Today’s block breaker is particularly useful to reveal a character’s motivation and their potential next moves. Wherever you’re stuck, write a ‘diary entry’ from your character’s POV. Even if it doesn’t make sense for them to drop everything and whip out a notebook, imagine what they would say if they could. Try writing entries for every character in the scene– give them voices that suit their personality, recall what came just before and what their mind state is. The same event could affect people in very different ways.
For an example, here are some entries from an epistolary story of mine where the characters describe their arrival to a tropical island.
Starting a new journal for this expedition. We just landed on Isla Diana this afternoon, now we are at dusk. The July weather is fine, warm but not sticky nor stuffy thanks to the altitude and the sea breeze. Saw an interesting moth on the way into the villa, wingspan as wide as my hand, a cream color with violet or perhaps blue markings. No chance for further observation as I was rushed inside by the others.
Arrived at the island yesterday. I don’t think I’ll bother trying to write— well, anything beyond these journal entries for a couple days. There’s no sense throwing myself back into work so soon. I can’t believe this is real, that we really made it here. It looks just like we’ve stepped into a Rousseau painting, as Louis keeps saying. Thick lush vegetation, teeming with life, the haunting calls of unknown animals echoing on the ocean air. I wish I was more the outdoorsy type, as beautiful as it is around here.
– Character B
At the island at last. What a miserable trip it was, the five of us rocking around on that dingy like unfortunate slaves. I stayed in bed as long as I could get away with, and not for any kind of fun reason. At least early in the trip we worked in some games of cards and had a decent conversation or two. Today I wore my fuchsia silk shirt, though it was far too warm for the matching jacket.
– Character C
Character A is an amateur naturalist, Character B is a depressive author, and Character C is a frivolous noble. Characters A & C are eager to move on to new events, whereas Character B is more reflective, and will be slower to jump into an adventure.
Let your characters pour their hearts out and reveal things they never would to another person. Even minor characters could have something to say. The 2-dimensional bit player might have an intriguing secret you hadn’t noticed before.
Have you ever felt like a character was being a useless slug who’s dragging your whole scene down? Or maybe you could just use a fresh perspective to break through your writer’s block. Unlike the previous block-breakers, this exercise will be more for your reference than generating words for your draft itself. It may still give you the boost you need to forge ahead through a tricky spot.
In a nutshell: re-write a troublesome scene from another character’s perspective. Try switching to first person if you’re currently writing in third, to get more of their unspoken thoughts. You could write it in another color directly in your draft, or separately. Go through the whole scene, step-by-step, imagining this character’s reactions. You might decide they’d say something different, or even take a whole new course of action. Go with it! If you don’t like where it goes, back up and try again.
When you’re satisfied, look at your original draft. See that character in the back, sitting silently with their hands folded? What might be different now that you know what they’re thinking? Maybe your POV character will notice and behave differently too.
Today’s post will be quick and simple. Sometimes when you feel demotivated to write, you don’t even know where to start. Starting at the beginning or from where you left off feels obvious enough. Yet often those points are the things holding us back. You’ve run into a problem with a scene, or just lost interest. Getting some words down is better than none, and we don’t always have to be ‘productive,’ especially when it’s paralyzing us. Why not skip ahead to something you enjoy?
I call these fun-to-write scenes ‘chocolate chips.’ They’re similar to the pearls in my String of Pearls method, but with more focus on what’s entertaining for you as the writer. Do you like writing silly conversations? Action? Bloody gore? Romance scenes? A self-indulgent dream sequence? Skip ahead to a scene that would be fun and maybe a bit frivolous. You can always cut it later, but it will get you started, and you might end up liking what you write.
Why ‘chocolate chips?’ Well, it’s the best part of the cookie, isn’t it? 🙂
Sometimes I have trouble getting comfortable with my characters when I first start writing. I’m not sure who they are yet, or I’m not sure how to introduce them. This is a simple exercise to get started, get some useful words down and learn a little more about your character.
Choose an important, personal space for your character. I usually choose their bedroom, but it could be their office, car, the bridge of a spaceship… anywhere that would be personalized and significant.
Begin by describing the space. General at first, but start going detail by detail. What’s on their desk? Is their bed made or not? What’s the lighting like? The temperature? Do they have any books and what are they? How about their clothes? Is there junk and trash all over? How does it smell? Does someone share the space, and what is their contribution?
Write way more than you ever would for a single space. Think of every piece of furniture. Look up reference photos if it helps. Once you’ve exhausted every detail, (or get sick of it!) have the character enter, and start interacting with the environment. Maybe they flop on the bed because they just had an argument with someone in the other room, maybe they sigh and get comfortable in their favorite chair. What do they normally do in this space? Then if you’d like to go further, have another character enter the space. Maybe their partner or friend, or maybe a roommate that barges in. Does your character feel happy to see them, or annoyed that their private space has been invaded?
Even if you don’t include this scene in your writing, it can be a good intro to your character, and learning a little more about them. Plus, it gets you writing and that’s the most important part! See my previous post for another block breaker to get you going.
I often find I’m too distracted or demotivated to write actual plot events, or just feeling uncomfortable disturbing that pristine blank page. Here’s a simple exercise to generate some words that you can actually use for your final draft.
To begin, I look through my folder of reference photos. I try to collect images of objects, people, and locations that resemble ones from my story. (See my earlier post about mood boards to read about my technique for finding pictures!) For this example, I chose a couple location images that would feature in the first scene of my story. I dragged them straight into my Scrivener document, but you could just open the image and place it beside whatever window you’re writing in. I looked at the image, and just described what I saw.
You could make this writing fit your story, (including your character’s reaction etc,) but do whatever gets you writing. Be as blunt and obvious as you like, or be more poetic about it. Let your imagination drift, think about what the place would sound like, smell like.
In this example, I imagined that mud was from a rainy season that had just ended. If this writing leads you further into your story, go with it! The cool part is, you can copy and paste these descriptions into your draft wherever you need them. Try doing it for objects and people too, or whatever suits your story. You can tailor this writing later on, so don’t be afraid to state the obvious. I find this helps get me focused on my writing and gets some much-needed word count for NaNoWriMo season. I’ll write about more block breakers in the future!