Browsing Tag

writer’s block

Craft Creative Plotting

Scene Mapping: Using Dungeon Mastery to Plot Scenes

Growing up with OCD teaches a person to anticipate problems, which teaches them to problem solve at an early age. When most people hear the acronym OCD, they assume it is all about repetition – counting, organizing, and cleaning most famously. In actuality, that is just the typical manifestation of the the actual symptoms of OCD, the “compulsive” part of OCD. These are simply the form of rituals the person dealing with OCD is using to self-soothe their need to anticipate problems. Rituals all come down to the need to control one’s environment. The “obsessive” part of obsessive compulsive disorder is from the cycle of worry that stems from a fear of not being able to anticipate a problem.

A person with OCD may have a fear about their alarm clock not going off and being late for work. But, making sure that the alarm is set properly before they go to bed simply isn’t enough to quell that fear. What if they weren’t paying attention and accidentally set the alarm for PM instead of AM? What if they didn’t really flick the switch over all the way, and it doesn’t go off, or is set to radio, which is too quiet to wake them up? Of course, there is also the completely unavoidable problem of the power going out, which can only be solved with a backup system of generators… but even I’m not that paranoid. So, to anticipate these problems, they may check the alarm again, and again… and again and again and again, at least until they have soothed that worry enough to go to sleep.

The irony of being a writer with OCD is that even though I live my life trying anticipate problems that will trigger my anxiety, which leads to countless ways of trying to foresee how a situation with turn out, I am a particularly rigid and linear writer when plotting scenes.

“Then, I discovered the key to solving this problem simply by doing a quintessential nerd thing – playing DnD.”

When plotting out my seven major points in a story, I have no problem deciding exactly how and where I will introduce conflict and steadily working towards the resolution. The issue comes when I need to work on a smaller scale, linking the individual seven points together, or even smaller, from the beginning of a conflict within a scene to the scene’s resolution. The in-between parts are looser, more flexible, and need to contain more focus on the characters emotions. Plot occurs between the seven major points in the main story arc, but character development, which is the steering wheel for plot, meaning this is how story moves forward.

Keeping readers on their toes is incredibly important. If the story becomes predictable then readers lose interest. If they can predict what the characters are going to do, they get bored because they have already read this story. But, creating seemingly random variations in the outcome of a situation always felt like a dead end. If I knew what needed to happen at the end of a scene it felt impossible to not work towards it, even if I wasn’t convinced it was the best way to move the story forward, but was the only idea I could generate to finish the scene. And, if this was the only idea I could come up with, I found it even harder to work through the actual scene itself. I knew how a scene would start, and I had decided how I thought it needed to end, but how do I get from point A to point B in this scene without writing directly to resolve the scene. How can I work in the all important character development layers in the scene needed to feel like the plot is moving forward, even if we are just reading the internal monologue of a character dealing with the aftermath of an important plot point.

“You want to explore as many options as possible, even ones that may seem counter to your objective, because you never know the connections that will form between the ideas once your imagination takes hold.”

Then, I discovered the key to solving this problem simply by doing a quintessential nerd thing – playing DnD. Recently, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons again after a very long hiatus, creating a new group from my work friends. One of my best friends and fellow teacher, Dylan Power, joined the party as a player, but usually DMs (Dungeon Masters – the equivalent of Game Master for other tabletop RPGs). Recently, we started writing together in order to bounce ideas off each other – he plotting his campaigns while I work on my fiction, and I have discovered that he is an incredible DnD storyline writer. The reason he is a fantastic story line writer is because he has the ability to generate various outcomes of any situation he puts his player in during game play.

During one of our writing sessions, I watched him plot out his story map for the first leg of the campaign, and was stricken with envy. Much like I would have done when plotting a scene, he determined a starting point and an endpoint (conflict and resolution), but what he did in between was completely different than to my normal writing process. From the start point, he would write out a chain of events stemming from not one, but up to four ideas.

“Plot occurs between the seven major points in the main story arc, but character development, which is the steering wheel for plot, is how story moves forward.”

Begging him to teach me his dark form of idea generating magic, lamenting my situation concerning my inherent need to problem solve and plan for all contingencies, I stated how frustrating it was that I couldn’t easily do this same thing when writing scenes. And his response was so stupidly simple, I actually felt like an idiot when he pointed it out:

“Well, I have to account for people. You’re trying to account for things.”

Brick wall, meet face. It was so obvious. I was doing everything wrong… even though, he wasn’t entirely correct. Plot is driven by the actions made by characters who are constantly developing, changing, and evolving. This means that whether I am trying to plot a scene, a story arc, or the arc of a trilogy, none of this can be done without accounting for variables created by character decision making.

Using Role Playing Story Mechanics to Plot:

Try to pick a scene that you have not plotted yet. The less you have plotted the better – it prevents you from thinking too narrowly or linearly. You want to explore as many options as possible, even ones that may seem counter to your objective, because you never know the connections that will form between the ideas once your imagination takes hold. Give yourself permission to jump around and be spontaneous. Right down every possible scenario, even the ones that don’t make sense.

