dealing with creative blockage

Dealing with the Ingenuity Jam

And: 7 tips for dealing with creative blockage

Novelists talk about “hitting the wall” and suffering “Writer’s Block” and I hope you haven’t come across these things yet if working on your NaNoWriMo 2020 project, but I think writers are wrong to think it’s their writing that somehow got stuck or log-jammed or gummed-up — it’s not the words, anyone can write a jumble of words that will ultimately make a 50 thousand word book — a computer can readily do it these days… no, it is a blockage in your imagination that has created the delay… it is not the diligent effort of writing that has become a burdensome task, but a lack of brilliance in your conceptualisation.

At the beginning you had a great idea, a wonderful concept, and an unbeatable design template, but after 10,000 words, or maybe 20,000 in your case, you lost your vision! Your mental image is not as good as when you started… it is your inventiveness and ingenuity that hit a wall, not the tap-tapitty-tap-tap of your fingertips on the keyboard.

So how do you revitalize your imagination?

Here are seven tips for dealing with creative blockage:

1: Take a trip into your world. In this thought experiment, you will be a visitor to the world you have created. So go to a scene (one you’ve already written) and look around. What do you see? Who do you meet? Who most interests you, and why? What do you like? What don’t you like? When you have finished your visit, go home (come back to the here and now) and write-up your experiences and report as if you are a journalist.

2: Seek the novelty of creation. Go visit DeviantArt and tap in a criteria into their search tool. I suggest you search under the name of your character or a word from the title of your book, or a spell or tool your hero uses. See what other creative minds are doing with that word.

3: Alter your pondering habits. You often hear entrepreneurs saying things like “let’s approach this from another direction” or “let’s see this from a different perspective” and that’s because they are “seeing” the project through the eyes of a creator / developer. They know they will need to see the concept through the eyes of a customer, so they tend to re-orientate their perspectives to come up with fresh ideas. Now, it would be nice to share ideas with your clients (those are your readers, if you are a novelist) but I don’t know if you would be brave enough to do this at an early stage in the development of your artwork (artists rarely like to have their work seen until it’s fully “done” — I know I don’t!) But you could get into the head of a potential reader, right? Do that now. Become a reader and ask some basics: where is this story going? Should the main character change? What do I like about the story so far? What would keep me reading? What would make me leave this book? What would make me cry? What would make me happy? What would make me scream? What would make me so excited I want to tell the world about this book?

4: Focus your creative energies. You’re writing a lot. That’s good. But it’s not the only creative thing you do, is it? You are a word maker, yes, so why not scribble some words? Get yourself a new ink pen (see my report here) and write some notes by hand. Use your ink pen to start (and keep) an “ideas” notebook, where you jot down things that come to mind.

Make a deck of cards, 52 would be desirable but twenty will do (make it an even number) one for each character / and or item or location in your story (like a custom Tarot set). Try to draw a picture on each. Add as much (or as little) decoration as you’d like. Once done, divide the deck into four suits: two good /bad quarters, then two slightly less good/bad quarters. You will make moral and reflective judgments. You could then play with your Tarot cards too. Shuffle them and deal six. What happened?

5: Develop imagination in other ways. Have you already completed your playlist for your project? (Recommended by NaNoWriMo). If you add your playlist to Spotify or Soundcloud (recommended) you are making a public statement. That’s good, it means you are making a commitment to your imagination. These will be songs / pieces of music that have inspired (or will inspire) your story. Also, another thing, have you already started your “Mood Board” on Pinterest? If not, get that started too. If you have done both these things already, take time-out to update them.

6: Allow stillness into your life. Have you given yourself sufficient quiet time? How can you expect the most complicated regions of your brain to function effectively if you don’t give them room to breathe? I don’t require you to meditate by candlelight in a yoga position (you can if it helps) but, on the other hand, I strongly suggest you put aside at least twenty minutes a day for “quiet time” when you deliberately shut-out the noise of the world (no phone, no interruptions) and let the stillness feed your spirit (and therefore your creativity). I know this is difficult in a modern world, and perhaps even more tough right now in 2020 (you might need noise-cancelling headphones) but it is a discipline that I am sure will offer you great benefits. Do it now. Slot stillness into your schedule.

