Writer’s block… that pesky concept that makes writing difficult and that everyone loves talking about. How to break writer’s block, how to deny writer’s block…
When it comes to writer’s block, I find that trying to write something, anything, is better than writing nothing at all, because it pushes me to another point in the story. But how to work through ‘writer’s block’ is different for everyone. For plotters, this is where having that outline is handy. You write what’s next on the outline, even if you’re cringing as you write. It might not be as terrible as you think once you go back and take a second look. For pantsers, this is where deviating from what you thought you had planned and saying ‘Forget what’s supposed to happen next. I’m going to write whatever comes to mind.’ comes in handy. It might end up leading you to the break-through you need.
One of the things mentioned at ConQuest was that you can’t always force a novel to do what you want. Having trouble writing a scene can be a sign that what you’re trying to write doesn’t fit the novel you’re writing. On the other hand, one of the most important things I took from my creative writing minor in college was that the difficult scenes we tend to avoid writing can also be the best ones to read. With a little polish (or a lot), these scenes can be fantastic. Or… you might read back through the scene and wonder what you were thinking. This has happened to me, especially in my Distant Horizon manuscript. *Cough.* So you learn from trial and error which scenes are causing difficulty because they’re taking you out of your comfort zone, and which scenes are causing difficulty because they simply don’t fit.
For example, I’ve run into a set of scenes in my current manuscript, The Wishing Blade, which are completely new to the story line. These scenes aren’t in my original manuscript, but with the edits I’ve written, they are necessary to keep the story moving forward. Ultimate goal: The good guys want to stop the bad guys from gaining enough power to attack the gods and successfully plunge the country into shadow. Literal shadow… the bad guys’ magic consumes the mortal realm and thrusts it into a dreary half-dimension where the bad guy have complete control over everyone in it. There are two main characters, Toranih and Daernan, and a goddess has granted them some of her magic in an effort to fight the bad guys. Thing is, Toranih absolutely hates magic and would rather be a swordsman. But she gets caught by the bad guys, turned into a shadow, and she has to deal with resisting the bad guy’s magical commands. Daernan isn’t particularly gifted with weapons, but he’s got a decent skill when it comes to wielding magic, and he’s working with a group of people in an attempt to help refugees escape from a city under siege by the bad guys, all while trying to figure out how to get Toranih out from the shadow realm.
Problem is, in the original version of this story, Daernan thinks Toranih is dead, and there is no one else to help him with magic, so he ran along to the king to warn the country about the attacks and put up a defense at the castle. Now he has different motivations, which I’m trying to sort out before I write the next few scenes. I need to know how much he’s going to do to help save the innocent townspeople, which will help for a time, and at what point will he abandon them to go retrieve a weapon that will defend against the shadows in the long run. As for Toranih, she’s trying to slow the spread of the shadows, but I’ve been having a terrible time trying to get through the scene where she acts against their leader. (Because she’s overconfident and actually thinks she might be able to assassinate him. Yeah– that’s going to work so well).
But every time I sat down to write the scene, I wasn’t sure where to go next. My plotting sort of… stopped.
Then my husband, Isaac, gave me the solution that I needed all along. Toranih doesn’t like magic, but she likes swordplay– which is something the bad guy is good at. In the original version of the story, she’s caught in the shadow realm and forms an uneasy friendship with the bad guy, learning from him as she tries to foil him. In this version I have her trying to assassinate him, but I wanted to have her fail miserably. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure where to go once her attempt failed and he got her back in line. But when Isaac suggested that she attempts to attack the bad guy, who then casually tosses her one of his swords and more or less starts training with her (much to her confusion), this opened up a whole new possibility. Because now she’s not the moping and following the bad guy around because she’s being magically commanded to. Now she’s having to deal with inner conflict. She can learn quite a bit from the bad guy if she sticks around, and it puts her in a position to be close enough that she might be able to strike him later. However, she still doesn’t like being a shadow, and as long as she’s nearby, he might order her to do something she doesn’t want to do.
Which keeps the story rolling and keeps me interested in writing what happens next.
The whole point of this example is that when you’re stumped, you may want to explore new options, or step back and consider character motivations. Or maybe step in and examine character motivations. For my story, there’s a lot of other stuff happening off-screen that affects the main characters. But if I put too much attention there, the task of writing becomes overwhelming and I forget to focus on the characters who are actually important. So try approaching the scene from a different angle. Stop worrying about what the rest of the story world is doing and write what matters to your main characters. Once you’ve got the rough draft written, then revisit the rest of the world.
That being said… it is entirely possible to be stumped on a scene and to use your procrastination as a tool to get chores done. I think this is how I actually remember to do laundry.
Anyhow, I hope this post was helpful, and please let me know what you think. 🙂