I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post by author Donald J. Bingle, who explains...
You Might be Blocked Because You've Written Yourself into a Corner
Donald J. Bingle
I confess, I'm not much of a believer in writer's block as an affliction in the same vein as contagious diseases or forces of nature. Most of the time, I believe that what people think of as writer's block is not a disease or an Act of God, but rather a symptom of other problems:
One possibility, of course, is that you aren't writing because you simply don't want to write. (You might, instead, simply want to have written.) Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who say you must write so many words every single day. I certainly don't. I don't write every day. I don't write every week or, sometimes, every month. I get that writing often is good discipline and helps train your mind to efficiently get into "writer mode." But it's not the only possible approach out there. Instead of writing a little every day, I tend to write a LOT when I do sit down to write, regularly completing short stories at a single sitting and doing thousands of words at a time on longer pieces (occasionally over 10,000 words on a book if I put in a long day). Deadlines help (external deadlines, especially, as I am a responsible person, but self-imposed deadlines are helpful, too). Two other things help this burst-writing approach. One, I tend to fill the time between bursts with research relevant to the upcoming section. Sure, I know where I am headed from the get go, but fine-tuning details about weaponry (not something I know from real life) or locale or whatever means that when I next write, I don't get off-track (out of "writer mode") by stopping to grab some detail or distracted by a bracketed [insert geographical details here] in the midst of my flowing prose. Second, I try not to stop writing when at the end of a scene or chapter. Instead I write the first sentence or three of whatever is coming up next. If doing that inspires me, I may just keep on writing, but if it doesn't, it means my mind is geared up to subconsciously work on the problem of what comes next while I am goofing off and not writing.
Another possibility for not writing is simply that writing is hard. Parts are fun, but parts of it are a slog you have to power through to keep going. Writing can be especially hard if you don't know if what you are writing will ever be published or read by anyone. I tend to write much more quickly and easily for anthologies I have been asked to write for, than when writing for open calls. Worse yet is writing on spec, when I know I may spend hours and hours finding an appropriate market for the topic, tone, and length of whatever I am writing. Poor payment prospects don't help, either. It's hard to make money writing, but I won't (and you shouldn't) write for free. Knowing that self-publishing is a viable option these days helps, but then there is a marketing hurdle. Writing is like acting or direct sales--there's a lot of rejection and odds are you will never get rich or famous from doing it. Is it any wonder that motivation is sometimes lacking?
The most likely possibility for writer's block, however, is that you can't think of what to write next because you have a basic problem with what you have already written. Sure, this could be a character problem or even a tone or voice problem, but nine times out of ten, this is a plot problem. You've put your protagonist into a situation he or she doesn't have the skills to get out of or which can't be gotten out of because you, in your infinite and wily cleverness, have boxed her or him in without room to maneuver, much less escape, so you are left with cheesy deus ex machina solutions or fortuitous, helpful interlopers. You can't move forward because you have to move back. You have to look at how your character got into this situation and change something: ratchet down the difficulty (especially in the earlier parts of the story/book); give the bad guy or gal a failing that makes them overlook a way out or leave a way out to taunt the protagonist; give the protagonist some skill or arcane knowledge that will be not only useful but interesting to the reader; add a secondary character who can help; etc.).
I've found that two things (aside from better planning) can help me avoid or get out of these plot problems. First, I control my narrative. What do I mean by that? Well, I don't let my characters control my plot. I tend to snarl when someone says they create characters, then just listen to the voices in their head and write what the characters tell them. Not only do I find that somewhat bizarre, I think it disrespects what an author does--we don't transcribe, we create. But, more importantly for today's essay, it relinquishes control of the storyline to fictional characters who don't know what the storyline is and don't care whether the readers are interested in continuing to read more. I'm a control freak; I control what happens to my characters and what happens in the story or book I am writing. And, to create something which propels the reader to read more, you have to care about tension, pace, suspense, and variety--things that characters care nothing about.
