Determine Your Writing Goals

Schedule your writing. Do I mean select a specific time of day to write? Yes and no. Yes, but only in the case that you can write that way, but no, in case you prefer more flexibility regarding your writing. So what do I mean? There are twelve months in a year. January is almost complete, but what would you like to see yourself accomplish regarding your writing goals in the month of February? What about March? How long does it take you to complete writing the first draft of your novel?

Most people just write. Sure, they have a goal in mind—finish this story and publish it…someday. Then Writer’s Block hits, and it really delays the writing process. However, if you lay your goals out for the year, you’ll have more of an incentive to press on and meet your deadlines. You’ll know if you don’t finish this story by this specific month, then you won’t be able to start on revising and editing it, and if you don’t get through that by this other date, you won’t be able to send out query letters or self-publish your work at the appointed time.

But how do you know when you’ll be finished writing the book? Well, everyone is different. Some people write daily while others don’t. You will have to determine the best way for you to write. The important thing is to set realistic goals and keep them. One way you can do this is by knowing how much you write in certain increments such as the following:

  • How much can you write in 15 minutes?
  • How much can you write in an hour?
  • How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel?
  • How long does it take you to revise a draft?
  • How long does it take you to edit a draft?
  • How long does it take you to proofread a draft?
  • How many revisions must you complete before being satisfied with your novel? (This question will likely not have a fixed number because each novel will be different. However, it is still something you should keep in mind.)
  • If you’re seeking traditional publishing or an agent, what is the common waiting time to get a response?
  • If you’re self-publishing and formatting your own work, how long does it take you to format a book?
  • If you’re having other people beta read, proof, or edit your novel, how long does it take them to get back to you?

Now, the answer to every question listed above is subject to change due to numerous circumstances (what you’re working on, who you’re working with, and just plain Real Life getting in the way). Nevertheless, if you can list a tentative answer, it will give you a general idea of how long it’ll take you to reach your goal. With that in mind, you can set your goals.

For example, here are my answers to some of the questions:

How much can you write in 15 minutes? 500 words.

How much can you write in an hour? 2,000 words.

How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel? 3-6 months.

How long does it take you to revise a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How long does it take you to edit a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How long does it take you to proofread a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How many revisions must you complete before being satisfied with your novel? (This question will likely not have a fixed number because each novel will be different. However, it is still something you should keep in mind.) At least 5 revisions.

If you’re having other people beta read, proof, or edit your novel, how long does it take them to get back to you? At least two weeks but maybe month.

Knowing this information, I can plot my approach to the writing year. I’m the kind of person who must write daily, and in my mind revision, editing, proofreading, and researching the market doesn’t qualify as ‘writing’. Revision might be the only exception especially if there are major revisions necessary where I have to add an entirely new chapter or section to a chapter. In that case, I am writing. However, with that aside, I like to write in addition to all my other work. Why? So I can constantly have something to publish. In my mind, it looks something like this:

Write Book 1

Write Book 2, revise/edit/proof Book 1

Write Book 3, revise/edit/proof Book 2, publish Book 1

And so forth.

Is this a perfect system? No, because you can’t predict the exact timing of everything, and Real Life just happens, but this is how I work.

In other words, if you really want to become a published author, you have to plan for it. Not only do you have to set the goals, but you also have to determine the necessary steps to reach that goal. Anyone can say, “I want to publish a book one day!” Yet it takes a disciplined writer to say, “I’m going to publish my book at this date, and this is how I’m going to do it…and here’s Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D if Plan A doesn’t work.” So try to plan your writing year.

Also, if you feel as if you’re nowhere near being ready to be published because you’re not confident in your skills handling different elements of writing, it might be a good idea to schedule your year by month and what elements you want to master. For instance, you could say, “In February, I really want to focus on writing good descriptions.” And in March you could say, “I want to focus on dialogue.” Or it could be plot, strong characterization, pacing of a story—whatever you want. Now, not every element requires a month to master it. It may take less than a month or more than a month. You would have to measure the time according to your own pace.

Sometimes a writing mentor can help keep you lay out your goals and keep you on track. If you’re interested in such a mentor, feel free to join my Facebook group and let me know: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AuthorKellyBlanchard/ I mentor writers beyond blog posts and would love to interact with more of my readers and help you reach your writing goals.

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Writing a Battle Scene: Important Details to Know

There are a few things you need to know before you begin writing a battle scene. They are the follow:

  1. The character you will follow into battle.
  2. The location of the battle.
  3. The purpose of the battle.
  4. Step-by-step how the battle should unfold.

