Five Writing Tips for Getting Unstuck

Stuck with your novel? All of us get stuck from time to time; so this is for those occasions  when you re-read a piece of writing and you know there is something wrong with it but you are not sure what it is.

Victorian inkwell

First suggestion:

You may have too much narrative. As a rough guide, if you have more than two sides of narrative or description uninterrupted by a bit of dialogue, or something really startling – a dragon appearing, say – you risk your readers’ attention beginning to wander.

Try breaking the passage up with a bit of dialogue. ‘Harry, I think this was a mad idea. How much further is it?’

There was the sound of small stones from the scree on the hillside above and a scattering of pebbles fell onto the path in front of them.

‘Shut up!’ hissed Harry, ‘we’re nearly there and we don’t want to disturb … ’.

This raises the tension and helps to keep the reader involved with your characters.

Second suggestion:

Your sentences may be too similar in length and tone. Nothing slows down a passage quicker than a sentence which seems to go on and on. Read the passage out loud. Can you prune it a bit? It’s surprising how cutting just a few words, or moving phrases about, can improve the flow. I often find I’ve put a phrase at the end of a sentence which really needs to go at the beginning.

What is the passage actually doing for the story? Perhaps varying the length of the individual sentences will help. Or, you might consider having a sudden short sentence in a paragraph of longer sentences. It can pack quite a punch – if that’s appropriate, of course.

Third suggestion:

Have you lost the emotional connection? Are you sitting on the wrong person’s shoulder? It’s important that the reader stays emotionally involved with your characters. Try re-writing the passage from the point of view of the person who has the most to lose, the one who is the most vulnerable.

Victorian writing desk

Fourth suggestion:

If you have several characters on stage, they may all be speaking in too similar a register. Remember, men and women speak differently; so do people from different generations or backgrounds.

Try this exercise: we have three characters: Mrs Ainsley-Scott, Freya, and Ben Hood.

Who says:

1) with a shrug: ‘Whatever.’

2) ‘Eff off!’ and spits.

3) ‘You’re old enough to know better, dear.’

OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. Your readers should be able to tell who is speaking without the ‘he said’ and ‘she said’.

Fifth suggestion

Are you starting a piece of dialogue too early? It is often better to start a conversation in the middle. You do not need half a page of introductory speech before you get the important bit. I would give the same advice about ending a conversation. You can almost always begin a conversation later, and end a conversation earlier than you think. If you can end it on a cliff-hanger, so much the better.

Elizabeth Hawksley

I hope these help.

Elizabeth Hawksley

(Frost Fair)


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