May 012015
 

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues:

  1. Not knowing what you want to write; i.e., you don’t have an idea (“idea block”)
  2. Knowing what you want to write but being unable to (an actual “writing block”)

Writer’s block and idea block have different solutions and causes.

Idea Block

Sometimes “writer’s block” is really an issue of having nothing to say, not that you can’t find the words to say it.  What appears to be a writing issue is an idea one.  If you don’t have an idea, you have nothing to articulate, which is why you may find words hard to come by.

If you don’t have an idea, I recommend not sitting down in front of a blank screen, which many find intimidating.  It’s arguably better to brainstorm and let your mind wander, and if the blank screen inhibits that, walk away.  If you’re okay with the blank screen, then having a file of story ideas or notes – as opposed to the momentous manuscript file – takes the pressure off and lets you write stuff that doesn’t have to work, or where the actual writing is irrelevant because it won’t appear in the story.

Other times, we have some ideas but just not enough of them, or they aren’t thought out enough and we don’t realize it until trying to articulate them.  Again what appears to be a problem with words is really an idea issue.

Sometimes we’re indecisive about what should happen in the story, from whether to include or mention something like back story, or whether a character will/would do something or not.  Other times, we have several ideas for what should happen and can’t decide which one to pursue.  These are characterization, story structure, or plotting issues.  If you can’t decide, you can’t write it.  Recognize that these are the real issues and make a decision about what should happen and why.

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Writing Block

To me, real writer’s block is when you know what you want to say but are struggling with the actual words to do it. No matter how you try, phrases don’t seem to work together, everything is awkward, or the lines you write just don’t inspire you.

Not being in the mood can cause it, as can fussing over wording too much and wanting to get it perfect the first time.  Common wisdom suggests just blurting it out and getting it “on paper”, then improving the writing later.

Grammar can actually be a cause, too, if your sentences are not really fitting together or you are using misplaced modifiers, for example.  It pays to be a student of English and have this aspect of writing firmly under control so you can focus on what your words convey.

If you know how something (a person, or room) in your story looks but can’t decide how to write it, or even if you should include it now, that’s also writer’s block.  One solution is experience, whether gained via writing or learning more about the craft of storytelling.  For example, most consider it a mistake to start your story with description.  If you understand why and why not, you can make faster decisions and not get stuck, or “blocked” by indecision.

Sometimes you really just don’t “have it” and need to come back later.  For this, I sometimes practice writing opening sentences to stories or scenes in my head, where they are easily discarded.

Epilogue

Understanding the difference between idea block and writer’s block can help you overcome whichever one is causing your lack of progress. Sometimes people beat themselves up over writer’s block, telling themselves they aren’t a good writer, when that isn’t even the issue, so be nice to yourself and just figure out what the problem really is, then solve it.

Happy writing!

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There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

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When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

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Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

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Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

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I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
Feb 212015
 

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF.

Personal Life

General History

Family & Upbringing

This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, reputation), and family jobs (is there a family business?).  More is below under “Relationships”.

Schooling

How far did they get and what did they study?  What kind of student (honor roll, flunking stuff, misfit, class clown, skipping classes, a drop out)?  Did they continue beyond mandatory schooling (like college) and why?  Did they know what they wanted or stumble into it?  Are they in debt from school?

Languages

What does he speak, read, write, and understand?  At what skill level does he have his native language and others?  What does he think of it when someone speaks another language around him (irritated?)?

Skills & Abilities

General

Is he good at anything and does that skill have value, or is it useless?  How long has he been good at it?  How did he learn (natural or taught)?  Does he know he’s good at it?  Is he glad or wish he wasn’t?  Did it make people jealous?  If so, how did he deal with that?

Profession

What does he do or hope to do?  Is he doing something other than what he wants?  How did he end up doing this?  Is he happy, indifferent, or upset about it?  How well does he do it?  Is there a difference between how well he thinks he does and others think?

Special

List anything special, unique, or unusual here, including things like disabilities or rare talents and abilities.

Limitations

Does he know his limits?  How did/will he find out?  What are they?

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Relationships

Friends

Does he have friends?  How many?  For how long?  Do they truly know him or is he a loner despite the appearance of having friends?  Is there anything they don’t know?  Anything he wishes they knew or didn’t know?  Can he count on them?  Has he ever turned to them in despair and if so, how did they react?  Is he too damaged/hurt to trust anyone?

Enemies

Does he create enemies?  Why?  Do some people hate him and it’s not his fault (jealousy, for example)?  Has he defeated any enemies?  Does he fear them?  Do they fear him?  Will he ultimately destroy them or they him?  What is his fate on this?

Lovers

Is he married?  Divorced?  Living with someone?  At what age did he lose his virginity?  Has he experienced sexual trauma (rape, molestation) as victim or perpetrator, and how has this affected him?  Is he promiscuous?  Has he ever used a prostitute (would he?)?  What is his reputation?  Is he a great/bad/selfish lover?  Does he break hearts or get his broken?  Does he typically end it or get dumped?

Children

Does he have any children?  Does he know that?  How old?  Gender?  Problems with them?  Does he get along with them and their other parent and family?

Family

What impact have they had on him?  How many parents and siblings?  Alive or dead?

Relations with the Species

If there are other species, how does he get along with them?

Humans
Elves
Dwarves
Dragons
Ogres
Hobbits

Relations with Armed Forces

Do you knights, local guards, or other armed forces?  If so, does admire them or dislike them?  Has he had run-ins with any?  Has he been in jail?  A wanted man?

Local Guards
Knights

Part 3 focuses more on building a fantasy character, though it may apply to anyone who goes on “adventures”.

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There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

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Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

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This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

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When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

16 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

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I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

0 comments

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Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
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