I encountered this problem during last year’s NaNoWriMo. I was writing a sequel to my pre-NaNo book which meant I had all of my characters lined up. They had gone through hell, come out the other side slightly scathed, but their story wasn’t done.
The thing was, I had no idea what that story was going to be. I knew I wanted to live with them a bit longer, but the plot just wasn’t coming to me. I made them stand around for a while, waiting for something to happen, but as I neared the 20K mark I was out of things to put them through.
At least I thought.
Everyone seems to hit a bit of a hiccup around the second week of NaNo. The momentum of the month has worn off, we’ve met the characters, and now we have to decide where we are going. As most of us near that awkward 20K count where we aren’t quite halfway there and need some help, here are some questions to stir your thought process toward a plot.
What are things your character would not want to happen?
Make a list of things your character would hate to happen to them. Now, dump that entire list on them.
Not really, but select the ones that can make for good conflict or will best challenge your main character to grow.
This NaNo, my characters have a track record of using each other to solve problems and defeat the bad guys. You know what they would hate? To be separated. I’m breaking every bond they have just to make them deal with the aftermath.
What are things your character wants to happen?
We can’t always be mean to our characters. Maybe this time we can give them something they want… just make it not live up to expectations. Perhaps they want to get into their dream college. What if you let them get in, but to do so, they have to go to summer school and make up some credits, sacrificing their last summer with friends.
What are some of the problems your character has already?
How can you solve some of those problems, but inevitably make other things worse? By fixing one problem, how many more will arise? Maybe they’ve cured their best friend’s cancer by a magic spell, but in doing so they curse themselves. In my case, the main character can protect everyone he loves, but he might have to sacrifice his morals.
What are things your character is bad at?
Are they inexperienced at magic? What about fighting? What happens when they need to use those things to defeat the bad guy? Show them struggling to learn that skill. Personally, I hate it when a character in a book or movie is forced to fight and all of a sudden they know what they are doing.
What or who does your character love?
Okay, sometimes that’s the answer. Give your character a quest to save the love of their life. Maybe separate the thing or person from your character and see how they react. Play with their heart strings and see how hard you can pull before they break. Or maybe your goal is to actually break them. Go on, send them through hell again!
Keep asking questions of your characters. Find out how you can challenge them by making life difficult for them. Or you can make life really easy and suddenly they realize that’s not what they wanted after all!
Best of luck to you, writer! Though maybe I should be wishing your characters luck.
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