Of course, I know the importance of characters and staying in character. I was the world's top-ranked player of classic roleplaying game tournaments for the last fifteen years of the last century. I've played over 600 different characters (men, women, animals, robots, sentient weapons, dwarves, elves, orcs, rangers, princesses, starship captains, cowboys, monsters, dragons, gangsters, cub reporters, and more) in a bunch of different settings in my roleplaying tournament days, so I completely understand getting into character and finding innovative solutions which are based in the character's personality and skills. I understand how letting a character do what they would do is important, but that doesn't mean the characters dictate plot. In fact, one of the skills I learned in writing tournament adventures was to create a plot and then fashion characters who would have, if well-played, the skills, abilities, attributes, attitudes, and cohesiveness necessary to work together to accomplish the tasks which make up the plot.
The second trick which helps me avoid getting stuck on minor plot obstacles is to keep my roleplaying experience in mind when a problem arises. In a roleplaying game, if the gamemaster asks you what your character does and you don't have a response, you don't get to take an action--which is invariably bad. To dither is to die. So, when I get into that kind of situation when writing, I ask myself what I would do if I were playing that character in a roleplaying game and the gamemaster asked me what my next move was. I wouldn't dither; I would try something. It might be stupid or brave, or stupid and brave, or clever or ineffective, but I would do something. And sometimes finding out what doesn't work may lead to thoughts about why it doesn't work, which in turn leads to thoughts about what might work or what needs to change about the situation to make it work. And suddenly, I have a solution. It may mean I need to go back and fix something to go forward, but it means I can once again go forward.
In real life, they say you shouldn't look back too much, because nothing ever changes there. But in writing, looking back can be the only way to go forward, because you can make things change back there. It's your world, your plot, your book. If you can't go forward, it's probably your fault.
You can find out more about me and my writing or check out my blog, where I sometimes pontificate about writing topics, at www.donaldjbingle.com.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Dick Thornby is not Hollywood's idea of a spy.
He's not a supercool guy in a tuxedo or a crazed loner who does nothing but kill and drive fast. He's just a regular guy with some skills for a job that needs doing. He also has a wife, a teenaged kid, a mortgage, and all the mundane problems associated with life. His friends from the New Jersey subdivision where he lives all think he is a wastewater treatment consultant. But instead of dealing with the dirty job of processing sewage in third world countries, he is really on missions, some mundane and dirty, others of vital importance and even dirtier.
After taking personal revenge on the criminal behind both his son’s injuries and the continued disintegration of his marriage, Dick Thornby is teamed with Acacia (“Ace”) Zyreb, a young, female agent from the East European office of the Subsidiary, to deal with the mystery behind coordinated hacking of the braking systems of several car models.
Doing his best to maintain his vows to his wife, Dick struggles to deal with the inexperience and provocative attitude of Ace on her first non-European mission. Their somewhat combative investigation takes a left turn by uncovering a much more sinister threat to the world and to Dick’s family. He’s willing to risk his job, his partner, and his life to eliminate the threat, but the clock is ticking.
Says author and award-winning editor John Helfers: “Dick Thornby would be the first person to tell you he’s no James Bond. And that’s a relief, because he’s something even better in the world of slick, breathless thrillers with superhuman protagonists—Dick is a real person. Whether he’s bending the rules of the super-secret spy agency in an effort to hold his rocky marriage together or breaking in an assistant who’s just as acerbic and to the point as he is … Dick is a fully-realized, living, breathing person with hopes, dreams, and fears, all of which he juggles while trying to save millions of lives. Don Bingle’s written a taut, gripping spy thriller, and with Agent Thornby at the center of it, you’re in for a wild ride.”
