You’ve been writing a scene in your novel. It’s been going rather well — and then suddenly, it’s like the creativity gods have sent down a curse upon your keyboard. We all know the feeling: your ideas have escaped like bats out of a cave, your mind feels like a stalled engine, and your fingers drag like slugs on your keyboard…okay, I’ll stop with the similes now. But you get my drift.
41 wacky, quick fixes to jump start your scene
1. Run around in circles like a madman or sprint up and down your stairs until you are out of breath. Then, sit and write the first thing that comes to mind. This silences that pesky left-brain and unleashes your creative side.
2. Write every line of your scene on a separate index card. Once you have a completed stack, play 52 Pick Up! Try to put it back together. This helps you see how your scene unfolds — and whether or not the sequence of events make sense.
3. Insert your favorite television character into a scene. See what life they can add. Experiment with how it opens up opportunities you hadn’t thought of before. (Plus, who wouldn’t want to see what happens when you put Frasier Crane in your intergalactic thriller?)
4. Sing the scene as if it were an opera to accentuate the drama. Cringing at your attempt at falsetto is optional.
5. Make it simple. Explain the scene as if you were telling it to a five-year-old. Maybe you were just overcomplicating each character’s actions? I do this exercise all the time in working one-on-one with my authors.
6. Write from the point-of-view of the family pet. Focus especially on sensory details. See all those interesting tidbits (bacon!) that might have been missing.
7. Start at the last line in your scene and re-write the scene backwards. It’ll help you see the scene in a brighter light, spot holes, or make connections that you couldn’t make before.
8. Rewrite the scene in a completely different genre. Sultry Victorian Romance: meet Gritty Crime Thriller. Examine how this shift in setting and tone affects your characters’ actions or motives.
9. Grab a crayon and a coloring book and start doodling while you dictate your scene into a tape recorder. This frees up your right brain and tricks you into thinking that you’re not actually doing any work — even though you are.
10. Create a storyboard for the scene. This will help you zero in on key moments and the high points of action.
11. Cover your computer screen and just start re-typing from the beginning until you’ve reached the end. Many writers get hung up on individual words or formatting, so blocking off your inner-perfectionist might do the trick.
12. Have dolls/ salt shakers / your kid’s toys / your toys act out the scene as if it were a puppet show. Literally see what’s happening in the scene. Ask: Does it make sense? Are my characters a good distance from each other? What’s going on around the corner?
13. Write from the point-of-view of an important object in a scene, such as a murder weapon, the Loubies wreaking havoc with your heroine’s feet, the pen used for a “Dear John” letter.
14. Put the scene on trial for the crime of “boring readers to death.” Make it defend how it’s interesting, how it can help further the plot or how it can add meaning to the rest of the book.
15. At the end of every piece of dialogue, have another character exclaim, “I can’t believe you just said that!” Make sure your dialogue warrants the rant.
16. Open the dictionary. Pick five unfamiliar words at random. Plug them into your scene. What happens?
17. Write your scene in another language, if you speak one. Are there words you can summon in Spanish that succeed in describing the emotions of the scene better than any word in English? This exercise invites you to play with language and strive for beautiful prose.
18. Try rewriting the scene with your non-dominant hand. This is so frustrating that plain old writing will sound like a fun activity!
19. Rewrite the scene, this time with your heroes as villains and your villains as heroes. Maybe you’ll discover your hero’s affinity for dirty jokes.
20. Give a character an odd skill and run with it. Knife throwing. Balloon animals. Taxidermy. Can you find one that suits his personality, or symbolizes the life he regrets not pursuing?
21. Do the “lost object exercise” — have a character misplace an important object mid-scene. What happens?
22. Start every new paragraph with the last word of the previous paragraph. Especially if you’re finding problems with the flow of the scene, this will force you to connect each previous action to following ones.
23. Write acrostic poems for each of the characters in the scene. A quick and fun way to reinforce your character’s personality, attributes and personal goals on the spot.
24. Place your scene in an alternate reality (even if your novel already takes place in an alternate reality…) Have fun with it. Maybe you’ll end up writing a great dream scene from one of your characters’ point of view.
25. Have your characters do exactly the opposite of what they were doing originally. Turn off the lights. Uncook the steak. Send a bullet speeding backward into the barrel of a gun. Have fun with it, and remember why you enjoyed the possibilities writing offered in the first place.
26. Turn your scene into a Country Western song. Or rap. Or a love ballad. Just for laughs.
27. Write the scene as though you were channeling one of your favorite novelists. How would Stephen King write your horror scene? How would Harlan Coban write your thriller? What about Jodi Picoult, or T.C. Boyle?
28. Rehash the scene as if it were a reality show. (Hidden cameras. Perhaps a few flipped tables.) This clues you into the outsider’s (or, the audience’s) perspective.
29. Don your reporter’s cap and rewrite the scene as if it were a news program. Objectively, what’s going on? What does this scene mean for the rest of the world of your story?
30. Threaten your characters with impending doom. Create a literal ticking time bomb for the scene. How do your characters react once an asteroid starts hurtling toward the earth? What are their priorities?
31. The scene is now your protagonist’s nightmare. Cue the foreboding organ music. Summon the sinister lightning storm.
32. Your scene is now a Disney cartoon. What happens? Who is morally black and who is morally white? (Very rarely, anyone is gray.)
33. Make one of your characters suddenly have a deathly fear of something that they happen to be holding in their hand. How does he react? Do others help? Play with the scene in this way to see how characters might act and react in each other’s company.
34. Write all of your rich characters as paupers, your children as adults, your murderers as saviors, etc. Would their temperaments or personalities change?
35. Put one of your minor characters on trial. Make him or her justify their existence within the scene. See if it’s even worth having them there in the first place.
36. Write your scene as if it’s a poem. Make it rhyme. This gets your brain in “language mode,” where you’re not getting wrapped up in the logistics of what’s happening.
37. Make one of your characters psychic. Have him read another character’s mind. Does this change things?
38. Spin a globe and randomly select a location. This is the new setting of your scene. Uzbekistan, here we come. How does this affect your characters’ outfits, the music they hear in the background, the spices they smell wafting through the windows?
39. Rewrite the scene with all of your characters as chipmunks. Because — why not?
40. Do whatever you usually do when you get stuck; clean your office, pay your bills, walk the dog, load the washing machine. But this time, do it in character. This forces yourself to pay attention to details as you write. Sure, your character has to open a letter. But, you now know that he must hunt for his prized letter opener, saw it open ever so carefully, and fetch a cup of tea before sitting down to read.
41. Exaggerate everything in the scene: Have characters scream at each other instead of talk, run like they’re escaping a serial killer wielding a machete instead of walk, tell outrageous lies instead of evading the truth. Ask yourself if what they were doing in the first place even has a point.
While these exercises are simply meant to rev up your creative juices, who knows? You might even find you’ve written something worth keeping for your novel.
What are your tactics for reviving stalled scenes? Or, if you try any of these exercises, let us know how it went in the comment box below.