Novel Goggles Blog

Five Ideas for when you’re stuck with your novel

Author: Lionel Basson

13 December 2022 16:00

Is being stuck while writing your novel driving a few screws loose? Has a difficult manuscript put you at risk of becoming unhinged? I’ve got five ideas to salvage your sanity and loosen up your throwing arm. Throwing arm? Yip, you’ll be hurling words at the page whole paragraphs at a time. So, what are the five ideas? I won’t keep you waiting, and number five is a spicy one:

  1. Revisit Your Premise
  2. Evaluate Your Narrative Structure
  3. Create A Plot Outline
  4. Ask someone
  5. A Spicy One

Hmmm, no mention of meditation, vision quests or calming teas? Nope, just revisiting the basics to show how each of the above ideas can help you restart your seized narrative engine.

Revisit Your Premise

If you’re stuck with your story, revisiting your premise might help. It is supposed to be your inspiration for the writing journey, so it seems like a logical place to start. Did you write down your premise somewhere? If you did, go dig it up. If you didn’t, 0_0...

If you didn’t write down a premise to begin with, now is the time to do it. Not only does it capture your story idea, main character and central conflict, crafting a premise is also an opportunity to explore your story idea’s possibilities. These possibilities are something to revisit or explore further if you’re stuck.

If you never fully explored your premise at the time of writing it down or if you’ve only just written it down now, perhaps pondering your pristine premise from which you previously prematurely proceeded to put pen to paper will be just the thing to jolt your thoughts and get the words hurtling at the page. If you need a little more help with the premise, see more about crafting a good premise here: Read more about crafting a premise.

If you already have a well-crafted premise and a good expansive set of possibilities to go with it, read through them to see if there’s anything there to jump start your story.

If you’re still stuck after revisiting your premise, read on to see how Narrative Structure might help.

Evaluate Your Narrative Structure

Narrative structure is critical to how your story unfolds and it can help to reveal what your story is missing. If you’re stuck, evaluating your Narrative Structure might help you to get moving again. It might sound like a scary and complicated task, but you could benefit from a look at the basics.

At its core, your story needs a beginning, middle and end. Where are you stuck? Do you know? Perhaps you’ve been writing in the hope that your characters will weave a working story of their own accord while on their wild adventures. If you’re reading this, that probably hasn’t worked out. So, take a look at the fundamental elements of story structure to see if it shows you the way forward.

At its core, your story needs the following:

  1. A Beginning:

    1. Hook
    2. Exposition (Opening)
    3. Inciting Incident

  2. A Middle:

    1. Rising Action
    2. Midpoint
    3. Climax

  3. An End:

    1. Denouement (Resolution)

Are you struggling with the inciting incident? Perhaps your exposition hasn’t fully introduced your story to the reader. Do you need somewhere to aim your characters? You can aim your lead character at the midpoint and then craft the story of how they reach this inflection point in their journey. Maybe you know what your climax is going to be but your characteres aren't finding their way through the trials of the Rising Action. Consider a Plot Outline, working backwards from that point in the story.

For a deeper dive into Narrative Structure, check out this post: Read more about Narrative Structure.

As you can see from the last scenario above, Narrative Structure is best paired with some sort of a Plot Outline so if Narrative Structure alone hasn’t greased the wheels of your Narrative Locomotive, it will have set you up for success with your Plot Outline.

Novel Goggles has handy templates for Narrative Structure and Outlining Tools suitable for the Plotter and the Pantser.

Create A Plot Outline

Ideally, you would have a good Premise and know a bit about Narrative Structure before you create a Plot Outline but even if you don’t, perhaps the tips below can help you anyway.

“But I’m a Pantser!” I hear you proclaim. Indeed, and yet even the pantser can benefit from the structure and order of the Plot Outline. If even the thought offends you, remember, creating a Plot Outline is a creative process too. It is slightly different to the creative process involved in crafting the Narrative, but it can be just as fun. Try it out and see if it helps to get you moving again. Perhaps thinking a bit about where your story is going or how it is going to get there is just the thing you need to corral your characters and set you (and them) on the path to success.

