At my work Christmas party last year, a friend asked me how I had gone in NaNoWriMo. I explained that the story was underdeveloped and so I had not been able to advance it as much as possible, and that there were some difficult parts in it (the two main characters were both song writers and so I needed lyrics in there, but lack any song writing ability). She replied by saying I had writer’s block.
This idea completely stumped me. Of course I had writer’s block, I had simply not thought of it that way. I was trying to compare my NaNoWriMo novel to other manuscripts i had written. Normally, I develop the next section of a story before I sit down to write it. Aiming for 50000 words in one month takes that luxury away.
The trouble was, that I kept thinking about why this novel wasn’t working, instead of thinking about how to change it. To quote one of my favourite series, ‘Think of the solution, not the problem.’ Terry Goodkind, Sword of Truth series.
You might be thinking, but writer’s block hits everyone, there’s nothing you can do about it. But there is. There is a simple technique which we will look at with a fairy tale.
Once upon a time there was a little princess. Her parents didn’t pay her enough attention. She often wandered away from the palace, and into the enchanted wood, where one day, she met a unicorn and they became friends. For a while, she was happy. But then the unicorn disappeared. The princess was so upset, but her parents wouldn’t help her find the unicorn. She went in search of her friend herself, but before she reached the enchanted wood, she was taken by a witch and placed in a high tower, and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon.
What are 20 ways this story could end? Write down a few things before reading my list of options.
- The unicorn and dragon were in league together
- The witch is a jealous step-sister who takes the throne
- The princess is saved by a prince
- The princess is saved by another princess
- Her parents miss her and come after her
- The unicorn hears her cry and comes to find her, laying down its life to save her
- The witch learns to be good
- The princess turns into a bad-ass
- The fairies of the enchanted wood storm out to save her
- No one notices. She dies. The end
- A younger sibling comes after her
- There is an old man in the tower as well who becomes her mentor
- The dragon dies and she escapes
- The princess trains the dragon and she flies away
- The princess likes the dragon and is happy again
- The unicorn comes to save her and is eaten by the dragon. The princess kills the dragon and is unhappy again as her friend is dead
- The princess jumps into the ocean and is saved by mermaids
- The witch forgets about her and comes back 80 years later
- The parents move on and have a new child, the story is actually about them
- The witch trains the princess in magic
Going through this process makes you think about every possible outcome. The first ten will be the obvious; don’t use those. The last five will be ridiculous; don’t use those either. But somewhere in the middle, will be an idea, or a few elements of ideas that go together to create an innovative story line, and like the porridge that was ‘just right’, you will find yourself back on track, charging through the scenes that previously stopped the word count from progressing.