Overcoming the Inevitable WIP Existential Crisis

58769011It happens to all of us, I’m sure. You’re cruising along on the WIP, feeling like you’re totally rocking it…until you either tell someone about it or let them read part of it. And they point out a major problem–like huge. And it causes you to call your entire life into question.

NoooOkay, not that extreme, but it completely challenges everything you’ve already written. The thoughts that race through your mind…it’s all crap…I’m going to have to completely re-write it…I have no plot…where’s my inciting incident…my characters are shallow and mundane. Take your pick.

I’ve had existential crises with every novel I’ve written, all the way back to that 200,000+word monstrosity that is my plotless first attempt at writing. Every time, I’ve worked through it and A) my novel has emerged 50 times better, and B) I’ve emerged as a better writer. After I get over that initial panic anyway ๐Ÿ˜›

During this specific crisis, I realized, thanks to the feedback of others, that A) I have no real concrete inciting incident, and B) I don’t really have a concrete plot stemming from inciting incident that spans the entire novel. My strength as a writer lies in creating characters. One of my weaknesses is plotting; it takes a very strategic, conscientious effort for me.

So I went to my favorite coffee shop in Singapore, enjoyed a blue orange mocha, and spent the afternoon going back to basics.

1623390_10100702177044105_1832868065462732496_nI reviewed my notes and resources on plotting and then did some freewrite brainstorming around plot for the WIP. For me, the physical act of writing it down on paper changes the way my brain flows. Below you’ll find the handmade outcomes of my afternoon.

Fundamental questions I must consider about the story as a whole:

photo 1A fun little plotting template I conglomerated from a number of sources:


So here’s what I need to do: nail down the inciting incident then continually ask myself and then? And then? This will lead to a cause/effect series of events compounding from one another, with characters making choices that lead them to the crisis, the point of no return, and then to the climax. Whew. Okay. I can do this! This particular existential crisis is on the path to resolution, but I know there’s more to come ๐Ÿ˜›

Have you ever had a WIP existential crisis? Any plotting tricks that works for you?



  1. coldhandboyack · February 3, 2015

    Every single time. I use a storyboard with pictures, reminders, etc. This helps me get something cohesive. (Most of the time)


    • sjoycarlson · February 3, 2015

      So you use an electronic or real life one


      • coldhandboyack · February 3, 2015

        It’s an electronic one. Has some cool options in it, like sticky notes to go along with the index cards.


      • sjoycarlson · February 6, 2015

        Ah, sounds cool. What program? I’ve been using pen and paper, which has I think been working for me.


      • coldhandboyack · February 6, 2015

        In Internet years, it’s ancient. It’s called Corkulous Pro.


  2. Laissez Faire · February 3, 2015

    I write like I clean my house: with all the planning of a cat with a feather duster. I don’t know if it was a mistake or not, but yesterday I read through a lot of my old, old, practically on scrolls work and winced. I may have covered my face in shame a few times. Thank you for the new visual of Luke to draw upon when that plot block is hit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sjoycarlson · February 3, 2015

      Yes some of my old stuff is scary! Reminds me of how far I’ve come though ๐Ÿ™‚ glad you enjoyed my gif!


  3. S. R. Carrillo · February 4, 2015

    I always struggle with how to raise the stakes for my characters. How can I make their life even more of a living hell? Definitely takes some brainstorming sessions. I like how you handwrote your thought processes, though. That usually helps me too.

    First thing I was ever told about my first attempts at The Soul that crushed me? “It’s boring.” Cue horror.


    • sjoycarlson · February 6, 2015

      Lol yup I couldn’t pay my now brother-in-law to read my very scary first attempt at writing a novel LOL. Yeah, I have to really focus on asking myself, what’s the worst that would happen, then make it so. And writing definitely helped. Been working hard on really nailing the inciting incident and asking, and then, and then? What mistakes can my characters make while dealing with the “and thens” that make it even worse for them ๐Ÿ˜›


  4. Ann McCutcheon · February 8, 2015

    Check out Scrivener fora way to organise your MS xx


    • sjoycarlson · February 10, 2015

      Thanks! Not a bad idea, but I’m not going to lie, my problem with programs such as that is that I hate reading directions and figuring out how they work. Lol. Even though I know it might eventually make my life easier. Haha. I will consider though!


  5. Marianne Knowles · February 22, 2015

    I had big, gaping plot holes that I kept bumping up against–or rather, difficulty knowing how to link one thing to another. SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder helped. Re-storyboarded the middle (muddle) of the book. Now I just have to string together the time to finish it all up.


    • sjoycarlson · February 22, 2015

      Oh no! You feel my pain! Sounds like you’ve found your way through, and that’s always a relief. My collaborator and I just got through the hardest part, so we’re getting close!


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