I was involved in an interesting discussion about writers block recently in a writers group, the crux of which was: when all else fails, insert character here.
This rationale came about after one of our group mentioned she was stuck on a certain point in her manuscript. It became clear that if she focused on the character goal, and directed all her attention on completing the perfect character arc, her story would fall into place naturally.
Character arcs aren’t just about solving writers block. Having a strong character arc is necessary to make a good story great. This is evident in everything from modern day works, such as Colleen Hoover’s New York Times best-seller Slammed, where the lead character must stop avoiding problems and deal with them in order to move on, to older tales, such as Cinderella; if she hadn’t grown some balls when Prince Charming came knocking on her door with the slipper and tried the damn thing on, it’s unlikely she would have been able to say “See ya later, ugly stepsisters” anytime soon. She’d still be trying to make her pumpkin into a carriage! But I digress.
Moving through writers block using character doesn’t have to be solely about the arc. Meredith Curnow, the Knopf Vintage publisher from Random House Australia, suggests switching characters POV’s in order to keep your story progressing, or even switching a characters sex from male to female. This is by no means a new concept, but an effective one nonetheless. Giving yourself a new angle to focus on can help distance yourself from your story but still keep you writing, thinking about things from a new angle. You could discover things about your work that you never even knew.
Finally, one of my favourite ways to overcome writers block using character is to start something completely different. Use the lead character from the story you’re working on and pop him or her in a completely new situation. Take your Cinderella and have her witness a murder; how does she react? What does she do next? How does this event change her?
Developing your character like this, learning more and more about them, will help get you focused and (hopefully!) eager to keep your character moving through your main story again. Maybe drawing on the witnessed murder will help Cinders get some revenge on those ugly step-sisters after all.
A cheats guide to this post:
Overcoming writers block can be achieved using character by:
1. Focusing on creating the perfect character arc.
2. Changing the POV of the story.
3. Taking your character out of the main manuscript and seeing how they’d react in a completely different situation.