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Beating Writer’s Block, by Skye Melki-Wegner

Chasing the Valley by Skye Melki-Wegner

You sit down at your desk to write. You stare at the computer screen. You place your hands on the keyboard and…


Sound familiar? We all know that dreaded feeling of uncertainty – the fear of blanking out, or writer’s block, or whatever you prefer to call it. It might occur at the very start of a manuscript, or halfway through, or even when you’ve trapped your heroine halfway up an erupting volcano and can’t figure out how she’ll escape with all her limbs intact.

Of course, it can help to simply open your eyes and look around you. Story ideas are lurking everywhere! That couple arguing on the bus? Use them. Your aunt’s habit of storing her souvenir tea towels in chronological order? Use it. The old man shuffling past you on the street and singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ under his breath? Use him.

Of course, this can be a little tougher if you’re writing speculative fiction (especially Epic Fantasy or Sci-Fi). You’re unlikely to find many Beatles-singing octogenarians in your fantasy world’s mysterious forest, or find a tea towel collection on a spaceship hurtling towards a distant moon. However, I think that the advice still works; you just have to twist it a bit.

I write YA fantasy novels, set entirely in fictional worlds. Obviously, I can’t just look out the window, see an idea and dump it wholesale into my novel. If I did, there would be an awful lot of suburban streets and mailboxes in my fantasy worlds. Instead, when I’m stuck for ideas, I look around me and ask: “What if…?”

In my first trilogy, Chasing the Valley, I needed a way for a gang of teenage fugitives to escape from a city. My heroes were on the run, pursued by the tyrannical king’s hunters, ready to flee into the wilderness. They desperately needed a form of transportation. The obvious answer was horses, but horses are pretty common in fantasy novels and I wanted to invent something a bit different.

I remember sitting at my desk, staring vaguely at the floor, wondering what I could use as an alternative. At that very moment, my dog walked past. It struck me that my dog looked a little bit like an oversized fox. The idea came at once: What if they rode on giant, alchemically-warped foxes?

So I invented the foxaries: enormous, vicious foxes for my characters to ride like horses. These creatures ended up being a huge part of the trilogy, but they might never have existed if my dog hadn’t happened to wander past at that moment – and if I hadn’t asked myself: “What if…?”

Next time you’re out of ideas, why not take a moment to look around you? Instead of staring blankly at your computer screen, look out the door, through your window or into the next room. What can you see? What can you hear, smell, taste or touch?

At first glance, it might just be a mailbox, a dog or a tea towel. If you can somehow twist that object, or flip it upside down, you might just spark an awesome new idea for your manuscript.


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