In last Monday’s post, I talked about how sometimes characters and storylines can “decide” to go their own direction. On the flip side for today’s post is: writer’s block, when your characters and storyline refuse to go anywhere. Sometimes I literally picture my character sitting in the middle of the road with his/her arms crossed like a petulant little kid, shaking his/her head at my every idea. And that makes me wish my characters were real human beings so I could kick them good and hard for such behavior.
What I’ve found with writer’s block is, it’s usually a signal from some creative depth of my brain that doesn’t believe in communicating directly. What it’s trying to tell me when I have writer’s block is that something I’ve either just written or something I’m just about to write isn’t right. There wasn’t enough setup to pull off what I was going for, I dropped a thread somewhere and forgot about it, a character isn’t believably motivated to go where I want them to go yet, there’s actually a much more elegant way to tie the plot together than what I originally planned on…there are all kinds of things it might be. But if I can just nail whatever it is that’s off, I get unstuck.
So if you have writer’s block (which, these days, I consider to be a thing that happens to Other People), check over the last few pages and see if you find a big inconsistency, a character acting out of character without good reason, or anything that just doesn’t feel right. If not, think about the scene coming up. What is it you were about to have happen? Why doesn’t it work? If you didn’t have a plan for your upcoming scene, then my advice is just to write something. Think of it as a writing exercise instead of your actual work-in-progress. Play with it instead of trying to have it come out The Perfect Thing first try. Have something crazy and unexpected happen. Your protagonist dies or his long-lost brother comes back to town or zombies attack or he wins the lottery. Anything you write is a possible continuation of the story (whether you end up using it or not), and the process itself will help you feel out more about the character – plus, I’ve found that my brain won’t always tell me what it does want for my story unless I make it a little antsy by writing things it doesn’t want. All of a sudden it pipes up, “No, I don’t want him to win the lottery! That wasn’t what you were supposed to have happen. It’s more like–” Sort of like telling a bedtime story to a little kid who has to control every element of the damn story…Mom, I can see you looking this direction out of the corner of your eye…stop that!
And while you’re figuring out why you’re stuck, sometimes it’s good to get away and do something else. So here are some movies about writing/writers/writer’s block that I like: