I wrote this entry for the Amwriting blog in September 2011 and its something I really need to start doing again myself with regards to the Tales from Hope Town series, although in this situation I’m not getting stuck per se, its just the sheer size of the universe I’m creating that could make it difficult in the medium term. There are so many characters, locations and events that I’m noting that really should be mapped out on a much larger canvas than my notebook.
The Amwrting blog is now archived, but there are a lot of great articles up there by lots of different authors. You should check them out: http:amwritingblog.com
There may be times when you are writing when you feel constrained.
Maybe the characters aren’t speaking with the right voice, or perhaps a plot point just isn’t coming out no matter how much you tease or cajole it, or that scene in the warehouse just doesn’t seem right because you can’t convey the appropriate sense of threat to the protagonist. Either way, you won’t feel comfortable with the situation and odds are you’ve been at this for so long you may be feeling frustrated. Its only natural and we all feel it from time to time; I know I do with each project I work on.
Right, thats the negative take and it ends here.
The important thing for me is to get some fresh perspective. That may mean moving on and writing something else that isn’t related, either to that particular project, or to the specific piece which is not behaving. Another option is to get out of the house/office and have a walk, using the twin weapons of exercise and fresh air to clear your head and focus your thinking, or even just to forget about the problem for a while. Both of these are good options, but here’s another: Go Big!
By that I mean use the space available to map things out on a grand scale. You have a room or office which may include a writing desk, or your just your lap if you’re like me, but there are other things within said room that you can utilise and not be confined to a small, focused area.
All you need is a wall, a cork/pin/white board, pens, post-it notes, string, magnets and some pins. And now, I feel as though I’m doing a spot on Blue Peter.
Somehow get the board up on the wall and then start using the post-its to write down character names, plot details, scene descriptions – all of that good stuff. Then pin them to the board (pins or magnets, depending on the surface). Use the string, or draw lines between the post-its and begin knitting it all together*.
Now – and here’s the important bit – take a step back from it.
Look at the work you’ve done in all its glory up there on the board. It should seem much more satisfying now that you can see everything you’ve done so far actually up there on the wall. Its amazing how seeing it all up there spread out compared to having it all typed out on your computer screen or typewriter, or handwritten on paper can really make it seem somehow more real. It certainly makes it all more grandiose and worthy of the effort you’ve put into it.
Of course once you’ve taken time to marvel at it all, you need to start putting what you have there to good use. Start looking at those relationships you have mapped and see whether they are as strong as you would like. Or perhaps the relationship doesn’t work and there’s another link which is more appropriate. If you find that, simply switch the string or erase/redraw the line between characters.
How does that effect the plot, or your characters’ motivations? Do they still stack up, or does this new link provide a whole new avenue to explore which may not only get you out of your particular predicament, but could open up the work completely and provide you with enough motivation and inspiration to attack the project with renewed vigour. Add post it notes when you have ideas for other characters, or scenes or plot points and keep drawing those lines to link everything together.
If you have drawings of the characters, or use photo reference in some way, then those will help as well. This exercise is very visual so adding these sorts of details can only increase what you get out of it.
This isn’t rocket science of course, and its just a sort of mind mapping, but really it does help. Plus, you get the added bonus of being able to strut about (talking to yourself if you wish, and believe me its fun) and literally attack the problem from lots of different angles.
Play with it; experiment. Use the size and scale and really see what you can do. If any of you already do something similar it would be great if you could share your experiences. Remember to write down all the changes as the only small issue with this setup is that you can’t digitally save from a board – yet.
You can also use this when you’re editing the completed project, using your post its to mark out scenes and changes you want to make from draft all the way to finished work.
In closing, whatever you choose to do to get out of the hole, whether it be buying a pin board or talking to a friend or fellow writer, or even just going out for a head clearing stroll, remember one thing – you will get out of it and you’ll continue to write.
Because that’s what we do isn’t it?
* If you use wool instead of string, then you can literally knit something when you’re done.