DONALD J. BINGLE
- Print Length: 283 pages
- Publisher: 54-40′ Orphyte, Inc. (June 11, 2018)
- Publication Date: June 11, 2018
- Language: English
The lava here was fresher and, thus, more barren. The din of Uncle Robert’s party quickly faded as they walked along the desolate flow as twilight gave way to full night. Surprisingly, the lava field was dotted with a smattering of shacks, tents, and even a full-blown house or two, though Ace couldn’t imagine how the squatting residents managed to haul water, food, supplies, or lumber, much less biological waste, across the broken gullies and sharp cracks of the lava field or why they would even want to do such a thing.Before long the noise of the crowd fell away completely and the darkness deepened until there was nothing but black lava below and black sky above bedazzled with more stars than Ace had ever imagined, featuring a broad, bulging band of glittering light extending at an angle almost from horizon to horizon. She couldn’t help but stop to gaze at the spectacle.“Sakra!” she whispered in awe.“Damn impressive, isn’t it?” said Dick. “Most people who grow up anywhere near a big city have never even seen the Milky Way, much less the bright, expansive version you can see from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Puts things in perspective, I guess.”Ace responded without looking at Dick. She couldn’t draw her eyes away from the heavens. “You mean it makes you feel small and insignificant, like nothing you do here has any real impact on the universe?”She heard her companion give out a short huff. “Some people see it that way. Me, I think that if ... just possibly, mind you ... if we’re the only intelligent life in the big, wide universe of which the Milky Way is only an infinitesimal fraction, then keeping the world safe and its inhabitants as happy and healthy as possible is the most important, most monumental, and most sacred task in the universe.” He paused. “And, I think I’d damn well better not screw it up.”“Ty jseš debil!” She turned to look at him in the dim light. “You are such a fucking idiot! The happiness of the entire universe doesn’t rest on your shoulders.” She shook her head violently and looked back to the heavens with a muttered: “Men! Everything’s always about you.”Her accusation hung in the air for a few moments before Dick replied, his voice soft. “Maybe. But I’d rather believe my life matters and try to live up to the calling that implies, than decide nothing I can ever do will make a difference and prove the point by only fulfilling that potential.”Ace wanted to believe him, to believe her life mattered, that she could make a difference, but so far her life ... and this mission ... seemed trivial in the grand scheme of things. And with the weight of the darkness enveloping her while the stars above twinkled at her from billions of light years away, feeling important was nigh impossible.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Donald J. Bingle is the author of five books and more than fifty shorter tales in the science fiction, fantasy, thriller, horror, mystery, steampunk, romance, comedy, and memoir genres.
Random true facts about Donald J. Bingle:
- He was the Keeper of the World’s Largest Kazoo.
- He made up the science of Neo-PsychoPhysics for a time travel roleplaying game.
- He is a member of The International Thriller Writers.
- He once successfully limboed under a pole only nineteen inches off the ground.
- He has written short stories about killer bunnies, civil war soldiers, detectives, Renaissance Faire orcs, giant battling robots, demons, cats, werewolves, time travelers, ghosts, time-traveling ghosts, spies, barbarians, a husband accused of murdering his wife, dogs, horses, gamers, soldiers, Neanderthals, commuters, kender, Victorian adventurers, lawyers, and serial killers (note the serial comma). Of those subjects, he has occasional contact in real life only with dogs, cats, gamers, lawyers, and commuters (unless some of those are, unknown to him, really time travelers, ghosts, demons, serial killers, spies, or murder suspects).
- He prefers gamers to commuters.
Let’s Talk! Promotions is thrilled to announce Donald J. Bingle’s Blog Tour. The tour runs July 23rd thru August 6th. Follow tour stops below to check out the reviews, guest posts, Q&As, excerpts, and to enter the giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
TOUR STOPS7/23: Disquieting Visions (with Gail Z. Martin). (Guest post).
7/24: The Reading Addict (Guest post, excerpt).
7/26: Book Junkie Reviews (Excerpt).
7/27: Faith Hunter’s Blog (Guest post).
7/29: Writers Spark
7/30: GirlZombieAuthors (Q and A, excerpt).
8/1: Ken Schrader (Q and A, excerpt).
8/2: Words About Words (with Jean Rabe). (Q and A with Agent Dick Thornby, excerpt).
8/4: JBronder Book Reviews (Review).
8/5: The Million Words (Q and A, excerpt).