Ever wanted to cast George Clooney in your film? Or Katherine Hepburn? What about Jimmy from high school, who you haven’t seen since tenth grade and used to pick his nose during science class? Visualizing your characters as real people—whether famous actors or people from your life—can be a great way to inspire you and get your story flowing. Our earlier piece on writer’s block revealed that screenwriting can be a surprisingly helpful tool for jumpstarting a novel, but here are five more unconventional writing techniques for overcoming those troublesome creative blocks. I hope these tips from my personal experience will help you to think outside the box and approach your story in a new way.
Visualize a Mental Cast
Whether you’re writing a book or a movie, a short story or a short film, choosing real people to represent your characters will help them to feel less abstract and more human. Put faces to the names. You get to play the role of casting director, so have fun with it—your options are as endless as your imagination. Nothing is stopping you from casting Cary Grant as your protagonist, or the barista who served you a caramel macchiato at Starbucks earlier today. Envision Morgan Freeman as the villain, or your annoying neighbor who keeps stealing your parking space. Imagine your crush as the romantic interest. Having a sort of mental casting call will help you get a better understanding and feel for your characters, and who knows—maybe you’ll discover new sides to them that you didn’t even see before.
Make Flash Cards
It might sound dorky, but hear me out. Like mental casting, flash cards can be a useful tool for visualizing your story. They came in handy when I was writing my novel, Sapphire. Create flash cards for every major character and maybe a couple of key locations—on the cards, write the character’s name and attach a picture of the “actor” you’ve envisioned in that role (see tip #1). Then, you can spread them out on the table and group or arrange them in any order you want. If you’re a visual person like me, this will be effective for mapping out your narrative, character relationships, and more. And then, while you’re writing, have the cards next to you so you can shuffle through them for inspiration. Sound silly? I warned you these techniques would be quirky.
Listen to Music
Stephen King famously likes to listen to heavy metal while crafting his tales of horror. While that might be a bit extreme, every writer is different—find the music that best fits the tone of your story, allowing you to slip into the frame of mind for whatever genre you’re writing. While writing a story about a brooding detective tortured by a supernatural gift, I listened to Linkin Park on repeat. It was the darkest and moodiest character I’d ever written, and the rock band’s angsty music helped me to get in that zone. Likewise, listening to epic cinematic music by Hans Zimmer or the group Two Steps from Hell pumps me up to write swashbuckling adventure or fantasy.
Listening to music is an emotional experience (check out our post on the role of music in film and video) and a great way get in tune with your story. (Pun intended? You decide.) Sometimes losing yourself in the right music can get you in the emotional place to produce your best work.
Visit Your Setting
Another great way to get inspiration is to literally put yourself in the place of your characters—visit the location (or one like it) where your story takes place. A major part of Sapphire is set in New York City, so I decided to take a spontaneous weekend trip to the Big Apple to get a feel for the urban setting. I strolled through Central Park, visited the actual church where a major scene takes place, and stepped into my characters’ shoes as I walked the path that they take through the city, in hopes that it would lend a level of authenticity to my writing.
If a scene in your story takes place on the water, take a boat ride—the briny smell, chirping of seabirds, and ebb and flow of the waves will give you sensory details that you can incorporate into your story. If you’re writing a George R. R. Martinesque piece set in Medieval Europe, you’re out of luck since time travel does not exist. Just kidding! Visit a museum to check out artifacts and real-life accounts from that time period. Some might call this research, but I call it fun. Inspiration is everywhere, and you can always find something to spark your creativity.
Write in that Location
As a follow-up to tip #4, you don’t have to stop at merely visiting your setting—if you can, write in that setting! I once wrote a ghost story that took place largely on a commuter bus. Want to guess where I wrote the majority of that story? A few nights a week, I charged up my laptop and spent a couple of hours riding around on a bus, typing away at the very back and taking inspiration from the various sights and sounds around me. In this case, I literally became the main character and after a few months, the story was written.
If your script or story has a scene set in a park, grab your materials and take a little field trip. The fresh air may help to clear your mind. Sometimes we as writers can feel stifled, cooped up in our room or office, and often a simple change of scenery will do wonders for helping the creativity flow. Especially when that environment places you in the middle of your story!
Again, every writer is different. These are techniques that have personally worked for me, but I hope that sharing these experiences will help other writers out there, dealing with similar challenges that I faced. If any of these tips can offer a fresh perspective when it comes to visualizing your story, getting in the right frame of mind or—most importantly—finding that inspiration is all around you, then your writer’s block doesn’t stand a chance. Break a leg!