Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Twirling Hero, Man-Eating Unicorn, and Poetic Villain....? (Or Tools for Writer's Block)

This week, I was reading Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant. My writing partner recommended this story – based on the fact that it was about killer unicorns. Seriously. Fang-bearing, poison-oozing, carnivorous, scary unicorns.

My first reaction: “No! You’ve got to be kidding!” Upon further thought: “Pretty funny…” (picturing rainbows and sparkly unicorns with golden hooves and baby blue eyes suddenly sprouting fangs). Finally: “Why the heck not?” After all -- killer unicorns would have to be more interesting than the ones you always see lying peacefully in some maiden’s lap on those big tapestries, right?

The book, by the way, was GREAT. Yes…killer unicorns…and a fabulous heroine in training to be a reluctant warrior. Strong, smart, and fierce – all the things I want my own heroines to be when I write them. (Thanks, Ms. Peterfreund, for adding to the growing collection of girls and women to stand on their own two feet – and sometimes wield a claymore or a crossbow!)

Anyway…the story got me to thinking about turning the accepted or expected upside down. And how, as a writer, I should use that concept more often. Take an idea – mine, or even a traditionally held idea (unicorn hiding in forest with maiden) and be brave enough to mix it up… a lot. Could there be a werewolf who watches for the cold weather to arrive rather than watching for the moon? (Sounds familiar…) Could there be vampires who can’t be in the sun because they sparkle? (Oops. That one’s been done already.) What about a simple country girl who turns out to be the star of the high school football team. Oh…wait. That’s already been done, too.

OK – so this isn’t new. Writers have been using the unexpected to gather readers in and keep them following along in the story for ages. But what about using this tactic when you are stuck in your writing?

So, in the midst of these mind-meanderings, I was speaking to groups of eighth graders at a local middle school this week, and someone asked how to deal with (da da da dummmmm) writer’s block. I found myself telling them to let yourself go wild – turn your story inside out. Write the unexpected. Push the limits.

If you’re stuck on a chapter or a plot point – and can’t seem to get your groove back, make your story stand on its head. You don’t have to keep it there…and what you write might not even make the final cut for a “finished” story, but I bet it will get you out of your rut and get your juices flowing again. Have your villain speak in iambic pentameter. Make your hero twirl everywhere they go. Let your setting morph into a Martian landscape. Not forever…just for a few paragraphs. Just until your characters tell you they are ready to go back to their real purpose. When your characters are ready to resume the story you really want to tell.

I have no way of knowing if Ms. Peterfreund came up with the idea of killer unicorns because she was stuck on some other story. But I do know that when I’m feeling that (da da da dummmmm) block coming on, or if my characters are suddenly stuck in a rut with nothing interesting to do or say, I might just throw a killer unicorn into their path to see what happens.

How do you deal with (da da da dummmmm) you-know-what?

(Oh…PS: Keep an eye out here on Carpe Keyboard for an upcoming interview with Rampant author Diana Peterfreund!)


  1. I'm feeling a bit of dadadadadummm right now... my computer crashed in the middle of nano, setting me totally off - and at place where I have no hope of finishing in time. And my husband got a mac which is making me feel more out of control and upset than I ever thought...
    I think it's time to refill the gas tank for a night or two before expending more energy..
    As one of my favorite fiction teachers once said, the best ideas sometimes come to you while vegging out and letting your mind wander freely.....

  2. Yes! It is always so difficult to deal with the writer's block ^^' Often when I get that, I lose inspiration for the topic completely, which is probably why I haven't finished writing any of my stories that were supposed to be longer, and filled with chapters.

    And about Rampant, it sounds like a good book, though I probably wouldn't read it. I try not to limit myself on genres or certain topics, but the more bizarre fantasy books just do not work well for me. Thanks for the suggestion and info on it anyways :) ! Can't wait to hear about the interview.