Every Sunday, the feature SHANNON MUIR’S MYSTERY OF CHARACTER on SHANNON MUIR’S THE PULP AND MYSTERY SHELF focuses on the art and craft of writing from Shannon’s perspective, or gives you insight on her process as an author.

This week features Shannon looking into writer’s block and how character can be used to navigate through this issue.

This is an updated version of a column that Shannon Muir did for a sister site.

Writer’s block happens more for me than I’d like, in part from struggling to block out a time specifically to write. Other demands in my life don’t allow for a fully structured schedule, so while I try to stick to a pattern, I’m not always successful. The hardest part is when I have an excellent idea, but can’t stop to write it down because of what else I am doing. Then, later, I never fully remember it.

The worst part is finding the time to write but not finding the ideas. One of the big things I will do, when stuck on a project that’s due, is find a snippet of something else that I did manage to jot down and just play with it. Without the pressure of deadlines and goals, and just being able to play, getting those words down starts to open up my thinking and generally something will occur to me for the other story. The danger, of course, is that the side path will get so interesting one might not return to the item with real deadlines. It’s a risk I’m willing to take; I’d rather be writing something than nothing at all.

If I do have something written and find myself stuck, I often turn to character to help me break through writer’s block. If I’m not sure where a story would go, I look back at my character in his or her current situation. I analyze if the steps taken to this point are consistent with the character I’ve created; if not, I realize I need to back up the plot to the character’s last consistent behavior and see why the moves after that feel like mis-steps. If the character is behaving consistently, then I need to turn my attention to one of the surrounding plot elements to see if something isn’t adding up there.

No matter what, I start my diagnosis with character.

Until next time!