Tips,  Writer's Block

Avoiding Brick Walls & Unraveling Plot Lines

You just got a great idea! Whoo Hoo! But how do you keep this idea from giving you the worst of headaches along the way or worse, ending up in the graveyard of story ideas never to see the light of day again? These are the Questions you must be able to answer:


Why is how and why in all caps? Because they are the questions that will come up repeatedly as you map out the plot either in your head or on paper. When you come to a crossroads or a brick wall in your story, it’s usually one of these two questions that you need to answer before you can move on, but keep in mind, it can be anything. For example, in Harry Potter’s case, WHO is trying kill Harry? is a question that you’ll need an answer for before you get started. Other Harry Potter examples: HOW is he going to destroy Voldemort? HOW is he going to acquire the skills necessary? WHY does he have to destroy Voldemort? WHY is he the only one who can do it?

Other more general examples: HOW is the villain going to attack my protagonist? WHY is the villain attacking my protagonist? WHY is my protagonist chasing after that guy? HOW does my protagonist get to Spain if they have no money and nothing of value to sell? If you don’t have the answer to these kinds of questions specially, the idea starts unraveling there. Let’s take a generic idea and break these down, shall we?

This is the hero, the heroine, the focal point, the main character, the protagonist. Let’s say in this case it’s Suzy Smith.

This is the goal Suzy is trying to accomplish or the means by which she accomplishes something. In this case, Suzy has had the early mid-life crisis called, “I’m turning 30 next year.” Her goal is to find herself again.

This is when is all this action going to take place like, after a breakup or after the death of a parent. Today, the crisis starts after Suzy is fired from her advertising job.

This is the basic setting where most of the story is going to take place like 18th Century England or Modern Day Croatia, for example. It also includes places like, office buildings if most of the story is going to take place in an office building. Suzy worked with an advertising company in sunny Orlando Florida. To find herself she’s going to backpack across the United States.

This is how the protagonist is going to accomplish their goal. Suzy is going to load up her Volkswagon and hit the road, camping out, staying in cheap motels, and crashing on the couches of old college friends along the way.

This is a two parter. The first part is: why is Suzy backpacking across the country? The second part is: why did she lose her job and thus decided to go on this journey in the first place? Part One: Because she lost her job and wants to find herself. Part Two: She was having an affair with the boss and when his wife found out, he fired her to save his marriage.

Now you can start your story.
And always feel free to put these in any order you want. Sometimes you can’t answer the who until you know how or the how until you know the why or the why until you know when.

For a more complicated plot line, you’ll need to go through this process multiple times. For example, for the villain and for the love interest. In Suzy’s case, the villain is both turning 30 and her ex-boss/ex-lover. Turning 30 is easy, it’s part of the aging process, her birthday is coming up. She has no control over that. The boss is the CEO of an advertising company in Florida who’s wife caught him cheating when she found a text message on his work phone from Suzy because the wife was going through his stuff because she was suspicious. As a result, he dumps Suzy and fires her because it’s the only way he can keep his wife from leaving him.

In a love interest’s case: Melvin, a poet/librarian, meets Suzy at the gas station in Knoxville Tennessee when she crashes into him on her way in because she needs to pee very, very badly. He finds her harried demeanor charming and after seeing her Florida license plate waits for her to come out. After they strike up a conversation he offers his unoccupied parent’s house as a comfortable place for her to stay for a couple days because they’re out of town and need a house sitter and he wants to help her out and get her know her better. He’s been looking for a free spirit to share his life with, someone who loves adventure as much as he does.

Happy Plotting! ^_^


  • randi lee

    These are excellent examples of basic–yet so intense and complex–writing needs!Who thru How should ALWAYS be asked… they're the basis for pushing your story forward! Great post, Krystal. I'll be tweeting about this!

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