Writing Tips

Sketch it ’till you get it…

Sometimes when I’m knee-deep in a story, I’ll get stuck. Maybe I’ve re-thought the point of view WAY too many times, or I’ve realized that the scene I thought was pivotal to the plot is REALLY boring! When this happens, it helps to take a step back and try something different. One thing I like to do is switch formats.

For The Rain Catcher, I tried writing the first few chapters as a screenplay, which helped me see that the beginning of my book was dragging. So, I chopped it shorter. A friend recommended Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, the screenwriter’s “Bible.” Snyder breaks familiar movie plots into sections — opening image, turning point, point of no return, etc… — which shows clear as day how screenwriters build tension and later create a feeling of resolution. By experimenting with writing my novel as a screenplay, I also had to break my story into sections, showing where I needed more conflict, action, or resolution.

When I’m having trouble figuring out who my characters are, how they tick, I’ll sometimes draw them. I’m no artist, but I love drawing (messy) comic strips, and this is a great way to imagine what your narrator looks like and how your characters interact with each other. Here’s a terrible one I did for The Rain Catcher that went along with my “screenplay” version.

Drawing scenes from The Rain Catcher helped clear my writer's block.

I had always thought of the mom character (Liz) as a kind of “hippie,” but sketching her helped me to draw her out (no pun intended!). Also, cartooning lends itself to humor, and my novel is supposed to be darkly humorous, or tongue-in-cheek. Drawing a couple of scenes reaffirmed that I was maintaining the right tone.