Writers Block :(

Writer’s block happens to the best of us, it’s inevitable.  We go strong for a bit, churning out page after page and then suddenly we get to a place where the creativity takes a vacation.  I’ve been stuck on one scene for about four months.  Four months!  That’s a long time to be stuck in one place.  How many pages could I have written if not for this problem?

We experience writers block for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes we just get too busy with life.  We start a new job, have to go out of town, a new semester of school begins, grass and hedges grow, or grandma bought us a new guitar for our birthday and wants us to learn how to play Mary Had a Little Lamb.  The reasons why we halt writing are endless.

Sometimes though we are genuinely stuck.  Life settles down and we have time put aside for our craft, but we spend it all staring at the screen until we feel like our eyes are melting in their sockets.  Our story refuses to come out.

This scene that I happened to be stuck on was a very important one.  It’s my main character’s first real scene, and it’s a pretty pivotal moment in the book.  A lot is riding on getting this right.  I’ve established several characters already with unique personalities and intricately woven story arcs that have ushered readers from page 1 to this very point in time.  Now it’s my main character’s turn to take the torch and shine.  So amid all the weeds to pull, babies to feed and read to, work to be on time for, groceries to buy and put away, somewhere in there I have the responsibility to my readers, myself, and to my character to write a first impression that is both engaging and intriguing–to create a new reader favorite.

And so, I’ve been stuck.

In addition to life things that get in our way, as writers it’s easy for us to get so caught up in wanting a scene to be perfect that we allow it to be a stumbling block to our success.  So many pages did not get written because I was hung up on how perfect this scene needs to be.

The old saying “A house isn’t built in a day” is a perfect analysis.  That beautiful mansion was once just a patch of grass.  So too are each of our scenes.  Keep this in mind when you get stuck, especially if it is because you really want to the scene to be perfect.

I finally completed the scene by writing a little bit at a time, and boy was it ugly at first, and at second, and at third.  A couple paragraphs here and there, some rework here, some scrapping there, and some tweaking all over took it from a patch of grass to a house with four walls.  It still needs paint, but the foundation is there now for what I had envisioned as the perfect scene.  And the most important part is that it’s done, it’s written, and I can finally move past this point in my book.

Writers block will happen, just accept it now.  And when it does, don’t ignore it, or it could set you back four months or even longer.  Some writers have given up on stories because of writers block, because the scene isn’t perfect, because the mansion is just a concrete foundation and studs.

I’m telling you as one writer to another, that it’s okay to write a scene that’s ugly, rushed, devoid of detail and emotion.  It’s okay if you have to scrap a couple paragraphs or even the whole thing.  These are not wasted efforts, it’s part of the process of beating writers block.  Embrace it, push through it, and keep adding to your house until it becomes a mansion.

The only way to finish your novel is to keep writing until it’s done, even when it’s ugly, even when you feel that the scene you’re working on deserves so much better than what you can currently do.

You will polish it to perfection.

But first, just keep writing.

Soul Searching for Character Development

One thing I’ve learned over the past several weeks is that life is full of surprises, excitements, and disappointments.  Sometimes life seems dull, but others it’s like an emotional roller coaster.  Those moments, the tough ones, the emotional ones, are an invaluable source of inspiration for your novel, in particular: character development.

I’m now several drafts into my novel, and looking back over my previous drafts I can see the stages my thought process went through, beginning with action scenes and quick dialogue to get to the next action sequence and move the story along.  Stage 2 added a little more thought provoking dialogue, a little more backstory to help the reader understand why these action scenes were taking place and to give a little more substance to the wider story arc.  Stage 3 was about tying up loose ends, embellishing certain scenes, smoothing out some rough edges and cutting out some redundancy.  In these 3 stages though, the most fundamental aspect of a reader’s experience was missing or sorely lacking: character development.  Sure, my characters did and said things and the reader usually knew why, but the feelings described were hollow or non-existent.  They didn’t feel real.  The human bond of emotional connection was missing between the reader and the character.

Character development truly makes or breaks a novel, and it can be tricky trying to figure out how to do it successfully.  Loss, grief, fear, anxiety, love, desire, hatred, thrill:  Real emotions which derive from real experiences and real relationships are paramount to character development.  But MJ Pankey, you say, my character did experience loss, his best friend was just badly wounded in front of him!  But as you read that scene, do you feel like your best friend was just badly wounded in front of you?  Tap into your inner psychologist, and tell me what that really feels like.

The emotional struggles make us who we are as individuals.  How we process those emotions, work through them, and overcome them is how we can connect with one another as human beings, and it’s also how we can connect and invest in fictional characters, even if their experiences aren’t real.

Every character who is important to a novel needs this internal struggle.  While my heroine can’t necessarily experience being offered an amazing job and then it falling through a week later in exactly the same way (being a fantasy novel kind of messes that up), I can still incorporate the familiar feelings of excitement and hope for the future, and then the following disappointment when it does not go according to plan.  I know what that feels like, and I can give that to my character.

Describing the internal conflict as actions happen and as scenes unfold is what character development means.  How does this character become better by these experiences, by these scenes, how does this event impact them now to have such a marked influence on a future thought or action?  And the best way to figure that out and get it on paper is to dig deep into your own experiences and describe how you feel/felt/would feel in a similar circumstance, and how did it change your expectations/circumstances/behaviors/beliefs moving forward?

To recap, a story is more than just events, places, things, and actions, it’s about people; real experiences, real emotions, and the kindred connection that a reader has with the character.  To create character development in your novel, you need to do some serious soul searching from your own life experiences.  When was a time you felt embarrassed?  Describe it, give it to your character.  When was a time you felt betrayed by someone?  Describe it, give it to your character.  You get the idea.

So if your novel is lacking some depth, look deep.  Dig up the emotional moments and give your characters a small piece of yourself.  Show your readers the raw humanity we all share between us as a species, and bring your characters to life.

Happy writing!

 

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