This entry is part 3 in the series Breaking Through Writer's Block

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There are four more primary types of Writer’s Block that I identified in part one of this series, and this article is going to tackle two more of them, and offer 17 solutions to those specific varieties of problem. The types of Writer’s Block to be dealt with in this article are:-

  • Action Block, when you know what the situation is and who the participants are, but don’t know what a specific character is going to do; and
  • Persona Block, when you know what you want to have happen, but have no idea who the character is who will do it, or why they will act that way.

(There were supposed to be four, but discussing these two types took so much room that I’ve had to further split the series).

Part One of the series also offered solutions for the problem of ideas, also known as “Blank Page Syndrome”, while part two looked at problems with incomplete ideas (Conceptual Blocks), problems with turning a general outline into a specific breakdown, specifically, which scene should come next (Specific Blocks), and when you have something planned – be it an action sequence, or a dialogue sequence, or whatever – but don’t know at what location it should be set (Setting Blocks).

Action Blocks

So the villain is going to replace one of the heros with a double. He has sent a henchman to attack the heroes at a charity event that none of them know is being hosted by the villain in his secret identity. You have some idea of who the participants are, you’ve described the social gathering and you’ve written the inane chatter and gossip that makes these things such a grind, and you’ve just written those fateful words, “…when suddenly,” and your mind goes completely blank. You have no idea how the action should unfold. (Actually you should try and avoid using those words, they are cliched writing, but that’s neither here nor there).

This sort of situation crops up quite frequently in both writing and in RPGs where the characters are reacting to events. It’s arguably worse in some genres of RPG because the antagonists instigate a confrontation more often in those genres – superhero and pulp games, for example – but the action sequence is part of every RPG plot and an awful lot of fantasy and heroic fiction. Some people find these sequences easy to write, some find it exceptionally difficult, and most of us are in the middle, where it’s sometimes easy and sometimes not, and where the struggle is to make each occurrance different and interesting for it’s own sake.

I have eight cures to offer for this situation. They all presuppose to some extent that once you actually get started on the action sequence, it will more or less write itself in the form of action, reaction, counter-action, new reaction, and outcome.

Solution 1: Consider the potential for inaction

It can be very effective in breaking the block to jump from pre-action to inaction – to dialogue, or menace, or narration of context. If you’re having trouble getting the action started, shifting gears to some other type of sequence can let you ease into the situation and work around the problem. It loses its value if repeated too often, but procrastination can be your ally.

This works because this creative inaction, provided it doesn’t concern some other plot thread entirely, always tells you something more about the situation or the participants. Getting deeper into their heads makes it clearer how they will act and react, which in turn makes it clearer how the action will start and how it will proceed. This solution can be so effective that even writers who normally have trouble writing action sequences find this one flowing naturally onto the page.

Solution 2: Describe the leadup

A sub-form of the first solution is to take a step backwards in time. Describe the preparations of the attackers, their interaction as the moment approaches, their moods and dialogue. In effect, this is following a second pathway into the scene in hopes that it will not be as blocked as the first. For the same reason that Solution One works – getting more deeply into the heads and capacities of a key participant – this can work.

Nor, despite appearances, is this solution only of value in fiction. Just because it is never presented to the PCs, a GM can employ it in an RPG, enabling the characters to seem more realistic when they are encountered; instead of being static and lifeless, it conveys the impression that they had a life outside the events to which the PCs are witness, and the two stories (the PCs and the enemy’s) simply intersect at a particular time and place. Two of the enemy may be in the middle of an extended arguement about a baseball game, and continue it in the course of the scene, for example. By conveying a sense that the attacking NPCs had a life and a relationship and a line of dialogue before the PCs were present to witness it, the whole situation becomes more lifelike.

You may even be able to use the material in some sort of prophetic vision, or some super-detective may be able to deduce it and present it to the other PCs retroactively – if there is some story value in doing so.

