Thursday, April 18, 2013

Break through Writer's Block

There you are, sitting at your desk. Everyone is sleeping, but you aren't. No, you're slumped over a laptop, rubbing your forehead. There's one lamp on in the corner of the room. It casts a faint rust-colored light that reminds you of candles. It usually inspires you.

But not tonight.

Tonight, there is no muse whispering in your ear. Tonight, there is no inspiration. Tonight, your only companion is the block.

Many writers have endured the wretched experience of battling writer's block. And sadly, it often leads to hours and hours of Solitaire or Facebook. Neither of which solve the problem. There are a lot of books out there that tell you how to blast through writer's block, but perhaps the most helpful solution is also the most difficult: write through it. Even if everything that comes out is just plain garbage, keep writing.

So, instead of giving you a whole bunch of tips about how to woo your muse back into your life, we're going to give you something else. Something that will keep you writing. And something that will probably seduce the muse anyway.

Here are eight writing prompts that will help you write through the block. But these aren't just eight random prompts to get your pen moving. These creativity boosters were written with the intention of getting you writing the actual manuscript at hand. The prompts don't offer random exercises like, "Create a character who reminds you of your childhood best friend." Instead, each prompt leads you back to the important thing: your current manuscript. So let's not just get that pen moving, let's make that pen productive.

1. Character Correspondence

Write yourself a letter from your character. You can be his best friend or her biographer, it doesn't really matter. If you write yourself a letter from your character, you have the opportunity to get to know him even better. Your character's voice will come through and you will feel more confident writing dialog. Is your character willing to confide in you? What secrets do you learn? Is this the first letter she's sent you? Is she impatient for you reply? Perhaps you could even write a reply. How would you answer your character's questions? How would your character answer yours?

2. Hungry for Description?

Write a scene where your characters are sitting down to eat. Is it a fancy banquet? Is it a prisoner's ration? Whatever it is, describe everything. Can you see the steam rising from that pumpernickel bread? Can you smell that cherry pie baking in the back room? Use all five senses to describe the meal. And don't forget the other details like the quality of the silverware or the stony chairs the characters are sitting on.

3. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch . . .

Go to a pivotal scene in your manuscript. What was going on elsewhere while this was happening? Write the scene that was happening miles away (maybe even with the villain as the main character) while this pivotal scene was unfolding.

4. It's a Baby Bad Guy

Every villain had his own beginning. Write about your bad guy's past. Did he go to private school? Did she have a whole clan of older sisters? What made him take the path to villainy? The more you know about your villain, the more believable her evil ways will be. You could even write about the villain's birth. What were his parents like? Who does she resemble?

5. Man's Best Friend

Describe your main character through the eyes of her pet. Dogs, cats, horses, they all stick around because they happen to love their master. Why do they love your main character? You can do this about any character in your manuscript. Even villains have pet crows or snakes. Why do these pets stick around (especially if their owner is a vicious bad guy)? Maybe your main character doesn't have a pet. Just pretend that he does for the sake of the exercise. Remember, you can learn a lot about a person by the way they treat their furry friend.

6. Set the Scene
Go back through the chapters you've already set down on paper. Where can you describe the scene with more clarity? You can also describe places you haven't yet written about. Describe your character's bedroom or the inside of her crush's car. If you've created a brand new world, draw a map of it. Where do the ogres live? Figure out how close your characters live to one another. What's the time period? How many bicycles are in front of Old Man Jenkin's house?

7. Turn the Tides

What happens if your main character fails in his quest? What are the consequences? Write the scene where your character is supposed to become the hero, but then let her fail. What happens? If the main character has to die in order to fail, hop to the perspective of someone else. What horrors are going to befall everyone now? Can someone else rise up as the hero? Go back to your main character later and help him realize the consequences if he fails. How does this change his determination to succeed?

8. Write a Picture Book

If you just can't bring yourself to write the descriptive paragraphs that a novel requires, then simplify the task. Turn your novel into a picture book. How would you tell the story to a little kid right before bedtime? What details are unimportant? What characters have no real purpose? Simplifying the story can help show you where the holes in the plot are. You can also find out where you're investing unnecessary time and energy. Also, drawing pictures of your characters can help you visualize them better (even if you're not an A+ illustrator).

There you are, sitting at your desk. Everyone is sleeping, but you aren't. No, this time, you're armed with writing prompts that are useful and relevant to your manuscript. This time, you have what you need to blast the block. This time, you can write through it.

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