Escaping the Rut You Didn't Know You Were In

Search your manuscript for mini-ruts and brainstorm your way out. | lucyflint.com

When I reread my current work-in-progress draft, I realized how often I set scenes in the rain. 

Um: so many times. 

And the rain isn't much of an obstacle, either. More of a mood-setter. An atmospheric thing.

When I stepped back and looked at the draft as a whole, I could see what was happening: when the action was slowing, or when it was about to build, I thought: let's make this scene stand out. Let's make it a little different.

And I hauled out the rain machines.

What I didn't realize as I was drafting: my "little different" was actually the SAME THING. 

EVERY TIME. 

(Okay, once I used sleet, but still. That's a lot of rain.)

It didn't turn into a big obstacle: no one got hypothermia, no one came close to drowning, and there were no floods. Not even a really significant puddle experience.

It was just my way of shaking things up. Without--it turns out--shaking them up at all.

Creative rut alert.

So I took two minutes and brainstormed other ways to mess with weather and atmospherics. There's gotta be more than just rain, right?

Here's what I came up with: 

  • storm rolling in, so the sky is all green and the air feels troubled and uncomfortable... gloomy-dark clouds, a tree creaking
  • what about a bird storm? too many birds. oooh, starling murmurations!
  • hail! the characters are outside a lot: hail would hurt
  • what about wind? strong destructive winds, slight winds, a breeze bringing cobwebs with it, wispy seeds blowing by on a bright day
  • unusual cloud formations: anvil head clouds, mackerel skies, red clouds at night
  • what about floods, mudslides, uprooted trees, sinkholes? 
  • forest fire...
  • solar eclipse, lunar eclipse 
  • a meteor shower, meteorite falling to earth, a convenient little UFO

Obviously I still had rain on the brain, but I also uncovered some more interesting ideas. Starling murmurations! That would totally suit my story.

I love a good excuse to go on a list-making tear. So I started looking around my stories for other places where I was stuck in a mini-rut.

Guess what. I found a few others.

  • I give fun characters red hair. All the fun characters. All the red hair. Whoops.
  • Mysterious characters get gray eyes. I like mystery. There are way too many gray-eyed people in these stories!
  • And, I'm embarrassed to say, I was so intrigued by the idea of a one-armed man, that I have one-armed characters in four of my six novels. Yikes. 

When we're in the thick of drafting, it's so easy to keep reaching for the same solutions over and over. Without even noticing that our favorite solutions are looking a bit... worn out.

So here's your Wednesday writing challenge: where do you fall back on the same way of shaking things up? What have you been overusing?

Take a few minutes and brainstorm new options for yourself.

It doesn't take long. (Plus it's pretty fun.)

And the next time you're drafting and need some pizazz, you already have your material. How nice is that?

You will feel like total genius. 

Future You is already saying thanks.