Solution 3: Impatience has its virtues

Another solution that can sometimes work is the Impatient answer. Nothing fancy, the villain just bursts in and fires a shot at one of the targets on offer. Cue panic and mayhem.

There are times when this solution is out of character. There are two answers to that complication; the first is to revel in the contradiction, making it a deliberate surprise tactic on the part of the attacker, or something that he has been required to do by circumstances (causing frustration on his part). The latter then leads to the questions of why or who he is required to act out of character, and how does the character react when frustrated? The more of the participants emotional responses and circumstances you can bring into the battle sequence, the better it will read on the page.

The second answer to the oontradiction is to use the suddenness of the introduction to combat to get you started, then replace the “impatient attack sequence” with something else once you have your literary juices flowing down the right channels.

Solution 4: Emotional Responses

Most of the solutions so far have been fairly clinical in many ways, but that’s not the only way to get through (or around) the creative blockage. I have occasionally found it useful to construct an emotional “roadmap” of the action sequence, especially when a combat seems too sterile and clinical.

That involves drawing up a table, with one column for each significant participant, plus one for the actions to which the PCs are reacting. The first action should read “Pre-action”. In the appropriate column, describe the emotional state that you want the character to experience, then choose an action that leads to that emotion. By constructing such a road map, you can take the sterility out of the sequence by rewriting each action and reaction to convey or reflect the emotions of the participants.

Emotional changes usually come in pairs on such a map – each event having one effect on the attackers and another effect on those being attacked. There can be exceptions, but this is always a good rule of thumb.

Even though you don’t know the emotional state of the PCs in an RPG – that’s a question for the players – this approach can still work; instead of specifying the emotions that the characters have, you are describing the emotions that you hope to achieve in the PCs. Nor do you know exactly what the PCs are going to do, and so you can’t be sure that the emotional “journey” you are planning for the NPCs will appropriately match events; don’t let that stop you. Alter circumstances within the battle to encourage the emotional states you want, don’t get too wedded to a particular sequence of actions. Heck, you can be quite successful by totally improvising the actions and their effectiveness and simply following the emotional arc that you want to occur. Both of these approaches can bring new life to your combat sequences, and new realism – I once had the tide shift in a battle in which the NPCs were doing too well by giving one of the NPCs a heart attack in the middle of the battle. It tipped the balance.

Another approach to this solution that works especially well in an RPG is to list emotional states and NPC responses to them. “If the NPC becomes confident, he will pause to gloat. If the NPC is surprised, he will panic and seek a distraction or threaten a hostage. If near defeat, he will attack the crowd of onlookers.” These could be summarized as simply as “Confident – gloat. Surprised – panic & distract/threaten hostage. Fearing defeat – attack onlookers.” Armed with this list of emotional states and actions, you can go into the combat sequence and choose the NPCs action from your menu. You have two guides to employ in deciding what the responses should be: the personality of the NPC, and the emotional state that he is trying to achieve (in himself or in the PCs or both) with that action. Your choices are also obviously constrained by the capabilities of the character.

It should be clear from the last two paragraphs that the better you know the characters and capabilities of both PCs and their players, the better (more interesting and alive) you can make the combat. The greater your level of ignorance, the more I would favor the second approach over the first.

Solution 5: Backwards counterblows from the coup-de-grace or climax

Sometimes, you can determine what the initial action should be by starting at the way you want the action sequence to end and working backwards, step-by-step. This works far better in a literary action sequence than in an RPG, unless you know the PCs extremely well, and even then it can feel “pre-scripted” when actually executed. This approach can leave you open to surprises.

Nevertheless, it can still be a useful tool in an RPG setting, provided that you are prepared to abandon the prepared “narrative flow” of the combat – you start with the desired climax, work backwards to the initial confrontation, then throw away all the intervening steps and let the action simply flow from that initial confrontation, surprise PC actions and all – but always looking for ways to steer the battle in the desired direction.

