28 May 2015

Muscling Your Way Back Into Your Narrative

by Brian Thornton

 We've all been there–going great guns on a project, and then, suddenly REAL LIFE strikes, and drags you (frequently kicking and screaming) out of your narrative, and by the time you've got REAL LIFE tamed and wrestled to the ground, hog-tied and branded, your head's been out of the story for so long you're having trouble picking up where you left off.

After all, it's not a pensieve and we're not all Harry Potter, able to dip our face in it and drop right into the middle of the story.

So what to do in such an instance.

I've recently found myself on the horns of just such a dilemma, so I did what any evolved, 21st century writer does: I crowdsourced it by putting the question out to my Facebook writer friends earlier today.

And I have to say, I was both pleased and heartened by the response, not just from writer friends, but from non-writers as well. So I thought I'd share the responses here.

See below, and if you feel like weighing in with some free advice or just how this reminds you of this or that funny story, please feel free to drop a response into our comments section.

And how, without further ado, here they are:

"Not a writer, but i have an idea. when i read i put myself in the story, i become one of the characters. at the very least, in my mind i am in the room with them. try reading your story from the view point of one of the characters. it might put you back into where the story was headed. or, it might just show you a different direction to take it." 

"This happens to me a lot. I just begin to rewrite it from word one. I don't even consider moving forward for a day or two."

"Not a (fiction) writer, but I would think the process might be similar to reading the story. If there's a long break between reads in the middle of the book, I sometimes have to go back and reread all or a major part, just to get the thread of the book back in my brain. Perhaps going back and re-reading what you wrote will pull you completely through the story you've written, and re-remind you of where you were going with it...."

"I review my notes and outline then I edit the last few things I wrote. I have to do that all the time!"

"Once when I was stuck I wrote a "behind the scenes" scene of my characters talking about me, bitching about the long wait, complaining about plot holes and where they wanted their character arcs to go. It was fun and was, uh, scary what obnoxious opinions they had of me. Good luck!"

"Hire Bob Towne or Johnny Milius for the rewrite, while I grab a gimlet or six at the Brown Derby with Diane Keaton and Jackie Nicholson, then hit the links for a quick eight with Ronnie Reagan. At least that's what I'd do if I were Bob Evans."

"Read and re-read it until I finally get back in the groove."

"Plant ass in chair. Type."

"May have to go in seclusion for inspiration."

"Tough spot. Was recently there myself. But yeah, as has been stated, ass in chair, start typing. It also helped me to review my plot notes, do a re-read and reattach myself to the feelings that got me started in the first place. Ask yourself: Why did I start this mad scheme way back when?"

"I agree---re-read, that's what I did after I brought my old, old word processor online and looked to see if there were any stories I could salvage!"

"Re-read from the beginning. Then plant your ass in the chair and type. You can have some coffee."

"Write a tangent with the characters doing something that is not plot related. Kind of like letting school kids get a recess. It might get you back into the groove and you might get a short story out of it."

"As someone said, reread from the beginning or some other interesting spot. How about mood music?"

"I have to read it from the beginning, typically in one sitting with a notebook handy to make notes. Sometimes I forget what my characters have been up to! ... I just read the posts above mine: Glad to know that retracing the plot from the beginning is something you all do as well!"

"Hemingway said never leave off at the end (of a scene or chapter). Always start up more action then go right to it. Works for me. So does re-reading previously written section."

"I spend a few days being really cranky and kinda sneaking back up on it..."

"Whenever you leave your thread, jot a note of how to reframe and focus in. Survival tactic for to-do lists, dissertations, homework, vacation planning, blah, blah."

"I go back and re-read. If it's been a few days, I go back a few chapters. If it's been a while, I start from the top and read through."

There you have it, folks. The fruit of my crowdsourcing on this issue. Again, if you feel like being heard on the subject, please do leave a comment of your own.

Tune in two weeks from now to see which approaches worked for me, and which didn't. And a sincere thank you to all of my Facebook homies who chimed in with helpful l suggestions!                 


  1. I agree with the person who said "Plant ass in chair. Type." That's what you have to do. Just sit down and let it go, stream of consciousness. Might have to throw away 95% of what you come up with but at least it gets you back into the flow.

  2. Talk about timely, Brian! I was just wrestling with this very beast! You've gathered some great tips here...and I can use'em. Thanks for the article.

  3. I combat writers' block by having three writing projects on the go at all times. Usually two novels, and a short story. So if I start to blank on one, I have no excuse to stop writing - I simply switch to another story. People ask if I find it hard to have three different plots on the go. Nope, I don't. Been doing it for so long, it's second nature.


  4. Thanks for posting this. I wish it was able to be translated, but for some reason Google toolbar isn't working.http://topassignmentwriters.com/ I copy pasted it into another application and read the post.


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