Create a Specialized Group For More Interaction

Last week, I discussed why it’s important to create a Facebook (FB) page now regardless if you’re published or not. Now, there’s a catch with the Pages, and this is the overall lack of interaction with your followers. I’m not saying you won’t have any interaction with anyone—just not as much the Page gives you the illusion of having. This is because of the inability to tag people in posts (unless in comments, but even then it’s unreliable) and not everyone who likes your page will see every post you make. So what is a good alternative? Why have a FB Page in the first place?

The reason why I recommend getting a FB Page first is because it is the first steppingstone into building your platform. It’s simple, and it’s relatively easy to get people to follow you. If someone wants to support you, and they see the link to your Page, all they have to do is Like it. Not much commitment required on their part since they may or may not see your posts in their news feed. Basically, they’re another number, and it makes you looks good. But what if you (and your followers) want more than that? What if you really want to connect with people who are supporting you? What do you do then? Well, after you’ve established how you post and what sort of things you will be posting, you move on to the second steppingstone—creating a customized group primarily for your followers.

Now, to do this, you can create a Facebook Group or even a Google Plus group or something on Twitter—or all the above. There are numerous social media outlets out there, and all you need is the ability to create a group. Once you have that group, you can send a personal invite to those people who like your Page. Explain to them how you will be posting even more stuff in the group and that you welcome interaction. Not only that, but what you post in your group has a higher chance of showing up in people’s news feed than the Page. For the most part, people feel privileged to be invited to such a personalized group, and the fun really begins because now you can tag people to strike up a conversation or to show them a picture or a quote that made you think of them specifically. They feel included, and people like this.

Why not just create a Facebook Group first? Why start with a Facebook Page? First off, there are no rules as to which one you should do first, but I have found people are more inclined to Like a Page rather than join a Group. This is because the thought of a Group gives the impression that more commitment is required (in order to have proper interaction). I like to use my Facebook Page as the gateway to my Group. When someone likes my Page, I send them a private message thanking them for liking my Page, and then I invite them to my Group if they’re interested. Never add anyone to the Group without their approval. This is regarded as rude and may stress out the individual because the last thing they need to put up with at that time in their life is another Group (no matter how awesome it is). Rather, leave the decision up to them. Tell them about it, share the link of the Group, but let them go to the Group and decide for themselves whether or not they want to join. If they join—wonderful! If they don’t, then don’t take it personally.

How long should you wait between creating a Page and creating a Group? While there is no absolute rule to this, I recommend waiting six months to a year before creating a Group after you’ve made a Page. This is because you need to build up your credibility and establish your FB presence, so when people see you have a special group they could join, they won’t hesitate joining because they know you. Also, when you create a Group, you may find it difficult to keep up with constant activity on both sites. I post 95% more in my Group than I do on my Page, but I still keep my Page active because I have specific things I make sure I post there to keep it alive. Otherwise, all my energy would go into my Group. It’s hard to multitask. You don’t want to give your followers duplicate posts because that could lead to them unfollowing you on one (or both) of the sites.

Some people say self-promotion does not work for authors, and they may right. The internet is so bombarded with information and everyone clambering to get on top, that it is really almost impossible to reach a huge mass of people—almost impossible. However, if you stop focusing on the larger scale but connect more individually with each person, and it becomes a real connection. Over time you’ll realize how many followers your actually have.

This is why I recommend interaction through your own Group using your Page as your gateway to the Group. Some people have more success than others using Pages than Groups or using Groups than Pages or something altogether different. You need to determine what works best for you and what your method is to reach your audience. It takes time, patience, and confidence. If you have low self-esteem, don’t make it so much about you. Rather, make it about others—seek to be a source of encouragement, inspiration, and a safe haven on the otherwise cruel place known as the internet. As they come to appreciate what you have to offer, they’ll come to respect you and hold you in high regard, and this gives you confidence.

If you’d like to compare my Page and my Group as an example, you may find them here:

Page: www.facebook.com/AuthorKellyBlanchard

Group: www.facebook.com/groups/AuthorKellyBlanchard

P.S. With the Page and with the Group, you have the ability to customize your URL so it’s not merely ‘facebook.com/(a long series of numbers…)’. Be sure to look into that. It helps give you a more professional presence.

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Draw Your Readers Into Your Story

Imagine your story is a sphere. The entire universe of your story is contained within that sphere. You’ve spent days, weeks, and maybe even months and years becoming familiar with every corner of that universe. You know all the characters and most of their backstories. You know what has happened and what will happen. You know the location of the story and where the characters will end up. Sure, some details might be vague to you now, but you know you’ll work through it.

However, with all that knowledge, there is the danger of forgetting your readers don’t know all that information. Remember, your story is a sphere. You are within it, but your readers are outside of it. Each book you write is a different sphere even if they’re all in the same series. Your task as the writer is to pull your readers into your story like you’re reaching out of the sphere from the inside and snatching the readers to pull them in. This is when the beginning of the story is especially important.

When a reader picks up your book, they are standing outside the sphere, staring at it—maybe they’re circling it trying to determine whether or not to actually invest all that time and energy to become completely engrossed with the story. Is it worth their while? They may give it a chance and open their mind to the words whispered by your tale. They draw closer to see the images of the story flashing across the surface of the sphere. If the images are too blurry or unclear and just glimmers of light, the readers will likely withdraw because it’s too confusing. They don’t want to take the time to sort through a poorly constructed beginning. However, if the images are flashes of ordinary life with mundane every day conversation without a central character to follow or real purpose, this reflects too much of real life, which is what the reader is trying to escape, so this also will turn him away as well.

When you begin a story, it is crucial to set the environment even if the character doesn’t know where exactly she is. Say the character wakes up in a dark room with no memory of how she got there, and she’s not even sure where there is. Just by her being in a room shows us she’s not in a cave, she’s not underwater, she’s not under snow after being overtaken by an avalanche. She’s in some kind of building. There might be no windows, so she could be underground. If there’s a light, then that informs us wherever she is takes place where there’s technology. If it’s a candle, we’re could be led to believe it’s sometime before electricity. There might be furniture or a lack thereof, and this also informs us a bit about the environment. You see, the first question you ask when you wake in a strange place is, “Where am I?” The reader asks the same question when they step into a new story, and you have to give them something concrete to grasp onto if you expect them to follow your lead.

If your story starts off with a chase scene, you still must establish (in brief passing mentions) the environment. Are we in a modern-day city or a medieval village? In a forest? In the desert? On a snowy mountain? Or on the beach? Where are we? When are we? The character you’re following may know exactly what is happening and why, and that information may not be indulged to us readers immediately since there isn’t time for that, but we trust as soon as there’s a pause in the action, we’ll get some kind of information even if it isn’t a lot—at least it’ll be something. We may not even know if the person we’re following is the protagonist or the antagonist. So, set the setting but in passing. If they’re running through an alleyway of a major city, have the character that’s being chased grab some garbage bins and throw them into the alleyway as obstacles for his pursuers. This immediately tells us we’re likely in a modern city. Gunshots could be fired, and this confirms the thought of it being in modern era. Have them race across a street, dodging cars at a stoplight, and the character could look down the street, recognizing a major landmark of the city, and this could identify the location without having to tell us where it is. But keep the action going because we don’t want the character to get hit by a car or shot.

If you’re starting in a full-fledged battle where everyone is fighting, it is important to set the scene. Maybe a soldier is sneaking through buildings or alleyways. Show the destruction of the city—this helps establish the location. Show the lives lost although you don’t have to go into gruesome detail. Maybe the soldier stumbles upon this child that’s hiding, and they have a brief whispered conversation of the child asking for reassuring that everything’s going to be okay, and the soldier says it will be, but then you show in his own mind how he’s doubtful of this and hates that kids have to witness things like this. Even if we don’t know what the fighting is all about or who is fighting whom for what reason, we get drawn into the story because there are concrete images we can relate to.

If you’re the kind of writer who wants to take your reader through dream-worlds where nothing is what it seems and the setting can shift with a mere thought, that’s all right, but before you can confuse your readers like that, you must first gain their trust through a more traditional approach. Even the film ‘Inception’, which is all about dreams and subconsciousness, starts in a seemingly normal environment. As you follow the characters, you come to realize things are not what they seem, and then you’re thrown into a world where people build dreams to plant ideas in other people’s mind. Even though that’s a far-fetched and strange idea, you’re willing to go along for the ride because you’ve become intrigued by the characters and the storyline. This is the kind of trust you must establish with your readers in order to take them into such a bizarre tale. It is possible, but it must be carefully and intentionally crafted. It’s not something you can just throw together and say, “My readers are smart. They’ll figure it out.” No—they won’t, and it’s not because they can’t but rather they don’t care to figure it out since you didn’t make the effort to give them a reason to trust you.

So, when you begin a story, although you may be the most knowledgable person about that sphere of a universe, you must keep in mind that every reader who approaches your book has absolutely no commitment to any book you write if the beginning is poorly presented. Even long-time fans may dwindle away because your work isn’t reaching the old standard you set with your other work.

Also, remember, if you’ve written a series, a reader may go to a book that’s later on in the series without realizing there are books prior to it, but it shouldn’t make a difference. The reader should be able to read that book and slip into that world without a problem. They’ll just have a different viewpoint of the entire story since they started in the middle, but the story should still be clear enough for them to engage with it without a problem. I will discuss recapping from previous stories later, but here we are focusing on the opening of a story.

Keep it clear. You may use all the flowery language you wish, but if it’s not clear, it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying to write ‘simple’ and to dumb down your writing, but rather fine-tune your opening presentation and confidently captivate your audience. It’s a skill—not some superpower you wake up with one day. Sure, for some people, beginnings come easy to them, but even those people need to make sure they start sharp because any skill can rust given time.

Next week we’ll discuss how to recap events from previous books in a series without boring the reader.

The ‘Big Bang’ of Writing

The ‘Big Bang’ of writing has absolutely nothing to do with evolution. It has everything to do with the ‘hook’ of the story. It’s commonly said in order to hook in your readers and captivate them, you must use the ‘shock and awe’ approach. In other words, start with something drastic and loud. This could be a lightning strike, a gunshot, a scream, a crash, or simply absolute chaos. Is this wrong? No, but there are two aspects to this kind of beginning which makes it unfavorable. For one, the action might not be where the story begins, so you might have a prologue or have a story that begins after the first chapter with “12 hours earlier.” Or, due to its tendency toward chaos, this also leads to confusion, and confusion at the beginning of a story is incredibly delicate.

Sometimes the real beginning of a story can be rather boring. It could be two people meeting in a coffee shop just having a chat, but you’ve been told to ‘start with a bang’ in order to hook in your readers, haven’t you? And you know that there’s an event far in the past that is much more intriguing than a simple conversation, so you might opt for a prologue to explore that. Of course, this isn’t the only use of prologues, which I will discuss in more detail next week, but this is one reason people might include such a thing in their story. And this, honestly, is a very poor reason. You can do better.

Now, say the story begins with the seemingly ordinary conversation in the coffee shop, but you know later on in the story the girl who is meeting with her friend there will be kidnapped from her own home later that night. Now, that’s much more interesting, isn’t it? So, you may be tempted to begin the story with her walking into her house at night, hollering, “Mom, I’m home!” No answer, so she continues calling out until she notices the backdoor in the darkened living room is slightly ajar. Going into the room (without turning on the light), she creeps forward, watching for someone or something out the window. Then from behind her, someone grabs her, clamping his hand over her mouth, and pulling her back into the darkness as her screams are muffled. And then you have “12 hours earlier.”

Every time I see this “12 hours earlier” I feel cheated in a way because it’s not natural for us to time travel. Yes, there are times when this is best for the story and really the only way to begin it. However, most of the time, it’s done just because the writer really wants to capture the reader’s attention, and this is a cheap solution. In that regard, I challenge you not to use this method but to find another way to hook in your audience.

