Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Block? (Part 2)

no-dead-endsA road barricade rarely means that drivers have reached a dead end: There’s always at least one detour option available.

We’ve been examining how this applies to writers who think that they’ve run out of road with their novels: There’s always a way to keep moving.

More writing detours you can take include:

  1. Proofread and revise what you’ve already written.
  2. Do more research, and review prior research notes.
  3. Design the cover of your book.
  4. Draw maps of terrain, floor plans of buildings, and elevations of rooms in your setting.
  5. Compose calendars of your characters’ activities, to check for continuity, and add variables like the weather.
  6. Write brief summaries of scenes for which you don’t yet know sufficient detail.
  7. Write some expository passages.
  8. Write dialogue without the other scene details.
  9. Comb through your current work-in-progress for material that belongs in a different manuscript (such as a prelude novel or a sequel), and remove that writing to another folder of notes.
  10. Work on writing something other than your current novel.

Your detour can be to take a holiday from writing, but be sure that your daily routine still includes an equivalent block of time dedicated to the creative use of words: meaning, read other authors’ fiction, especially old favorites. Also, engage in some other form of creative endeavor: performing music, creating art, making a craft, sewing, cooking, rearranging furniture or redecorating, gardening.

If, even after a vacation from the keyboard, you are at your wits’ end, don’t despair! The impasse may indicate a fundamental flaw in your story’s structure. This is by no means a fatal error, and by answering a few tough questions, you’ll find the solution to your dilemma. Here are three possibilities:

  1. Are you using the wrong point-of-view character? Some characters have a better POV than others who are in the same scene. Determine who has the most at stake, and write for that person.
  2. Are you trying to be inappropriately omniscient? You are if you have too many point-of-view characters in a 3rd-person narrative, or you feel compelled to indiscriminately “head hop” in a 1st-person narrative. In a 3rd-person limited story, cut down your POV characters to only two-to-four (including the anonymous narrator), and in a 1st-person story, there should be only one (although in special circumstances you can have more), but you cannot have an additional anonymous narrator. To see how the 3rd-person limited approach worked for me, read Irish Firebrands; to find out one way to fix a 1st-person problem, read Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, and another is Laura, by Vera Caspary.
  3. Have you set the wrong goal for this particular piece of work? In other words, you may have a collection of short stories instead of a novel. If each of your chapters seems to be too self-contained to lead to the next chapter or follow an overall dramatic arc, this could be the case. Read all of the Mowgli stories in the first and second Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling, to see how you can fashion your tales into unified stand-alone segments of a whole.

Above all, remember:

As long as you’re creating something, you’re not blocked!



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