by Fin Wheeler
From time to time every writer is paralyzed by an inability to put pen to paper. Identify what sort of blockage you have, and why you have it, and you’re more than halfway to remedying the situation.
No Original Ideas
Every time you pitch your latest idea to a friend, they correctly name the Hollywood movie/s you lifted your plot from.
Turn off the computer and the TV. Readers, and a movie audience, connect to the emotional journey of your characters, so you need to get out there and have some genuine interactions. Take a working holiday, read history and great novels, spend the weekend being a tourist in your own home town, and you’ll have unique but universal stories to contribute.
Can’t Decide What Idea is Best
You’ve got dozens of great ideas but you’re stuck deciding which to develop first.
Most of the major script assessment companies offer a Best Bet service; you submit a few loglines and they’ll prioritize based on current trends. But trends change quickly, and if you’ve ever pitched your projects in a room, you know that the first thing an exec wants to know is, “What’s your personal connection to the material?”
Sit down with the title, logline, and a short breakdown of each of your projects. Ask yourself which one you feel the strongest emotional connection to, and remember that every massive success started out as an unlikely contender. Star Wars was a soap opera set in space with an antagonist who never shows his face. The Goonies was just some unlikely kids’ romp about pirates, with no actual pirates ever making an appearance. And Toy Story was about a box of toys in existential crisis.
The people who came up with those ideas weren’t worried about following established trends.
Procrastinating Instead of Outlining
You’ve decided what you’re going to write. You know why it is that you, and you alone, are the right person for this project. But still you sit at your desk, pen poised and waiting.
Take it back a step. Focus on pre-outline prep. Once you’ve worked out what your forest looks like, you can get on the ground and decide the order of each tree.
Where does the protagonist start? What’s their mindset, and what confrontations are they avoiding? Working out Act One helps you work out Act Three. Act Two is where your protagonist tries to take a shortcut, but ends up much further from their true goal.
For many writers, using plot points at this early stage in the creative process is too clinical. I sometimes find it helpful to gradually increase the length and detail of the documents I’m writing. First write a one page synopsis, then a 1,000 word synopsis, before finally composing the outline. It can feel more organic and intuitive.
Don’t Know How, or Where, to Start the First Draft
We all know that not much of the first draft survives, so it can feel redundant sitting down to write it. Builders spend a large percentage of their on-site time creating the foundations for a building. Just because it won’t ever be seen doesn’t make it any less essential.
I find it easy to write a skeleton draft first, with just the slug lines and the 40 major plot points, then I fill the rest in layer by layer.
This Scene’s Too Hard
You’ve stopped writing because you don’t know how to tackle the next scene.
Big emotional scenes are hard. Everyone hates arguments. If your scenes of major confrontation aren’t emotionally draining to write, they’ll be truly boring to watch. I find it easier to leave the key (Oscar-bait) scenes without dialogue.
Once the script is almost complete, I really know my characters, and I know things turn out okay for them in the end. That frees me to really put them through the ringer in those remaining conflict-heavy scenes.
Check back next week for approaches to five more writer’s blocks.
Fin Wheeler is a member of the Australian Writers’ Guild and has a feature in development.