by Peggy Bechko
If you’re a writer there are times when you get stuck. I’m not talking about full-blown writer’s block (which I have a few opinions on but won’t get into here) just stuck. You know, it’s not that nothing will come and you can’t come up with any creative ideas, it’s more like you reach a point where you have to work out what comes next. You might have ideas that aren’t working or you might just be spinning your wheels.
So here’re a few guidelines to help you, the hapless writer stuck in the mire, to move forward. There are basics to story. Characters, what they need or want, what happens if they don’t get it, how they can get there, what’s the worst thing that can happen and how does the character(s) change throughout the story.
It really is mostly the same for scripts and novels.
So the main thing to backtrack yourself on if you hit a bump and end up in the sticky mud of ‘stuck’ is what your main character wants/desires/needs. This forms the core of your story and if you don’t know the answer or have gotten side-tracked then it’s no wonder you’re not moving. You need to know a lot about that main character you created. What does he/she want out of life in general and specifically in this story you’re creating? When you think about the story line be very specific. Don’t say the character want to run from the bad guys. Think more along the lines of: He wants to reach the zoo before the terrorists who know he is aware of their plot kills him. Specific. And think about the bad guy(s) too. They’re not simply bad. Where did their badness come from?
Secondarily you’ve created a situation where action is required and consequences will be felt. What will those ramifications be? You want to make the stakes high and ratchet them higher. So, think about it, what happens if the hero doesn’t succeed, aside from him getting dead? Whatever it is he must want it very, very badly and be very determined to achieve his goal. He can be a mess if you want, scared, confused, unhappy, not happy about being thrown into this, but in the end he has to have a clear path, a strong desire to see it through. And the reader or the film fan has to be clear on exactly what will happen if the hero fails in his quest.
This brings us to what the worst thing that can happen to the hero is. And, saying that, short of killing him, make it happen. Tossed out of his apartment? Cool. His kids hate him? Great. He’s going to lose his job no matter which way this shakes out? Excellent! If the hero doesn’t stop him the terrorist is going to blow up the zoo, kill who knows how many people and animals and maybe remain free to do it again! Ahhhhhh! What if they know who his family is and kidnap his kid to stop him from doing what he’s doing to prevent the tragedy? OMG! Keep throwing it at the hero/heroine and you’ll keep moving.
This is an oldie but a goodie. There’s an arc in the story and an arc to your character. At the end of the story the character is going to be different somehow unless he’s a stick character. There has to be a fundamental change at the core. If the main character is a librarian who manages to stop the zoo bombing and save his/her kid at the same time it won’t be the same person after.
Think about it, play with it and get the heck out of the mud.