Before I write about writer’s block, I think the first thing I need to say is a disclaimer. I don’t claim there is ONE method to break through when you’re just not sure where to go with your piece, and I can’t guarantee that what works for me will work for everyone, but there is one thing I’ve found helps me figure out where my stories are headed when I’m just not sure. I thought it could be useful to swap strategies for dealing with the dreaded block, so please do comment about what works for you. We’d all love to hear. Sharing is caring when it helps your fellow writers!
FIRST THING’S FIRST
Every writer has those moments. Whether they come in the outline phase (if you outline) or they come as you write (if, like me, you throw a draft together “flying by the seat of your pants,” as I say) there are times when a story just seems up in the air. You’re not sure where to take the action next, and nothing you can think of an actions seems plausible. My first suggestion is to examine your story’s premise. Make sure there isn’t an unsolvable contradiction at the root of your issue. If there is, you might have to backtrack to eliminate what doesn’t make sense. Maybe you write fantasy, for instance, and the only way to have a character accomplish something–an important something–is through the use of a magic you’ve established isn’t possible in your world. Well, you need to change the direction of your plot someways back, or you need to adjust what is and isn’t possible within the confines of your world from page one. That’ s a big deal, but doable.
Maybe the problem is your point of view. Maybe you’re writing in third person and need to let your character share his or her own story. Or, maybe you’re too much in a first-person narrator’s head and you don’t like how that’s translating to the page. Maybe you need more distance from the character: go to third person, or change your focus of narration (meaning, get in a different person’s head.) When you’re truly stuck/discouraged, considering a point of view change is always worth it. It takes you maybe ten minutes to think through the implications, and can be the difference between scrapping a WIP and vastly improving it by finding how you should have been telling the story all along. (When is it time to scrap a WIP completely? A tough question. I wrote about that here.)
THE QUESTION THAT HELPS ME
If you’ve figured out the problem isn’t innate to the story itself, and you just don’t know what should happen next, don’t fret. In my experience, this is when the characters need to take over. All good fiction–all readable fiction–is character-driven, so what helps me clear the jam in my head is asking myself, “What would character X/Y/Z do next?” Think back to your previous scene. Which characters does the action there have implications for? How would that person respond to the new developments? Whether character XYZ is your protagonist, a villain, a sidekick, or a character you thought would be minor but ends up having a more important role than you realized, this is a great way to move, if nothing else, ONE scene forward. And after that scene, you can repeat the process, because every scene should accomplish something. It should advance a subplot, wrap one up to allow you to concentrate on others, reveal something about your characters, reveal that two subplots that didn’t seem related actually are….a great scene does more than one of these things. Basically, the next scene you write should provide some new implications by changing the situation that existed before.
I guess my major point is this: all it can take is that one step forward, that single next scene, to break the stranglehold on your creativity. That, at least, has been my experience. And it’s easier to figure out which direction to turn if you don’t guide yourself, but let your characters name a destination. They, after all, are the actors, the stars, the ones ostensibly making the decisions and living their lives. Consider, then, who they are, and stay true to that. Know what motivates them, what terrifies them, what they’re trying to accomplish in the moment where they find themselves, and let them do their thing. Fun characters are GREAT at doing their thing.