Thursday, March 05, 2009

Drawing a Blank -- Part II

Continuing from yesterday, these novelists share their secrets of how they push through their stories when they've hit a blank spot and don't know what to write next. If you missed yesterday's post, please read it first, particularly to see the original question posed by James Scott Bell.

Stephanie Whitson: Sometimes I stop writing, go back to the beginning of the book and read forward. Often that gives me a renewed vision. Sometimes I scan over where I've come from with special attention to the main character in the scene where I'm stalled. This can remind me where they've been and where they need to go. (I don't outline or do extensive character creation before starting a new book, though, so that might not help an outliner because they have probably already done that in their planning phase.) Sometimes I forget THIS scene and go ahead to another scene I'm more excited about writing (I do start with a list of scenes, just not an outline) and that will "jump-start" the process. Believe it or not, sometimes reading another novel I'm enjoying for, say, 20 minutes, refreshes my brain enough to get me motivated to go back to my own work. Sometimes I go out for chocolate. If it's really bad, I get a cup of very strong coffee and stare at the screen :-).

Lisa Tawn Bergran: If the scene is just dragging and I need to fix it, I type COME BACK AND FIX THIS and keep moving. If it's going to impact 100 other things down the line, I stop and try to resolve it then. I'm an outliner but then become a seat-of-the-pantser as my characters begin to make all sorts of crazy decisions that get me into binds...and beautiful tension that force me to think outside the box. So I don't fear those blanks--they usually further my progress as a novelist when all is said and done and FILLED IN.

James Scott Bell: These were the suggestions from Leonard Bishop:

1. Introduce a “starter” character. Give him a compelling entrance and figure out what to do with him later.
2. Use a break and begin a new scene at another place or time in the story.
3. Shift to another point of view character.
4. Insert a surprise.
5. Insert a sequence of comic relief.

Rick Acker: 1. Make espresso. 2. Drink espresso. 3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 as needed. That usually does it for me. When it fails (or when I feel caffeine poisoning coming on), I sit down with my wife and brainstorm for an hour or two. We can usually come up with something that both has zip and fits into the overall plot structure.

James Scott Bell: Coffee was Balzac's method. He drank thick, black coffee from about 4 a.m. on. Around 40 cups a day. He considered it a mind altering drug. He died from caffeine poisoning at age 51. But he was doggone prolific!

Athol Dickson: I usually back up a scene or chapter, edit it, and by doing that I get more deeply into the flow. Then I can usually carry on when I’ve worked my way back up to the blank page. Also, I try to follow Hemingway’s famous advice and always stop for the night in the middle of a scene so I’ll be able to pick it up and carry on with some momentum later. Sometimes I can’t resist the temptation to finish out the scene, but when I do stop in the middle I’m always glad the next day.

Lenora Worth: I go for chocolate and coffee!

But I mostly just go back to the beginning and find what's bothering me. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and get it--I can see the problem was back in chapter three. So I can't finish chapter ten until I fix chapter three. Sometimes, I just grab something to read for a few minutes and go back and write through it.

And sometimes, I just call it a day and go shoe shopping. Even if I don't buy any shoes (which is rare for me) just getting away from the story helps me figure it out. Or a good long walk and silent prayer without ceasing will help, too.

So, BGs, have you read a new idea in these two posts that you might try next time you draw a blank? Besides the chocolate and coffee, which we all do.

Don't we?


Grady Houger said...

I used to think I needed caffeine to be creative. I've been off it for five months now and found a person can learn to focus without its help. I still miss it though.

Pam Halter said...

I had to laugh at the information Jim gave us about Balzac ... it brought to mind "The Music Man" and all the women who were flustered by books by Balzac! HA!

When I hit a blank, I reread my notes. There's most always something I've forgotten.

If that doesn't work, a walk in the park along the river will always flush out the cobwebs and give me the oomph to go on.

M. C. Pearson said...

Wonderful information, Brandilyn. I'm going to tell my homeschool writing club about this...and give them the link to your blog. :-)

Nicole said...

No coffee. Just Coke. (Like in Coca Cola, folks.) And probably cookies over chocolate most of the time which is a real problem. Real.

Hannah said...

Yup, coffee and chocolate. Best Get-Rid-of-the-Writer's-Block cure there is. (Though after hearing about Balzac dying from caffeine poisoning, I'm inclined to think otherwise ;) I did like Athol Dickson's advice, to stop in the middle of a scene. I did it once and it kicked up my energy the next day to start writing.

Anonymous said...

I love all this advice...I need all the help I can get and so I take all the help I see.
Thank you for posting this and keep it coming!

Judith Rivard