Disclaimer: I have a passionate love for GIFs, so I’m going to use a few from Monsters Inc. to help me along in this post. You don’t mind, do you? *wink*
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Do you have a story that you feel like you’ve been working on for the last three decades? Does this particular story tend to get stuck, or act like a rebellious child, until all you want to do is hunt around the internet for pictures of celebrities who look like your characters while you cry into a bowl of ice cream and wait to hear the fleeting wing-beats of inspiration's approach?
However, sometimes, we get these things that I call breakthroughs. They can be really big, or really small scale. (And I mean really small scale. However small, it still counts). For example, I was thinking two nights ago about a story I’ve been working on for around five years now.
You can imagine how frustrated I get sometimes when it just. won’t. do. anything.
But I found myself in kind of a dark mood, at this moment two nights ago. I’d woken up to a breezy morning that wafted grey clouds overhead and sent a chill gusting inside before I slowly closed the door with a huge grin on my face. (I’m a November baby, so I can’t help but love fall weather). The day stayed overcast and a bit dreary, and I found myself curled up on the couch at the end of it, probably around eleven o’clock that night, with my laptop open, trying to conjure up something to write about. Something substantial. You can only write so many fluffy scenes in a story that’s not moving before you start itching to get to the meaty stuff.
So there I was, a little frustrated and depressed, my face pale in the glow of my laptop screen. I stared at my Word document, fingers poised to type, earbuds silent in my ears. Nothing happened, so I decided to turn on some music.
Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, music and writing are totally connected, practically inseparable. It was a song that inspired my first book at age twelve. Ever since then, I’ve had at least one song, if not a whole playlist, to go with every story I’ve dreamed up. Some of these songs contain lyrics, and some are movie soundtrack music. Some are even movie trailer music (which I will probably write a post about at a later time because I love movie trailers and their music, for reasons).
In this instance, I went to YouTube and pulled up the extended music from one of the trailers of The Hunger Games (which you can listen to here). It’s eerie, with a music box-like melody that builds into a quiet, bittersweet piano-y moment in the middle, then it’s back to the heart-pounding stuff until the end.
So I did the writer thing. I turned the music on and closed my eyes and tried to get into some kind of zone. The zone is never a guarantee – I’ve done this countless times, with countless songs, and it usually doesn’t produce much in the way of breakthroughs.
But sometimes it does.
Breakthroughs, I’ve realized, often come from a compilation of the right amount of desperation, moodiness, music, and sugary, coffee-infused beverages. (At least, that’s how it works for me). Because I experienced a sudden jolt of realization as I was sitting there, imagining little bits and scenes from my story with the music. This realization happened to be something pretty significant to the plot, which is huge for me, because plot is what I struggle with most. I realized a way to get my two main characters where they needed to be, via another character that I hadn’t thought much about before.
So, upon realizing that I’d had a tiny little breakthrough in this stubborn plot, I felt like this:
The next night, I was thinking about this new plot development and what all I could do with it, what doors it might open. As I was pondering, a second realization occurred to me, this one about my protagonist. I read once that every character in your story needs to have some kind of secret (much like they have to want something). I’ve never been into keeping secrets myself, so it hasn’t been a priority for my characters. But.
The realization of the night before led to the second realization that I could now give my protagonist a secret that would affect him, and his relationships with the people around him. It would deepen the story, just a tad.
And this was basically my reaction, which you're free to interpret however you'd like:
That’s what a breakthrough is. Breakthroughs are those moments where something occurs to you about your story and you realize there’s hope for it. You know, even if it takes you a fourth decade, that you can finish this thing.
Live for the breakthroughs. Write for the breakthroughs. Embrace and apply them when they come.
You’ve got this.
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Are you stuck waiting for a breakthrough in a writing project right now? Have you found any ways to inspire breakthroughs in your writing? I’d love to hear from you!