Friday, August 5, 2011

5 Parts of a Story That Will Induce Writer’s Block

If I pre-plan a novel, I can recognize immediately which parts are going to be the hardest for me to get through. Often, when someone tells me a story they have in mind, I know the exact points they’re going to get hung up.

Finishing a novel is almost as hard as starting it; there are several points where an author is bound to get stuck. Here’s five places in which most writer's begin to lose interest in their own work.


1. After the Premise is Over

The “Premise” is the idea that makes the book "unique". It is like the plot, but doesn’t actually have any plot elements to it. There’s no conflict or super objective involved. It’s the most interesting part of the story, but doesn’t drive it forward.

For example, Harry Potter’s premise is that a little boy finds himself to be a wizard and then goes to wizarding school. It has the world, it has the character, it has the main interest, but if you notice, it doesn’t indicate where the story is going to go. "The plot" is the conflict, oriented around the defeat of Voldemort.

What happens is, and I still do this every time I come up with an idea, the author owns some idea and writes about it for pages and pages. It’s a slick slope, and he’s loving it, encountering no problems, having fun, speeding right through… And then it stops. Just abruptly. The inspiration's done. He doesn’t know where to go. This is because he doesn't yet know what his conflict is.


This is the perfect place to input the inciting incident. By this point, the author should have a general idea of what the character's main goal is, i.e. what’s going to be solved by the end of the book. If he isn’t sure yet, then he completely loses his momentum.


2. The Character’s Floating

This usually happens in the middle or right after The Premise for some. The character doesn’t want anything. He doesn't know where he's headed. He's indecisive.

There’s a point in film, about an hour in, when it occurs to members of the audience to look at their phones and see how close it is to being done. Essentially what has happened is the character's lost objective. Either he started out with one and it changed (he wanted to be the greatest soldier for Lord Archtype, but then realized the man was evil and he couldn’t possibly) or he’s been led around by events until then and hasn’t needed to make a choice yet. The character doesn’t know where he’s going or where he wants to go, and neither does the author. The man in the story is just existing, waiting for something to happen to him.

The creator than has to force a path on him. She cannot be dependent on the character’s actions to push the events forward, which—believe it or not—they usually do, but has to contrive some happenstance to set the putsch in motion. She, in a weird way, has to convince the character to do what she wants. Hard to do, the author finds herself stuck.

3. The Climax

Whether it’s getting to Lord Archtype’s bedchambers or the actual battle that ensues, the whole portion of the climax is the most important and one of the hardest parts to write. Having all the elements connect, making it poignant, having it quick but not too quick, keeping up the doubt as to outcome for as long as possible, it takes a certain finesse that indecision cannot work with.

I once wrote a 100,000 word novel in one month—except for the last fifteen pages. Six weeks past until I eventually finished it, and it was the most painful portion to trudge through that I’ve ever worked on. I wrote half of another book before I could force myself to get back to it.

Stalling just before the “big bang” is common, though the reasons vary. Mine is a very simple problem—I don’t know what the story was trying to say, and I wasn’t sure what the conflict actually was.

Sounds like the story had no story, when you don't understand the specifics. The real issue was I just couldn’t be decisive about it. Choosing “the moral” can really benefit the author in times of lethargy and blockage. Knowing that the good guys won due to “drive” or “love” or “money” can indicate exactly how the story should end. If the point of a Sci-fi war flick is that war is won by those who plan better, then clearly, the resolution should be one by strategy.

The movie Captain America was an example how a sickly young man could overcome his differences by being braver and more honorable than others, when he chose to die in the space ship to save millions, it made sense.


Of course, even if you do understand that you’re trying to say, “Look how smart this guy is,” you then have to be smart yourself, which may be the reason you can’t think of what to write.


4. “Battle”

This is a better way of saying, “The parts you don’t care about.” See, if I started with that, the immediate impression would be that if you don't care, you should keep it out. But when I say “you” I don’t mean the hypothetical person, I mean, the author’s personal self.

I am not interested in action sequences. I tune them out and wait for the hero to win like I assume he would. I have no idea how he did it and if anything important happened in the meanwhile, I will not have seen it. But, fight scenes, especially in certain genres, are usually important. I write fantasy and about adventurers, so it’d make sense that I do encounter the problem every once in a while.


I will then proceed to work on every other story I have going until I can force myself through it days, weeks, or months later.


This is an issue for everyone at some point in their career. A writer who is terrible at characters will eventually have to write emotion based scenes. The author who finds romance idiotic may want to have his hero actually get the girl in the end, and people who find pain incredibly painful will still need some sort of conflict. There will be a time when a creator has to work on a part that’s hard for him. It will take longest and be the greatest writer’s block inducer he can deal with. It will also be the greatest indicator of exactly what he likes and hates in entertainment.


5. From Part A to Part B

The writer wants Harry and Jimmy to get into a fight. As of right now, they’re on great terms, as the author wants it, and by the end of the dinner they need to hate each other’s guts. The creator knows what she wants to happen, and she may even know exactly what she wants them to fight about, but she doesn’t know how to get them there. She wants to show the gradual growth, but getting from point A to point B is hard. She get’s writer’s block, and she quits. This could be any scene in which something important has just happened, and now we need to move onto the next plot point, but obviously they can’t go right after one another, or the pacing will be really weird.

This is very similar to the Floating Character problem. In the end, it is best solved by understanding the character’s objectives—knowing Harry wants to become a writer and make him go on a tangent about his ideas for his story could put Jimmy in a bad enough mood for him to snap. Or finding other information in the story that also needs to be said and adding it; you wanted to talk about how Jimmy is actually an orphan who was raised in the circus, it could make Harry feel bad enough to be snippy. Or you could start writing backwards. Going from the point in which Harry leaps up and threatens to attack Jimmy, and then saying what was said before that and before that and before that could give it a natural look into how the conversation got to where it was, especially if it doesn’t matter where they started off as long as they end angry.

If an artist has a lot of half finished works then he should look at the reasons he stopped where he did. The vast majority of the time will be due to him encountering the same issue each time. Maybe one of the same here, may its something unique. If he can think of a reason why he can't get passed a certain point, then that's the best thing for him to focus on.