Another way someone might begin a story is without a prologue and without skipping into the future briefly but starting the actual story at an eventful moment. For example, a character is being chased. This is an intense scene with lots of uncertainty. The readers are thrown into this without any knowledge as to where they are, when they are, and what exactly is happening and to whom it is happening. They have no details to go on, so they’re putting full trust in the author to masterfully handle the scene. The problem is, action-pack scenes—in and of themselves—are always difficult to write (regardless where in the story they’re located). Most people struggle writing something like a chase scene. It’s just hard. So, why would you want to make such a scene the opening of your book?

Let me put it this way, say you’ve never been in a fire, but the beginning of the story your character is trying to rescue people from a fire. This is a very intense setting, and there’s a lot that can be uncertain. You must use the full strength of your imagination to make the scene real. If you are at all unconfident about any element in the scene (as in having a complete, vivid mental image of the setting and how the character moves through the environment and reacts to the fire), then it will show in the writing. Yes, these scenes are loaded with confusion, but when the reader has a hard time envisioning what is happening and who the characters are and what is exactly at stake, it’s not as captivating as most people might think.

When a reader opens your book, you are asking him to invest his time into the story, and there are only so many hours in a day. So is beginning your story with confusion and uncertainty really a good idea? The reader hasn’t even had time to grow attached to the character, so he won’t care what happens.

Is it wrong to begin a story with such an action-packed, completely confusing scene? No—of course not. If that’s the best way for your story to begin, then do it. However, if the only reason that is your beginning is because you’ve heard the advice, “Begin with a bang,” then I would challenge you to review that scene and determine if it is really where the story begins.

It is okay to begin with a slow scene because it is all in the presentation of the scene which snatches the reader’s attention. Do you recall that scene I mentioned of ordinary conversation between two friends in a coffee shop? Sure, it has the potential of being boring—especially if you keep it completely ordinary—but how can you use such a scene to hook in a reader? Dangle a slight mystery in front of the reader.

Her iPhone buzzed again, and though Judith knew who was texting her, she still lifted her phone to see part of a text message displayed which read, “I know what you’re doing. I’m asking you, please, reconsider. Don’t…” That was all the preview of the message showed, and Judith wasn’t interested in reading the rest.

Instead, she set it facedown once more on the small table where she sat near the window in this small town coffee shop. She drummed her fingers. Lillian was late. She was always late. The one time Judith needed her best friend the most, couldn’t she just show up on time?

The chime above the door behind her sounded, and Judith let out a sigh then turned to greet Lillian, but the smile on her face froze when she realized it wasn’t Lillian. It was him. Even now, her mind went blank on his name though she was sure he had told her at one point.

However, he didn’t look at her but headed straight for the counter to order his coffee. Judith spun back around to keep her back toward him. Maybe he hadn’t seen her. Maybe she could slip away before he noticed her, but she wagged her head. He knew she was here. He knew that when he sent her that text message, and she shot a glare over her shoulder only to find him meandering the merchandise near the counter.

As if feeling her stare on him, he looked at her then smirked.

She quickly looked away just as the door chimed again.

Judith! I’m so sorry I’m late!” Lillian hastened around the table to sit across from her friend, and she dropped her purse on the floor. “Are you okay? Is everything okay?”

Yeah, I’m fine,” she answered quicker than she preferred, but then Judith paused and considered her friend…

And the scene would continue with the mysterious man lingering about and Judith fully aware of his presence, but she also knows that he is hoping his mere presence will keep her from telling Lillian her real reason for meeting with her. However, Judith is unconventional. She would likely couch her words with her friend to show this guy that he doesn’t control her.

So, in order to hook in your readers, do you have to begin with a ‘bang’? No. They say ‘hook them in’, and most people (some red neck fellas aside) don’t fish with shotguns. Rather it’s a skill that must be crafted, and this requires patience and trust in your approach. Sure, your story might require an abrupt beginning, but on the other hand, that might not be the best beginning for your story. So, when you’re trying to decide how to start your story, and if you have a ‘shock and awe’ approach, ask yourself why you’re using that method. Again, it’s not a bad method, but if your reason is at all based on “Because they always say begin with a bang!” then reconsider it. I know you can do better.

