Story is stalled?

Other essays in Rhobin’s Rounds

Rhobin’s topic for August, 2017: When you are stumped on moving a plot line forward, what do you do to reinvigorate your imagination and get your characters moving?

Being an environmentalist, I like to recycle. Even electrons shouldn’t be wasted.

In September, 2002, I wrote a little essay on this exact topic. I reprinted it in July, 2015, because it had re-inspired me when I needed just that. The result was that I revised one of my older books.

I then offered a special deal to Bobbing Around readers, willing to sell a trilogy for $5. I’ll now go even better.

Here is my essay on writer’s block again. Please read it and leave a comment. And I am happy to send a FREE copy of The Travels of First Horse to you. Just email me with the request.


It’s every writer’s dread. You have a concept, go to write it down — and nothing comes. Or you are in the middle of a great story, and the flow dries up. The more you work at it, the worse the blockage.

There are several potential causes for writer’s block, and several remedies you can try.

When I was writing the second book of my trilogy The Travels of First Horse, I came to a dead stop after my hero and his friends managed to get out of Egypt alive. I had a detailed plot, knew all the characters, even had descriptions of locales, but… the words wouldn’t come.

I decided to skip ahead, and wrote about their arrival in Damascus. I described the scenery, wrote summaries about the local people — and that was all the fruit of days of futile striving. In something like despair, I put the book aside altogether, until I realised: the problem was that all I wanted to do was to write up the climax of the book: Horse’s penetration of the hidden and forbidden city of Meluhha, where he was to steal the secret of making steel.

So, I skipped ahead and wrote the entire chapter in about two days. It needed very little fine tuning later. After this, I was able to return to Egypt, the desert, Jerusalem and Syria, and wrote it all without any trouble. All the pieces became welded together without a visible seam.

I should have known. Years before, when I was a research scientist and had to write papers for learned journals, I ALWAYS wrote the Introduction last, when I knew what I was introducing. Writing from start to end is not always the best way to go.

This case study illustrates two unblocking techniques.

1. If you get stuck, move to another part. It makes sense to set down all the most exciting scenes of a story, then cobble them together, then find a satisfying ending, and at the last devise the leading part.

2. You can go stale. Too much effort can get your mind driving around in fruitless circles. The solution is to put the tract of writing away, let it get cold, then return to it with a fresh eye, and fresh enthusiasm.

There must be a reason if this doesn’t work. Usually it indicates a fault with the scene. You may be trying to force your people to act out of character, or there could be a discordance between what you say about them and how they act, or some essential component may be missing.

The choices are:

1. Cut this scene altogether, and introduce a replacement situation.

2. Modify something in the preceding sections, so that the problem scene now rings true.

3. Rewrite the scene, allowing the people within it to decide what they say, how they act. Part of the problem may be that you have been looking at it all from the outside. Get within POV (Point Of View) and BECOME the person who is your current witness.

There is one further reason for getting stuck, and it has nothing to do with writing. When you are physically exhausted, ill, or under severe stress, your creativity just has to suffer. The cliche has it that ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ Not true: creativity is the child of inner peace and well-being. Get yourself together, and the words will return.

As I said at the beginning of this newsletter, I re-read this essay, recycled from Bobbing Around Voume 2 Number 2 because the flu sabotaged my creativity. Then, since I couldn’t write anyway, I re-read The Travels of First Horse, and enjoyed it all over again.


Please also visit the other participants in Rhobin’s rounds, and comment on their offerings if the inspiration strikes:

Beverley Bateman

Diane Bator

Victoria Chatham

Judith Copek

Rhobin Courtright

Anne de Gruchy

Helena Fairfax

Heather Haven

Marie Laval

A.J. Maguire

Fiona McGier

Skye Taylor

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About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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10 Responses to Story is stalled?

  1. Skye-writer says:

    All good advice! I’m a pantser and as often as I’ve tried, I simply stall every time I try to write an outline, but I’m also not necessarily a linear writer. When I see whole scenes in my head or snatches of dialog, I write them down right then while they are fresh and exciting in my mind. I stash them in a file called Bits and Pieces and when that point in the story comes, I copy and paste. Occasionally when I’ve hit a roadblock, reading my Bits and Pieces file will suddenly jog me – “Ah-ha! That’s where that’s supposed to go!”

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Hi Skye,
      When I wrote “The Travels of First Horse,” I needed to plot everything. When I tried to do without, the story meandered off to nowhere. Nowadays, typically I know the major events, and trust my characters to send me navigation aids.
      But also, when Horse left home, one of his aims was to learn how to make steel. Having learned where it was made, he just had to go there.
      🙂

      Like

  2. Hi Bob, I’ve heard the advice before about skipping to the next part of your story if you are stuck, and then going back. I find this incredibly hard to do as I feel I just HAVE to go in logical sequence. This is one of the things that makes me such a slow writer, and it’s something I need to get over! Enjoyed your post and the tips!

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Helena, I once had a compulsion to complete any task I started. This was annoying, and put a lot of stress on me. So, I went through 6 months of setting myself a goal, then deliberately stopping 10 minutes before reaching it. Drove my wife mad, but now, while I still like to finish what I’ve started, it’s optional.
      A similar exercise may be to look at what you are writing as not a chapter, but a short story. Surely, you don’t HAVE to write short stories in a sequence?

      🙂

      Like

  3. annedegruchy says:

    Am trying to take into account your comments about being well. Pushing myself when I wasn’t fully recovered from my recent illness was definitely counter-productive! Thanks for the post.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Glad you have recovered from your illness. I had a friend who was the DON of a hospital. She broke her arm, and said, “This is my body telling me I needed a rest.
      🙂

      Like

  4. Rhobin says:

    Some great advice! I have skipped ahead, but not because I was stuck, but that the action in that scene attracted me more than what I was writing. I didn’t know I was following your advice, but when I returned to move the writing to the new location many changes took place that improved the story. Never thought about it before.

    Like

  5. okwriter says:

    I agree with much of your post and often do similar things. We also agree on rewriting, or writing the first part when the book is finished. However, I hadn’t thought about writing the end if I got stuck. I may try that next time I’m stuck. Interesting post. Thanks Bob.

    Like

  6. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you for visiting. Oh, the point I skipped to was not the end of the story, but only of one volume of the trilogy. Horse went on to experience many more adventures, and arrived home 10 years after leaving. Then he managed to stop a 30-year war.
    But I’m glad you agree: flexibility is what gets us out of straightjackets.
    🙂

    Like

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