I’ve recently met a number of people in the various writing “meet-ups” I attend weekly who have been working furiously away at stories for the past few weeks or even months. Suddenly, they’ve realized that they’re stuck. This blog post is for them. Enjoy!

You’ve got a great idea for a story. That’s amazing! That’s wonderful! You are going to write this and it’s going to be new and different. Maybe it’s going to be a best seller. Maybe it’s going to make you famous, a millionaire.

And then you sit down to do this thing. You open up a document on your computer and you start to write. The characters are so real in your head, you know exactly what is going to happen to get this story started. Maybe you even know how the story will move forward, what’s going to cause trouble for your characters, how it’s all going to end. You write with gusto, with fury, with passion—for about ten pages, maybe twenty, maybe more. And then things begin to get complicated. Writing begins to get harder. You begin to wonder what’s going to happen next. Maybe you know that your characters need to go from point A to point D, but you’re not quite sure what steps B and C should look like.

You’re lost.

You begin to lose your energy, your drive. You force yourself to sit down at your computer and stare at the screen for half an hour maybe writing a sentence or a paragraph which you just end up deleting.

What’s going to happen? Come on, you can do this! Are you just going to give up? No! No, you are not! This was a great idea. This is going to be a great story. You can do this!

How? You need to know not only how things are going to end for your characters, you need to know how your characters are going to get there. There are two things you must to have in your arsenal, in your writer’s toolbox, to get you to that satisfying end: At the minimum, you should know the major turning points in your story and you must know your protagonist’s goal, motivation, and conflict.

For the first, you have to figure out your story structure. There are, of course, a number of different structures your story could fit into. There’s a three-part structure where the first part is the setup, the second is where the action comes to a climax, and the third where everything is resolved. You could use a four-part structure which includes the instigating event (what starts the whole story), a major turning point (where your protagonist decide they’re going to do this thing), a point of no return (where they realize how stupid the decision to do this was, but it’s too late to turn back) or a climax (like in a romance where the hero and heroine share their first real intimacy and think the world and their love is theirs for the taking, except for all those nasty things making it difficult), a black moment (where all is lost and your protagonist is as good as dead) and then the resolution. Or you could use the hero’s journey, a wonderful tried and true method that has been used for centuries, but most recently to great effect in the Star Wars movies.

Once you know the major turning points of your story, it can be simple to fill in the details—moving your characters from point to point. But what if you are even struggling with that?

That’s when you go back and look more deeply at your characters. For your protagonist, you need to know what they want. What is it that they need more than anything else? What do they need internally to be a complete, happy person? What do they need externally in order to consider themselves a successful person? These are your character’s internal and external goals, and yes, you need to know both of them. And then, of course, you need to know why they have these goals and what’s stopping your characters from getting them.

This is your protagonist’s GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict) and once you know these, you’ll be able to figure out how they can move from major turning point to turning point because they’re going to be doing so by striving to attain these goals. They’ve got to work tirelessly to get them and there are going to be setbacks along the way—the two steps back for every step forward sort of deal.

Here’s the sentence you need to be able to write for both the internal and external goals (so two sentences): (Character name) needs to (Goal) because (Motivation), but (Conflict), therefore (what they need to do to try to attain their goal).

This moves you, the author, from sitting and staring at your computer screen typing two sentences and deleting one, to a writer who knows where they are going and exactly how they’re going to get there. This will get you to the end.

If you’d like more detail on either story structure or goal, motivation, and conflict, please check out Chapter One.