I decided that it’s been a while since I posted anything since there is all this background work happening at the moment and it’s taking up so much of my time! But it’s all very critical and exciting and can’t be revealed just yet.
I’ve recently received a lot of admiration from fellow writers for my ability to keep tackling my project even through writer’s block. It is difficult to sit and write things when you know what’s going to happen, and when the outcome is predictable because you’ve been mulling and thinking over it, it can be less fun to write.
One of the problems is that when you hit writer’s block a lot of the inspirational advice you can find in articles and online directs you down to starting something new.
This isn’t helpful when you need to work on the project you are currently on, and if you are anything like me, you hate skipping ahead to write the next scene, or even further down the story track to the more climactic moments. Sometimes by the time I get there the story has adjusted so much that most of the content isn’t as usable as when I was originally writing it.
So when writer’s block strikes there is a couple of things that I do as an author to change things up (forgive me but a couple of these are geared towards rpg/tabletop gaming, because I love it);
- Roll your character decision!
Bear with me on this one. If you’ve ever heard of Dungeons and Dragons chances are you know what roleplaying is, and is commonly referred to as role playing games (RPG). There are a host of other systems out there, I notably play Cthulhu, based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Edge of the Empire, a Star Wars themed RPG, and I’m dipping my toe into Vampire the Masquerade. There are a heap of other systems based in different worlds with different themes, anything for a table top gamer to fancy.
Everyone (usually four to six people) sit around a table with a blank character sheet, and a collection of multifaceted dice, and a Dungeon Master (DM), or Game Master (GM), helps them create a character, and verbally walks them through a story or plot based in one of the above settings. Some of these are filled with fighting dragons and searching through dungeons, others are investigating paranormal occurrences in the 1920s, exploring the edge of the Star Wars universe, or even playing a newly turned vampire experiencing the Masquerade.
You tend to play for a few hours, and then have a break for a week before resuming again. I like to call these sessions, but have been referred to as chapters or episodes as well.
So if you’ve followed me this far, keep going because this is where it helps my writing.
When I run these games for my players I have a host of non-player characters, (NPCs), people I pretend to be as characters in the game I am running. And I like to keep the decisions they make as chaotic and arbitrary as possible, so they aren’t predictable. Quite often, when an NPC is faced with a decision, I will get out a random dice (ranging from a six sided die (D6) to two ten sided die (to make a D100), and roll them. Before I roll I’ll ask myself the necessary parameters of the situation and this is where I have a good example from my Star Wars game.
An NPC was going to give away the location of my players for a very large bounty. But the players had recently found an underground bunker that the NPC very badly wanted. So which was more important? The bounty or the bunker? I rolled a twelve sided dice (D12), because it wasn’t a large range of choices, merely a matter of how greedy the NPC was. If I rolled high he wanted the bounty, and he rolled low he wanted the bunker. It turned out he was more interested in the bunker than handing over the players. This then lead to an ongoing relationship and several favours the players now owe the NPC for later in the game, creating new content and a debt that will hang over the players heads.
Other times the decision can be more complex, this one is again from my Star Wars group.
I have an NPC who has been travelling with the group for some time (the players have Rebel sympathies) but the NPC is warring between the Dark and Light forces within herself, and losing to the Dark side. I rolled a D100 to work out how far she was descending to the Dark side after a bad altercation from the previous session, under 50 being Dark, over 50 being Light. I rolled a 15, meaning she was very dark indeed on the scale of things. This actually doesn’t work with the sympathetic Rebel players, and I warred with just making her Light to suit the players, but it does make things interesting because now she’s keeping a secret about how Dark she is from them. This creates a level of distrust and intrigue among the players as they decide whether they like her as a person regardless of her alignment.
If a decision doesn’t feel right there are plenty of random choices, so work out what your character choices actually are, find the parameters of their decision and roll to see what the outcome might be. Sometimes a random decision takes things on a new tangent you didn’t see coming and really invigorates the character development and plot!