First, you need to know which character the reader will follow into the battle. This is important because it will determine the feel of the scene. For instance, if your character is a mere foot soldier, he’s not going to have the overarching view as someone like a general or the king. If you’re writing from a king’s POV (point of view), the king may not enter the battle immediately but survey the situation. He’ll send in skirmishes but hold back the rest of the army to see what his enemy will do. One little tactical mistake may be all he needs to defeat his enemy without too much loss of life. You can stick with one character throughout the entire scene or have a select few whom you bounce around to show the bigger picture. It depends on your writing style.

Another cruical fact you must know is the location of the battle. Once I read a story, and it opened with a battle, but it never showed the landscape. I had no idea where we were! Fighting on a plain is different than fighting in a forest or on a beach or just outside a city. If all those elements are there, and the fight is going to pass through those areas, it is important to have a character survey the battlefield before the actual battle. Do it before the fighting begins because when the fighting breaks out, everything will be too chaotic to pause for a moment and take in the surroundings.

So you know the characters and the location. Now, as always, you must know the purpose of this battle. It isn’t simply ‘who’s going to win and who’s going to lose,’ but rather who will die? Who will be injured (and how)? Will someone save a rival and thus cause them to come to an understanding? Will someone see something that will completely change their life? So you see, it’s not merely the fighting that is important, but little things throughout the battle that can have a major impact.

Now you have all the basics, and the task of this battle scene looks daunting, but take your time. Plot out step-by-step how it will unfold. It may be chaotic, but keep the rhythm going. When armies collide, keep this in mind: an army is not simply a mass of people. It is organized, and each part serves a function. Most people are tempted to write both armies charging at each other and hope for the best, but that is an novice way of handling the situation. Take your time. Some of the characters might not be in their intended position at the start of the fight, and you need to find a way to put them into proper position for whatever momentous encounter they will face on the battlefield.

Once everything is in position, no need to rush headlong into battle. That is the temptation yes, but you need to keep a clear head because the characters are about to be thrown into a whirlwind of chaos. You need to know what you’re doing—always keeping in mind the snapshots you’ve envisioned for this scene and the major points of the battle. Also, bear in mind that in the midst of this battle, some characters may die or live against your wishes, and you need accept that. You need to go with the flow.

Armies collide—full force. All the order—for the characters—is now nonexistent. Everyone is fighting for their lives. Throughout the battle, focus on those specific individuals you chose to follow into the fight to give the reader a wider view of what is happening. Make sure everything progresses. If all your character jump is doing is fighting left and right, that’s not very important; this is a battle. That kind of fighting is expected. If your character is fighting and gets injured, okay, that’s pivotal because it hinders his ability to defend himself. If your character is fighting and injures or kills an vital opponent, that’s something of significance for the story. If your character does something (by accident or on purpose) that unleashes a chain reaction that ultimately ends the battle, you will want to record that.

This is where it is important to know the points of the battle. What is the reason for it? As the author, you have the ability to be in the heat of the battle in one moment, but then in the next moment you’re above it from an omniscient point of view. This allows you to keep track of what is happening where on the battlefield, and if you see something is getting out of hand, you can send a character to intercept it.

There are many ways to write a battle. Imagine you’re playing a video game—how does the battle unfold? However, one paramount aspect to remember is that each soldier in battle is a person. They have their fears, issues, hopes, and dreams. In the chaos of battle, adrenaline kicks in, and it’s just about survival. But then something unexpected might happen to a character and stops him in his tracks. Suddenly, he’s not just part of the senseless chaos. In the midst of everything going on—canons blowing up on his left, arrows whizzing by his head, his best friend cut down right in front of him, his commanding officer shouting at him—despite all of this, he is completely and utterly alone with a decision in front of him. Depending on the person he is or the development of character he undertakes, he will respond one way or another, and that is an crucial moment to record in the battle.

Can you just write a battle of two armies colliding and be done with it? Sure—if that’s what you want. However, if you want the battle to mean something, and if you want your reader to walk away satisfied with how the battle unfolded, then don’t rush it. Plot out the battle, be patient, and take it one step at a time. You’ll be rewarded with moments when you can speed things up for brief spectacular moments, but then you need to slow down for those more quiet but epic moments.

This takes patience and a lot of practice. One crucial thing to keep in mind when you are writing anything (or really doing anything in life): never say you can’t do it. You might not know how to do it, but reading up on things like this and simply trying will get you further than you might expect. Your imagination is more powerful than you realize. Don’t rush it. You will make mistakes. Your work won’t be perfect the first numerous times you try, but practice makes perfect, and practice takes patience.

