Understanding a form of writer’s block.
My experience has been that when I write, I must allow the plot and characters to go where they may. We are all told that a story will write itself. I heartily agree, but this only happens when we go deep into our creativity and let things unfold naturally. As writers, we are products of our experiences and that’s the fertile ground from which we create.
The norm for me is that I don’t know where the story will go, which action or direction to take or how the characters will play out their parts. I don’t know this even if I begin a story knowing how it will end.
Our muses will do a lot for us if we allow. Writing is like rearing a child. We discipline and nudge in the right direction, but should never be so controlling that we stifle the natural development of the child and as the child grows, it takes on a life of its own. So it is with writing. All aspects of our stories can write themselves.
One way this will happen is when we allow our characters to play out their parts. When we’ve gotten our protagonist or other character into a situation and don’t know how to get them out, we should not quickly back out of the scene and take another course.
What writing teaches is that the writer should put her or himself into the action of the character. Play like you’re faced with this dilemma and ask yourself what you would do in such a case. This takes you deeper into yourself and your own creativity where you can root out the answers. Allow yourself to face these situations as if you were the character backed into the much-clichéd corner.
If you have your villain in a tight spot and can’t see yourself ever getting into such a place, or being that villain, then you should play-act the gestalt of the situation. Look into a mirror and be the villain who is talking to you. Based on how you’ve created this character, and the action of the plot, you have only so many choices to make and that’s all.
When I wrote many of the scenes in my novel, “The Tropics,” at times I found I didn’t know where to take a character. One example in the first story, “Child of a Storm,” is that when Ciara is trying to keep Rico awake and treat his concussion and near drowning, I didn’t know what to have her do. I couldn’t apply knowledge that I know today to a situation that took place thirty years ago, and that was my key.
In the late 1960s, my limited knowledge is that one had to keep a person with a concussion mostly awake, maybe moving around but not jarring their head. As far as the near drowning, if you got some water out of their lungs and the person is able to walk, they were assumed to be okay. So that’s all I could put into my story—partly because that was not only my knowledge back then but also the general knowledge of most people at that time. I couldn’t say much about respiratory therapy as we know it today because back then it was just being studied as a possible treatment.
So the part of me that went into the story was what I knew during the 1960s and nothing more. It ended up being the truth of the plot action. What my protagonist did to help her fiancé’s condition, albeit limited, helped me to further build my protagonist’s character and resolve. She did as much as she possibly could. So I wasn’t stuck in the plot anymore.
In the second story, “Caught in a Rip,” when Lilly is facing death at sea and suddenly spots a turtle snagged in a drift net, I wondered how I would give Lilly stamina enough to do what she wanted to do. She wanted to photograph that turtle knowing her waterproof camera would float to shore after she died and someone would find it and hopefully develop the photos.
What could I do with Lilly? I had already nearly killed her off and her energy was depleted. It would look awfully contrived having her energetically swim down and take those photos and then die. Then I asked myself, if in that situation what would it take for me to rally my resolve and get those photos? That’s when I was forced deep into my own psyche to compare notes with my muse.
Exactly what would I do? The answer was simple. I slowed the speed of the story in order to show Lilly’s resolve. I did it with her inner thoughts, some momentary flashbacks that made her take a look at her strengths and weaknesses, and showed the reader how she convinced herself to do it. Had I been in that situation that’s how I would have reacted.
I could have written in that a tour boat came along and rescued her, and that the captain photographed the turtle, but that was too easy. She had to do it on her own in order to become this much-admired heroine and only I, the writer alone with my Muse, could think it through.
Truth is, if I knew I was going to die and I wanted to leave something behind to show the plight of that turtle, I would muster everything I had left as one last great gesture to amount to something in my life. You can bet that I would be thinking about my strengths and past successes in order to hype myself before diving down to take that photo.
Finding the character’s motivation was my motivation as the writer that helped the character to decide what to do.
Another writer might look inside themselves and feel a bit of writer’s block and say, There’s no way out of this! Then they might back up in the plot and rewrite it to go in a different direction.
Our characters and plot decisions come from deep within us. Something in us has made us bring the story dilemma to light. Facing and solving our characters’ dilemmas allows us to take a deeper look at ourselves and find inner strengths that have never been challenged in our daily lives.
If we, as writers, allow our Muses free reign and we do not soon back out and change the course of the story simply for an easier way out, we will find more exciting resolutions to the dilemmas we create. We may also come in contact with personal strengths we never knew we had.
At times, my Muse says, “This is the only way to go. You figure it out.” So if we don’t wish to rewrite an entire section of the story, we must dig deeper into ourselves to create the plot remedy.
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