I have an affliction. A great story idea rockets into my head, I spin out the first chapter, and then–poof!–my mad-typing fingers screech to a halt. Take a look in my desktop folder labeled “Projects” and you’ll find about ten of these 20-page do-hickies. Why do I do this? How do I regain the momentum I had when I first started writing? So far, I’ve managed to take one of these slump projects and forge through, completing it. Here’s what I learned about getting past the 20-page slump.
1) The first plot line is not always the right plot line. For me, I had a great character in mind, and an exciting setting. I just didn’t have the right theme. If something isn’t clicking, but you still love your main character and/or setting, trying rethinking the plot. Is it really a coming-of-age? Or is it a mystery? Or is it a romance?
2) Your character’s “want” might need some changing around. What your character(s) main want is, and how they set out to get it, is a huge aspect of your story. My MC’s want just wasn’t compelling enough, and I didn’t realize it until I’d let the story slump and sit for a while. I tried adding a new layer to her main want (in her case, going from “wanting to be taken seriously by adults”—snore—to “wanting to overcome her clumsy nature and become the apprentice to her famous detective uncle”). I’d intrigued myself again, and couldn’t wait to write.
3) Subplots are essential and exciting. When I read a book, I like to be thrown into numerous plots—a main plot, and accompanying subplots. These help tremendously when advancing the story and keeping it exciting for the reader. The main plot might become boring, even for you, the writer.
4) The conflict needs serious stakes for someone to seriously care. I will admit, ratcheting up the stakes for my MC always comes later during revisions. Like the “want,” the conflict needs to be substantial, the consequences dire. Try asking yourself, “What if my main character doesn’t get what she wants?” If there is no real consequence, take another look at what she risks and how to make it more intense.
5) Maybe a “great idea” is all it is—for now. I’ve come to terms with some of the 20-page slumps sitting in my Projects folder. I never completely give up on any of them, but to help me move forward with other projects, I set it aside and let the story percolate in my subconscious a little while. The story will be there when I’m ready to come back to it, and perhaps by then things will have settled into place.