Be Original

What to write? Sometimes we are so full of ideas that we have absolutely no idea what to write. They’re all stray ideas which don’t fit together like pieces of a puzzle, and this is frustrating! So you finally take one idea and try to wring it for all its worth. Now, you can come up with a good story like this, but here is something to keep in mind when you’re trying to craft a story with stray pieces of an idea:

  1. Is the main idea or the way the story unfolds cliché?
  2. If yes, how can you make it different?

Surprisingly, a lot of stories (films, shows, and books) ignore how unoriginal their story is almost as if hoping no one will notice, or at the very least we’re not tired of the same old storyline. Should we, as writers, settle for this? No—not if we can think for a moment longer on the plot and create a unique twist on an old element.

For instance, there is a new TV show that’s going to start up sometime next month called ‘Galavant’. It looks absolutely cheesy, full of clichés, completely predictable, but hilarious at the same time. It starts off as your typical king-steals-man’s-woman-to-marry-her-and-man-goes-to-rescue-her plot, but in the trailer there is this little twist that made me laugh because it’s about time someone did it!

Galavant: (in front of the king’s court on the day of the king’s wedding)“You can offer her great fame. You can offer her great fortune, but only I can offer her great love, and that is what she chooses.”

Woman: “Actually…I’m going to go with the fame and fortune.”

Galvant’s face drops with disbelief.

Sure, it’s not much, but it’s taking a cliché and bashing it against the rocks. I don’t know how the show will play out, but this is a simple example of taking something old and making it new again. There are a lot of parody and satire skits that do just this, and it’s what makes them funny, but you can make something new again without always being humorous. It can still have the dark, dramatic atmosphere if that is what you want your story to have.

When you’re thinking of what to write, don’t rely on the charm and wit of your characters or the vast vividness of your settings or the complex systems and worlds and creatures you’ve created to enchant your readers. If the basic plot is ‘good guy fights bad guy and good guy wins and gets the girl’, or ‘hero discovers they’re the savior of the city/kingdom/world/galaxy/universe and must fight all evil but first must train and eventually defeats the villain’, this is predictable. You might write it well and completely draw in many readers, but aren’t you the least bit curious how much better it could have been if you had just taken a moment to make it different? Take the seed of your idea and contemplate it deeply. What will make it stand out in a crowd? What will make it so unique?

I once co-wrote a story, and the basic principle was this: peasant girl discovers she has inherited an entire kingdom after her father died, and now she must learn the cultures of royalty at the hand of a prince from a neighboring land. Initially, it appears to be the same old story where a commoner suddenly rises to power, and you may predict, “Well, she’s obviously going to fall in love with the prince, and they’ll live happily ever after.” But that is far from what happens. She falls in love with someone else only to be rejected by him, and at that time the kingdom has been attacked. She has no time to entertain love but rather focuses on the defense of her kingdom, and as such she morphs into a true queen, and things get much more complicated from there. The story doesn’t have a happy ending either, and it goes on to have a much darker sequel. This is just an example.

So, when you’re contemplating your next story, think it through, imagine how it will unfold, and if you run across the usual cliché, then do the opposite of what’s expected (or at least something different). Don’t settle for the routine but venture to be distinct. If you want to stand out in the crowd, don’t run with the crowd.

Summary of Former Blog Posts

Today’s blog post is going to be a recap of all my previous posts with links to each one. People ask me about specific elements of writing, and I realize I’ve already discussed those elements, so I direct them to that post. Here’s a chance for everyone (including myself) to get caught up on the different topics I’ve covered. I may do these kinds of posts periodically to keep everything in perspective.

Post 1: Let’s Talk About Telling – This post discusses what exactly ‘telling’, so it’s easier to identify in your own writing in order to help you ‘show’ better.

Post 2: How ‘Said’ is Redundant – The common dialogue tag is ‘said’, but due to punctuation, it is also redundant and lends itself to telling rather than showing.

Post 3: More on Dialogue Tags – Dialogue tags have their place in writing, but these days they are often used as a cheap way for the writer to write a conversation between characters without putting much effort into it. However, the writing can be stronger and much more vivid by using body language in place of the tags.

Post 4: The Adverse Adverb – Stephen King says, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” While I wouldn’t go that far, most of the time adverbs only weaken the structure of a sentence and the writing. They can be replaced by more concrete words therefore creating a stronger experience for the readers.

Post 5: The Playground Experience – In order to know anything, you have to learn about it. Sometimes you learn the hard way, but sometimes your learning experience can be fun. The ‘Playground Experience’ is writing stuff that you never intend to publish only because you’re writing it for the practice.