Solution 6: The character of the trigger

If none of the above solutions have gotten you past the blockage, it’s time to employ more desperate measures. Take a good hard look at the triggering character, the character that is going to start the action. You have three choices to contemplate:

  • A quintissential manifestation: try to define an action that is quintissential to the personality of the triggering character, the attacker, something that is characteristic and defining of that character. Because it is such an expression of the personality and capabilities of the attacker, it is frequently a good starting point.
  • A counter-intuitive action: If the problem is that you’ve already got such an action and it’s just not working for some reason, find a reason for the triggering character NOT to employ his usual approach, then make some secondary personality trait the defining guide to what the triggering action is going to be. This not only keeps the choice consistent to the character, by definition it gets around the problem you had. And, finally,
  • Change the trigger: Sometimes the person you have starting the action is simply the wrong person to achieve the plot outcome you want. Consider letting one of the “attacked” become aware of the impending attack just before it is to happen, either by virtue of luck, or by enhanced senses, or being in the right place at the right time, or – of you’re desperate – by sheer coincidence. They can then react to the imminant threat, making them the triggering character.
Solution 7: Be Inconsistent

We’re running out of solutions, and they are becoming increasingly desperate. This solution is to focus on why the attacking character, the trigger, is doing it. What is his objective, his goal? What is his personality, and – most important of all – how will what he is doing reflect those traits?

I have had at least one case of “Action Block” where the problem was the personality of the attacking character being out-of-step with the role that the character was to play in a larger scheme of events. I could have changed how the character was going about solving his immediate problem to something more compatible with his goals and persona, or I could change how and why he went about achieving his real goals. Both risked compromising that larger scheme of events, because this was not going to be the character’s only appearance within that larger plotline.

Once I had identified the reason I had gotten part-way into the action sequence five times only to arrive at a dead end, or had decided “this just doesn’t feel right”, I took a good hard look at what the goal was for the scene. Why was the action scene present? What was it’s purpose in the greater storyline? If I threw out everything about the character and his M.O. in this scene that didn’t contribute directly to achieving that storytelling purpose, what was I left with?

This was complicated by the fact that the character had already appeared in an earlier game session. The PCs thought they already knew who he was and what he was all about, and everything that had been established in that earlier appearance had to be accommodated in any reinvention of the character. I employed the characterization technique that I described back in March 2010 in The Characterization Puzzle: The Thumbnail Method and succeeded in completely reinventing the character as someone who had gone from would-be arch-villain (in his first appearance) to someone whose world had collapsed on him in the meantime. In the process, he went from being an isolated figure to a family man with ambitions and a crippled daughter, and his situation became laced not with menace but with pathos and irony. He had reformed, but a combination of circumstances and his past catching up with him had forced him reluctantly back into his old life.

This completely transformed the action sequence. It set up a situation in which the PCs, by reacting to the person he had been in his first appearance, made his situation immeasurably worse in a way that would not be easily undone, and turned him from someone with no subtlty of motivation into an arch-foe who would never, ever, go away. That not only changed his behavior in this action sequence, it meant that when he reappeared in the finale to that plotline, he would have changed yet again (as a consequence of what the PCs had done). But it also opened the door to an unexpected situation in which the PCs were able to solve his problems and turn him from villain to hero and ally in that final confrontation – with him wavering until the climax. Reinventing the character to meet the real objectives of the story (as opposed to the immediate objectives of the scene and imperatives of the character as he had been) not only solved the immediate problem, it added boatloads of depth to the conclusion of the plotline in a later adventure.

By making the character inconsistent between the three appearances, but with a personal narrative that explained the changes, I solved the problem.

Solution 8: What would the participants be doing otherwise?

The final solution I have to offer, and the most desperate of them all, is to enter the daydreams of the triggering character. What would he be doing if he weren’t about to attack? What might his life have been like if he hadn’t become who he now is, and what might he have been doing if he were not doing this?

