Archive for April 24th, 2009

Apr 24 2009

How to Beat Writer’s Block, Part 1

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Here are a few tricks to help you keep writing after you get stuck.


1.  Switch problems. Writer’s block often sets after a hero has resolved a problem and it’s not clear where the story is headed.  Are there any problems left?  Could you introduce a new problem?


2.  Add a complication. Last chapter, it may have looked like the hero’s solution worked perfectly.  Well, that was last chapter.  What went wrong? For example, perhaps the hero inadvertently made a new enemy or the villain is quickly working to undo the hero’s action.  Maybe two protagonists disagree about something in a major way (e.g. Lucius resigning in Dark Knight).


3. Switch solutions. Have your hero try to look at his problems in a new way.  Maybe he has to use ingenuity instead of brute force, or diplomacy instead of coercion, or careful planning rather than impulsiveness.  (Or vice versa).  For example, Heroes took away the characters’ powers from from time to time.


4.  Switch scenes. “Meanwhile, thousands of miles away…”  Moving the story very far will probably feel disjointed at first, but you can add a smoother transition after you determine where the story is going.


5.  Look at an important character in a new way. Perhaps there’s some aspect to your hero that could be developed more.  (Motivations? Personality? Key traits/flaws?  Where the character’s key traits/flaws came from? Background?)


6.  Give up on perfectionism. If you’re worried about being perfect, it will be very hard for you to start writing.  Don’t set ridiculously high standards for yourself on the first draft.  Think of the first draft as a scaffolding that you can build on rather than anything approaching the standards of the final product. (No one writes rough drafts that are good enough to publish).  It is much easier to write a few pages a day–even if they aren’t any good–and later rewrite them into something publishable.   One highly effective technique is to set aside 30-60 minutes each day to write a page or two.  You can use a free writing website like Write or Die to time you and give helpful reminders if you temporarily stop writing.  (If you averaged 400 words a day, you’d have a first draft of a novel manuscript ready within six months).


7.  Remove anything that distracts you from writing.  For example, if you’re typing away at your computer but find that you’re getting distracted, just turn off the Internet (or use a program like Write or Die that helps keep your focus).  If you’re spending too much time looking through notes or research, put them aside while you’re writing the first draft.


8.  If you’re truly desperate, consider throwing in a new antagonist or obstacle. This may reduce plot coherence, but the most important thing is to keep writing.  You can smooth out the connections later.


9.  If the plot has totally stalled, consider switching your angle. Sometimes, writers pick an angle because it’s conventional.  “I want to write about a magical university, so my story will be about a young wizard who studies there and eventually saves the world from great evil.”  Well, okay, but Harry Potter’s approach isn’t the only possibility.  What if you told a story about the teachers?  Or campus security? Or the admissions office?  Or the Ministry of Magic?  Or the bad guys?  Or the broom-flying instructors?  Or the headmaster?  Your story almost certainly has many such possibilities.  At the very least, any of these perspectives could add another chapter or character to help you develop your main character in a different direction.


Did you find this article helpful? If so, please check out How to Beat Writer’s Block, Part 2. Thanks!

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