Break the Block
By Kellee Kranendonk
Originally published February 2011 for Issue #9 of Silver Blade
God’s will. Fate. Karma. There are many words for it, but what it all boils down to is destiny or, our futures. Our futures may or may not be already written, but either way, we don’t know what’s in store for us. We have to take it one day at a time, wake up in the morning and get out of bed to find out what each day is going to bring for us.
Writing is often like that. We like to think we’re in control of our characters and their futures; that we know where the story is going, but that’s not always true. We can outline and plan every detail in our heads, but outlining and thoughts are not stone. They can change. Characters misbehave or run in the opposite direction that we want them to. Sometimes we know there’s a story we want to tell (an idea forms) but our characters refuse to talk to us (can’t expand on idea). This is often referred to as “getting stuck”, “writer’s block” or being “stalled”.
One way to break that block is to just write, or type (whichever is your preferred MO) anything. Often an idea will only form so far in your head but simply getting it down on paper or computer gets the creative juices flowing. At this point, it doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you’re writing. Edits and revisions come later. Sometimes just writing what you know in point form works:
- character A = Alien
- character B = Human
- A & B meet
- A & B fall in love/are repulsed by each other/want to dissect one another
Don’t know anything more? It’s time to start asking questions. A wants to dissect B. B refuses. Obviously. Or maybe not. Who knows what kind of twisted characters you have in your story. How does B stop A or why does B want this to happen? How does A react? What is the purpose for this dissection?
This obviously could make for an interesting, out-of-the box story. But what kinds of questions do you ask for more mainstream stories? The kind that require answers of course. If you want to know an unknown, just ask yourself. You might be surprised at the answer.
Why are A & B in love? Not just because that’s how they feel. Something has made them feel this way. What? Why are they attracted to one another? This could depend on your genre. Maybe A is an octopus-like alien and B has an arm fetish. Maybe A looks like Paul Walker/Vin Diesel in The Fast and The Furious and B has a blond/bald fetish.
So, keep asking questions. Your answers will lead to more questions, and hopefully more answers, and before you know it, you’ll have a completed story.
What other things can you do? There are probably as many tricks as there are writers. Go for a walk, listen to music, watch TV or read a book. For me those
are distractions, unless I’m reading a fantasy novel in which case I’m totally inspired. So, how do I break the block and get writing done? I use the old “What if” trick, but with a bit of a twist.
Many writers are comfortable with pen and paper, but I work on a computer
using the Corel WordPerfect program. This method of breaking the block will
only work for those who work on computers, unless you don’t mind writing with coloured pencils or magic markers.
First open a new screen. Next, type up the last thing that happened in your story. If you know where you want the story to go, type up the possible ways of getting there. If you’re not sure, simply type up possible plot lines. As you type each one out, it will probably lead to another possibility. The best thing about this is that by the time you get to the end, you haven’t forgotten any of the paths. It’s there in front of you in black and white. Or – and here’s the best part – you can change your font colour and work in your favourite one. This isn’t going to be sent to an editor, so it’s okay to work in a rainbow of hues. You can even write each different path in a different colour or change fonts, if that helps. Have fun with it.
This colour technique can be used for other things
as well. If you get to a point in your story and you realize that you need to
add something in a previous paragraph or chapter, but you’re on a roll and
don’t want to break it by going back to add it, just add a few lines about what
needs to be added or changed. Make it stand out in red or blue or whatever colour you wish. I use this all the time and often have a
Another thing you can do is try making a list of possibilities. Aim for
twenty or more. Your first few ideas might be the usual list of suspects, but
keep thinking. The more things you write down, the more unique they’ll become.
You may be able to blend certain ideas, but remember unique doesn’t mean
illogical. Your cow can’t bark and your goat can’t meow, unless you’re in an
alternate universe. In that case, this path becomes perfectly logical.
Finally, when you’re editing and revising, make those revisions in colour. This will help you see where your story needs the
most work. Plus, it makes new scenes or changes easy to find. If you belong to
a writer’s critique group and have the story critiqued, or workshopped,
you can place comments for specific scenes within the scene. It’ll stand out in
purple, green or (insert favourite colour). But don’t forget to make sure your final copy is
in black and white so it looks professional, and if you’ve used a fancy font, remember
that editors prefer a common, easy-to-read font.***
Here are a few more ideas that might work.
Reading – I like to read books in the genre that I’m
writing in, which is usually fantasy or YA, because my writing tends to favour whatever I’ve been reading about. Others find that reading books about writing help. Anything will do. Even if it’s a shampoo
bottle. Sometimes all it takes is a word or phrase to ignite that spark.
Activity – Doing something outside often relaxes you enough
to get the creative juices flowing. Work in your garden, walk the dog, the cat,
or yourself. Go swimming, sledding or skiing. Chances are you’ll see something
or someone that gives you an idea. It doesn’t have to be outside. Try baking or
cleaning out your clothes closet. Ideas, like items you lost months ago, often
pop up when you least expect it.
Non-activity – Some people get inspired in the shower. This
is one place you can be alone with your thoughts. You can hear what your
characters are telling you. Sometimes goofing off helps. You know those silly
computer games that often come already installed? Try those. These games often
require little or no thinking so you become an automaton simply going through
the motions and, because your (feel free to read that as “my” or
“Kellee’s”) brain gets bored, it starts to wander, imagine and ideas start moving in. Try watching a movie: an old favourite or one you’ve never seen before. There could be ideas there.
So, rather than just sitting in front of your computer, trying to force your
ideas to come (readers will know if a scene is forced) just relax and do
something else. Figure out what triggers your imagination, what gets a response
from your characters, then do it.
*** Generally Times New Roman or Courier New in a 12-point. Arial works
as well. Some editors receive it in their own preferred font so it won’t matter