Post 6: Practice Makes Perfect and then Publication – With writing, we’re not immediate masters of the craft, and we need to recognize that. Instead, we need to take the time to stretch ourselves in writing different things in order to learn this or that element of writing rather than the sole purpose of writing for publication.

Post 7: The Personality of Writing – If you ignore your writing obligations or skills, writing will give you the cold shoulder when you turn back to it. The longer you go on ignoring it, the harder it will be to write when you finally decide to pick up the pen. Is it worth it? Absolutely. The persona of writing simply wants to make sure you have the commitment to sit down and write before it floods you with ideas and inspiration.

Post 8: Paint Pictures With Words – ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the common rule among writers, but are you supposed to show every single detail?? No, and this post shows you how to determine what to include in description and what you could leave out.

Post 9: Movement in Description – There should be motion in the words that describe the scene. To me, the scenes play out like a movie scene, and the camera is always moving—in a logical manner that doesn’t sicken the viewers. The description of writing should reflect that, but how? This post shows.

Post 10: Shifting Points of View (POV) – Writers are commonly encouraged not to switch POV in the middle of a scene. While I see their point, I disagree. Multiple POV’s in the same scene takes practice to master, but it must be practiced (and therefore allowed) in order to master. Once this tool has been well-refined, it can show the scene in ways that limited POV cannot, and this broadens the horizon of the story.

Post 11: The Key to Dialogue: Listening – A lot of people struggle to write dialogue. One way to overcome this is to listen to others talk. As writers we tend to get caught up in our own thoughts and not pay attention to what is being said around us, but we write about people, so we should take the time to stop and watch them and listen to them. Pay attention to their speech pattern, choice of words, etc.

Post 12: Speaking of Dialogue – There are some elements of speaking which do not transfer well in writing, and this limits your audience. We discuss it in this post.

Post 13: Necessary Narration – ‘Narration’ can be another word for ‘telling’, and because of this, a lot of people won’t talk about it since you’re not supposed to ‘tell’. However, narration is important. Through this tool, we can get inside our characters’ minds, feel their emotions, and relate to them. The key is to balance the ‘telling’ with the ‘showing’.

Post 14: The Origin of the Narrative – Most writers begin their writing career as a child writing in their diary. This means they start writing in ‘first person’, and when they finally begin writing actual stories, those stories tend to be in ‘first person’ as well. Eventually they may dabble in ‘third person’ writing or may opt to stay with ‘first person’. All of this determines the narrative of the story.

Post 15: Punctuation of Cinemagraphic Writing – How should punctuation be used today? The semicolon is losing ground. The ellipsis should definitely be limited as should the colon. The one that’s gaining more ground surprisingly is the dash, and this post goes into more detail in it.

Post 16: Determining the Person – Should your story be written in first person, second person, or third person? Here we discuss the pros and cons of each one.

Post 17: Overview of the Different Tenses – Usually most writing is done in ‘past tense’, but it is becoming more and more common for stories to be written in ‘present tense’. However, there are more tenses than merely ‘past’ and ‘present’, and this post discusses them.

Post 18: Flashbacks and Tenses – Flashbacks are tricky, but with the proper use of tenses, the transition between past and present events can be smoother.

Post 19: Author-Based Characters – Due to the fact that most writers begin by writing in their journals then transfer over to story writing, they usually write the main character as themselves. This is dangerous because readers can sense it, and it will turn the readers away from the story.

Post 20: Author/Character Relationship – There are two kinds of authors: Interactive and Static. Interactive authors are constantly communicating with their characters throughout the process of writing, but Static authors are set in their way of how they’re going to write, and the characters must do their will.

Post 21: Describing Your Character Upon Introduction – When your character is first seen in the story, natural instinct is to pause the flow of narration to give a full description of your character. This disrupts the story and can be jarring to your readers. There is a smoother way to bring your character to life.

Post 22: Notice What You Notice – In order to write description of a scene better, it’s important to recognize for yourself what you notice when you walk into a room. This helps you write more realistically.

Post 23: Immortal Words – Our words have a lasting effect, especially those printed on paper. Yes, there are ways such words could be destroyed, but if preserved, they could essentially last forever. It’s important remember the far-reaching effect your story may have on future generations.

Post 24: Plot: The Spine of the Story – What is the story about? Sure, we can have fantastic characters, but if we don’t have an actual plot to follow, the story won’t be memorable.

