John Gardner once described writing a novel as “a sustained psychological battle with yourself”—and he might’ve been underselling it. Rendering an entire imagined world on the page—the characters, the dialogue, the settings, the machinations of the plot—with the right level of literary flair takes intense focus.
It’s therefore natural that sometimes, your focus will waver. You’ll stall when you realize a character doesn’t seem to belong, or when you’re unable to describe a moment of internal struggle quite the way you want, or when you’re just plain bored with where the action is going. Every novelist hits the wall at some point. But what can you do about it?
As a certified ghostwriter, I’d offer three pieces of advice:
1. Look Backward
If you don’t know how to move forward from a point in your story, it could be because there’s something wrong with how you got there. Think about your characters’ motivations, goals, and backstory, and how the circumstances and choices in their lives have propelled them forward to the current moment. How much money did they grow up with, and how did that affect them? Who are their friends? What are their educational backgrounds, religious beliefs, work histories, political leanings, hobbies, and favorite brunch items? What are their biggest fears, their fondest hopes, and the secrets they would kill to protect? What really annoys them? What can’t they stand about themselves?
Learn your characters inside and out, and not just in your head—write all this down, as if you were a private detective profiling them. Writing a detailed character history helps you think about your characters as fully formed human beings who want things, not just actors in a story reciting lines to move the plot along. When you understand where your characters are coming from, you’ll understand where they’re going. Which brings us to…
2. Look Forward
The plot of a novel is not just a sequence of events—it’s a sequence of events caused by previous events that in turn cause the characters to react. Cause and effect is crucial—if you’ve stalled, it could be because your current action isn’t dynamic enough to lead to real consequences for your characters.
Creating an action map of plot points in your novel is a great way to look at your story with fresh eyes and assess its effectiveness. To do this, strip away all the exposition and detail and simply write down the beats of your plot in sequential order. Suppose your novel starts out with Guy getting fired from the bank, then going bowling, then going home to tell Girl he can’t pay his half of their rent. Seeing the plot points mapped out like that should make you wonder why Guy went bowling before going home. It can’t be because he just felt like it, and it can’t be because that’s his regular Tuesday game and he never misses league night. Because that action comes right after being fired, and this is a novel, it must somehow be the result of his being fired. Instead, suppose Guy is afraid to go home and tell Girl he lost yet another job, and therefore he puts off the talk by going to the bowling alley (his stepmother taught him how to bowl, and it's his one happy memory from childhood) and rehearsing what he’s going to tell Girl, the dread growing with each frame. Now, you have a way to get him from work to the bowling alley to home that makes sense, and a set of circumstances that will affect the next plot point (“You went to the bowling alley before you came home?” Girl says. “Get out of this house!”).
Plotting out your entire novel this way will reveal where the weak spots are in terms of missing connective tissue between scenes, where the action lags or goes astray, and what the motivation is for each scene.
3. Look Inward
When your characters’ motivations are set and your action is meticulously plotted, yet you’re still stuck, it may be time to think critically about your project as a whole. You’ll need to determine if there is some fundamental conceit, focus, or logic issue hampering your novel, and what steps you can reasonably take to fix it.
For this critical inward gaze, an Analysis & Recommendations (A&R) can be a lifesaver. In this report (explained in more detail in this blog post), your certified ghostwriter will assess your novel’s biggest strengths and dealbreakers, offer a detailed analysis of your project, and provide prioritized, actionable recommendations for how to fix any issues and move forward with your book. If there is a big-picture issue hindering your manuscript, the A&R will find it and detail the steps to resolve it.
Please note that every novel-writing project with POV Certified Ghostwriting includes the services described here—character studies, an action map, and an A&R. To learn more about these techniques or to start discussing your novel, call (800) 717-3314 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, consultations are free.