So what is a stumbling block, what does it mean?
Firstly, it’s not to be confused with outright writer’s block – the inability to write. Stumbling blocks happen during writing, where the writer realises that things are not going to plan, or they don’t ‘feel’ the story and therefore believe they’re disconnected from it. The story seems to come to a halt.
There are multiple reasons for this. It might mean the plot has fallen through, the characters are not working, the story isn’t moving in any direction or doesn’t feel right, or the writer simply cannot make it work, no matter how hard he or she tries. Sometimes stories simply do not work.
Or perhaps the writer is attempting something that is out of their comfort zone, something they’re not used to writing and they haven’t settled into it.
A writer needs to recognise this as a stumbling block and then look to a solution to correct it and move forward.
Another reason why they hit stumbling blocks is a direct result of a writer trying to force an idea into a story, when in an ideal situation, ideas should come naturally and therefore form part of the backbone of the story.
Writers shouldn’t force ideas because the result (if the writer hasn’t already ground to a miserable halt with their efforts) is a contrived and unnatural piece of writing. No editor or reader will enjoy reading it, and more than likely, the writer didn’t enjoy writing it.
This ‘forced’ writing tends to happen when a writer is on a tight deadline and needs to produce a story quickly, a competition for instance, but the writer doesn’t allow for natural inspiration or ideas to form and instead makes an idea fit the story criteria.
There are ways, however, to avoid common stumbling blocks:
a) Let ideas form naturally. Don’t push them to fit stories. Stories must fit the idea – if a deadline seems too tight to get inspiration in time to write the story to a quality level and then edit it, then don’t do it.
b) Plan, plan, plan. Fail to plan and inevitably you plan to fail. Even the rudimentary sketching of an idea is better than flying by the seat of your pants. This also reduces the risk of the writer giving up halfway through because he or she has run out of ideas and the story isn’t working.
This is also why the bottom of a plot might fall out – it simply isn’t strong to enough to support a flimsy story idea. A little planning goes a long way.
c) Characters haven’t been carefully thought out. Having characters that don’t work can be a stumbling block. That could be anything from the character having the wrong name, the wrong personality, not enough depth, or they have turned into a cliché etc. Get your characters right, and the story will be much easier to write.
d) The story is the wrong genre. Trying to write a lusty romance when you are a fully blown horror writer might trip you up, especially if you are not that comfortable with that particular field. Stick to what you know and love.
If you’ve ever started writing a story with the distinct feeling it doesn’t ‘feel’ right or it isn’t heading in any particular direction, or it’s a struggle to write any more than the odd sentence, then it is likely that one or more of these elements aren’t right.
Compare this with a story that is effortless to write and really does spill onto the page – the story fits the idea perfectly, the characters gel, the plot is good. It means there is a symbiosis of the idea and the story. They work together in such a way that makes writing easy and enjoyable.
It’s rare when all the characters, ideas and plot click into place first time. Sometimes we have to do some tweaking before it does. But if they don’t ‘click’ or fit, then fundamentally it means something isn’t quite right. If that happens, don’t give up and start something else, simply go back and analyse those elements, change them, tweak them, and start again.
Next week: The art of creating plot twists.