Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Hitting the Hard Parts: Mental WD-40

I realized as soon as I posted my last writing post about what to do when you're stuck that I missed some things, and those were the parts that address what to do when you really and truly don't know what happens next. Most of my previous advice was more about when you have a general idea but just aren't clear on how to progress. But there are times when you're flat-out stuck. Here are a few mental WD-40 methods to try.

One thing to do is look back at your research and development for this story. If you keep notes for research on professions, location, situation, or anything else and if you jotted down ideas for characters, situation, or plot, you may find some nugget in there that you wanted to deal with but forgot about, or else something you read may give you new ideas. I'm always amazed by what I find in my early notes. There's usually something that I wrote down but that slipped my mind once I started writing.

You can do more research. Find new sources about any aspect of your book and see if something in there gives you an idea you could develop. Is there some real-world parallel to something in your story -- a character, event, or situation -- either in history or in current events? Reading more on that topic may give you something you can fit into your story. It doesn't have to be a perfect match or a parallel anyone else might recognize, just something that makes you have an "Aha!" moment. Finding one little bit of truth that you can borrow is often the thing that can get a stuck story started again.

Practice what I call "story divination." When you're really stuck, you may be caught in a loop inside your own head where you can only consider the ideas you already have, but those ideas aren't working for you. Introduce an element of randomness that you didn't choose to force yourself to break out of that loop. You can set iTunes on shuffle or listen to a radio station and try to apply each song that comes up to your story or characters -- could it describe something that might happen in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) that affects the plot? I find this works really well with songs from musicals, since they often have plot and story implications. Go to the library, randomly take a non-fiction book off the shelf (this tends to work best in biography or history), read it and try to make it apply to your story -- is there an event that could make your plot work? Open a book of poetry at random and try to make the poem you find fit into your story. I know of writers who use Tarot cards, since each card has a lot of story material. Try to apply the card you draw to your story. You can do this with other kinds of gaming cards that contain actions, characters, or events, or you can make creativity cards by cutting out pictures from magazines, putting them on index cards, and then drawing one and trying to find ways to fit it into your story. You may need to do this multiple times because not everything is going to fit, but the idea is to make yourself think in different ways about your story and characters. The idea you end up using may have nothing to do with any of these exercises, but you may not have thought about it if you hadn't forced yourself to get out of that mental loop you were stuck in.

Look for inspiration. Find movies, books, TV shows, plays, or music that remind you of some aspect of your story. It may be a setting, a mood, a character, an actor who is your mental casting for your character, or a style of story/genre. Give yourself time to immerse yourself in these inspiring things. DO NOT COPY ANY OF THESE THINGS. Definitely don't take any wording because that can get you into trouble, but don't take scenes or events, not even if you're changing the names. Instead, think about what it is in these things that you like and analyze how it's done. Is there a feeling these things give you? How can you give that feeling through your current work? Is there a way a plot twist comes about that gives you any ideas? Is there something in these works that you wish had gone differently? I get a lot of ideas from "fixing" things from other works -- a conflict was resolved in a way I found dissatisfying, and if I have a similar conflict in my story, I can resolve it in a different way.

I've even found that it may help to mentally play out possibilities for my story using other characters. That way it feels less like I'm trying to bust through a writer's block and figure out things for my characters and feels more like mental fan fiction, which is fun. If I get a scenario I really like, I can transition it to my world and my characters, and then I can write it. It's a good mind game for when you're so blocked that thinking about your own characters is stressful.

When getting started again after a block, it may help to change something about the way you write. If you type, try writing longhand. Use a different font. Move to a different location. Write at a different time of day. That can help you move past the frustration you may have come to associate with writing.

Next (unless I come up with more on this topic), I think I'll talk about dealing with distractions.

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