Post 25: Different Kinds of Outlines – Outlining a story is one way to stayed organized and motivated to write, but there are different approaches to outlines.

Post 26: Timeline Outline – This specific outline draws everything on a horizontal line rather than vertical. It helps keep dates straight as well as what’s happening where when there are multiple plots to a story.

Post 27: When TO Use an Outline – Outlining isn’t for every writer, so there is a time to outline and a time not to use an outline. This post discusses the proper time when to use this tool.

Post 28: When NOT To Use An Outline – A continuation from the previous post, this one focuses on the other side. It discusses when it’s proper not to use an outline.

Post 29: When To Step OFF An Outline – You might have completely outlined your story, but then the story decides to change direction on you. This is all right, and you should heed the direction of the story even through it takes you off the outline you had planned.

Post 30: Production Writer’s Block – Unofficially there are two kinds of Writer’s Block, and here we discuss the first kind which is ‘Production Writer’s Block’. It can also be described as ‘In-Progress’ writer’s block. It’s when you’re working on a story and hit a brick wall.

Post 31: New Project Writer’s Block – The second unofficial Writer’s Block is when you’ve finished your story and now aren’t sure what to write next.

Post 32: Always Try To Write Your Best – There are a lot of influences out there in the world, and there’s a lot of pressure of how you should conform your writing to what’s acceptable and marketable. However, you should only write the best you can at that time in your life. Always try to sharpen your skill. As time goes on, you’ll look back with fresh eyes, and you won’t be happy with what you wrote, but at that time you wrote the best you could write.

Post 33: A Method of Revision – When you go back to your old work and decide to finally do something with it, the work will need some polishing up, and the first thing you need to do is revise it. This post discusses an approach to revision to help familiarize you with the process.

Post 34: Steps To Editing – The next step of polishing your work is to edit it. This post goes into detail of how to approach editing.

Post 35: An Approach to Proofreading – The final step of polishing your work is proofreading, and this post shows how proofreading differs from editing and gives a warning that most writers don’t consider when they’re polishing their work.

Post 36: The Etiquette of Readers Part 1: Casual Reader – Sometimes we all need encouragement and motivation. What we really need is a cheerleader. We don’t need them to criticize us when we make a mistake but to cheer us to get back up and keep going. This is where the Casual Reader comes into play.

Post 37: The Etiquette of the Reader Part 2: Beta Reader – Unlike the Casual Reader, it is the Beta Reader’s job to critique our work. It’s not fun, but it’s an important step.

Post 38: Emotions: Let Your Characters Feel – Emotions are fundamental to human life, to our experiences, and how we react. Due to its great importance in real life, emotions shouldn’t be skimmed over in significant scenes of our stories. It might make us feel uncomfortable, but we need to let our characters feel.

Now we are entirely up-to-date.  I have a lot more material to cover, but you’ll just have to wait until next week to see what will be discussed next. Thank you for your patience. See you then!

Production Writer’s Block

What is Writer’s Block? It’s a common term in writers’ circles, but what exactly is it? Everyone can agree that Writer’s Block is when you’re stuck or uninspired to write, but what is it? Well, there are two kinds of block:

      1. when you’re in the middle of the story but don’t know where to go from there, have no motivation or inspiration to continue.
      2. when you’ve completed writing a story and find yourself suddenly without anything to write.

Let’s break down both forms into two posts.

In the first form, which I call ‘Production’ Writer’s Block, you are in the middle of your story, have a good idea where it should go and how it should end, but the story isn’t appealing to you anymore, or the characters aren’t engaging to you. You’re no longer excited about the story. This is dangerous because if you’re bored with the story and the characters, your readers will detect your boredom in your words, and they’ll get bored, put the book down, and never pick it up again. They won’t remember anything about it, and if asked if they read it, they’ll shrug and lift the corner of their lip in a slight disgust, “Eh, it was okay.”

You don’t want that. You want them completely captivated by your words, but in order for them to be absolutely taken in, you must believe in the story and surrender to it. Words can convey emotions—that is what makes words so powerful. It is commonly said if the author cries, your reader will cry, and that is true. Of course, the author’s cry at a death scene will be more like, “Nooooo!…..hehehe……hahahaha….BWHAHAHAHA!! My readers are going to HATE this!!” whereas the reader’s cry will be a prolonged, “NNNNNOOOOOOOO!” but then they get excited because they want to see how the rest of the story will unfold without that fundamental character. Likewise the emotion of boredom is transferrable from author to reader, and you don’t want that.