- Protagonist Birthday
This one is completely off topic, but imagine if right at his moment, your main character remembers it’s their birthday. Do they celebrate? Mourn? Try to make the most of it or cover it up and have the other characters remember for them? Is it someone else’s birthday?
Birthdays tend to be very universal, and often change the perspective of the day in most eyes; you automatically wish someone the best on their birthday.
But they can be traumatic times too; when you realise it would have been the birthday of protagonist’s partner, but they are no longer there. Or that everyone forgets their birthday completely. Or even better yet, bring the antagonist’s birthday into play, does it change the way the protagonist treats them?
Sometimes it only takes a page, but it spins a new light on the current circumstances and makes you rethink what they are experiencing from another perspective.
- POV change up
This is difficult because I normally write from one point of view in my current project, and I don’t deviate at all. However I recently wanted to better understand the antagonist’s reasoning for a book I am writing in the future but needed to flesh out for the series. I wrote down what he was going through and how it was changing the way he thought about the world.
This POV change doesn’t have to be set where your writers block is, but it can help give you a better understanding and grasp of the motivations of your characters, particularly when your protagonists thinks what the antagonist is doing is wrong, but your antagonist thinks it’s right. Why do they think it’s right? What has brought them to that reasoning? What experiences have they had to make them who they are now?
It didn’t take me long, it was simply two pages worth of writing, but it gave me a much better understanding of the character, and what had happened to him the past that made him the way he was. So when it became time to write the protagonist’s view of the antagonist’s actions, there was a difference in conviction. He had become not just the bad guy, but one motivated by reasons that made sense, making him a much more believable character than one motivated solely by greed.
4. Change the setting – COMPLETELY!
So for me this is easy because I spend a fair chunk of my spare time roleplaying, and it is a big suggestion to writers, especially of science fiction and fantasy, that if you haven’t ever roleplayed try to find a local group and give it a go, because for character development its fascinating.
In my games I have repeatedly put characters from my novels into my role playing games as NPCs in order to see how my players would treat them. This is an excellent trial by fire for a lot of characters; if you’re players aren’t going to believe or engage them, why should your readers?
Normally these NPCs are smaller than the main characters, just roles within a story, but if you take the general shape of them and their motivations, and give it to your players to see what they make of it, it enables you to better see how your characters will react to the player’s machinations. They aren’t aware that this character is any different from any of your regular NPC characters, and so will just treat it as another NPC.
I understand that not all of you are probably GM’s (though I recommend it highly for your story telling abilities), then the other way this is helpful is if you have a main character in a story you can role play them in a game someone else is running. If the environment suits your character (you should keep categories consistent, for example put a fantasy character in a Dungeons & Dragons world), they should come across unforeseen circumstances that are completely different from what you envisioned for them in your story. What makes this particularly interesting is when they fail or succeed at certain situations you, as an author, have no control over the outcome, because the game is in the GM’s hands.
It enables you to have a better sense of conviction for your characters, an aspect of their personality you weren’t aware they had; a good humorous side, or a bad temper that isn’t to be trifled with.
You don’t have to play the specifically as to how they’d act in your story, but it certainly gives you a broader appreciation for them as a person.
You’ll hate me for this one but its true. Sometimes I’ll just sit down and write through the scene to get it over with, and I got caught out doing this by my editor a couple of months ago. I just didn’t know what to do with the particular aspect of the story and I ended up committing the cardinal sin of *telling* and not showing.
This was actually a positive experience for two reasons.
The first was that I actually wrote through those scenes when they were stuck with me so I could move on to the more exciting ones, and therefore just got them over and done with.
The second was that when it was pointed out to me what I had done, I had to go through a massive rewrite of that particular part, and it ended up adding so much more character depth and reader engagement, and I am very pleased with how those scenes have now panned out.
So the rule here is get through the scene, and then maybe use your writing group, friends or family to review it and get feedback on what they think. For the scenes I was working on I had to change key plot points but when I had a beta reader go through the revised version there was a much better response.
Sometimes we just need to fill in the blanks and come back to the work, and with first drafts that happens over and over again and you should in no way feel bad for that.