You’re stuck. No, not stuck. That’s writer’s block. You’re just not sure where to go. Should your protagonist fight with their partner in the next scene? Or maybe they should go out for a drink with friends. That’s sounds hopeful. No, wait, better yet, maybe they go out alone, and have a chance encounter with somebody who tempts them. No, no, maybe the fight should come first. Damnit, there’s just so many options.
Maybe mapping out the story will work. Hang on …
- protagonist is unhappy with partner, so they … they …
Hmmm, back to the original problem. Maybe mapping out each alternative is the way to go …
- they fight
- the protagonist’s partner breaks down
- the protagonist storms out and, um … um …
That didn’t work. Let’s see what happens with another of the alternatives.
- the protagonist goes out with friends
- friends have conflicting opinions – some say the partner’s no good, others say to give the partner a chance and talk it out
- the protagonist is confused and, um, um …
Okay. That wasn’t so good either. Let’s try the last alternative …
- the protagonist goes out to a strange bar
- the protagonist has a few drinks, talks to the bartender
- a stranger approaches, tempts them and, um … um …
All your possibilities are equally weighted, and all of them just as equally taper away. You’re not feeling it, the path that you’re meant to be on. Everything disappears into a haze. It’s so frustrating! You know what happens well after that point, but just don’t know how to get there.
You bandy ideas around with friends, and they come up with some suggestions that fire your imagination. Yes, there are definite possibilities there. But once you sit down to write and pound out a few words, there’s just more haze. These suggestions don’t seem very good, after all. It’s back to plodding around.
A walk will do wonders – get away from the pressure of trying to find the words and ideas that get you back into your story. Some of your best ideas have come while walking, and then you’ve been impatient to get home and get stuck into it. But now, the same thing happens that happened when you talked to your friends. Possibilities that shot like flares in your head fade into nothing once you try to follow them.
Where to now? Where to?
As writers we all have our own techniques that serve us best. Some of us outline stories meticulously before we ever begin to write. Others write instinctively. Some fall in between. There’s no right or wrong way, there’s only the way that works for you.
Yet at one point or another, we can all reach a point where we’re unsure where to go next, and all our methods only confuse us more – usually wearying us of our story and the passion to write it. This is often when stories are abandoned: when there seems no clear way through, and we grow sick of looking.
There does remain one last avenue, though.
Sometimes, you just need to sit down and write those scenes you’re unsure about and see where they take you. Writing is a much more exhaustive exploration than any of the methods mentioned earlier, and can alert you to cracks which just might be your way through to where you want to get to. Find a crack and possibly find your way into a whole new world.
Of course, it mightn’t work out. You might write hundreds – or even thousands – of words that ultimately go nowhere. You might do this for several vague ideas for no reward. But sometimes, you have to. That’s all it comes down to. You have to write simply to find out for yourself whether something is going to work or not, because no other method is going to truly and unequivocally answer that question for you.
Think about that next time you’re unsure where to go.
Postscript: If you ever write something substantial (let’s say over 100 words) and it doesn’t work out, don’t delete it for all eternity. Cut it out and stick it in a separate file, which you can call ‘Extracts’ or ‘Excerpts’ or ‘Excisions’ or whatever. But collate those passages that don’t work. You never know, you might use them again, or they might give you an idea for a different project later on.