Steps:

  1. Choose inciting incident and a conflict to be resolved by the end of the scene
  2. Brainstorm as many possible causes and effects from the inciting incident, as well as obstacles created. Think specifically about the characters involved, and how they will react in the situation presented.
  3. Continue to connect the cause and effects of the different levels of the unfolding conflict, finding ways to solve obstacles or to connect to the resolution of the conflict. (Unresolved obstacles can be used as foreshadowing or lead to other scenes.)
  4. Once finished, pick a path from beginning to end. Once chosen, write out the sequence of events you chose in order from beginning to end.
  5. Huzzah! Now do it again with another scene!

Note: Keep in mind that using this process might through your scene completely out of order. If this happens, it is probably for good reason. This process tends to reveal plot holes and weak spots in plotting. Don’t be afraid to add more to the beginning, the end, or even through out the middle. Also, do not be afraid to cut material out that doesn’t fit with the new idea. Hold on it for later, or write an alternative scene and see which fits better in the long run for the scene or the story arc.

Write on young savior,

 

Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Sass

When Writers Don’t Write

A Rant from Sass:

It’s 10:26 am on Christmas Eve. My husband is currently working a sixteen hour overtime shift (at triple time – don’t feel bad for us. He signed up for it.), and I have the house all to myself. I don’t have anywhere to be until tomorrow. It’s cold, and the snow that started last night is still accumulating. I have a cozy little fire going in my wood burning stove and a piping hot cup of sweet, black tea steeping as I type. My cats are curled up at my feet. It’s literally a perfect day to write…

…so, why the hell don’t I want to write?

I’m a writer. You kind of have to do writing for that to work. But, meh… I just… whatever.

It’s not writer’s block. It’s not even writer’s embarrassment. I just look at my project, shrug my shoulders, and think Nope.

I have writer’s apathy.

I’m nine months shy of being a decade into my main writing project. I’ve fleshed out all the characters. I’ve outlined the entire story, the conflict, the character arcs, the twists, the turns, the reveals, and the resolution. I’ve written over 50,000 words of the chronological story, and who knows how much out of order.

The story is there. It’s ready to be completed. I love my characters, I’m happy with my style, I’m proud of the theme and message I want to resonate through the story…

…so, why can’t I finish this damn story?

Have I fallen out of love with the idea?  Am I hitting the limits of my own creativity? Or, is it simply the manifestation of something I just can’t accept – maybe I am not really a writer at all. A creator, sure. I made an entire world. That happened, and it can’t be denied. But, am I trying to create my world in the wrong universe?

Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?

The worst part isn’t the not writing. It’s the fact that everybody that reads what I have written loves it. My husband, my writer friends, my best friends, strangers who’ve read it on the few places I have posted it on the internet – I’ve had tons of positive feedback. They are desperate for more. They are begging me to finish. And, when they tell me this, I want to finish. I have hope I can. I believe I can… for about, like, a day. Then it’s straight back to excuses and apathy.

“If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.”

Most of the time, my writing dry spells have coincided with depression. On the reverse of that, my best writing periods have coincided with manic periods. But lately, when I sit down to put words on paper – despite knowing what I need to write, and how I want to write it – just feel lethargic. Creatively devoid. Bored, even.

So, why don’t I just walk away, you ask? Many reasons…

  1. I don’t often walk away from things I start – I’m too competitive, even with myself.
  2. I keep talking myself out it.
  3. The desire to have her own fandom is strong with this one.
  4. I know in my heart that someone out there needs this story as bad as I needed it when I started writing it.

“Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.”

My writer friends encourage me, giving me pep talks all the time.

“It’ll take as long as it takes.”

“I know you’re going to finish this story.”

“It’s a fantastic story that needs to be written. You’re going to do it, I promise.”

If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could peel back my consciousness and poke around inside it with a stick until I figured out why I am motivationally blocked. But, alas, no dice.

I’m just going to have to keep plugging away, working when I can, and trying not to feel like I’m made of excuses when I can’t. Writing is an art, not a science. It’s an act of creation. The pressure of manifesting something literally from nothing is overwhelming sometimes. It’s intimidating, especially when you add on the fact that you are second guessing your every move as you do it. Every writer wants to create something new, undiscovered, and original, because every writer needs to feel those things about themselves.

Writing is an act of affirmation.

As the often contested quote says, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter, and bleed.” In other words, a writer pours everything out onto that page that makes them. They spill their essence across the page in a flow of words – their thoughts, their beliefs, their fears, their desires, their strengths, and their limitations. A writer leaves everything they are on the page, and waits for someone to love it. A writer perceives love through the admiration of their work, because if they can lay out their essence on a page, flaws and all, and still find someone who finds beauty, joy, revelation, and kinship in that mess, then they have truly been accepted for who they are.