7: Invest in creative play. Children have natural imaginations and are not defeated by the limitations of science, common sense, and rationality. But how do we get our vivid childhood imagination back? Well, a good way is to play. Play is an important part of the creative process, and sometimes we forget how crucial it is. So head over to a major e-commerce site (there are several to choose from) and buy yourself a gift… go ahead, you deserve it. You’re doing great. Here are the best:

  • Paper making kit (come on, you gotta get this if you’re a writer!)
  • Modelling clay kit
  • Make your own bath bomb kit
  • Decorate your own water bottle
  • Pom-pom making kit
  • Kit to make hand puppets
  • Mini kit to make animal candles
  • Kit to make balloon animals

Got any tips, advice, examples or suggestions? Tweet me @neilmach

My NaNoWriMo Profile here: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/neil_mach

And keep your ‘lil words rolling in! Good luck with your novel.
Keep your imagination healthy!

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

My New Pen

My New Ink Pen

Writing with pens seems so old-fashioned! Who does it? Who writes with a pen these days? Um? Nobody, that’s who! A pen is an anachronism, right?

Well, in a recent blog post titled: “How to write with passion” (https://neilmach.me/2020/10/21/how-to-write-with-passion/) I suggested several exercises that might help bring passion back into your creative writing. One of my suggestions was to use a “time machine” to return to a more virtuous and guileless time in your life (nothing expensive or technical, I emphasise, I just wanted you to get some modelling clay or a magic painting book and “play” with those creative elements to free your mind of 20/20 worries.)

So after blogging my post I speculated how I could take my own advice and I think I came up with the pretty cool idea. I decided to get myself a fountain pen. Yes, a fountain pen!

The last time I “bothered” to use an ink pen was in the mid-1980s, when I became half interested in calligraphy (I’ve always had horrible handwriting and I thought, maybe mistakenly, that calligraphy would help me… note: it didn’t). The reason my handwriting is atrocious is because my “hand can’t keep up with my mind.” For many years I have written in a kind of shorthand (part Pitman, part scrawl). This is very useful for taking notes (I am a journalist by semi-profession) but the output is hardly legible and very far from artistic!

you had to continually “dip” the scratchy pointed end in the inkwell
…you had to continually “dip” the scratchy pointed end in the inkwell

When I first went to school (in the early sixties) we used “dip pens.” If you don’t know what they are, you are very lucky. They are like Beelzebub’s bloody bayonets, especially in the tiny hands of a five-year-old. About 6 inches long, and made of wood, with a replaceable nib (can I have a new nib, miss?) the instrument had no ink reservoir, so you had to continually “dip” the scratchy pointed end in the inkwell which was (a hole) on the edge of your desk.

One of the first things you did, as a school kid in those dark days, was to make yourself a blotter. Each of you were given a lovely slice of blotting paper and you had to stick a card on the back and draw a picture on the “un-used” side (mine was a picture of a ginger cat, I remember) and then put your name on it. Blotters were “precious,” so God help you if you misplaced yours. And, good grief, I had to use that darned thing all the time. Over and over. I’m sure I didn’t write a single word without making a mess. An ink stain would spread, like a splatter of blood, from the end of every painful word. Good grief! It was excruciating. It was unbearable. Perhaps more so for me because I longed to write — I hungered to write. I suppose the smartest kids in my class might have been able to write a few words, successfully, without setbacks and blotches, but I was never one of them.