The trick is to have these reveries influance the character’s thinking in the here-and-now. You also need some plausible reason for the character to be indulging himself in this way, usually some event that is personally significant or a personal milestone. I once applied this solution and decided that the character’s mother had passed away, prompting him to contemplate the successes and failures of his life, and from there, to muse on the road not taken. In the ensuing action sequence – the one that was giving me trouble – he began to flirt with that ‘road not taken’. His ensemble of flunkies reacted accordingly – ‘the boss just isn’t himself, today’. Eventually, the truism that the character had made his choices, had ‘made his bed’ and now had to ‘lie in it’ asserted himself, and he became reconciled to being who and what he was. But for a brief moment, his humanity shone through, greatly expanding the characterization and realism of the character – and getting me past a situation in which his normal ruthlessness was at odds with the demands of the plot.

Persona Blocks

Having read the solutions offered to solve ‘Action Block’, it should be clear why I would want to this type of writers block within the same article as that – even though the division of labour argued in favor of seperating them. Logical sequence says that they should follow each other, and relatedness of problems and solutions means they should appear together.

A Persona Block occurs when you know someone is going to do something in particular, but have no idea who the character is and may not know why they are doing it. The more trivial the action, the more insubstantial the character needs to be, so this really only becomes a problem when the action is going to be important.

Prerequisite: A clear action

It’s absolutely essential that you clearly understand the story objective of the encounter. Why, from a metagame perspective, is this happening? What are the essential character traits and abilities that are necessary for the Persona to posess in order to act in a way that achieves those story objectives? These are the fixed elements around which everything else is to be arranged.

For example,

  • We may have an encounter in which the story purpose is to introduce a new NPC who is going to be important in a later plotline. The essential character traits and abilities, in this case, will derive from that later role.
  • Or perhaps we have an encounter to exemplify a particular attitude on the part of the general public (or some segment thereof) that the PCs have not previously encountered. The essential character trait is that the character holds that particular attitude and that the circumstances of the encounter will give them an opportunity to display it.
  • Or, thirdly, the story purpose may be to exhibit a particular personality trait belonging to a particular NPC or PC who is already present in the campaign, which will then motivate a more significant action at some other time.
  • The hardest of all is a generic encounter whose story purpose is simply to show that not everything the PCs are encountering is of world-shaking importance; this is because there is so little to go on. On the other hand, these can also be the easiest, because you have so few constraints.

It is also absolutely essential that the action that is to occur achieves those story objectives. If you proceed from a flawed premise, you will eventually confront the failure to achieve the objectives, and find yourself written into a corner.

How about I offer a concrete, really-happened-in-a-game example that remains memorable because it worked so successfully?

I wanted to show that the PCs in my superhero campaign had achieved Beatle-esque public popularity, but didn’t want to use a generic groupie encounter. So, what might a fan who had reached the point of obsession do? They would dress like their heroes, alter haircuts and other aspects of their appearance, and so on. So the PCs were going to encounter a woman who would be dressed in a polka-dotted shower curtain (and nothing else), and have convinced herself that she was a member of the team. (I thought about a fan mutilating themselves in an attempt to give themselves ‘super-powers’ but that seemed too grim for the tone that I wanted to convey; this encounter implied that the team’s popularity had reached the point that such things were possible, while providing a light-hearted counterpoint to surrounding events). The setting for this encounter (and this entire part of the campaign) was an alternate-history 1950s Boston, with Joseph McCarthy in the white house and fascist troops under his control enforcing a “pro-American” attitude. The PCs had succeeded in getting in good with the local police, had taken down the crime boss of the city, and had achieved national attention through a couple of spectacular fights with supervillains. By standing up for Joe Citizen in the face of McCarthy’s anti-communist Morality Police, the S.I.D., they had given the entire country a shot of hope in the arm, and had taken the nation by storm; but one of the members had made the mistake of stating that the team would welcome new members. Now the darker side of that public support was to be put on show.

