Do you ever feel like you’re wandering through a snowstorm in your writing? You can’t quite see your way through your plot and your vision is obscured. Or maybe you’re struggling to start writing your story? You have an idea, a vague mass of a story. Like having flour and water but you don’t know how to make bread with them. You mix them together and all you get is a sticky, wet lump.
Here are 3 tips to get your story moving:
1. Character sheets
I have come to love character sheets. Choose any character (skip your main character for now if you’re struggling). It doesn’t matter how minor this character is in your story. Don’t have any characters yet? Take your main character and call them M. Now do a character sheet for M’s mom, M’s best friend, M’s first love, etc. It doesn’t matter if these characters don’t end up in your story; you’re building M’s character by circling around her or him.
Many character sheets start with physical description but I skip these questions if a physical image is not coming to me. Or sometimes I google for a picture that grabs me and says, this is M’s best friend. I write about what that character was doing last week. I write what their secret is; what their favourite book / TV show / movie / song is; what they wanted to be when they grow up; what mistakes they made; what one object they would grab if their house was burning down. Pretend you’re interviewing this character on a radio show. There’s lots of information out there on questions to ask to dig deeper into a character. You don’t have to answer all of them, but it should help you begin to develop an interesting character.
Even if you have no story, at least you’re building interesting characters and eventually they will start to talk to each other. And then arguing about how to cook the turkey or who should get grandma’s teacups and before you know it, a story will take shape.
2. Draw maps
What do maps have to do with writing? First of all, I love drawing maps. I really should have been a cartographer. But that’s not why I’m suggesting it! I draw maps to visualize the geography in my story.
Draw a house plan your character lives in, or the map of the street, or the town. It doesn’t matter if you can look up a map of the real place. In sketching out your own map is to think about the important places that will occur in your story. Add in details about how a place may smell (is it a bakery?), what someone walking by might hear or see. What is on the door to the shop; what is the window display? As you sketch, ideas will come to you. Jot them on the edges of your map so you don’t lose them.
For this reason, I use big pieces of paper. If you’re artistic, you could even sketch out a scene that might happen in a location (think of sketch artists in the court proceedings) or draw the landscape. When you start to sketch out maps, you’re using a different part of your brain and allow new ideas to flow. It will help “ground” your story in a “real” place.
3. Go for coffee with your writing buddy
When all else fails, find your writing buddy and go for coffee. Take your notebook. Tell them about what you have so far, what problem you’re struggling with.
If you are the writing buddy, your job is to ask questions; why would the character care about grandma’s teacups? If she’s vegetarian, why would she even cook a turkey? Ask lots of “why” and “what if” questions.
Poke and prod, kneed and add more flour as needed.