My Greatest Block

About a year ago, I wrote a messy fanfic. It was twenty short chapters and had no arcs, no plot, nothing. I hated it.

So I started an actual book. But after seven chapters, I stopped. I tried again and failed in the sixth. I tried again but stopped at two.

I’ve looked at these attempts, and I know why they didn’t work out.

The first one involved a moment of complete shock, where everything the MC knew was flipped. But I haven’t had an experience anything close to that, so the reactions were unrealistic. The second one had an arc where the MC was opening up to others. I’ve also never experienced anything like that, and so it felt forced. In the third, the MC finds he’s the chosen one, and I have no idea how to write that kind of revelation.

On all three, since I didn’t know how to write that kind of thing, I tended to rush and skip over most of the lead-up, which just made it worse.

How do other people find their way over this lack of experience? If I want to make a good story, I want character arcs, but I don’t know how to start them without feeling that they’re horrible and stopping it.

Yup. It happens.

But you know what I did? I learned to overcome it by reading—and I mean reading a lot—about a specific topic, especially psychological stuff, helps so much!
I also love reading other people’s experiences, and after a bit of digging I feel comfortable enough to write some of the things that I didn’t experience but felt it through other’s experiences.

I hope that made sense?

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My life is pretty boring, at least compared to my characters, so I have to find other ways to breath life into my character arcs and experiences. Here are 4 different methods:

  1. Extrapolation. You haven’t been shunned by all of your friends and family, but can you remember a time when you felt excluded? When you felt lonely or rejected? When a friend let you down? You aren’t a magical chosen one, but have you ever felt like you’d been given a responsibility you weren’t prepared for? Take these emotions and use them as a seed, the starting point that you can build on and intensify. Many of these feelings are universal.

  2. First Hand Accounts. These are particularly important when you’re dealing with potentially sensitive topics or under-represented groups. Ask how others who have had these things happen to them experience them, listen to multiple stories from different perspectives, as no two people will have the same experience.

  3. Read Critically. Read stories with similar events to the one you’re trying to potray. Most character arcs and reactions are well documented. Look at how these authors do it, and break down their approach and the characters reaction into bite-sized pieces. You will likely see several different reactions based on the genre and tone of the story, and the personality of the protagonist.

  4. Templates. Some people think templates are uncreative, but many find that creativity lives just as well within the confines of a template as out of it. Character arcs and how they fit into the narrative are a pretty well documented matter (in the broader sense). My personal favourite is Snyders beat-sheet, (if you’re interested, find somewhere where the beats are explained) but you can find a fair number fo others.

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Yeah I really find this one a great way to go for me, as I haven’t experienced quite a bit of what my characters go through/went through.

Now I haven’t ever finished a full length novel, so I don’t have much to offer in terms of a success story. But where I get blocked is when I have to write the smaller details, the stuff in between the large events.

But yeah, I was writing a story about someone who suffered from a stroke at a younger age, so I researched a ton of young people’s stories on their experience with a stroke.

I was trying to write a thriller/murder kind of story, so I stumbled on an article that was something like “50 true stories on people’s near-death experiences” at the hand of another person. Their source was Reddit.

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Try the empathy thing. Imagine that you really are the character, and the certain event has happened to you. Write the reactions as you would naturally react yourself. That’s what good actors do too, they haven’t ever actually been a criminal/policeman/wizard/other difficult roles, but for the role they imagine and completely get inside the character to play the part accordingly

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You take your story… You take a hammer to it and make it all flat and smooth and as pretty as you can. Then you hand it to another wordsmith, drink a shitload of Rum, or whatever your beverage of choice is, and wait for the other wordsmith to hand it back to you shredded and in tatters, and then you say thanks amigo for lighting my baby on fire, and you see what was said what you should do to improve, where you went wrong, and what you were trying to do that you were unable to do. Don’t hate other wordsmiths because they are critical of your work, most of the time they are just trying to help.

Once upon a time I was in a writing group called the Chocolatiers for good literature, there was about half a dozen of us, and I was reading one of M’s stories, and I read it… and I thought about what she had there, now me being a writer of smut and generally naughty stuff. She had a sex scene in there that made me think about two awkward teens, this was supposed to be A Dominant Male and a semi submissive female… I ripped it to shreds, I beat that part of the story up and then I lit it on fire and then I loaded the ashes in a cannon and fired it downrange. She didn’t talk to me for a couple of weeks. But then she came back to me and said You know you were right, it just hurt when you beat up my story. If I guess what I am saying is that a rosy review isn’t what you want from everyone. In fact, I usually think someone is blowing smoke up my … when I get a good review. Because I know my writing is crap, some people like it but it’s still crap.

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When I’m generally struggling with a situation/ emotional response that I can’t properly describe, I usually hit up this site called descriptionari.com. You can put in emotions/ phrases and it’ll come up with scenes and snippets of the situation. This really helps me in finding a way to describe situations I’m not familiar with. Hope this helps and good luck!

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Reading a lot helps, also reaching out to readers and writers who have experienced something similar to what you are writing (especially trauma, etc). There are also a lot of sources on the internet that give you examples of body language and such for a certain situation.

Example: “He fretted with his hands, weaving them together and rubbing the sweat on his jeans.”

His actions show he’s nervous. There are a lot of books out there about how to write certain situations! And unfortunately, a lot of it is just keep writing and overcome it. =)

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The problem is that I’m not the characters that I write. When I want to write a friendless character who has to become part of a group, their reaction would be different than mine, since we would have different personalities and experiences.

You misunderstood me. I have shown nobody my story, and have only mentioned my attempts now. I clearly state how I hate my story.

It’s me who hates my story, not anyone else. How did you miss my explanation of why I stopped? I said I didn’t like it so I stopped, but you just assumed ‘I’ meant other people?

I know how to show other people’s reactions, but I’m creating a first person story and I don’t know how to write someone’s inner turmoil without forcing or rushing it.

Most authors aren’t. Somethings you just have to wing it, and hope for the best. Like if a friendless character is entering a group, you could write from the POV of someone in the group, and observe the other character’s behavior (anxious? trying to appear cool? etc.). And of course you have the forums to ask, for each specific situation (though it may slow you down lol). You can only steer away from the unknown so long, there will always be a point in the story that you aren’t fully informed about but must write.

Like think about fantasy writers, none of them have been kings/warriors/adventure heroes. But one can still write them well. Reading other stories with such characters help, although one wants to avoid similarities. Sometimes even writing an odd character works, as it helps break the expected version of it (though they don’t know its a coverup for our lack of knowledge lol)

Nope Amigo, I got it you need some new eyes to help you figure out what the heck you are doing.

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That you are agonizing over the quality of your work means you are probably being too hard on yourself. You are not alone in that regard, I agonize over every word, gesture and feeling so much so that the words won’t flow. The sad part is other than minor grammatical and pacing issues the feedback has been 95% positive.

So the biggest hurdle we have get over is ourselves.

Maybe this might help. https://www.novel-writing-help.com/writers-block.html

Oh how do I beat writers block… The characters start having conversations in my head, so to stop that I put in print.

That was just a quick example, there are other things you can do to show someones inner turmoil/emotional/mental state. I’m just saying there is literature out there than can help with that =).

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Hello! The two biggest things IMO are:

  1. Read, read, read, read. Then read some more, especially in the genres you write. :slight_smile:
  2. Study the craft. Read books/articles on how to write. Take workshops/classes.

It’s definitely a long journey, and I bet even well known writers would tell us they’re still learning. LOL