Tearing Down That Wall


I have writer friends who are still working toward that first big publication. Some are people I mentor and some just ask questions when they get stumped. Once such question-asking writer-pal recently said she couldn’t make herself write the *big battle scene.* For some of us that might translate to the *big sex scene* or the *big murder scene.* The scene had her stumped.

For weeks, her brain would veer away from it and, instead of writing the scene, she would do *other stuff*. She would go back and write in needed info in previous scenes or write new scenes in the previous manuscript pages, but her brain wouldn’t let her actually write the climactic fight scene that would pull all her work together and tie up the conflict.

I remember that feeling, of a scene my creative self wouldn’t start on. Kept running from. Literally gave me panic attacks over. I tried several things back then, in the early part of my career, and some worked, and some didn’t. Today, I just jump in and force myself to start writing, and know that, somehow, I’ll pull myself through it. But back then…well, it was scary as heck. And fear is a great motivator – to run away.

With her full knowledge, here is what I said to my writer friend, though changed and played with a bit to make it fit the parameters of this blog.

Yes, dear writer pal, I agree, your mind is shying away from the battle scene, from something you have never done before. Your brain is happier finding other things to do, claiming that those things will make writing the scene easier than it is trying to write the scene itself.

Bad brain. Down. Be still.

May I suggest an intermediate writing technique. A cluster (grape/bubble, other names too, etc.) outline in *extra large format*. What this does is take your brain out of gear and shove it in to neutral, then let it come up through the creative process via a different path, a safe-feeling, early-childhood-level, picture pathway. It is something we have talked about before on this blog, but expanded a bit.

You may have to go to the store for some of this stuff. I used to keep it all on hand. Really. My hubby used to come in from work to our first home, a small apartment, and find the (very, very tiny, miniscule) living room floor totally covered with this stuff. And the dog (back then the dog was Bear) sitting in the corner, puzzled and bored.

Acquire the following items:
a pen
2 large sheets of poster board
2 highlighters (I used blue and gold)
multicolored sticky notes, or just sticky notes (because you may want to do the color part with the pencils or crayons)

colored pencils or crayons (if you want to skip the multicolored sticky notes)

Now sit down on the floor with it all. Just like when you were a kid and were ready to *color*.

I used to first create a legend so I wouldn’t forget what each color was for.

Assign each color of sticky notes (or pencils or crayons) a job, for instance:
red — general battle items (weapons/miscl.soldiers/spells/knowledge)
blue — important characters and the things they need on hand
teal — stuff I need to go back and add in to existing scenes later on
yellow — location of each person as it changes during the scene

Also, perhaps a color for each of the main characters.

You will have to make the legend fit your scene, so be creative. Let your mind have fun with this.

On one poster board sketch out the lay of the land so you can visualize it. Put all the characters and battle stuff (weapons, war machines, horses, jets) in place where they start out in the battle. This is for topography too, so draw in the map (castles, mountains, creeks, lakes, etc.) Now your brain has a picture (literally) of the beginning of the battle. If this is a sex scene you are working on…um…this part may be a lot easier. Or a lot harder.

On the other piece of poster board circle the word BATTLE in the center. Then draw a second circle and write in it the first thing that happens. Connect circle one and two with an arrow. Then draw a third circle for the next thing that happens. If it is a direct result of the second circle, then draw an arrow from circle two to circle three. If it happens independently, (like the other side acting) then draw the arrow from the first circle and the word BATTLE to the third circle. You are now on your way to a cluster outline.

Keep tracing the actions with arrows connecting it all. Use the colored pencils, crayons, highlighters, and sticky notes. .You are doing *anything* to keep your brain from seeing this as writing. As additional things happen in the scene, draw little connecting circles and jot in what happens with the appropriate color.