What is the case for this Production Writer’s Block? It could be a few things:

  1. you didn’t outline, and now you’ve gone as far through the story as you could imagine
  2. you forced a character to act out of character, and now they’re digging their heels in and literally stopping the story.
  3. maybe you imagined a certain scene to take place in a specific location and unfold a certain way, but the story doesn’t want that.
  4. or maybe the story lacks plot, structure, or direction.

In the case of #1, I’ve already discussed outlines in great length. I believe I don’t need to go back over that. However, if you have run into this problem due to lack of outline, now is a good time to stop, sit down with your characters, and discuss the direction of the story. Am I saying you have to outline the entire story then? No, but at least get enough to push you along.

With #2 and your characters misbehaving—I’ve mentioned this before as well in previous posts, but specific last week’s post about ‘When to Step OFF the Outline‘. You might have planned the story perfectly from beginning to end, but as you’re writing it, your characters develop, and suddenly they don’t want to do what they’re told to do in a certain scene. If you forced them along anyway, they have been pitching a fit all this time, but it only manifests itself when you come to a major part in the story, and the character must do something but absolutely won’t. By this time you’re tired of struggling with the character, and you probably don’t understand what his or her problem is. If this is the case, you need pinpoint which character is giving you the most problem, go back through the story and find the place where the problem began. Then negotiate with the character. If the character doesn’t want to stick to the outline, then take the chance and follow their lead. Remember, your outline is a guideline—not a hard and fast rule. However, the character’s problem might be extremely minor but brings to light how another character reacted, which further develops that other character.

For instance, say one character just discovered this other character isn’t who she says she is (I’m making this scene up on the spot just for this post):

Wait a minute,” Kilroth grabbed Locket’s arm and spun her back around to face him. He searched her face trying to understand what exactly she just told him. “You mean to say that the real Blackadder’s dead and that you’re not her?” When her smile widened, Kilroth narrowed his eyes, tightening his grip. “Who are you? Tell me now!”

You’d love to know, wouldn’t you? It’s bugging you because you know you know me, but you just can’t place it, can you?” She tilted her head to a side, ignoring the pain in her arm where he gripped her.

So, sounds pretty good, right? Say that Kilroth is the one throwing a fit, waving red flags after this scene. He’s fine with everything that was said, but there is one minor detail that Locket did that he caught and would have latched onto for the rest of the story, but the author didn’t record this, and that’s why he’s having problem. So, let’s rewrite it. See if you can spot the added detail.

Wait a minute,” Kilroth grabbed Locket’s arm and spun her back around to face him. He searched her face trying to understand what exactly she just told him. “You mean to say that the real Blackadder’s dead and that you’re not her?” When her smile widened, Kilroth narrowed his eyes, tightening his grip. “Who are you? Tell me now!”

You’d love to know, wouldn’t you?” The smile faltered for a moment as a wave of sadness passed through her eyes—sadness Kilroth didn’t understand. However, it vanished when she blinked, and she grinned with bright eyes. “It’s bugging you because you know you know me, but you just can’t place it, can you?” She tilted her head to a side.

In that version, Kilroth saw sadness in her, and that tells him that she’s not withholding information just to be difficult but because there are deeper choices there. Armed with that knowledge, he would approach the topic differently.

It is amazing how interwoven the story is to each word and phrase.

Now, on to the third reason why you might have Production Writer’s Block—maybe you imagined a certain scene to talk place in a specific location and unfold a certain way, but the story doesn’t want that. This probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but let me give you an example.

Once my character, Vixen, entered a new scene. We’d never been to this setting before, so through her eyes we were able to get a feel for these new surroundings and such. I had her walk into an impressive skyscraper, but when she stated her purpose, she was escorted to the massive underground bunker—lots of illegal activity happening here. But then the scene stalled. Vixen had barely just stepped off the elevator and looked around when she told me, “This isn’t the right place.” I knew if I pushed on and insisted on using this setting (since I had spent so much time on descriptions building it!), I would get Writer’s Block, so I backed off, thought about it for a moment, discussed this with the characters, and I realized they didn’t want it underground. They wanted the story to take place above ground—the entire skyscraper was the operation, no hiding. This changed the dynamics of the story a bit, but it also made it more interesting.

So if you found yourself coming to a stumbling halt in your writing, take the moment to lift your head from being so involved in the story to see what is really happening, and adjust appropriately—even if that means going back, changing location completely, and having to cut out several thousand words in the process. Words are never lost. Just put them in a ‘Deleted Scene’ file, and they’ll be there if you ever need them again.

