This post first ran here on March 9, 2009.
“You just can’t get there from here.”
How many times have you heard that direction-giving joke? But often that line describes a type of writer’s block. You’ve written up to a certain point. You know where you want to go up ahead. But what do you write in between? Personally, I have wasted hours, days, even weeks, trying to figure out what to write next, so I can get to that future scene I already have in my head.
But wait. Who says you have to write in a linear fashion? What if you write out of sequence? Aha! Now, you’ve given yourself permission to write the scene from your head and it flows wonderfully. Another Aha! Questions and solutions actually appear about how the character might have arrived here from there. You’re not stuck any more.
As a writing instructor once explained, to build a bridge, one first needs to erect a scaffold. It’s not a lot different in writing. You have several important scaffold scenes in your story or novel that have to take place (there will probably be more than one of each of these scenes in your book):
1. The Introductory Scene where the reader meets your main character.
2. A Meeting Scene, where the main character meets another character (maybe the love interest or maybe his nemesis) This is another form of Introductory Scene.
3. A Conflict Scene where two characters battle it out, whether physically, verbally, or in a match of wits. Or where the character battles himself.
4. A Realization Scene—the moment the character realizes something about herself that is a turning point. Or realizes her “enemy” is really her friend.
5. A Resolution Scene, where a problem is resolved (not necessarily the main one, but a problem nonetheless).
6. A Final Scene, which may or may not be your actual ending. An interesting exercise is to write a scene in which your main character(s) are old and looking back at what happened, what he/she/they learned, how they’ve changed, what they would've done differently, etc. That can give you an insight to “fill in the blanks.”
Another interesting exercise is to write a letter from your main character to yourself, as if this person has just learned you are writing a book about her, how she feels about that, any advice she might have for you, etc. This can be quite revealing. Sometimes you learn that you have a reluctant character, one who doesn’t want her story told. So you have to figure out how to win her over.
A recent article in The Writer magazine talked about writing out of order. The author made similar suggestions to the ones above, such as:
1. Write a scene in which the main character enters a new place.
2. Take a minor character you’ve introduced and write a scene where he/she appears later in the story.
3. Choose a character other than the main character—someone you’d like to know more about, and write a monologue in which she explores or explains herself.
4. Write a scene where your main character has a dream that advances the story.
5. Make a list of at least five crucial scenes that you think will be important for the story/novel (see “scaffold scenes above.)
Any one or all of these scenes may or may not appear in your final draft, but they will help you keep writing and develop ideas.
Have fun, write on and defeat that Writer’s Block! (Now, I just have to take my own advice.)
A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has just had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series, and blogs.