Many of us writer-types know that awful feeling of stuckness, where no matter how long we stare at the page, no ideas flow onto it. This feeling also arises when our plot runs smack-bang into a dead-end and we can’t see the way forward.
One of the most helpful exercises I’ve been taught to overcome this stuckness is called “100 Lines” (or something like that). The idea is that you bullet point a list of ideas/jottings/rantings on the topic whereof you are stuck, hoping to shake something loose. 99 times out of 100, it’s worked for me…
So how does that work? Some examples, you ask? Sure, I say.
EXAMPLE 1: The writer discovers that the murderer in her story really has no credible motive – but there needs to be a murder in that part of town, on that date, using that weapon and leaving these clues. So the writer asks herself the question, “Why would Fred the Murderer kill Jenny the Victim?” and starts jotting up to a hundred lines off the top of her head:
- Because Fred mistakenly believes he is a werewolf
- Because Fred is actually the alter ego of the main protagonist
- Because Fred and Jenny were business partners
The writer keeps jotting, but runs out of ideas at #26. She goes to make a cup of chai latte and returns to her desk to scan the list, discovering that idea #3 has some merit. She does some more journalling around the two characters being business partners and eventually hits upon the perfect motive and backstory for the murder. Problem solved.
EXAMPLE 2: The writer has written 3 chapters of beautiful prose, introducing a rich Arthurian world with stunningly interesting characters. Now it’s time for the story to take off and he realises … there is no story. There’s no battle the protagonist (Sir Roger) needs to fight. In fact there’s nothing really for the characters to do except eat, drink, be merry and sleep. Not the stuff of which a bestseller is made. So: Writer’s Block.
He takes up a piece of paper and pen. He asks himself the questions: “What problem can my hero have? What danger can interrupt his peaceful existence? What event can destroy the status quo forever?” And he starts jotting (anything that comes into his head goes on the page).
- King Arthur can have a psychotic break and slaughter his entire round table, except for Sir Roger who was in the toilet at the time
- Sir Roger’s real father arrives to reclaim him and carry him away to the sugar-gilded land of the golden-winged fairies
- Sir Roger’s father dies in a horrible weaving accident and on his deathbed announces that Roger is not his son, but is a boy he adopted on a journey through Palestine
- A Jabberwocky can emerge from the cave and eat Roger’s pet salamander, prompting a quest for vengeance
- A rift in space time opens, dumping a dozen Marines from the 22nd Century in Roger’s woods
- Roger’s wife is caught “liaising” with King Arthur’s son…
“Aha!” cries the author at #6. “This could be interesting.” He grabs a fresh page and brainstorms around the idea of Roger’s wife caught in a tryst with the local King’s son. (Roger kills the Prince in a fit of pique. The King puts a contract out on Roger. Roger has to take shelter in the forest. Roger is taken in by bandits, the very people he used to despise…) [Actually, I like this; I might write it myself!]
And the writer is off and running. The drought is broken. The game is afoot.
I might say here that this process also works for the non-fiction writer; I’ve used it for articles and even blogposts (in the old days of my parenting writing).
So. If you’re writing and you’re stuck, try this. Try it often. You can also use it first thing in the day (or late at night -whenever you begin writing) to get the juices flowing. The key is to actually write (with pencil, pen or keyboard), rather than just sit there trying to engage the gears in your head without any physical action.
I’d love you to share your breakthroughs with us here too.
So. Go write!! Now!!!