As I’ve said before, writing isn’t nearly as easy as it sometimes seems. I can go for days without laying down anything that I’d class as ‘good’ words or even any words from time to time. The seemingly insurmountable obstacle of the blank page is often a very hard thing to overcome, especially when the Four Horsemen of Procrastination (Napping, Snacks, Social Media and Minor Chores, a meme cartoon by Ellis) raise their cowled heads in your work space. I’ve written before about overcoming the block and about self care but I thought that, today I might write about aspects of writing that might stir your creativity and encourage you to fill the void.
Exposition – many publishers and editors frown upon ‘too much’ exposition. It’s one of the major criticisms of even seminal works like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. As a writer I want me readers to understand the world in which the story is set but I also want to move the story along at a brisk pace so it becomes a juggling act. I’ve read books that threw me in at the deep end, explaining little but building the world over an extended period, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Poison Study book one of the Chronicles of Ixia by Maria V. Snyder is one I recall fondly. So again, the juggling act, how much it ‘too much’ and how do we as writers avoid getting bogged down?
Sometimes you can reassign exposition as character interplay. Have two characters discuss what you’re trying to describe instead of using straight prose. Then you can colour the subject with each characters opinions and give it more emotional weight. If you’re writing from a 1st person perspective you can do that as well, you’re writing your characters thoughts at that point and, whether they’re a hopeless romantic or a little salty or anything in between you can use that too. If you find yourself writing your exposition as straight prose though, look at the language. You want to be as concise as you can without being bland. Use evocative, visceral words to stir a readers own perception of whatever you’re describing and keep the voice Active rather than Passive.
Scene setting – When I write or when I read I like to ‘see’ what’s being described, like a movie in my head. With a few additions within a paragraph about the sights, smells and even the extra’s populating the scene you can evoke that kind of mental picture in the reader and get them more involved in the world within the pages. Again, avoid passive voice and try to keep your language emotive and compelling but try to avoid blank set writing when you can. That’s not to say don’t do it at all, I mean, when ‘Hulk’ (directed by Ang Lee) came out in 2003 I was one of the initially disappointed viewers but, the scene with Eric Bana and Nick Nolte sharing dialogue on what was essentially a bare stage was one of the high points of the film for me and I loved it, however! That scene was carried on the actors performances and the dialogue itself was the focus. The dialogue and characters in a book need to really come across if you’re writing that kind of scene.
Character Building – How do you build a character without reams and reams of flashback and exposition? It’s easy enough to focus on their goals within the narrative but the reader also want’s to know who they are and the best way to do this is by having them react to other characters and telling the audience how they react. If a secondary character brings up a certain sports team in conversation, does the character they’re talking to like sport? Do they support their own team? Do they hate it and if so do they show that or hide it? That’s quite a banal example but the details, ticks and mannerisms of characters matter. They’re like micro-expressions that (at time of writing) distinguish us from robots or CG characters (a lot of them anyway, animators are cunning creatures) these mannerisms help the writer get to know the character.
So there we go, three things to look at in your writing, things to think about which, I hope, will help provoke creativity. As an aside I have a few thoughts on avoiding the Blank Page trap entirely in the form of habits I’m building myself. Now, I read somewhere that Steven King regurgitated the old adage “You’re not a Writer unless you Write” (although I can’t credit the man himself with the quote) and I’ve had a back and forth relationship with it ever since. At first I rebelled against it, I was writing a book (Camelot 2050: Black Knight) ergo I *was* a writer. Over the ensuing years I occasionally struggled with this outlook, maybe my youthful confidence got shaken by life experience and a little impostor syndrome crept in and, even after self-publishing three books I hesitated to bestow the lofty title upon myself until, at Dublin Worldcon, someone swung by my stall and, over the course of the discussion followed me on Twitter,
“You can take the ‘aspiring’ off your profile now. You have three books out.”
And that brief exchange convinced me. You don’t have to be a ‘professional’, you don’t have to be making a living at it, you don’t even have to have a book out right now, this second. You can and will be a writer.
Getting back to my point, as much as I resent the idea that you need to write *all the time* to be counted a writer there is a little nugget of truth under that bombastic statement. I’ve spoken about ‘waiting for inspiration’ but you don’t have too. The very act of writing on a regular basis, of building a habit and a routine can help you train your brain to switch into a creative process and then you don’t have to wait for inspiration, you’ll have a regular Skype appointment with it.
I also speculated (some time ago now) that having multiple projects might help. I was working on my novels and some contract work at the time. Now I’m working on two novels and two short stories and I have to say it does help (me at least.) I have two stories set in new worlds and two expanding a very familiar one so, whatever my mood, I can swing between those stories and maintain my flow. You don’t have to be seriously considering publishing everything you write of course, start a project as an exercise, see where it takes you, it’s the opportunity to broaden your creative opportunities that counts.
One thought on “Staring at a Blank Page.”