Ah, the dreaded block. It’s a two word term that writers and storytellers of all kind know well: Writer’s Block. It can come in many forms. Sometimes it comes at a story’s pivotal point. Where does the hero go next? Which character should die next and how gruesomely funny can I make it? (Or maybe that one’s just one of mine). Sometimes the blocks are in dialogue; you can’t quite figure out how a character speaks or if one line seems to run into the next, or sounds unrealistic. Or how about the most dreaded block of all; the blank page.
The blank page (which could be a cool name for a band), is one of the toughest blocks to beat. You’re essentially deciding where to start. Sometimes you have a general idea of what you’re going to write, and sometimes you’re sitting across it with no clue as to what’s what, who’s who, left, right, or down, your story isn’t even a blip on the radar. But guess what? It happens to everyone!
Sometimes we have a great idea that causes us to lose sight of the things that make a story great. What can the audience relate to? This comes through fleshing out your characters, giving them obstacles to face, and creating characters audiences can root for, be scared for, or possibly see themselves in. So many times, an actor, writer, or director will seek to write something over the top; whether it’s a screenplay, a play, or even a web series, and their first instinct is to go big or go home. This often leads to unrealistic expectations of what’s entertaining.
Unfortunately in the movie industry, we see many movies getting greenlit because they’re big money making entities. And duh, why wouldn’t they? People will flock to theaters to see badly computer generated aliens or robots with no purpose because it doesn’t require a connection to a story. And I think there’s nothing wrong with that, but do you think the writer sat down and thought to themselves: “What’s a really great story I can tell?” Or, was it more like: “How many exclamation points can use on one page to emphasize that these robots are bad ass Canadian giant praying mantis killing machines?” Hey, I might even go see that movie. The point, is that the problem with so many of these movies (The critics will often say this), is that there is a lack of story. And that should always be your number one when seeking to create something: TELL A STORY. (Unless of course a big movie studio gives you a week to write a sequel to be shot that next month or something equally crazy, then I suppose go with the Robots vs. Canadian Praying Mantis Sequel).
So how does one break out of the cycle of instinctively writing something over the top just to impress? Well, here are some tips to get you from blank page to creator of worlds:
- Write something, anything! Even if it’s just the word orange, something will come out of it. That something may end up being pink or turquoise, but at least it’s something. And all you needed was that one word, doesn’t matter what that word was, to get that fire started.
- If you’re a trained actor, practice Sense Memory. Take a trip down memory lane to something very specific from your past and start to take in the senses around you. What do you smell? How does something feel when you touch it? Hold onto whatever emotional response you get from it, and when you come out of it, write about it. Maybe this will trigger an idea for a story.
- Google random images. Sometimes you’ll come across an image of an old painting, photograph, or other work of art and it will inspire something. I know that my full length horror novel, started from the inspiration I got from looking an eerie old painting of a woman and pumpkin and then later took elements of the short story I wrote and turned into something else. If you’re staring at a blank page, stop and stare at something else.
- Look at the state of your life and write how you feel. Yes, I’m basically telling you to write a diary entry. It doesn’t mean that what you write will be an autobiographical story about something difficult in your life, but it can lead you to riff off a topic that is very close to something happening in your life at that exact moment.
- Complete the sentence: I always wanted to be ________. Fill it in and then continue to brain storm from there. Or better yet, go further and try: I’m a ___________, and one day______. A little Mad Libs meets alternate dimension daydreaming never hurt anybody, so give it a try. This exercise may not be what your story is about, but it can inspire something else.
Every writer will find their own way to tell their story. And in my opinion, every great writer writes with their own voice. You must write what is true to you. That is where a great story will come from. Make it fun, scary, sad, whatever. But no matter what, keep writing. Never let that blank page turn you into an extra on The Walking Dead. (Although, if you are an extra on TWD, that’s actually kind of cool!) Ok, so bad analogy. My point is, don’t become a zombie because that blinking text cursor on your screen has you considering cannibalism. You’ll get there. The blocks will come. And then they will go away. And then they’ll come again. It’s ok, it’s part of the process. But know that if a story is meant to be told, it will find a way. Even if it’s Robots Vs. Canadian Praying Mantis, it will find a way.