Creating a plot Outline need not be overly complicated, simply try applying the following to your story:

  1. Think about your characters, where they’re coming from and what they want.
  2. Think about what is working against them.
  3. Think ahead about where your story needs to go and how it is going to get there.
  4. Or, working backwards from an event that you want to have happen, build up the story of how it comes about.
  5. Put your thoughts down in scene, setting and character sketches.
  6. Think about the main story arc and consider adding subplots too.
  7. Evaluate your scenes, story arcs and character arcs in the context of the Narrative Structure, paying attention to story pace, tension and the positioning of climaxes.
  8. Consider backstory and how it might influence your characters and how events play out.

Working on a Plot Outline is an excellent way to come unstuck. If done properly, it will help you to create a better story and at the same time it can give you a clearer picture of where to take the story next. Having short summaries of your scenes, settings and characters can also be of enormous help if your manuscript is in need of some revision. Perhaps moving a few things around will create a clearer path for you to follow. Doing this with the help of a Plot Outline can be easier than revising a manuscript on its own.

For a deeper dive into Plot Outlines, take a look at this post: Read more about Plot Outlines.

If looking over your Plot Outline hasn’t helped or if you simply refuse to entertain the thought of one, perhaps talking about your story with someone else will help.

Novel Goggles makes Plot Outlines easy to create and access while you write.

Novel Goggles makes manuscript revision easier by allowing you to re-organise your chapter and scene order and traverse the manuscript.

Ask someone

This idea doesn’t need to follow the others, you can jump straight to it. Discussing your story with someone else is almost sure to offer up a few new ideas that you hadn’t thought of. This person could be:

  1. A friend or family member.
  2. A beta reader.
  3. An editor.
  4. A member of a writing group. If you’re not a member of any writing groups, joining one might open up some opportunities to discuss your story online or in person.

Maybe all you need is some impartial input on where your story stands or appears to be going. Fresh eyes can do wonders and they might suggest something interesting. You can let them read what you have or you can just talk to them about it, the choice is yours. Perhaps they spot an opportunity between two characters and suggest that you explore a romantic subplot or perhaps they’re curious about a specific setting, prompting you to explore its history or feature it more prominently.

If you’re not sure that you want to share your story with somebody else just yet, consider the Spicy Option.

A Spicy One

The spicy one is going to crop up in the context of fiction writing with increasing frequency in the years to come. You might here people mention the following when talking about it:

  1. Artificial intelligence (AI, perhaps something of a misnomer at this time)
  2. Machine Learning
  3. Language Models
  4. Generative AI
  5. Deep Learning
  6. Neural Networks
  7. Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT)

In some form or another, machine learning and generative algorithms are finding their way into how people create things. The latest in conversational chat bots are quite adept at creating human-like conversation and can be prompted to generate short pieces of fiction, given the correct prompts. Perhaps you can try telling an AI chat-bot (such as chatGPT ) to tell you a story based on events or characters that you prompt it with. Its responses might give you an idea that you can take further.

Now this might be a controversial or concerning idea. I do, however, think that simply using a chatbot's responses as inspiration should be ok. As writers, we find inspiration in other people’s ideas all the time.

It is possible to take this idea to concerning extremes, at which point it may be prudent to at the very least disclose your use of assistive technologies (and its extent) in your writing process. I would caution against using the output directly. Covering all of the potential issues is outside of the scope of this post, but maybe I'll right a post on the pitfalls of upcoming technologies for writers.

Would you like to see a more in-depth blog post on the potential issues with using Machine Learning and Generative AI in your creative process?

Would you like to see Machine Learning or Generative AI integration in Novel Goggles?


I hope that the five ideas above will help you to come unstuck with your writing. Sometimes we just need something to nudge us in the right direction and a little structure doesn't hurt either.

If you enjoyed this piece, found it useful or if you'd like to see content focusing more on creativity, let us know, our e-mail address is just below.

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Terms & Definitions

  • Act
  • Antagonist
  • Chapter
  • Character Arc
  • Character Development
  • Character Progression
  • Climax
  • Conflict
  • Denouement
  • Deuteragonist
  • Exposition
  • Foil
  • Inciting incident
  • Love interest
  • Mentor
  • Narrative Structure
  • Opening
  • Outlining
  • Pace
  • Pantser
  • Pantsing
  • Plot Outline
  • Plot Point
  • Plotter
  • Plotting
  • Point of View
  • Premise
  • Protagonist
  • Resolution
  • Scene
  • Sequence
  • Setting
  • Sidekick
  • Story Arc
  • Tension
  • Theme
  • World Building

Did we forget anything? Let us know if there is a term or definition that you would like us to include: