Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Writer's Block

When your story starts huffing and puffing to stay a float, then your reader is going to feel it too, and they too will huff and puff to stay engaged.

A scary thought, but It can be overcome with a little closer inspection.

I read a great quote yesterday, I'm paraphrasing here, but it went along the lines of "If your characters are just moving forward to further the plot then you got a problem. The plot needs to be moving forward because the character is making tough choices."

I think we are all guilty of this. We think, "OK, I just need to get my character to point B because when he gets there, this thing will happen, and then I can really get going from there," but if your thinking like this, then your reader won't let you take them to point B because they've already put your book down.

Your character must reach point B because they've made a tough choice between two alternatives to take action toward point B.

This is when writer's block is at its worst. If we are just chugging a long, then we are often trying to "fill up" the story with text in order to get to the next thing. This is wrong, wrong, wrong!

If your character is making tough choices, then the story writes its self.

Let me give you an example in the new novel I'm writing, "Ressentiment,"

Essentially the main protagonist and a group of followers are escaping an invasion, so they have fled into the forest and are moving further and further away from the danger. Eventually they reach a new area, where there is a farm and shelter, they can stay, perhaps fight the owner for it, or they can continue moving. I started to struggle at this point, and then I realized, there is no tough choice to make. Who cares if they find shelter or keep on moving, what's the pay off?

So I changed it a little. I made it so the soldiers that were invading end up following them into the forest, but they are a day behind, so they have to keep on moving. I also made it that the forest didn't contain any source of food. So to keep on moving may mean certain death, but if they stay and eat at this farm, then the soldiers may gain on them and the farm may be full of people who don't like their presence there. Is it worth the risk?

Now the story can move forward. A tough choice needs to be made. There are high stakes. Suddenly the writer is engaged in figuring out what happens, and consequently, so is the reader.

Economists call this "opportunity cost," when one choice is made, what is the downside of making that choice?

So next time your stuck, ask yourself, "are my characters making tough choices? Or are they just going through the motions to get to point B?" You will discover a wealth of inspiration there.


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