue. This might seem a strange thing to do but a pen that begs to be used somehow, by someone, may suggest a personality trait you could use for a character.
Let your Characters Speak: In the same way, question your characters and see what they have to say. Ask them how they feel about something; what they think should happen. When you put yourself in their shoes a solution often arises naturally because you become them and see their situation through their eyes. It is more difficult when you are on the outside looking in.
Look at Other Media: Mull over photographs, paintings and poems. These suggest stories; they have narratives of their own and the mind makes surprising and useful connections between things.
Change your Point of View Character. This often works when a story refuses to go beyond a certain point. Change first person to third, third person to first, or experiment with second person to see what the change brings to your story.
Cast your Eye Back: The problem you have now could very likely be the result of an earlier decision. Go back to the beginning of your story and, working from there, see which of the steps you took (or didn’t take) led to the problem you have now. Maybe the problem is with a character, an action or simply a gap that needs to be filled.
Put your Story Aside – If a different piece of your story interests you, leave the problem piece for a while and write this new one instead. Then you can go back and work out what is missing between the piece that was giving you trouble and the new piece you have written. You might even leave that story altogether for a while and begin another. That will take the pressure off and a solution may reveal itself.
Give your Story Three legs:Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter have a useful exercise on p123 of their book ‘What If?’ It will work best for simple stories and flash fiction but is good practice and could provide a starting point for something more sophisticated: See if you can reduce your story to three sentences of three words each. This gives you a beginning, middle and end, a basic structure to work with, and stages to work towards. The verbs in the sentences provide the action. So, you might have:
Girl goes to visit Grandmother
Girl Meets Wolf
Wolf eats Grandmother
Next Post: ‘Possible Prescriptions’– What can I do when I’m not inspired and can’t seem to write anything?