Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Not much fun, is it?
When you’re used to soaring through imaginary worlds with ease, writer’s block is like being grounded: you have no fuel, no pilot, and no flight plan.
As it so happens, I’ve been suffering from writer’s block, and today I thought it would be fun to write about some ways I’ve found to deal it.
1). Dig Deeper in Your World-Building
Very often, I’ve found my problems with writer’s block have to do with a failure of vision with regard to my world-building.
Your world-building is important for establishing the setting in which your story takes place, but it can also inform the kinds of stories you might tell.
Sure, you can set stories of love, revenge, political intrigue, and many other things in numerous different settings: sword-and-sorcery, flintlock fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, and space opera, among others.
However, the nature of your world-building will do a lot to shape the stories you might want to tell.
Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn trilogy provides great examples of this: the first novel is a heist story about a young woman recruited to a team of magically-gifted thieves who are trying to take down the dark lord figure, known as the Lord Ruler.
Or take Harry Potter: boy wizard who survived Voldemort’s attack discovers his identity and is whisked off to a magical school for witches and wizards, where he makes new friends and goes on a series of adventures involving the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone.
2). Focus on Your Main Concept
There’s a general rule with world-building whereby you get one “gimme”: one concept to animate your story.
Now, that “gimme” can be huge. With the Harry Potter series it’s the existence of magic and a wizarding world — condense that to “gimme a secret wizarding world”. Star Wars has the Force and an entire galaxy of planets, i.e. “gimme an interstellar space opera with magic”.
Lord of the Rings? Gimme Middle-Earth with hobbits and elves and dwarves and the One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron.
The key point I’ve found helpful is to focus on whatever you see as the center of your worldbuilding. Sure, you may have a secondary fantasy world, but what really animates it and makes it unique and different?
Try to relate different aspects of your worldbuilding to your main concept. If you have magic, how does it affect daily life?
For example, if you have magical healing, how has that affected knowledge of medicinal herbs? What about the willingness of people to take risks — in sports, in war, and in general?
If you have an abundance of wizards who can throw fireballs, how has that affected infantry tactics? Do they use World War I-style trenches? What about their metallurgy?
For that matter, if you have magic users, how does their presence affect the religion and myths of your fantasy cultures?
3). Look for Conflicts
You know what people are really, really good at? Finding reasons to start drama and fight each other.
Fortunately, this can work in your favor when you have writer’s block and you’re trying to get your darn world to do what you want it to do already — namely, disgorge another story so you can take off again.
Lucky for you, humanity’s conflict-prone, contentious nature is here to help!
Throughout history, every major empire, religion, social movement, or what-have-you has tended to divide everyone within reach into two categories: people who want to join, and people who want to fight it.
So, if you have any of these things happening in your world, you’re bound to have at least two camps: those in favor, and those against.
But perhaps you can make things more interesting by getting into the motivations of the people in question.
Let’s take the premise of an expanding empire. You’re likely to have conflicts of interest between powerful factions associated with the crown (let’s assume there is a crown), the harem (look into harem politics in the Ottoman Empire), and the military.
You may also have conflicts among the conquered people. Conquerors are generally bad news for the upper crust of a conquered land: both the Spanish Conquest of Mexico in 1521 and the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 were associated with a more-or-less complete replacement of the native aristocracy.
However, sometimes conquerors preserve at least a part of the native aristocracy because it’s cheaper to rule through them than to replace them entirely. That’s the logic behind the continued importance of the dehqan class (roughly, the landed gentry) in Persia after the Arab Muslim conquest in the 7th century CE.
Revolutions often produce more than two factions: usually there are differences of opinion regarding the purpose, fundamental character, and goals of the revolution. On that note, check out the Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan.
The point is, conflicts are everywhere, and where there are conflicts, there are stories.
Conclusion: The Magic Always Comes Back
Writer’s block is a drag no matter how you look at it, but here’s the good news: the magic always comes back.
The three tips I’ve discussed above are some of the best ways I’ve found to beat writer’s block. I’m using them right now to beat my current bout, and I have every confidence they’ll work. By next week’s post, I plan to be doing conceptual work and outlining for the next story.
So, remember: dig deeper into your world-building, focus on your main concept, and look for conflicts… and do whatever else you’ve found to be helpful.
I’m confident that very soon, you’ll be soaring through new worlds of story.
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Author Blog - Michael R. Schultheiss - Author
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