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S. J. Reisner

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Writing Yourself Out of a Stalemate
by S. J. Reisner   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, January 29, 2005
Posted: Saturday, January 29, 2005

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How to get your characters and story moving again when you've hit a wall.

Things are going great. You're half to three quarters through your novel and suddenly you realize that your characters are at a stalemate. They're stuck in their spacecraft flying toward Beta Prime, or on the trail making their way toward the Orb of Incredible Power. Or maybe they're just hanging out playing video games. The story simply stops and your characters won't budge. This is the point where many writers start debating on whether or not to give up on their story, or do a complete rewrite.

The answer is easier than you can imagine. You, the writer, need to give your characters a reason to react. Whatever you write down on the page becomes a reality for your characters. In order to get them moving again, you need to put them in a position where they have little to no control.

So your characters are on the couch playing video games. They've gotten so lazy that they don't want to do anything else. What can you do? A power outage might get them to pause, but only long enough to pick up their Game Boy's and resume their leisurely activity. So why not give them an extra push. The torrential winds outside not only knock out the power, but they also send trees down on top of the house, and through the windows. Any character who won't move during a situation like this deserves to die. Kill them immediately.

In some instances, I like natural disasters best. The character can't stop a natural disaster (unless the characters have enough technology or magic to effectively deal with it) and must react to the situation in order to survive. But then I also write adventure fantasy mostly.

For some of you, hurricanes, magnetic storms, asteroids, or whatever may seem overly drastic. Let's say you're writing a romantic suspense and your character is lingering on a park bench thinking about her ex-boyfriend and comparing him to the man who just asked her out. A simple rain storm might get her moving. But better yet a couple of scary looking men across the way will get her off her duff, and it will build suspense.

Obviously you need to pick these situations based on your plot and setting. After all, you don't want an alien spaceship crashing into a high school athletic field if you're writing a contemporary coming-of-age young adult novel (or maybe you do).

If doing this does not move your story forward, then you might consider starting anew. But until then, remember that you are in control and you can force your characters to react. Characters who don't react should be killed, immediately.

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Reviewed by Dana Reed 4/23/2005
Darn good article. And right to the point. I'm currently stuck, as always. My characters are in limbo and I'm ready to pack it in with this story. But you, Steph, have got me thinking. It takes place in NY, home of natural disasters these past few years it seems. Bus and train strikes and wrecks. Devastating power outgages. good stuff to consider. Thanks, Steph.
Reviewed by Lisa Adams 2/2/2005
Great article - although I am a pacifist by nature - I have killed off a few useless characters. Well done. You must be a writer or something? :)
Reviewed by Judy Lloyd (Reader) 1/29/2005
I agree and sometimes I wait for a certain spark to ignite the character into something. You know I find that when I am editing that something else strikes me as what I need to add to the story.

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