How to Write: Another Five Show-Stoppers
There’s a lot of things that can stop you writing. Sometimes it’s real life, which can’t usually be helped; if the dog wants your laptop as a toy and your screen’s now decorated with bite marks, that does put a crimp in your ability to type. But sometimes the show-stoppers are either in your head, or in your writing. Here’s five more things that might be stopping your story in its tracks, and some suggestions to overcome them.
I’ve got a blank page…
You don’t know how to start. You don’t know what the first line should be. You don’t even know if the idea’s worth writing.
- Flash fiction! Write a story in six words. A hundred words. Three hundred words. Write a paragraph about an image, something you spotted in the street, the eighth line from the book nearest you.
- Prompts – as a starting point, try Reddit’s r/writingprompts. There’s a whole archive of them, even if you don’t want to put anything on the site.
- Start in the middle. Write that one scene that set the idea off; write that one snippet of conversation; tell us something about your character. Write the fifth chapter. Write the ending. Get something on the page and then go back to the beginning.
My plot is wonky
- Distill it down to the basics: Get Ring, Take Ring To Mordor, Save The World. You can then expand a little – how are they doing all of those things? What’s stopping them, what’s helping them, what’s the outcome? This can sometimes help to focus on what the actual problem is, and shows where the holes are.
- Get an outside perspective. It often really helps to get someone else’s ideas; they’ll come up with things you haven’t even considered, and even if you don’t use those ideas, it’ll often get your brain working. Talk to a friend, your alpha reader, someone on the internet.
- Run threads for all your major characters. A big part of RPG plotting is “this is what’s going to happen if my players don’t do anything”, so plot out how the world would continue if your characters don’t act…and then work out how each of your characters could cause the maximum amount of chaos!
I run out of ideas; I get enamoured by an idea and then it runs out of steam
- Do you have to write a novel? Could your idea make a short story or a novella?
- Does your story always run out at a certain point? Try structuring your plot, or working out the ending before you write it. Alternatively, try skipping ahead and then coming back to fill in the gaps.
- Do you dislike writing certain things? Do you put a battle in, but don’t like writing those? You could either practise those particular scenes, or twist expectations – flip to the POV of someone not involved in the battle, who simply hears about it.
I don’t know where this story is going…
- Plot, plot, plot! Try a writing software such as Scriviner, and use a corkboard or post-its to lay everything out. What do you want to happen in the end? What do you think would happen from the starting point you’ve got? What can you add in to make sure that does or doesn’t happen?
- Just go with it (aka. being a pantser) and drop your characters in a situation! Write that scene you really want to happen, and then go back and work out how they’d get there.
- Leave it. Let it settle; see if other ideas come floating to the surface over time. You might find that the story you started fits really well with another idea a few months later, and suddenly you’ve got an ending…
My characters are boring.
Are they just boring to you because you know them? Is a new reader going to find them surprising? But if you really do think they’re boring…
- List their characteristics, and make sure there’s a nice mix of ‘bad’ and ‘good’. Can you play the good as a character flaw, and the bad as a virtue? Maybe someone is stubborn, but somehow they always end up being right. Maybe someone is really nice, but it keeps getting them into trouble.
- Blindside us. Just because you know what they’re going to do, doesn’t mean you have to reveal it to the reader. Make us think they’re going to do something else; hide their motives; show us through someone else’s eyes who is completely misunderstanding them.
- Throw something unusual into the mix! Genderbend. Add a dark secret. Give them a weird pet, an accent, a hat that they’d run into a burning house for. Give them a quirk that comes out at the most awkward moments.
So, now you’ve had that pep talk…get writing!
If you haven’t read my first post on show stoppers, check it out here.
Green Sky & Sparks