Okay, now, let’s discuss the final reason you might have Production Writer’s Block—lack of plot, structure, or direction. Say you get a really cool idea for a character—a female character who can be both the protagonist and the antagonist, but she plays the game not to win but only to make it as difficult as possible for the other characters to achieve their goal. If they lose, so be it. If they win, they worked hard for it. Sounds like a neat character, eh? But what is her story? If you tried to write a story about her, she’d throw all kinds of fits because she insists she’s not the main character, so who is the main character? What is their story?

You can have the same problem, but instead of it stemming off a character-based story idea, it’s a concept-based story idea. I think I used this example before in another post, but for instance, say you came up with this brilliant idea of worlds between dimensions and only specific people can travel to the different worlds due to markings on their hand. Now, those people can drag ordinary people into different dimensions with them, but what happens to the ordinary people is that they gain supernatural power as long as they’re in that dimension. However, they lose it as soon as they’re taken back to their own dimension. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? But what’s the plot? Who are the characters? What’s this story about?

When you encounter the problem of either of these last two instances, it is definitely a problem. There is no magic formula, no steps to tell you to take to create an plot for those brilliant characters you have or a plot and characters for the concept you have. However, there are several things you can do.

      1. sit down and talk with those characters or brainstorm that concept. Think through them completely, and maybe, just maybe you’ll find the plot.
      2. grab your brainstorming (maybe not necessarily writer) friend, meet for coffee or pizza, and tell them everything you know about your story—spoilers and all. Perhaps they’ll be able to spark the seed of a plot.
      3. put it on the back burner and let it simmer for a bit.

That last one might be a bit discouraging, but don’t lose faith. Just because you can’t write the story or that character now, doesn’t mean you won’t ever write it. Back in 2008 I came up with a concept, but every time I tried to write it, I hit a brick wall of Writer’s Block, so I shelved it. Now, years later, other elements came into play, and I took it down from the shelf, opened it up again, and that is the book I am currently working on. Also in this story I am finally using an awesome character I had never been able to place in any other story before. So don’t lose hope.

So what happens if you have this Production Writer’s Block? Go back and figure out where the root of the problem lies. Determining that is actually part of the solution. As for the rest of the solution, having a talk with your characters may help, or maybe you need to present your dilemma to your writing group or a few writing buddies or your brainstorming friend.

There isn’t a single solution for the problem of Writer’s Block. If there was, it wouldn’t be a problem anymore since we would have mastered the solution already. Simply recognize where you are, do what you can on your own, and if necessary, reach out to others.

Next week we’ll discuss the second kind of Writer’s Block that there is, which I call ‘New Project’ Writer’s Block.

Plot: The Spine of the Story

What is plot? What is story? To have a story, you need several basic elements—a clear storyline, characters, and a universe for the story. If you’re missing one of these, you’re going to encounter Writer’s Block. Sometimes you can have a great idea for unique aspect of a world for a story, but you lack characters and storyline. Or you can have epic characters but no world to put them in or storyline. Sometimes you can have a storyline but no sure world or characters for it, although usually with storylines, the characters and world will develop automatically.

Sometimes writers ask me to help them brainstorm certain aspects of their story, so I always ask, “What is your story about?” And sometimes I get a response like this, “Well, there’s this other realm—like another dimension—and only certain people can pass between the two dimensions, but they can drag ordinary people with them to the other dimension. When this happens, normal people gain superpowers, but they lose them when they come back to our own dimension. They usually lose their minds and go mad after an encounter like that. They know they had superpowers, but now they don’t, and no one believes them.”

I wait, but when they don’t continue, I press on, “Okay, but what’s your story about?”

They look at me puzzled. “It’s about those dimensions.”

I lift my hand to stop them from repeating themselves, and I look them straight in the eyes. “That is the universe of the story. That is the setting, the background. That is not the story itself. Who are the main characters? Who is the story about?”

This is when most writers pause then frown. “I…I don’t know.” And to be honest, I can’t really help you when you don’t know the answer to this. This is a form of Writer’s Block, and it is something every writer—even I—encounters.

So, what is plot? Strip away the universe of the story, the world, the extraordinaries of the story, the uniqueness of it, all the color and fluff and all the awesomeness of the story, and what is left? When you strip it down to its bare bones, what remains? What is the soul of the story? Who remains?

For instance, my medieval fantasy story, which I hope to publish next year or so, deals with magic and technology, crosses genres of fantasy and science fiction, has a huge cast of characters (I want to say around seventy-five characters prior to editing), multiple interweaving subplots, political intrigue, intense battle and fights, and emotional distress and heartbreak. However, at the core, the story is about one very powerful man who has always done his best to use his power for good, but he is accused of a crime he claims he did not do, yet no one believes him. They think him a lying, two-faced monster. Soon he realizes in order to clear his name, he must become the very man they think him to be, but will he lose himself and remain that man?