So I had a clear story objective, a clear reason for an encounter to happen.

I thought about having the character in question uncover a plot, and attempt to report it to the authorities because she couldn’t seem to reach “her team leader”. I thought about having her uncover an imaginary plot that the PCs would have to investigate. I thought about having her simply show up at a superhero battle and attempt to pitch in. None of them seemed right, because all three of these options obscured the primary story point that the encounter was intended to achieve. It was only when I decided to keep the encounter completely low-key and mundane that the action would achieve the story objective. So the team’s leader was summoned to the local police station, where a dozen people in various ridiculous getups were asking to join the team; these were easily dismissed. Then she was taken to a desk in the detectives’s section of the station, where the woman was waiting. She had flagged down a passing patrol-car and told them that she was a member of the team but was unable to get in touch with the others, something must be wrong. They took her back to the station for her own protection, but before they called in the men with butterfly nets to assess her mental state, they needed to be absolutely certain that she wasn’t a member of the team – they all wore pretty outlandish costumes, after all.

That left only the question of who this person was, what their personality should be, and why they were doing this. Did she really have paranormal abilities? Could that have pushed her over the edge? Could she be a superhero from the native time-stream of the team who had somehow been trapped in this body? Or was she just a sad case of acute fandom crossing the line into delusion? I knew that these questions – and others, such as “is she bait in a trap” – would be going through the minds of the players.

The purpose of this example is to highlight the importance of clear story objectives and encounter particulars that achieved those objectives. Writer’s block in no way afflicted me in the construction of this encounter. So, to wrap it up and enable us to move on without an unresolved example dangling overhead, I decided that the woman was in late middle age, that she had no paranormal abilities (aside from being OK with a sewing machine), that she suffered from delusions and mild dementia, and that she had been in deep depression since her son had been killed during World War II a decade earlier. The team’s sense of optimism had penetrated that depression, and she became fixated on the team as a way of avoiding those negative emotions. This actually posed a difficult challenge for the team leader, St Barbara, because the woman was an object of pity and the player wanted to solve the problem without plunging her back into a mentally-dangerous state, which an outright rejection would have done. So she persuaded the woman that she had an undercover assignment for her that required her to return to her ordinary life, and that a team contact disguised as a social worker would visit her occasionally to make sure that she was okay and to receive any reports that she had for the team. Problem solved, at least for the moment. And a couple of new messages became part of the team’s next media conferance, emphasizing the sacrifices and costs of being a superhero, and the risks, and the difficulty of qualifying for the role, in an attempt to defuse the most extreme forms of public support.

Solutions 1, 2 & 3

These are as described as solutions 6, 7, and 8 in the ‘action blocks’ section, above. There are a couple of differences, in that those were cases of the personality being wrong for the encounter, and not cases of having no clear idea of the personality at all, but the principles still apply.

Solution 4: Sympathetic Magic

There is always a reason why you’re having trouble coming up with a required character, and it usually comes down to the character’s motivation being appropriate to what they are supposed to do in the encounter, or with that motivation being at odds with the personality that you’ve created (or with any rationally-constructed personality that you can come up with).

Motivation is the key. You can’t finalize who the character is until you have decided why they are doing what you want the character to do, from their point of view. So the next set of solutions that I have to offer are starting points for you to establish that motivation.

The first of these I have entitled “sympathetic magic”, and it involves making the story goals the same as the character’s goals. In other words, they are doing what the referee or author wants to have happen because that is also what the character wants to have happen, whether they realize it or not. The “magic” happens when you answer the question of what the problems and ambitions of the character are, that this particular choice of action is a solution to them.

For example, let’s say that I want to develop a love interest for one of the protagonists. The story objective is for the characters to be attracted to each other. That means that the new arrival into the plotline has to find the dominant qualities of the protagonist attractive, satisfying his or her needs and/or desires; it also means that the new arrival has to have personal qualities that make him or her attractive to the protagonist, and that the initial encounter between the two should display enough of those qualities on both sides to make the prospect of another encounter appealing to both. The personality, needs, desires, likes and dislikes of the protagonist therefore define the persona, needs, desires, likes, and dislikes of the new character, and the circumstances and content of the encounter.

