A Shift in Perspective
Every once in a while, I start to write something that just does not want to be written. And so begins an epic struggle in which I try to wrestle the story into submission. I usually lose that battle. I’ve noticed, though, that this does not happen because I don’t know what I want to have happen next in the plot or anything like that. The narration just feels sticky, and it refuses to move forward.
This most recently happened to me a couple weeks ago, back when I was writing a short fiction piece for a class. I spent five days trying to force the story. I managed to squeeze a few drops of prose out, all of which I hated and wanted to rehash the second I finished writing them. But not even the rewrites could make me happy. I was close to completely abandoning the plot and the characters, even I had what I thought could make for a great story. Then a thought occurred to me: I could not tell this story.
... Wrong Voice
One of the more interesting pieces of advice I’ve received about writing is to take a piece that has proven particularly challenging to write, and think about it from the perspective of someone else. This does not mean try to think about the piece the way my best friend would, or my sister would, or my neighbor would, or the guy working at the local movie theater would. Instead, try to think about the piece the way one of the featured characters would. Imagine how they would feel, what they would say to themselves when certain things happen or when another character says something particularly clever, stupid, snarky, whatever. I think you’ll find that this opens up a lot of new doors.
Going back to that story I mentioned earlier, the one I had a wrestling match with, I have to say that the second I decided to write from the main character’s point of view instead of trying to force a third-person perspective, the narration came in a flood and I wrote the first twelve pages in a night.Those were not a perfect twelve pages, of course. They needed a lot of revising and most of their content got completely ripped apart and then sewn back together in a very different way, but if I hadn’t stepped down as the narrator and let the character take over, I seriously doubt I would have had a story at all.
A Remedy for Writer's Block?
If you find yourself with a sticky story, then I seriously recommend giving this a shot. Depending on how much of the story you already have written, you may or may not have a lot of work ahead of you, but if the piece is something you consider worth saving, there’s absolutely no harm in trying.
Changing perspectives works both ways. You can go from a third-person omniscient narrator to the point of view of a character, or from first-person to an omniscient narrator. You’ll know almost immediately which works better. The story was your idea, after all. You just need to figure out if you should be the speaker or if you should step aside and let your characters fill in the prose.My philosophy is that every story wants to be told. They all just need the right storyteller. It has nothing to do with skill level or creativity (although those certainly can help make things interesting). Once you find the right voice, you can create one hell of a story.
Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
Forcing yourself to experiment is probably the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer. It expands your horizons, and gets you to think differently. Writing from another perspective is a perfect way to do this. You shouldn’t try to force yourself through a rough patch in your writing; you won’t like the results. After all, what better way to combat Writer’s Block than to find a way around it, and then leave it in the dust? This is obviously not a cure-all and there may be other story elements that prove troublesome, but this is definitely worth thinking about.
I myself am used to writing fiction in a third-person perspective. Most of my stories have been told through an omniscient narrator. Sometimes, that narrator gets closer to a character than normal, and I end up a close third-person perspective. I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone lately, and now I have more experience with first-person narrators… and also with second-person narrators, thanks to a spur-of-the-moment decision earlier in the semester. Doing this has made me more comfortable with characters and dialogue (it’s pretty hard to write from a character’s point of view and then be at a loss when it’s his or her turn to contribute to a conversation) as well as writing in general.
As I’ve said before, though, changing perspectives works both ways. I have a particular story in mind when I say this, a first-person piece that was written a few years ago. That story never turned out to be what I hoped it would, and it really discouraged me from writing in the first-person. I’m not afraid of first-person any more. I know that I just happened to choose the wrong voice for that particular piece. I’m planning on putting that story into third-person and beginning at a point that is in the middle of the current version. The rehash is going to take a lot of work, but I am looking forward to it. Here’s hoping that the storyteller will do justice to the tale this time around.