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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thanks, random sales clerk. Beating writer's block using your minor characters.

We've all been there. For the last hour, you've brought your story to a rolling boil of nail-biting excitement and frantic conflict. Your characters are begging for a reprieve as you yank them along through plot twists and dramatic action. Right when you reach the apex and are ready to bring it all on home...

You realize you've got nothin'. Zilch. Zero. You've hit the brick wall of writer's block so fast that your keyboard flies off the desk and lands somewhere in the corner, propped neatly up against the ficus. (Do people still have ficus in their homes? Ficuses? Fici? I digress.)

As you stare at the monitor and silently mouth obscenities to yourself, your story has lost all its momentum and now bobs slowly about in the sea of uneventfulness that is writer's block.

The last time this happened to me, one of the major characters from my novel, I Will Follow, had just walked into a convenience store he was planning to rob. Aaron had the drive to do it, the will to do it, but once he entered the store, he and I both sort of forgot what the point was. I mean, I knew the reasoning, but I couldn't find the words to convey it. So I asked one of the clerks in the store. 

Aaron eventually approaches a female clerk and demands the money from her register, and as he does that, a male clerk at the end of the counter looks on. He doesn't even any dialogue, well, except for a scream that erupts when Aaron slams his pipe on the counter. But as I contemplated on how I could wrangle the rabid gang of squirrels that were my thoughts together to finish the chapter, it came to me:

Let the male clerk tell his version of what's happening. 

I went and rewrote the beginning of the chapter from his perspective, describing what it was like to work in a boring corner store with a bunch of women. His inner monologue about how one day his band would rise to the upper ranks in Austin's music scene segued into his uninterested observation of Aaron as he entered the store. And it was the clerk's cowardly behavior against Aaron's desperate crime that jump-started the chapter and enabled me to finish it. That version isn't in the novel, of course, but it was a very effective tool. 

So, if you're stuck, let someone else in your story drive for a while. You'll be surprised where they take you. And thanks, male clerk. I promise if I write a sequel, I'll promote you. 

Til next time, keep those keyboards warm. 


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