Writer’s Block. It is insidious. It is evil. It is the bane of every writer’s existence.
It is… all in your head.
Wait, wait, hear me out. I’m not saying it isn’t real. Many things that are all in your head are also very real. I’m saying that since this is our brain trying to bully us into thinking we can’t write, there are ways we can bully it right back and let it know we can.
The two main types of writer’s block are:
- “I don’t know how to start a story” and
- “I don’t know how to continue a story”
so let’s look at them individually.
1. “I don’t know how to start story”
For this one, we have a lot of outside help. Google is your friend. Searching for “story prompts” is a great place to start. You can literally find HUNDREDS of story prompts to get you going.
Now, these aren’t going to deliver you a complete story idea ready to go. They are going to do what’s in the title – “prompt” you toward an awesome new idea. And if you see more than one that intrigues you, that’s great! Add it to a file (paper or digital, doesn’t matter) to save it for later.
These story prompts are even available in genre-specific, age-specific, etc. categories, so you can really narrow in on what you’re looking for.
2. “I don’t know how to continue a story”
This is the one that scares most writers. Especially if you’re not a plotter but a pantser, the idea of getting stuck and not knowing where to go next can be terrifying.
[Note: in general, a “plotter” refers to a writer who plots main story beats out in advance, whereas a “pantser” goes by the seat of their pants and writes wherever the story and/or characters take them. Neither is right or wrong, just different.]
I’m a plotter myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where I get stuck on “what happens next.” It just means those moments happen in the plotting stage and not when I’m actually writing. My solution for the “oh crud, what happens next?!” moment is two-fold.
I imagine an action.
Then I imagine a reaction or reason.
Here’s what I mean. Say I’ve just had an action set piece that ends with my three main characters escaping the bad guys but now they’re lost in a jungle and I am at a loss as to what should happen next.
Let’s start with the main characters first. What are some actions they could take?
- they could bed down for the night
- two could choose to bed down and the other one leaves them behind
- they could all start walking aimlessly
- they could give up completely
- they could try to call for help with technology
- they could try to find water to follow it to a town or road
- they could pull out the ancient map they found ten scenes earlier and see if that helps
- they could decide they’re done having action scenes and want to start a new civilization in the jungle.
Some of these might make perfect sense for your characters. Some might be utterly ridiculous.
Of the ones that make sense, ask yourself why they make sense. Characters in stories are either acting or reacting. They are either making choices on their own or reacting to the choices of others. So do any of these options make sense as a choice your character would make (like choosing to search for a town) or a reaction (like sitting down and giving up)?
Whatever you decide they would do, make sure you know WHY they’re doing it. Not only will this help lead you into the next phase of your book and make it easier to “unblock” yourself, it will keep your characters driving the plot instead of the other way around.
This method works equally well if you start with a character’s reaction/reason first.
How would this character feel if they were lost in the jungle? Would they be scared? Determined? Angry?
Let’s say you decide your character would be scared. If they’re scared, how do they show that? Do they give up? Do they snap at their teammates? Do they sit down and make a detailed plan? Do they stomp off without thinking first?
How do the other characters feel? How do they react? Also, how do they react to the first character’s actions?
Then we’ve got the bad guys, too. How do they react to failing to capture the good guys? Do they try to go into the jungle after them? Do they set up an ambush at the spot where they think the good guys are likely to emerge? Do they go hire an expert tracker to hunt them down? Do they airdrop booby-trapped care packages that say “We’re so sorry we tried to kill you. Please accept these protein bars as a peace offering”?
Once you’ve gone through that exercise and tried to imagine all the different angles, you may not know how to get your characters completely out of the jungle, but you should have some interesting ideas as to their next couple of steps.
Then you can look Writer’s Block in the eye and say, “Not today, Writer’s Block! You shall not conquer my creative spirit, for I am a powerful writer-person who knows how to use interrogatives to unblock the imagination and wonder deep within the hidden depths of my soul!!!”
Okay, so maybe that last one’s just me.