Rule #9

Welcome Back, folks.

Today is Wednesday. The day I set aside to learn the craft of writing. As you may know, I am reviewing Pixar’s 22 Storytelling Rules.

Allow me to interrupt myself and give a word of caution. I’m repeating myself, but I want to make sure we are all clear. These rules are not really “RULES”; statements that must be followed else your writing is crap.


They are simply guidelines and tips that may or may not help you reach the next level in your writing (or whatever other creative project you might undertake).

So, why are they called rules, eh?

Hell, if I know. Someone must have liked the word so there it is. Get over it. Take these for what they are, someone’s advice. Since it comes from the Emma Coats , formerly of Pixar, we’ll just say she probably has a better idea than me what makes a good story.

Okay, with that out-of-the-way, let’s move on.

Ah, but we can’t, can we? Because we are stuck. We’ve written non-stop for the past two weeks (or months or years) and then like a car crashing into your bedroom, everything ends. The story thread is lost. Characters refuse to move or speak. And words thrown on the page fade away as if they were ghosts.

Yup, we are stuck. Regardless of all that plotting and research, we have no idea where the story is going and why. What to do?

Myself? I stop writing. I take a break. Whether that break is one day, a week or more, I take it. I give my brain a chance to work things out. Eventually, it does. However, I imagine that writers on a serious deadline might not have that luxury. If that is the case, maybe we need to look at the ninth “rule”:

When you’re stuck: make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. Lots of times, the material to get you unstuck will show up.

Seems simple enough.

Tell me, what do you do when you get stuck?


15 thoughts on “Rule #9

  1. For me, there is ‘big stuck’ and ‘little stuck’ 🙂

    Thanks for the post! I love this series 🙂

    Little stuck is easier: that’s when I don’t want to write a scene and that’s usually because what I plan to have come next doesn’t feel interesting. So the way to move past that, for me, is to look for a way to make it more interesting: cut the scene, change the POV, change the setting, work but the biggest thing that works for me lately is to key off an expected emotion. For instance, if the character is all glum about not getting to ride griffins anymore, have him just touch on that and focus instead on the disappointment his father will feel.

    For ‘big stuck’, that happens for me when I realize a turning point or major plot point isn’t going to work out. A plot twist no longer makes sense, given where the story as gone, or a TP doesn’t have the necessary impact. Then, it is time to go back and re-visit my turning points and synopsis/outline.

    The little stucks don’t keep me stuck much anymore. The issue is usually just recognizing it. Once that’s happen, there are plenty of tools for fixing a scene. For the big stucks, I don’t rush it. if I need to re-think the bones of the story, it’s worth spending as long as it takes, generally a few days or a week, but if it takes longer, so be it. What’s the point of writing a draft that feels wrong before you complete it? Might as well fix the problem. In my current project, I made such as change in the middle of draft one, which meant that the first half didn’t quite mesh with the second half but that’s why we have notes and annotation (BTW really found scrivener’s note field for each scene quite handy for tracking such things).

    1. Oooh, I like the idea of changing the POV – that may indeed help me. I’ll try it next time I’m stuck.

      I know, I should get Scrivener…

  2. I’ve been reading Nancy Kress’s “Beginnings, Middles and Ends” and it has some great advice for this problem. When we’re stuck, it usually means that we’ve stopped paying attention to our characters. We have trouble moving forward, because we’ve lost sight of their goals and motivations. We need to look over our work again and see where things went off the rails. Then we have two options:

    1.) Pinpoint where things started going wrong and replot from there, so as to find a better fit for our existing characters.

    2.) Or maybe you like where the plot is going now, so you need to rethink your characters to better fit that.

    When I read this, it was kind of an “a-ha” moment for me. I think when we step away for a bit, as suggested, we sort of do this subconsciously. This just may be a faster way to get back to work. 🙂

    1. A plan of action is always good. And trying to identifying why you are in the stuck position is the first step in any plan. I guess that’s what I use my ‘away’ time for, though in a less structured way. I’ll try this next time. Thanks! (And I must get Ms. Kress’ book!)

  3. This is very good advice and I like the personal variations in the comments too. As with the other rules, if taken as guidelines or principles as you suggest, there is plenty of room for individual variation.

    This rule is similar to your suggestions for clearing the mind in order to find typos more accurately. Solving problems or making good decisions is often helped by standing back before returning to look at the situation again, perhaps from a different perspective.

    1. A new perspective always helps. I really like the idea of switching up POVs. I think I’ll try that tonight.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  4. When I get stuck, I think my way backward through the story to find out where I got off track, and start writing again from that point. Usually I only lose a day or two of work. Then it’s a matter of putting my butt back in the chair!

    1. I’ve actually never done that. I usually throw it all out and start over. But doing what you describe sounds a lot more practical and means I may learn what I’m doing wrong. Thanks!

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