A Technique for Breaking Writer’s Block: It’s Magic

It's MagicToday is the start of the Muse Online Writers Conference. Registration is closed, so if you missed it, you can sign up for 2014 as early as next week. For those deciding whether to drop in on one of my mini workshops, or to give you a taste of what I teach there, here is a glimpse into my first workshop. This workshop was inspired by a friend’s need and includes four techniques for breaking writer’s block or getting around a stubborn muse.

The premise is that you have a situation where you can’t see the specific pieces but you know what you need in a general way.

A simple example is “Timmy fell down a well.”

The need is obvious…what happens next? How does he get out again? Just where is Lassie anyway?

One of the techniques I offer is titled It’s Magic.

Here is the actual text from my workshop, including a short description of the technique and an example of it in action. If you decide to try out the technique, please post in the comments how it went for you because I’d love to know.

It’s Magic

This may sound like a variation on the NaNoWriMo suggestion to throw in a pack of ninjas, but in fact it’s more like Deus ex machine or (God in the machine). In the Greek plays, the characters would get mixed up and messed up so much that they could never see any way out. God would come down from the sky (lowered on a mechanical platform) and save the day.

I’m not suggesting you should have an actual solution like that, but sometimes figuring out the miracle required to make this piece of the plot work reveals the true answer. Not that you should just toss the necessary pieces in, but once you know what they are, you can go back and seed them into the story so they are not a miracle from above but rather an integral part of your story.

A simple example (please forgive the pseudo-science because it is for illustrative purposes only):

Your characters are stranded on an asteroid in the middle of nowhere without any fuel. The asteroid was scanned before the landing, but it held nothing of use. Desperate, the characters go out onto the surface in search of a miracle they know doesn’t exist.

This is a story dead end. Dead ends are useless unless they’re the point of the story. Assuming the point was not so depressing, though, and you’ve just written yourself into a corner, here’s an example of it’s magic.

They need fuel and are stranded. Therefore, they must be able to find fuel where they are, and in a form that can be used. (Yes, you could take a rescue as your miracle, but since Douglass Adams already invented the improbability drive and space is too huge for anything less to pop by, I decided to stick with the fuel.)

So, why couldn’t they find it on the scan?

What if something in the asteroid’s composition blocked the scan? If so, they need to be able to recalibrate to overcome lead, for example, or have a different scanning tool, maybe a medical scanner, that has enough sensitivity to find it. Or they could find a meteorite on the far side that contains just enough radioactive materials to give them the boost but wasn’t in the scan because it was on the other side and the scan reported only the asteroid’s inherent composition.

In the short term, yay, the crew finds fuel and is able to move on to the rest of the plot.

In the long term, you need to go back and make the situation plausible.

So, what if the medical officer calls the captain in and chews her out for not reporting a fractured pinky. After all, though it doesn’t hurt a lot, untreated, it could go gangrene and they are not equipped for it. But how did the medical officer know? My scanner is so good it can see through lead.

It’s a throwaway scene about how the captain is so focused on getting the job done that the little details are neglected…like that they didn’t have enough fuel.

Do you see how this is starting to stack up? And it all came out of the need for a miracle.

This entry was posted in Appearances/Interviews, Conventions, Creativity Exercises, News, Writing Process and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Technique for Breaking Writer’s Block: It’s Magic

  1. Erin says:

    What your title reminds me of:


    Off to backseed some stuff in the current short story. 😉

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