It happens to all writers. You’re cruising through a story, and all of a sudden you hit a wall. Your characters freeze up, your plot stops cold, and you’re stuck with nowhere to go.
You’ve hit a fiction writing roadblock.
All of your ideas have evaporated and you sit there staring at your screen with a blank look on your face. Where were you going? How did you write yourself into a corner? More importantly, how do you write yourself out?
Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to break through the creative blocks that arise in the middle of a storytelling project. Some of these techniques also come in handy when developing ideas for new fiction projects.
The main thing you need to remember is that hitting a roadblock does not have to mean the end of your story, your fiction writing, or your creativity. You just need to reboot and see your project from a fresh angle.
The techniques explained here are sledgehammers. They’ll blast through walls, blow away obstacles, and create doorways that you can step through to reconnect with your story.
Pull Your Characters Out of the Story
Is your character stuck in a situation with no way out? Has your character gone on strike, refusing to take further action? Are secondary characters loitering around with nothing to do? Try removing the troubled character from the story you’re writing and placing them in a completely different situation. You don’t have to write a novel, but sketch some ideas about how your character would behave in various scenarios. Then bring them back to the story you were working on and see if your creative wall hasn’t cracked.
Try Fiction Writing Exercises
Fiction writing exercises provide a constant stream of ideas. You can find websites, magazines, and books that provide activities to kick your writing and your imagination into high gear. Look for exercises that are specific to the problems you’re having. If your plot isn’t going anywhere, find plot exercises. If you are having trouble with dialogue, look for dialogue exercises. I wrote Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises for storytellers who need guidance and inspiration — it has a little of everything and can knock down all kinds of creative walls.
Break it Down
Sometimes we get stuck because something’s wrong with the plot or structure. If you’re writing a manuscript, it will be difficult to see the bones of your story. Convert your manuscript into an outline that lists all major plot points. Then you can more easily see where the story took a wrong turn. If you’re having character problems, create outlines that show character arcs. Keep using these outlines to find and resolve problems in your plot and structure.
Sometimes the biggest problem with a story is that it’s flat. The characters are lackluster; the plot is boring. This is likely because these story elements are underdeveloped — there’s not enough detail or depth. Pause work on your manuscript to work on developmental projects like character sketches, plot outlines, world-building, and research that will add layers of detail to your creative vision, which will then get fleshed out in your writing when you resume work on the project.
Expand Your Vision
Sometimes what’s missing isn’t detail but entire chunks of a story; if your story feels thin, then you can add characters and subplots to plump it up. I had written multiple drafts of a novel when I was struck with a new character. I didn’t think much about it — I just started writing a chapter about her. It became the first chapter of the novel and she became the thread that tied the entire series together. Similarly, you might find that your plot lacks dimension; introducing new story threads and subplots can make your tale more dynamic.
Get a Second Opinion
We all grow blind to our own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you’ve started to think your story isn’t as great as you originally envisioned. Maybe you have a nagging feeling that something is wrong with it, but you’re not sure what. This is often a good time to get a second opinion. A writer friend is ideal for this, but you can also work with a developmental editor or a writing coach. Find someone who you trust, who is knowledgeable about writing (and your genre), someone who will give you honest feedback and help you get back on track. Sometimes the mere act of discussing the project with another person will illuminate the problem and reveal a solution.
Don’t Give Up on Your Story
Storytelling is not an easy endeavor, and the best traits for writers to cultivate are patience and determination. Sure, some stories are destined for the recycling bin. Successful writers produce a lot of garbage before they eke out a gem. But don’t give up on a project when you hit your first roadblock. If you do that, you’ll never get anywhere.
Whether you write yourself into a corner, lose interest in your plot or characters, or get tempted by a newer, shinier idea, stick with your project and see it through to completion. Pay attention to what’s going on when you’re at your most creative and learn how to get into that state on command. Writers need to get to know how their minds work and what brings out the best ideas. This is how each writer develops a reliable set of techniques or a routine that produces good results.
Also, stock up on creativity resources. Look for books on creativity and expose yourself to plenty of art and entertainment. Also, try other creative outlets, such as painting, dancing, photography, or music. Remember that like attracts like, so the more creative you are, the more creative you’ll be.
How do you break through fiction writing blocks? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment.