Sometimes writers just get stuck. It’s not Writer’s Block. It’s more like a lull. As long as we’ve plotted our story, spent time creating our characters, and worked out our scenes and sequels, we know where we’re going.
Still, there are times when we just know that something is not working. Don’t panic when this happens. It’s normal. Remember that we’re not machines. We’re human beings creating something out of nothing, and that’s pretty amazing. It can also be exhausting.
I have found that if you use one of these 10 tips, you’ll probably get back on track.
- Go to the source. Stop. Look your character in the eye and ask what he or she is thinking. Free write his or her response to you. Has this helped? Can you use what has been given to you? Perhaps you have a new way to write the character out of the quagmire.
- Add a few misunderstandings. Allow a character to miss a bus or not pick up an important call because a phone is on silent. Perhaps he or she could mistakenly delete a message, or misconstrue a meeting between two people. Your character’s reaction to this might provide the impetus to get you out of your rut and into the next scene.
- Bring on the supporting cast. Add another character, the antagonist if possible, to the scene. There is nothing worse than leaving a character alone for a long period of time. This happens often in real life, but it’s a bad idea in fiction. Chuck Palahniuk says: ‘One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone.’
- Is this really necessary? Are you sure what you’re writing really truly needs to be in the book? Sometimes writers get bored with parts of a story that should not be in the book. A common problem beginner writers have is including repetitive scenes. You may be adding one detail that could easily have been included in a previous scene.
- Can readers learn something? Can you insert some interesting information about where a character lives, or about an occupation or hobby? People like to learn something when they read. You could have a friend asking your protagonist, a florist, about the meaning of flowers for different occasions. Be careful not to overdo it, though, or you‘ll sound like you’re writing a text book.
- Make them uncomfortable. Force your character into the most uncomfortable situation you can use at this point in the story. This will ensure that your character reacts or acts. Raising the stakes is always exciting – for the reader and the writer. Look up body language for characters under stress. Adding these bits could help you with showing and not telling.
- Give your characters something to do while they are thinking. A static character is boring. You could write about a character who is considering leaving his wife while he is grocery shopping. Use his actions and the setting to bring the scene to life. Chuck Palahniuk says: ‘Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.’
- Remember where they come from. If the character is stuck, think about the backstory you’ve created for him or for her. How would a person with a particular past react to what is happening? For example, a character from a broken home might react differently to one who comes from a stable family background, to news that another character is getting divorced. This will help you to consider if you’re bored because you’re using your own responses instead of those of the character.
- Make your character want something. Michael Connelly was a guest speaker at one of my functions and he offered this piece of advice: ‘Make sure your character wants something on every page of the book.’ It’s good advice. It could be a drink or a telephone number. He might need to stretch his legs. He may want some fresh air. Whatever you do, it’s important to keep the story, and the protagonist, moving.
- Find some inspiration. If all else fails, take a break and read a short story by one of your favourite authors. Look at some of the techniques that the author employed. Can you use them in your story?
I think we sometimes need a box of tricks to get us out of the rut. I hope these help you.
© Amanda Patterson
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