Once upon a time, I was writing a beautiful story, an epic romance, really, and then suddenly, I had no idea what should happen next. I wandered around for days within a fog of …huh?… unable to fashion a single acceptable thought for the next scene. Somehow I lost my way. The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be headlights.
I suppose these things happen to everyone. I failed to create a workable outline. I didn’t do the research required. I didn’t realize that cool thing at the climax of the story was physically impossible. I have dozens of excuses.
All of the sudden I smack head-on into a roadblock and then the whole saga comes apart at the seams. Thus I ask you, how does a writer plow through writer’s block? What do you do when you just don’t know what to do?
This happens to me occasionally when I have a basic outline, but I haven’t worked through all of the details for the climax confrontation. How do I get the hero, the villain, and the victim all in the same place without a transparently contrived coincidence?
I’m not sure what other people do. I’m certain that there are hundreds of solutions, but I can tell you what works for me. First, I step back for a little while and do something else. (My blog is a wonderful change of pace, and it still keeps me writing.)
Perhaps I have too much going on, and I just need some quiet time. I enjoy a chance to just sit in silence and not really think about anything. When silence is elusive (which is often) I play a particular song to relax. Mine is “Song of
India” because of how completely it contrasts to the rest of my life. I call it my reboot time. I concentrate on breathing. I spend time in prayerful gratitude for my blessings. I’m spoiled, so I have much for which I’m thankful. Often that’s all I need to get back on track.
We’re all busy, though—I understand. When I have a little free brain time—like when I’m sorting or folding laundry, vacuuming, or walking, I imagine I’m talking to my characters, or I eavesdrop on conversations they might have with each other. I listen to what they might say if a reporter or a police officer interviewed them. I pretend that I am the character in question.
As a victim, why would I go the villain’s house? If I wouldn’t, what would it take to get me there? A threatening phone call? Being forcibly carried? Hmm…
As a villain, why would I risk exposure by making a move against the hero or villain? What is my evil motivation?
These minutes of careful inspection may also uncover fatal flaws in my plot that I couldn’t see before, because I was too close. The good news is that once I find them, I can correct them before the story goes to an editor, who would certainly find them.
If I’m still stumped, then I take another step back. Sometimes reading a book of a similar or completely opposite genre will get my brain churning. I don’t steal ideas, but when I study other authors’ methods of construction, I occasionally get those light-bulb moments.
Taking a class about writing or about the story’s subject can also be helpful. I was recently having trouble deciding how to “catch” my villain realistically. I talked to an expert in the same field of work as both my protagonist and my antagonist. He told me exactly what the real procedure required. To my amazement, his solution solved my problem!
That leads to another suggestion. I joined a writers’ group. I found other writers in my area now I meet with them every week. Simply talking through ideas can shed light on flaws and help me see solutions I otherwise may have missed.
If I try all of these ideas and nothing seems to help, there is still one more thing I can do. Take my story and save it. I save all of my notes, pictures, research—everything, and then I put them away somewhere safe. I don’t throw it away. In fact, I turn my calendar ahead two months and make a date to pull the story out again and reread it. Isn’t that a bit drastic? Yes, but no more so than tossing a computer monitor across the room in utter frustration… not that I would know
anything about that.
Maybe I just need a vacation from the characters. Perhaps they are getting on my nerves. Possibly there’s another idea in my brain sabotaging this one, and I just need to get it out of my head before I can be productive again.
These are a few of my ideas. If you have some you’d like to share, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if I can add them here!
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