As you fill in the above cluster circles, write in the progression of events onto the other poster board. Use the highlighters and sticky notes to track things that change, things you need, scenes to add in, and stuff that just pops into your mind. If a particular progression is important then number it to keep track of it all. You will imprint a lovely vision of the battle (sex scene, whatever) on your brain, and engage your creativity on a different, more primitive, childhood level. When you conclude the battle, your brain will be at peace and ready to write.

At that point, I used to translate all the info onto an outline, which I then expanded into the actual written scene. Now, I just dive in and write. Back then my mind truly didn’t believe I could do it. This fooled it and me in to believing I could write the scene. And it worked.

Then BIC and write it.

(BIC = butt in chair)

Anyone got other ideas and methods that work for them? Things you have tried that break through the fear barrier?


8 comments to Tearing Down That Wall

  • That’s a bloody fantastic idea. What a great post. Dude. Now I want a whiteboard and some markers…! 🙂

    I get up and act out battle scenes. Mostly, it’s true, mine are one-on-one sorts of things, so that’s more possible, but yeah, I get up and fling myself around and think about points of contact and what words I need to use to draw the picture clearly. It’s fun doing that. 🙂


  • Beatriz


    Faith, you are a super genius!

    Seriously, I owe you a nice cuppa tea, a bottle of booze, some chocolate, anything you want. This idea floored me.

    Part of my job is to do technical writing and design training materials. A project I thought was dead and buried came back to haunt me last night and all morning I have struggled with ways to figure out what was missing, what exists, what pieces need to go where, etc., etc.

    I took a break to grab lunch and read Magical Words. I saw your ideas and it hit me– this would work just as well with non-fiction. It’s exactly what I needed (I believe) to help me break the feeling of being overwhelmed because there is so much to do and form the battle plan so that I can BIC and get it done.

    Genius, woman, pure genius! Name your price and I shall cheerfully pay it!

    (but did you intend this post to be under Catie’s name at the top?)

  • No, she didn’t mean that. Faith went out of town and asked me to post her entry for her, but when I did, it posted as “cemurphy”, and now I can’t make it change.

    At least she signed it! 😀

  • Beatriz


    Thank you for helping us have a great post today, Misty, regardless of whose name is on it!

  • I’m home now, a day early. Thank you, Misty for posting this for Catie…er…me. *snicker* I *love* it!

    You’re welcome, yall. I had no idea it would result in such happy responses, and anytime someone offers me tea, chocolate or booze (important food groups when stressed) I know I did okay. *laughing*

    The poster board and markers (crayon, sticky notes) works for anything. I’ve tried it on speeches I have to write, magazine articles, and even book rewrites. It’s a lot more fun than cleaning house or ironing — which I tried in the past as a way to clear my mind. They worked too, sorta, but just because they bored me so much I was forced back to writing. Yeah. I own an iron. It doesn’t get much use but I do own one. Oh! I konked bad guy character over the head with an iron in a book once. I got that idea from ironing.

    The last time I found it helpful (poster board, not my iron) was when I needed to write a fight scene in a house and I couldn’t see how the combat worked from room to room. It was lovely. I even used red ink to record blood splashes. Which makes me sound ghoulish, but it worked.

  • “…I needed to write a fight scene in a house and I couldn’t see how the combat worked from room to room.”

    Oh honey, you should have called me. The Massey men are practically professionals at fight staging! 😀

  • Now you tell me…
    Nah. It was a fictional house.
    And hey — I got to color!

  • Coming late to the party, as always. I really can’t wait to be done with this book….

    Very cool post, Faith. I love the idea. I generally will approach these scary scenes in a somewhat similar way, but without the posterboard and crayions (though they sound like heaps of fun). I’ll make a list of the POV charcters I intend to use for the big battle scene (if it’s just one POV, this is a pretty easy first step…) and then, as you suggest, make a list of the big events I need to hit along the way. This gives me an outline, and from there the writing comes much more easily. I rarely outline a chapter in such detail, but when the chapter is intimidating me, this helps me gather the courage to face it.