Written by A Guest Author December 22nd, 2022

How to Keep Writing a Story When You Don’t Know What Happens Next

By Dawn Colclasure

It can happen to any writer: A brilliant opening scene for a story or novel suddenly pops into their head. The writer gets excited by this particular scene and feels confident of banging out that story or first chapter in one go. They rush to the desk and get to work, writing the scene in their heads, eager to have written yet another novel or short story.

The scene is written. It’s perfect. It’s just as glorious as it appeared in the writer’s head.

But after that? Nothing else comes to the writer. Zip. There is no second scene or second chapter.

And the writer is stuck! What should happen in the story next? How can the writer decide what scene should follow?

While this is a frustrating setback, it’s not a dealbreaker. There are ways to find yourself on the right (write) path again!

The following strategies can help you figure out where to go from here.

Change the POV

One very effective strategy in figuring out what happens next in your story is to change your point of view (POV). When I was struggling with the next scene in a short story, a fellow author suggested that I change the POV. So, I switched from Third Person Singular to Omniscient, and soon I was able to write the rest of the story.

Keep writing anyway

An author I know shared in her newsletter one trick she used to keep a story going: Keep the characters busy with a bunch of different things until the story materializes. Soon, the story started to tell itself.  I tried this with my own work-in-progress. I knew the beginning of the story and how it ended, but I couldn’t figure out the plot. I finally decided to use my friend’s advice and it worked for me too. Just keep the characters busy. Give them different things to do. Soon the rest of the story will reveal itself. You can cut any useless material during the revision process.

Do some research

If you’re stuck on your story, try reading other works in that genre. You can also try reading books on the topic your story is about. Not only will your research help you figure things out in the story, but you’ll be working on your own story in the back of your mind while you are reading. This will help inspire you with more ideas for your story.

Act as though you are telling this story to a friend or at a campfire

Remember the days of sitting around a campfire and sharing stories with your friends? Writing fiction is a lot like that. Even though it is just you telling the story and even though you are “telling” the story through a computer keyboard or laptop, it is still similar to sharing a tale with a captive audience. So, write the story with the same words you would use as though you were telling it to a real group of listeners in the room.

Put the story away for a while

Sometimes, we just need to step away from our writing. Sitting down and struggling to figure our stories out is not going to help us figure them out. Shoot some hoops, do chores, go for a run or work on another project. Let your story sit for a while and just think about it while you are busy doing other things. Sometimes you can come up with more ideas while eating a meal or reading a book. Stepping away from the writing when we have a hard time with it is a great and effective way to get out of a block or figure things out.

When we are writing stories, it’s easy to lose our momentum in order to keep the story going. If you can’t continue writing your story, try again later or save it for tomorrow. Meanwhile, take some time to think about it and play around with ideas.

On the other hand, if you are taking a writing course or if you are a member of a local writing club, you can discuss your struggle with your fellow writers. Chances are good they have had this same problem, and they’ll likely offer tips of what to do. I often chat with some authors I know and we usually “talk shop” about our works-in-progress. Many story problems have been resolved in these chats.

Meanwhile, if you get stuck on what happens next in your story, don’t give up on it. Use the strategies above and soon you’ll be able to get back to writing and get that story moving all the way to the end.


Bio: Dawn Colclasure is a writer who lives in Oregon with her husband and children. She is the author of three novels as well as various other books and ebooks. Her short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies. Her website is at https://dawnsbooks.com/ and she’s on Twitter @dawncolclasure.


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