Next week, we’ll focus on prologues.

Emotions: Let Your Characters Feel

When co-writing with people, I find a lot of people prefer to skim the emotions of a scene—especially the most emotional scenes of the story! They tell me, “The character didn’t want me to dwell on it.” I find that curious, but for me the opposite is true. The characters want to be remembered. They want to make the reader feel their pain for all its worth. They want to make the reader cry or scream out in denial just as much as the author does.

What I have discovered though about those people who withhold emotions from a scene, they are usually very withdrawn individuals in real life, and they’re uncomfortable showing that much emotion. It’s almost as if they don’t want that emotion to be identified with them. Is this wrong? No. A lot of writers are introverts who prefer not to show their emotions, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, there is a distinct difference between the author and the character. The character is not the author. People are not going to read the story and see you in it unless you specifically write yourself into the story.

Why is it so important for us to include authentic emotion in our story? Emotions are our way of connecting with the fictional world. We can’t really experience their adventures or completely relate to them in all their endeavors because we might not be super assassins or dragon-slaying medieval knights or vampires or werewolves or an orphan who’s meant to save the world. Our characters’ stories are often out-of-this-world, and by all rights, their world should be as foreign and strange as any country in this world. However, it’s not that strange. Why? Because we can all relate to the character’s denial when something bad happens, his stress as he tries to decide between two difficult choices, his determination when he finally sets his mind to the task, and his relief when he overcomes all those obstacles as well as any sorrows he might have encountered along the way.

Emotion is a universal language. We can all relate to it. Even if our books are translated into hundreds of different languages that we don’t even understand, we’d still be able to see the emotions on our readers faces as they read. We can relate to their smiles, their frowns, their widened eyes, quickened breath, then sighs of relief. We can laugh with them and cry with them.

If we refuse to let our writing be saturated with emotion in the proper time and place, then we deny our readers the opportunity to express themselves with that emotion. In today’s world, especially in the Western world, openly expressing emotions is frowned upon, but when those emotions aren’t yours but someone else’s (rather a character’s), it’s more acceptable. That’s why we can go to the movies and laugh or cry (though we will try to hide our tears) or scream in denial. When reading a book, outwardly it might appear as though we’re some of the most boring people in the world, but inwardly, we’re on an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes we might sigh or wince or cringe. Other times we might throw the book down or across the room in anger or disgust or disbelief, or we might let out a shout, “No!” or even mutter under our breath, “Don’t do it—don’t! Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Then we look around and realize people are staring—if they’re not plugged into their iPods. At the end of the day (or the book), we feel human because we actually felt emotion rather than going through the mundane day of work, family drama, friends drama, school, and so forth.

This is why it is important to keep emotions in your writing. “But how do I do that? How do I know that I’ve put emotion in? How do I show emotion when you’re supposed to feel it?” There’s no secret formula to this—there never is any secret formula to anything regarding writing. However, let me show you an example. I wrote this piece merely for this blog post. It was the first thing I could think of to demonstrate the difference being restricted in use of emotion versus honing in on the emotion.

VERSION 1:
She was washing the breakfast dishes when the men came. When she opened the door and saw the military men standing there, she knew why they were here. Her heart began to break before they spoke a word, but soon they left, and she closed the door and slid down to the floor, pulled up her knees and sobbed. Her husband was never coming home.

VERSION 2:
She scrubbed the breakfast dishes, frustrated that she had left the scrambled eggs on the plate too long, and now the remnant of eggs were caked to the plate. As she scrubbed hard, she knew she was running late and might just have to let the plate soak while she was running her errands today.

The dog barking outside caught her attention, and she lifted her gaze out the kitchen window to see anyone crossing the lawn. Not seeing anyone, she leaned further and looked to the left and saw a military vehicle in her driveway, but she couldn’t see the occupants.

