Reblogged: Stuck? Borrow Techniques from Popular Authors

I saw this article today and thought it offered some really good tips that you should find useful when writing. Take a look.

Reblogged from Procrastinating Writers Blog

Writer's Block

This is a guest post from Rochelle Melander of WriteNowCoach

It happens to nearly every NaNoWriMo participant. After a string of days when we amass an embarrassingly wonderful amount of words, laying down scenes and adding dialogue, we get stuck. We do not know what our characters want (heck, we don’t even know what we want).

We poke around in our useless outline, wishing we’d have planned a bit better in October when we had all the time in the world. Now we need to write something fast before we get behind on our daily word count.

Never fear, weary writers! When all else fails, borrow some handy techniques from popular novelists and watch the words pile up. Here are five ways to add words and move your story forward.

1. Explain Stuff—When you get stuck, give a character the opportunity to explain how something works to another character. In Scarlett Thomas’s novel, Popco, Alice Butler is a creative genius who designs toys for one of top toy companies in the world. While she and her colleagues are away at Thought Camp, Alice begins receiving coded messages. This gives Alice the opportunity to explain to the reader all about lateral-thinking puzzles, mono-alphabetic ciphers and poly-alphabetic ciphers.

2. Borrow Stuff-–In Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians, half the fun of reading the book is figuring out what pieces he borrowed from other famous fantasy novels, like C.D. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Though Grossman changes the name, most readers recognize Fillory as our lovely Narnia. When you get stuck, borrow a character, setting or event from one of your favorite novels.

3. Do Something Different—Sometimes our writing brains need to stretch their creative muscles. Giving our brains a different creative writing task can help us overcome writer’s block. In Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Visit From the Good Squad, she wrote an entire chapter as a PowerPoint presentation. Other novelists have used letters, poems and other narrative forms to add variety. What will you try?

4. Send Your Characters On A Journey—In the imaginative novel, Swamplandia, by Karen Russell, the youngest sister Ava must travel to the darkest part of the swamp to save her sister. This is probably the most exciting and harrowing part of the book. When you’re not sure what to do next, send your characters on an adventure. It helps them build character and provides plenty of conflict and interest for your readers!

5. Look Back!—When a novelist needs to let the reader know about some crucial information, a flashback can be a helpful addition to the story. In Popco, much of the current story line depends on the reader understanding Alice’s past. Instead of using the traditional flashback, where the character thinks back over a past event, Thomas has woven chapters about Alice’s youth in with her chapters about the present. However you do it, adding in back story can add richness to your story and help you reach that word-count goal.

What do you do when you get stuck? What plot techniques have you borrowed from other writers?

About the Author: Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at

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Coming Your Way in May

Firstly, apologies are in order for the distinct lack of posts for the last few days. Working hard, writing… you know, all that stuff.

Secondly, and most excitingly, I can present to you the articles and features that will be coming your way in May!

  • Part Two of Here Be Dragons – Mapping Your Fantasy World
  • The third and final part of Here Be Dragons – Mapping Your Fantasy World
  • The second in my series Writing By Quotes. Last time we looked at quotes from the Lord of the Rings, this time around we’ll be looking at quotes from A Song of Ice and Fire (A.K.A. A Game of Thrones).
  • I’ll be writing a piece of flash fiction, exclusively for the readers of this blog. If you have any suggestions for a theme, please post them below!
  • An article that will provide some helpful tips on making your characters feel real.
  • Possibly a surprise announcement… possibly not. I’ll see how my little ‘side project’ works out. (For a clue to what this might be, check out J.W. Shortland: Fantasist in the navigation bar above.)

So, if the above sounds good to you, stay tuned and spread the word about Fantasy In Motion!

Video Games, Violence & Addiction

Today I’m going to blog about something non-writing related in a sense and something that’s very topical at the moment. I was reading about the ongoing trial of Anders Breivik and the revelation that he took a year off work and played World of Warcraft and Call of Duty 16 hours a day in isolation. Now, I consider myself a ‘gamer’ (whatever qualifies me for that title) and I have loved playing video games since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog. I even played WoW for almost 6 years and enjoyed my stints in Battlefield, the CoD series and other shooter titles. Never once did I feel a need to hurt anyone in real life.

The reason I felt like blogging on this subject is because certain people have now come out with the usual cries to ban violent video games. No doubt some parents will be wrenching away the Xbox 360 from their children in disgust or threatening to throw it out the window because they think their child might become a murderer. This, of course, is an extreme view. A lot of parents simply just don’t want their children to become addicted to games and have no life outside of them. I understand this standpoint – I was probably addicted to WoW for a good few years until a year or so ago. Those sorts of games are addictive and they can eventually take over reality. But can they really prepare you for the reality of killing someone in real life? I don’t think so. It takes a certain type of personality and the desire to kill in the first place to drive someone to such an act. It’s interesting – if an avid reader committed murder, would people start blaming his love of crime fiction for preparing him for these crimes? Millions of people watch detective dramas on TV every day, yet the vast majority of viewers don’t feel compelled to copy what they watch. In no way am I defending the acts of such people, I just thought I would offer a viewpoint from within the gaming world on the subject.

I guess I lied when I said this post wasn’t about writing. Well, it’s not really, but there is a valuable point here. Writers can learn from and become inspired by every type of person out there and by every piece of news that makes the headlines. People are complex and so are their motives. Think about that when you next look for inspiration for your work in progress.

Making Connections: Memories & Emotions

Today, on the way into work, I got thinking about how I memorize the route and can drive it without so much as thinking about it. I thought about what would happen if one day I lost my knowledge of the route—how would I get to work? Well, I then deduced that whenever I remember things there is usually an emotion/experience attached to that memory. For instance, I once saw a really beautiful sunrise over one part of my journey (when I used to work early shifts) and I now always think back to that sunrise when I approach it. A little further along on my trip, I once had a car accident on a stretch of road and I’m now always much more cautious when I approach it.

I suppose we all associate emotions with memories, but certain memories we seem to just “throw away” without a second thought. I wonder if our brains would do that if, for example, we spilled coffee down ourselves that day—we’d remember it then. It’s an interesting facet of the human mind and something useful when writing and making characters believable.

I should have Part Two of my fantasy map tutorial up sometime over the weekend.

~ James

“The Fall” Free eBook Promotion

Just thought I would let everyone know that my eBook “The Fall”, a collection of fantasy shorts, will be completely FREE for the next 5 days. The offer starts tomorrow (Wednesday 4th April) so get yourself over to Amazon and take a look! Links are below:

Amazon US: The Fall

Amazon UK: The Fall

There are also versions available for other European countries – just search for J. W. Shortland on Amazon.

Hope you enjoy reading. Please leave me a review and let me know what you think.


Antique/Fantasy Map Tutorial – Coming Soon!

Keep an eye out over the next week or two for my upcoming series of articles which will feature a step-by-step guide on making a really nice fantasy map in GIMP. Part one will tackle getting your ‘antique paper’ background in place and generating a realistic-looking fractal for your landmasses and oceans.

Let's make a map!
Image via Google Images

I’ll also throw in a couple of variations on the style, if you want a slightly different type of map. In the first part of the series I’ll also throw in all the links to resources that you’ll need to create your map.

In the meantime, why not download GIMP and have a play around with it? It’s a great (free) Photoshop alternative that I now prefer to Adobe’s offering.

~ James