Beware of making the two “too perfect” a match. Leave room for minor disagreements between the two, it will give them something to talk about.

Solution 5: Opposites attract

A more complex solution is to assume that what the character wants to achieve is the exact opposite of the story needs of the author/GM – but that the story needs will be met anyway. When the story need is a relationship – again, for example, the insertion of a new love interest for a protagonist/PC – the result is a far more complex relationship. To make this work, the pair need one overriding, all-important goal or desire in common, or that they satisfy in the other, or that they can only achieve together, whether they like it or not. A great variation is where one or both characters are recovering from failed relationships and are determined NOT to be attracted to each other even though they are completely compatible. If the relationship is to be antagonistic, this results in characters who agree on almost everything, but have fundamental differences of opinion on the most important thing or things.

Avoid making the two complete opposites; they need enough common ground to be able to connect and butt heads.

Once again, this uses the known personality and character traits of the protagonist to define the personality and character traits of the newcomer.

The circumstances of the initial encounter are a little more difficult and depend a lot on narrative circumstance. If the characters are going to be in each other’s lives frequently, you can afford for their initial encounter to be one of hostility. If the new character is to be less prominant, it might be better to start with a point of common ground; a great way to introduce a would-be world conqueror is to have them come to the aid of the PCs for their own reasons. Once you have the relationship established, it makes the drama of the revelation all the more poignant. The love interest with a heart of gold toward the poor and destitute, or who is a staunch guardian of justice, who likes to torture small children and animals on the side. The criminal who is forced to commit violent and reprehensible acts and hates it, who encounters someone who is good and honest and upstanding and who happens to love the criminal because they would secretly love to be able to do the things that the criminal does. Complex, interesting, relationships, all of them. That’s why Dexter works as a TV series.

Solution 6: The One-sided story

When one member of the protagonist-new character pair is or represents something that the other wants (or everything that they want), the attempt to attain the object of their desire can be the motivation required for the character to do whatever it is in story terms that the author/GM wants to have happen. When the relationship between the two is to be romantic in nature, that’s called unrequired love, and the utility of this solution can be seen in the character of Jimmy Fingers from my superhero campaign, which I described in the section “Beware The Dimunitive” in my article A Good Name Is Hard To Find. To quote from that article (with some slight revision for clarity),

Consider an NPC I created for the previous incarnation of my Superhero campaign, James Fingreiz (pronounced Fing-Greez) – or, as the PCs came to know him, Jimmy Fingers. “Jimmy-The-Fingers” was a teenaged street punk who was there to develop a crush on one of the PCs. He tried to impress by being macho, but that didn’t work. Time after time, he got himself into trouble or complicated the PCs’ lives by getting in the way. Several Angst-ridden conversations between Jimmy and the target of his affections followed – and, of course, he took all the wrong messages and signals out of these. He took ever-more-daring risks to prove himself worthy, infiltrating villain organizations (gathering intelligence that the team needed to have in the process) – and then getting caught. Finally, the PC in question (the Player was getting desperate) told him flat-out that no romance between them was possible because he didn’t have powers and would always be in danger when they were together. Predictably, this backfired, sending Jimmy off on a quest to become worthy of the woman he loved. The final sequences in this plotline form part of the new campaign. (Much to the PC’s chagrin, Jimmy has encountered a couple of Romantic Souls along the way who have done their best to help him achieve this goal, instead of sending him home where he belongs).

