Wednesday 16 November 2011

Not Sure What Happens Next? by Rochelle Melander

“So then what happens?” I asked my friend, who was writing the first draft of her fourth novel. We meet for coffee every few weeks or so to talk about writing. She had been telling me about her plot, a riveting teen adventure story set in a foreign country. “I wish I knew,” she answered.

It happens to all of us. We get to a certain point in the plot, and the story unravels. We do not know what happens next. Maybe we had an outline, but the characters got out of hand on us (they do that), and now what we had planned just does not seem believable. You’d think that with bossy characters like this, they’d give us a clue and tell us what to do next, but often they keep mum. What’s a writer to do in the middle of NaNoWriMo, with a word count goal hanging over her head, and no time to waste? Don’t worry—borrow an event or adventure for your characters. Here are five places you can look for your character’s next move.

1. Your life. Yeah, I know, your life is probably as boring as mine is. We work, we eat, we sleep, and once a week we may rent a movie. But, who knows—maybe you had a romantic tryst in your past or even a blowout argument with your old boss. Borrow the juicier details from your life, embellish them with fictional elements, and put it in your book.

2. Your fantasies. Most writers have a rich fantasy life. While everyone else is waiting in line at the grocery store, we’re imagining what would happen if the store got held up. Would we turn into a superhero and save the day? Take a stroll through your fantasies and nighttime dreams and give the adventure to your characters.

3. Your friends’ lives. I often live vicariously through the lives of friends. While they travel to Belize and write stories about luxury hotels, I maybe get to drive to my daughter’s school once a day. It’s probably a bit dangerous to blatantly take your friends’ lives and place them unedited into your story. Instead, take pieces of your friends’ experiences, combine them with your imaginings of what should have happened next, and put them in your book.

4. The lives of celebrities. They fight publically on Twitter, go in and out of rehab, and talk openly about their personal lives on television—how can you not use this stuff? Grab your favorite gossip rag, whether legitimate or heavily fictionalized, and read it for delicious plot twists.

5. The local news. When I watch the local news, usually while walking on the treadmill at the gym, I am surprised by the crazy stuff that people do. One local mother got high while on her daughter’s 2nd grade field trip. At a church in Alabama, the music minister, angry over being fired, tased the pastor. (I read that story at What is happening in your town? If local news is a little slow, choose a random town from your map and look it up online. Chances are good you’ll find some crazy antic to give to your characters.

Where do you look for inspiration and ideas when you are stuck?

Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast:Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at Write Now Coach.


  1. When I get stuck, the first two things I ask myself are:

    1) What would [favorite writer] do in this situation?

    2) What's the worst that could possibly happen to these characters right now?

  2. I'm the torture type too--if the book is slow, I always think about how I can make their lives harder.

  3. I TOTALLY borrowed from the life of celebrities for my most recent NaNoWriMo installment. One of my female main characters checked into rehab. Yeah, so it was 1989 instead of 2011. But my addiction for Celebrity Rehab over the years gave me some GREAT material!

  4. by the way, just did a Buddy thing with you over there. I'm "JaneBond" :)