That is the main conflict of the story. That plot can be applied to any genre and any era and be retold into a new story. That is the beauty of plot. It is said there are 20 master plots, but plot relies on conflict, and there are only four kinds of conflict, ‘man against man’ (film: Gladiator, 2000), ‘man against society’ (film: In Time, 2011), ‘man against nature’ (film: Twister, 1996), and ‘man against self’ (TV Show: Perception, 2012). The difference between plot and conflict is, multiple conflicts form a plot. You can twist it any which way you want. In my fantasy story, the conflicts were mainly ‘man against man’ and ‘man against self’.

So, what do you do if your story is a good idea but has no plot? You need to know there is no magic formula. However, there are a few things you can do. First, recognize the problem and acknowledge it then think about it. Brainstorm with people who understand and encourage your writing. Watch films, TV shows, YouTube videos, read books and fan fiction, listen to music—the seed for the story might be anywhere.

Once you find it, there is no stopping you. Stories are funny like that. You pick up a seed, and suddenly it blossoms in full bloom right in your hand, and you have to quickly cast it to the ground because it’s very swiftly becoming a full tree! Its roots dig deep into the ground. Its trunk grows thicker and taller than you. Its branches reach out above your head in complicated patterns with leaves kaleidoscoping the sky—much like the interwoven subplots and paths of the characters.

But sometimes—despite everything you put into it—it doesn’t flourish. Is it because it’s not a good idea? No. It’s because it’s not time for that story to be written. Where you are in your life isn’t the right time for that story to be written. It’s also not the right time for others to read it—the world isn’t ready for it yet. So, pocket it away for the time being. Don’t forget it. Don’t lose hope over it.

“So I don’t have a plot—can’t get one regardless how much I think about it, what am I supposed to write? I have no idea!” Thus the terrible clutches of Writer’s Block. Yes, you can try to force your way through the story you have, but usually that results with pent up frustration, and editing is even more of a dread.

So what do you do in such a situation—especially if you want to write daily? Well, simple—write. “Write what?” Whatever comes to your mind. It could be a scene here, a conversation, a journal entry, co-writing with someone, a blog post, plotting out ideas—something, anything to keep you in the habit of writing.

How long will this spell go on? It varies—can be a few days, weeks, months, even a year or so. Does that mean you fail as a writer? No—especially if regardless of all this, you continue to write, continue to look for the story, continue to strengthen your understanding of the craft and sharpen your skill. When the story comes, you’ll be ready for it. You’ll hit the ground running without hesitation. You won’t lack confidence because you know you’ve maintained your ability. It’s like training for the Olympics.

Don’t think of it so much as a block but rather an opportunity to sharpen specific areas of your writing. You can focus on mastering description without being bogged down with a storyline. You can perfect the art of dialogue without worry of plot points. You can experiment with specific characters in any situation because they’re not tied to a specific story. You can strengthen your ability to write certain kinds of characters like the antagonist and how to make them relatable.

If it makes you feel any better, at this very moment I’m struggling with this myself. In one hand, I have a story with much potential and unique ideas but no characters or plot. In the other hand, I have these three characters but no story for them. I’ve tried to blend them together, but still lack the plot. So, what do I do in the meanwhile? Well, I make myself write at least a thousand words a day. I’m co-writing and writing blog posts like these, and I’m also writing random scenes experimenting with those characters I mentioned—never know when they’re reveal their story to me.

So if you’re struggling with this, don’t feel like you’re a failure as a writer or that you’ll never be able to write a worthwhile story. Sometimes the story will come to you in a flow that you just can’t stop, but if it were like that all the time, you literally would have no life, and you would be exhausted—physically, emotionally, and mentally. Other times the flow just ebbs, forcing you to slow down. It will pick up again, and you’ll forget the times you struggled with words.

Can a story have no plot? Of course, but the plot gives structure and purpose to the story. Having a story without plot is like having a body without a skeleton. Sure, you might have hands, legs, and something the resembles a head, and you can dress it up with fancy clothes, but in the end, it can’t stand on its own. A story with plot has bones, has a spine and the confidence to carry itself.

So write daily—something, anything. Be patient. And when you do write, determine the plot and the reason for your story.

Our next several posts will discuss outlines—how to craft an outline, when to use one, when not to use one, and when to step off the outline. See you then!