That is terrifying and alluring, and the secret desire of every writer. They want someone to read them like their book, and say “I love this exactly as it is. Never change a thing.”

Dear merciful universe, I will finish this book. I don’t know how long it will take, or how I will find the momentum, but I will do it for one simple reason: Finishing this book will say more about me than anything I undertake for the rest of my life. It’s become a metaphor for my entire life struggle.

“Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?”

I am not good enough. I will never be accepted. Nobody gets me. What’s the point in trying?

My story is not good enough. It will never be accepted by the mainstream. Nobody will get it. What’s the point in writing it?

Because it already exists. I exist. I think, therefore, I am, right? Saying this story isn’t worth writing is like saying my life is not worth fighting for anymore. It’s creative suicide. As long as people want it, I know it has worth… and, as long as I know I can write it, I too have worth.

I have to find the courage, conviction, and fortitude to keep writing. I have to tell my story as it is, without hesitation. I have to keep writing, living, bleeding out, otherwise… what is the point?

Writing is scary because it is the most honest thing you can do to accept yourself. Don’t give up. Keep fighting, even when it hurts, even when hope seems lost. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.

Write on young savior,

 

 

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If I Tell You That You Suck, Can You Get Over It?

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Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Sass Writing Styles

If I Tell You That You Suck, Can You Get Over It?

A Letter from Sass:

At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection. The why and how have been lost to history. Perhaps that burned up in the Great Library of Alexandria? Yet, despite not understanding why they have this obsessive compulsion, writers of all levels fall into this trap daily.

I’m not singular in suffering from writer’s block. Every writer I know, regardless of their ability, preferred genre, and levels of experience and success, admits that they sometimes hit a point where they just can’t write. The problem is, as the dry spell continues, they simply don’t move on by planting the garden; learning a new recipe; finally cleaning out the closet. They wallow. They let their brain start to warp their confidence in their abilities. Suddenly, they are a no talent hack, and always have been.

This mindset is toxic. It is also counterproductive, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes root in the mind of a writer and prevents them from moving forward, even when inspired.

“At some point in the epic history of fiction writing, writers developed a strange obsession with perfection.”

Let’s get personal for a minute. Currently, I have a Google Doc with 30+ plot points, in chronological order, that I have already planned for in my story, Intrepid. I am not want for ideas — I am want for prose. The idea is fleshed out, and I know exactly what I need to write. I just can’t write it. For weeks, I went through the motions of my usual routine: I sat down to write with my trusty Ink Joy gel pen in a funky color, a thick DIY legal pad made out of my favorite lined paper glued together with cardboard backing, and a full pot of steaming tea, and I put on a Epic Instrumental Music video from YouTube from one of my many subscriptions.

In times past, I would have cranked out 1000-3000 words for whichever scene I had decided I was ready to write. Recently, I have been lucky to settle on a mere hundred words I didn’t want to crumple up and throw across the room.

The worst part is that I had absolutely no reason to be blocked. The depression that tends to hit me two to three times a year was not lingering around, and my anxiety is under control currently. My job, while stressful, is manageable now that I have developed a rhythm. Marriage, immediate family life, and finances are all strong right now. My friends are all doing reasonably well… so what the fuck is my problem? Why can’t I write?

Well, that is because I suck. I’m a great writer, but I am a fucking awful drafter. It feels impossible to just sit down and free write without analyzing my own word choice or flow.

Why did my character do that? Why would I write that? Where did that idea come from? Why can’t I think of a better word!?

“It has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary.”

Why? Because, the first draft sucks. The pre-write sucks. The first time words hit paper, they are an unruly mess. And, it has taken me a really really loooooong time to accept that sucking is not only okay, but necessary. At the risk of inspiring a chorus of that’s what she saids, let me repeat that again: Sucking is necessary.

On the days I mindblowingly, ultra suck, I try to keep these quotes in the back of my mind…

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s simply writer’s embarrassment.” –  Andrew W. Marlowe

and

“Do something. You can always correct something, but you can never correct nothing.” – Dale C. Bronner

They’re brilliant. The kind of brilliance that you only register once you read it or someone says it too you. It’s the kind of brilliance that makes you feel like a moron for not realizing the simplistic solution it delivers. It is exactly what every writer needs to be reminded of when they sit down to write. In fact, I think these two quotes should be visible to a writer in every writing space.

So, that being said, I have made graphics of condensed forms of these quotes that writers can print and hang in their writing spaces…

The first step in conquering writer’s block is realizing that the block comes not from a lack of creativity, but a lack of confidence. Not being able to write well is a phobia that is so stifling that it makes writing impossible at all.

In later articles, we will be exploring the reasons people suffer from writer’s block, and offering creative solutions to overcoming your fear, rather than stimulating your creativity. Until then, I leave you with this: If I tell you that you really do suck, can you get over it already? We all suck. Get in line kid — the queue starts with me.

Write on, young savior,