On Getting Yourself Unstuck

It’s probably best to start with a disclaimer. This is a blog post on how to get yourself unstuck in a story, or poem, or essay, but mostly in a story, because that’s where I put most of my time. So, right, since I’m writing about how to get unstuck, that means I-the-blog-author never get stuck? Incorrect. I get stuck basically constantly. Ah, but then why am I writing about getting unstuck? Because of that basic fact, because I get stuck so often. I like to think I know a few tricks to unstick oneself. Okay, now that my rhetorical chops are established. This is not a comprehensive or infallible list of things to try when you’re not hitting the notes you want to hit. But what follows are some things that work for me. And if they work for me, they might work for you. And if they don’t, keep going, keep trying, find your own recipe.


The Best Writing Advice I Ever Got

Here it is, plain and simple. If you’re reading your story and you’re absolutely bored to tears (as I often am reading my own stories), you have to reassess. There is no point in torturing yourself through something dead and dull and dry. If you don’t want to write it, why would I want to read it? If your story is monotone and boring, you are the only one who can fix this. Rectify the dullness with language or character, dialogue or action or wild imagination. It seems so simple, but we tend to forget it. You are the author of the story. Make it happen.


Keep an Eye-Dropper Handy

I think there is some piggybacking on the first point, but when I’m writing, I like to imagine I have a little eye-dropper. My little crazy imaginary eye-dropper contains a distilled, highly-potent, liquid form of tension. Whenever I’m rereading a draft, and I feel the pulse of the story going weak, I grab my trusty eye-dropper and drop just a tiny bit of tension into the story. To push the metaphor further, you have to be careful. Remember, this is some seriously powerful liquid tension. If you drop in too much, you’ll poison the story with maudlin melodrama. But keep your dropper handy, practice putting in small, loaded droplets, watch the ripple effect, study what happens.


Character Cards

Again, speaking only for myself here, but a great deal of the problems I encounter in my own stories stem from a lack of knowledge, a deficit of understanding about the people inhabiting the story. One classic way to fix this problem is to write out character cards. The things you put on these cards may or may not be reveled in the story. But that’s no matter. Zola says that the things he put on character cards were sometimes things his characters didn’t even want to reveal. Some ideas for what to put on your character cards: your character’s favorite meal, song, city; who they love, what they love, who they no longer love; what they think their deepest secret is; what their deepest secret actually is; what they’re afraid of; the last thing they think about before falling asleep.


Now go forth and get unstuck!


John Darcy


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