This was a case of very carefully choosing a diminutive version to emphasize the youth (and the age disparity) between the NPC and the PC. The players have never even heard the character’s full name; to them, he first introduced himself as “Jimmy-The-Fingers” and became “Jimmy Fingers” thereafter. Every aspect of the character was designed to contrast with that of the PC who the NPC was targeting; innocence and naivety vs. maturity and experience; petty hoodlum vs. heroine; swarthy vs. Anglo-Saxon (Danish, to be more specific). And the name was then chosen to embody, represent, and reinforce those aspects of the NPCs makeup. He was designed NOT to be taken seriously as a figure of romance by the PC, and the name [and persona] achieved this perfectly.

Once again, the existing known elements define the unknown when filtered through the motivation that connects them. Jimmy was defined as being the opposite of St Barbara in a great many ways – but with a couple of essential redeeming features.

Solution 7: The Last To Know

This is a variation on all of the above in which the story objectives are met inadvertantly by the interaction of new character and protagonist or antagonist. It’s entirely common for everyone else to be able to see the oncoming train-wreck, and to react to that in ways that are characteristic of their own personalities. It might be that the two characters are perfect for each other and everyone else but them can see it, or that they have a doomed romance; or these romantic interpretations may be analagous for the situation in the plot. Two characters who – if they could work together effectively – could conquer the world, but who can’t stand each other. Two characters who are each other’s worst enemies, but who are stuck with each other for some reason.

But, if you persue this approach, beware of The Moonlighting Syndrome, in which it is the unresolved tension between the two characters that makes the relationship entertaining or interesting (refer to the section Ratings & Decline in that article). Lois & Clark fell prey to the same problem, exacurbated by a number of increasingly silly episodes (clones who survived by eating frogs).

If you want a better media prototype to follow in terms of consummating a relationship and getting away with it, consider Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest which avoids the problems of the marraige of Will and Elizabeth (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, respectively) which was left inevitable at the end of the first movie by restoring the status quo between the two in dramatic fashion, first seperating the pair and then estranging them – at least temporarily.

Again, the known defines the unknown once the motivation relationship is clear.

Solution 8: Trapped By Circumstance

The final motivation-oriented solution to consider is one in which the new character is trying to achieve the story goals despite opposing them, or in which he is trying to achieve something else against his will with the outcome of the story goals as a byproduct of the attempt. It can be one of the hardest motivation solutions to do well, but it is also one of the easiest motivation solutions in a number of ways, which has led to over-use. That over-use, in turn, is the reason it is so difficult to use this motivation approach so effectively; all the good ways have been used so often that they have become cliches, and hence are now bad ways of using it. Only if you think of a new wrinkle, a new spin to put on this motivation, would I consider using it – unless I was absolutely desperate.

Another complication is that for the first time, we can’t use a known character as the starting point, because this solution is about the relationship between story point and new character, and any common ground or lack thereof between the character and the protagonist with which he or she is to be involved is irrellevant, overridden by the “circumstances”. Therefore, the place to start is by defining (in general) what those circumstances are, developing the persona of the character accordingly, and then refining and detailing the circumstances based on that characterization.

All that means that this solution can also be more work than the others – and that’s another good reason to put it toward the tail end of these solutions.

Solution 9: Thematic Inspiration

If you’re sufficiently skilled at character creation, you can start with a stock character appropriate to your genre and play with it enough to make it an individual. Very few are good enough to do this without a LOT of work (and I don’t consider myself one of them even though I’m fairly good at character creation). If I had to, though (and it’s happened a time or two), I would start with a genre stock-character that was totally unsuitable to the achieving of the story objective and rework them enought to make the story objective reasonable and achievable, fully justifying all those changes – just to be sure that I changed the character enough from the stock-character origin that the result was original.

Further Solutions

I have offered several more solutions in a series I wrote on character development, to which I referred earlier: The Characterization Puzzle series. Check it out if you’re having problems coming up with a character!

Next Time: The missing types of writer’s block that I intended to include in this weeks post: Dialogue and Narrative blocks. At the moment I only have 12 solutions for those – but I only had ten solutions for the types of Writer’s Block discussed in this article when I started, so who knows?

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