08 March 2010

5 Reasons Writers Get Stuck

1) Writers Balk at Plot

At the thought of plot and structure, writers’ palms turn sweaty and their hearts race. Why the visceral reaction? The act of creation generally comes from the right side of the brain and the linear, concrete structure of plot comes from the left, making structure for writers inherently counter-intuitive.

At some point, however, every writer, even those who work out their stories on the page, requires some sort of structure in which to present their work. Plot is the interweaving of character emotional development, dramatic action and thematic significance. In other words, someone acts or reacts. In so doing, that someone is changed and something is learned.

2) Writers Concentrate on Their Strengths, Forgetting that Plot is not Merely Action-driven Nor is it Only Character-driven

The rhythm of story telling is in all of us right now, especially for those of us who were read to as youngsters and continue to read fiction today. (PLOT TIP: The best way to becoming a better writer is to become a more voracious reader).

Natural born storyteller tap into this rhythm unconsciously and are able to weave all three plot lines without much conscious thought to structure. For the rest of us who have something to say and long to be heard or, in our case, read, our stories tend to turn out lopsided. Why? Because we get stuck either by concentrating on action only, forgetting that character makes up 70% of good fiction, or by delving into the inner-workings of characters with little regard for conflict, tension and suspense.


3) Writers Forget the Importance of Cause and Effect

The structure of story has remained essentially the same since the beginning of time. The elements that vary are the beat or tempo and the intensity. Take, for example, the current best seller The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown with its break-neck pace of action versus the more leisurely plot pace of the early 19th century classic Emma by Jane Austen. Though the degree of intensity rises at differing speeds, both stories possess a strong element of suspense with cause and effect closely linked.

Without Cause and Effect, Tempo and Intensity a story can bog down and the writer gets stuck.

Of course, writers of today always have the option to give their readers the unexpected and slow things down. But whether you adhere to the current story telling standards or create your own, and whether you write thrillers, memoirs, historical or mainstream fiction, a firm understanding of the essence of plot helps to not only keep you going, but increases your chances of being published and enjoyed by readers.


4) Writers Tell Instead of Show the Story

Show, don’t tell. We’ve all heard it. Nevertheless, writers often get stuck on wanting to tell their story and thus end up writing in summary. Summary sums up or tells what happens over a period of time in your story. Summary is important, but it also puts distance between the reader and the story. Scene shows what happens as the action unfolds moment-to-moment on the page. Scene is immediate and draws the reader in close to the story.

Scene holds the same sort of structure as the overarching plot of a story, beginning with steps toward a goal or desire, followed by some sort of conflict and tension and ending with a cliff-hanger. Each scene has a tiny plot of its own. Understand scene and you begin to understand the essence of plot.

Scene focuses on motion with tension and conflict, and slows down the story speed for maximum effect. Not all scenes have really big events going on in them, but every scene holds layers and layers of information packed into the moment all at once written in detail. If you can convince the reader to trust you the small things up front, they will believe you in the big things to come.

All the high points in a story must be played out in scene on the page, moment-by-moment in real time. The technique of slowing things down forces the stakes in a story ever higher. At the same time, the stakes also rise for you as the writer. Many beginning writers hide from the pressure of creating scenes by relying on summary and narration. These same writers hold the mistaken belief that they can control things better by telling what happens rather than by showing in scene. My contention is if you break down scene to its smallest parts you retain control.

5) Writers Forget that the Craft of Writing Comes in the Deliberate Arrangement of Scenes

The muse flows into our imagination through visions and ideas, dreams and inspiration. However, once all the muse’s wonderful material is on the page, it is then up to the writer to organize the scenes in order to give them the biggest impact.

The first part of getting the story down on the page almost comes from outside of the writer. The biggest hurdles for the writer at this stage to overcome are resistance and the inner critic.

Once the material is on the page, however, is when the writer walks fully into their power as a writer. The biggest hurdle for the writer at this stage is full knowledge about the craft of writing itself.