Frowning, she snatched up a towel and began drying her hands as she approached the front door. Through the distorted glass of the door, she saw the silhouette of two men with proper stances, and the sight of them made her heart sink. Her steps slowed, but she pushed herself forward.

Her husband and she often discussed all the ‘what ifs’ if he didn’t come back from fighting. She didn’t want to be caught off guard but rather be prepared, so he informed her of all the different protocols.

This was one of them, and there was only one reason for it.

The doorbell chimed, and she drew in a sharp breath, straightened her posture, and pulled back her shoulders as she folded the towel in her hands and smoothed out her dress. Finally, with shaking hands, she reached for the doorknob. She took another deep breath, and then she opened the door. She had intended to open it all the way but found herself only able to open it slightly—as if to barricade herself from the bad news.

“Mrs. Whitaker?” the older of the two men asked, and Jennet Whitaker nodded. “We’re sorry to inform you—” and that was all Jennet heard. She knew the speech they would give—her husband died in service overseas. They couldn’t give her details, likely didn’t know the details themselves yet, but they apologized and said if there was anything they could do to help, they were there for her.

She tried to smile her thanks, but her throat was too tight with tears. She knew how uncomfortable men got when they saw a woman crying, so she whispered a weak, “Thank you,” then gently closed the door and rested her forehead against the wood of the door as she closed her eyes.

Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, and she couldn’t stop them. She turned her back to the door and slid down to the floor, covering her mouth with her hands as sobs overwhelmed her. She tried to keep quiet in case the men hadn’t left her doorstep yet. She didn’t want them to hear her even though due to the nature of their job, they had seen women break down and cry various ways, but too many people depended on her to be strong. They couldn’t even hear a whisper of her breaking. She needed to be strong.

But alone in her house, on the floor at her front door, she hugged her knees close to her chest, buried her face in her knees, and cried.

Together they were going to change the world, but now he left her alone—again.

<~>~<~>~<~>

The difference here is obvious. The first version is merely a paragraph long, and it is more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’. Yes, a reader with similar experience could relate to it, but most readers want to know how is this specific character going to react to that specific situation. We’re all different, and maybe someone else’s way of coping could be an example or a warning for us.

Not only do drawn-out emotional scenes help us understand our own emotions, but in these scenes we may discover something about the characters that we would never have known otherwise.

Am I saying that all characters should be overly emotional at all times? No. Sometimes the lack of emotion—especially in the face of a crisis—speaks volumes of a character. However, you must acknowledge at one point or another in one way or another each character (the human ones at least) must express themselves emotionally. They can bottle it up for so long and pretend they don’t care. They can seem to be absolutely robotic and without feeling, but there will be something that will slip in under their guard—something they’ve always tried to accept, change, or ignore, but it keeps bothering them.

Sooner or later they will snap. They might lash out in a moment of anger, and that is all it is—a moment, and then it’s passed. Or they might be the kind who must go behind closed, locked doors all alone where no one can hear them, and they might cry out in frustration or hurt, but soon they compose themselves.

The longer they don’t express themselves or release that emotion, the more it builds, and such pent-up emotions do cause a strain on the mind and body of the individual—stress, depression, lack of sleep, lack of motivation, short-tempered, and so forth. This can work to your benefit in the story, but sooner or later the characters should be allowed to expressed themselves emotionally. It doesn’t have to be a huge emotional scene but rather a small private passing moment.

Remember, we read in order to escape and to experience things we could never do in our lifetime, and one way to really connect with your reader is that emotional connection. The emotion is the magic that truly brings simple words on paper to life and makes them memorable.

Also, if you’re an introvert and a very private person who prefers to show as little emotion as possible at all times, just because your characters experience bouts of emotion doesn’t mean your readers are going to see you in the story and judge you. Instead, they are going to be so caught up with the story and everything the characters are going through, they won’t see you at all, so there’s no need to worry about it. Let the characters feel what they feel and let them express themselves in the way that they would. Yes, they’re a part of you, but they’re not you, and there’s a freedom in that.

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.