Friday, April 20, 2012

Guest Blog: Beth Camp is "Up Against the Wall, Baby!"

No matter the reason, every once in a while, writers will hit the wall, the story will stall, and words will stop for even the most accomplished wordsmith.

When this happened to me last summer, I tried a combination of techniques: journaling, writing flash fiction inspired by the Internet Writers Workshop, reading research, and pushing myself back into my story. I tried brainstorming (my brain suffered), and outlining (I hate outlining). I do write chapter summaries as I work (and lists of major and minor characters), but I couldn’t see the whole story easily and I couldn’t decide what to write about next.

Nothing really worked until I went to the wall.

So if you are stuck, try this: Get a nice big wall-sized cork board, a bunch of stick pins, and a collection of 3x5 cards. If you’ve got a partial draft down, summarize each chapter in a few key words on a 3x5 card. Some writers might use different colors of cards; I tend to grab whatever color is handy.

Post the cards on the board in roughly the order of your story. Beginning, middle, and end. Since I write historical fiction, my story divides neatly into sections by time and location. I label section headings and put these across the top of board. Now, rearrange your 3x5 cards until the sequence of your plot makes sense.

Study the board. What’s missing? 

Prepare more cards. Consider major scenes, supporting characters, change in the seasons, historical events. Post maps and photos. Let’s not worry about any mess. Trust where you are in the writing process. If you have questions about your story, jot them on a 3x5 card and get them up on the board. Use anything that will help you understand your characters, conflicts, key scenes, and settings.

Now when I’m working on the plot, I’m finding it easier to see what happens next and themes affect the entire story. I can quickly spot plot holes, work out the rising action of the plot, and see where and how character arcs influence each other. I can also find minor characters and develop them more fully over the life of the story. As I work, I’m deepening my understanding of each character and can manipulate major plots shifts (macro) and individual scenes (micro) to match their emotional journey.

Staring at the wall can bring inspiration. May your writing go well!

Beth Camp lives happily in eastern Washington with her husband, Allen, no cats, no birds, no dogs, and no fish. She writes historical fiction. Visit her blog at 


Edith Parzefall said...

Very organized, Beth. Maybe some day, I'll try it when wrestling with the plot for a novel. For now I find that it already helps to get away from the computer radiating the pressure to put words down. Scribbling and doodling on a piece of paper already seems to set my mind free enough to look at the overall picture and see the blank spots.

K.W. McCabe said...

That's a really good idea-especially since I'm really visually oriented- it would make it easier to "see" the plot.