Writer's Block: What To Do If You're Stuck On a Scene
Sometimes when we're right in the middle of writing, our scene hits a dead end. Then we get discouraged, maybe a little anxious because we're on a deadline or because it was going so well just a few moments ago.
There are a few methods I'm going to share with you to get past a sticky spot.
1. First, go back through the scene you were just writing. You can go back to the beginning of the scene, to a paragraph, or only a couple lines back. Read those lines again to see if it sparks anything new that your characters need to be saying or doing to move the scene along.
Important note: Never stop Writing Mode to go into Editing Mode when employing this method. One is creative, the other is destructive with a clear purpose. When the creative juices are flowing, it's important to keep the momentum going.
So, when you go back over those lines, I want you to pay attention to your characters or setting. (And if you are only setting a scene, treat the setting like a character.) Tune yourself into their thoughts and feelings. What are they thinking? What are they doing? How are they responding to the other characters and/or environment?
Maybe you need to add an action that spurs a response from the other character? Maybe you remember something that needs to be revealed.
These little details that jump out will help you see where the story goes next.
Writing is hard because we have to keep all these little details straight. Zeroing in your focus on that one scene and keeping with the rhythm of writing will keep the flow of your story moving toward its destination.
2. If you know what your characters need to do or say, but you don't know how to make it happen, or if you have a framework or vision, but don't know the particulars, just write what is supposed to happen. Structure it out. You can always come back to it later when you have a clearer idea on what needs to be said and how.
I run into snags all the time when I'm doing Nanowrimo, because I feel like I need to write fast. It takes time to flesh out a scene and write it how I like to write. I’m a slow writer, but I don't have that kind of time when I'm pushing hard. I need to keep the story going to get more down to boost my word count and keep the story flowing.
Here’s what I know about a scene: Two characters are in the kitchen cooking together. I know they're supposed to be getting to know each other, but I don't know what they say exactly, what little snippets of information get revealed.
Here's what I do: I just write a little bit, adding a few details of what I know will happen, or can happen.
It looks like this:
"He bustles around, talking and sharing stories, asking me to cut up the chicken tenders, while he grates Asiago into the sauce."
Just something quick, one line even that adds a little detail to keep the story alive and progressing but leaves the scene open-ended so I can revisit the scene later.
Another reason your characters might be misbehaving is because what you as the writer wants goes against their character. It makes it difficult for the scene to progress.
When this happens, determine if what you want them to say or do is absolutely crucial to your story. If it is, run their character profile through your head. In what situation would they be inclined to go against their character? If they were held at gunpoint or someone they loved was in danger?
Going against a character creates a faux feeling around them. You can’t change their personality once it’s revealed to you. You can, however, create circumstances that change their behavior or reactions.
3. Re-imagine the scene over and over again. Sometimes daydreaming is the best way to move a story forward. If you're fuzzy on something, go back in your imagination and remember how you wanted the scene to play out, let the characters loose. What kinds of things will they do? Interact with them like a director but let them move the scenes with their personalities.
Play with the image. Scope the territory from a different angle. Sometimes this can give you a better insight, or you’ll see something you didn’t before.
Think about what needs to be revealed. What needs to happen by the end of the scene? How do your characters interact with one another?
It's very important that you really focus on the moment. I like to imagine myself in the story following my characters as an extra, or as a journalist furiously writing down their exploits as they happen. Visualizing yourself in the scenes, gives your brain a new perspective to work over which can produce better insights into your story.
4. Another, quicker way to recharge a scene and get your brain focused is to bring in all of the senses. It keeps you in the moment and writing, without the mental block. It keeps your focus intact and centered, while bringing your story to life for your reader as well.
How does the coffee taste when the characters are between sentences? How does it smell? Is the cup warm in their hands? What do they see and hear from their environment? Are they alone or talking with another character, listening to voice and tone, watching their facial expressions or gestures?
These sensations make your characters more alive to your as well, which will help you understand what they're going through in that particular moment.
Sometimes it gets tough when we're in the trenches, writing away. These methods will help you defeat Writer's Block, so you can move on with your story.