It’s no secret that I’ve been stuck on writing this book for a couple of months, because I feel like I wrote myself into a corner. I’ve been scratching my head while struggling to figure out what went wrong. Here are three methods I found by scouring the internet in my desperation for ways to beat writer’s block.
I got into this problem by asking “what should come next?” I had thought at some point in the story, my characters might get engaged, or develop feelings for each other. Because I hadn’t thought through the path to get there, I was just stuck on the idea of “yeah they get together.” So, I jumped the gun and forced an engagement on they way too soon in the story.
Here are the methods I used to work through a writer’s block and giving myself options again.
1. Ask “What could go wrong?” not “What should come next?”
This is great because it shifts your perspective and motivation, not from telling a series of events, but putting your character into situations they have to solve / fix / escape / etc. Take a step back by answering the following questions:
- What actions/decisions just occurred?
- What could go wrong because of those actions/decisions?
- What’s the worst thing that could go wrong of the list of things that could go wrong? <– Write that one
This is best done on pen and paper, or maybe sticky notes, so you don’t get attached to ideas. The point is to come up with terrible things that come out of actions and decisions taken by your characters, and whichever one is worst, or which moves the story forward, pick that one.
I like this method because it forced me to stop thinking “how do I get to the next chapter” and instead focus on “what just happened? how does that affect things?” It makes the story feel logical, but at the same time, forced me to brainstorm in a way I’m not used to. Great exercise, and now I have a list of things I could use later in the book.
2. Build Your Plot as Cause-Effect
I’m a pantser trying to be a plotter, and let me tell you, it’s a tough transition. Rather than using a typical outline like you’re used to seeing in school, follow this structure, which I’m borrowing from Janice Hardy (seriously, her blog archives are a treasure trove):
- Goal/action BUT conflict/constraint AND SO action/decision
Again, this is best done in paper so you can scribble and scratch things out, but you could also do this on your computer/tablet if you want to.
I began writing in a table format, one column for Goal/Action/Decision and one for Conflict/Constraint, but that just felt weird to me. Writing this in a sentence format was super helpful for me, though.
3. Research Your Way Out
Historical fiction writers get to use this more than other genres, I think, but it’s useful. If you’re not sure where to go, research what was happening that day in your town, or the attitudes of the era, medical procedures, etc. I’m using online scans of local newspapers from the era to know what’s happening in the world around them. This world is affecting my characters, and it’s important I know when to bring that information into the story. Similarly, since one of my characters is sick, we’ll need to see a doctor or some medically-inclined person, so I had to research whether such a person existed in the town at that time, and what sort of knowledge they’d have. This will help me raise the stakes… what is the character sick with? How will the doctor respond? Will the character infect others? What does that do to their personal goals?
The internet, books, historical societies, online repositories, etc.
I tend to turn to research when I’m stuck, but in this case, it didn’t help me because I’d written myself in a corner. The result of using these three techniques are that I’m rewriting parts of chapters seven and eight so that I’m set up properly for chapter nine.
What techniques have you read about that have helped you get rid of writer’s block?