My experience with dip pens was one of embarrassment, frustration, and sometimes tense despair as I tried to pen more than three words without having to stop, re-ink, re-blot, and then have myself a little sob. Imagine writing three words a minute. Then try to imagine writing an essay at that speed. And of course my little cold fingers, then my palms, and soon or later all my clothes would be stained blue with “school ink.” I often wonder how many aspiring authors of my generation were put off by those blasted dip-pens. Even now, I feel myself becoming maddened by the stupid things.

But, at the age of about eight, we were expected to graduate from dip pens to fountain pens. This was a rite of passage, and anyone my age (from Great Britain) will remember it. Usually the schoolkids got their first proper fountain pen on their eighth birthday (or the Christmas nearest that date) and it came nested in a plastic box. It was (purportedly) a thing of immense beauty… you could tell how amazing it was because all the adults in your life would look wide-eyed when you opened your box and they couldn’t hold-back their gasping oohs and aahs as you pulled the pen from its velveteen nest. The adults admired it as if it was a baby dragon.

In the U.K. we only had one brand: Parker. So it would have been a Parker that you lifted from the velveteen. Your first real pen. Actually, that last bit is not true. There were other fountain pens available (which were so out of our reach, for example those made by Montblanc, that they might as well have been available only on Mars, for all it mattered. ) And, conversely, the high street giants WH Smith (and Woolworths) sold their own pale imitations of Parker pens. And that’s what I got on my eighth birthday. I was gifted with a “Winfield Wonder”, also known as Woolie’s own brand.

But before you take your violin out of its case to play me a sad Adagio, let me tell you that my Winfield “Parker” was as good as the real thing. Better. It was stupendous. It was incomparable to the hideous dip pens. You had your own Quink pot (my Quink never ran out, though they could dry away if you left the lid off, it happened to my sister, never a good idea) and you filled the tank in the pen by squeezing some plastic bladdery thing at the end, using the tweezery thing that was a metal calliper thingy. This allowed the little bladder to suck up a quantity of Quink (that was the trade name for the ink they sold in the high street Woolworths, in case you’ve been wondering) and then you could write a page, maybe even a page and a half, without interruption. It was a blessing! Everyone loved their fountain pens. You would carry it in your blazer pocket, and if you were lucky enough to own a real Parker, the arrow on the pen clip (the brand’s emblem) was a badge of honour. The less wealthy kids in my school kept their pens in the inside pocket to hide away the sad Winfield logo.

There’s an insufferable advert on UK telly which is evidently aimed at people from my generation (because they’re selling funeral insurance, thank you) and their fantastic — almost unbelievable offer is that they’ll send you a real Parker Pen “just for applying...” Wow, you may own a great family home, you will have raised and financed two children and got them off your hands and into university, you will have bought yourself a quality car, you’d probably possess everything you ever dreamed of back in the Sixties except that one illusory thing… the most ultra-seductive and almost unattainable item in the world…what is it? A f*****g Parker pen! And this bunch of scammers and scuzzball con-artists will send you your heart’s greatest desire “just for applying.”

At about the age of fourteen, they invented cartridge pens with modern plastic ink cartridges. In reality, cartridge pens had existed for years before that, but their original cartridges were bulky and impossible to dispose of. A cartridge pen is basically a fountain pen, with the same tip and all that, but instead of the bladder and calliper setup I tried to describe earlier, with these pens you had a disposable ink tube that snapped into the end of the whole thing with a bite. You then screwed the pen up and it was ready to write. No more Quink bottles, no more smudges, no more finger spots. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. If I remember correctly, the cartridge had to make a gratifying click when the whole mechanism came together. If you didn’t do this … heaven help you! Because then the cap would secretly fill with ink and the next time you used the pen, bam! the thing became an ink bomb and when it exploded you’d be puddled and splotched. Of course, by then you wouldn’t have a homemade blotter any more (not required, said the adverts) so the ink would go everywhere. Most of my friends flannelled the ink up with the sleeves of their school blazers. That’s because your mother never saw the condition of your jacket sleeves, she only inspected your shirt, underwear, and trousers.

Ballpoint pens had been popular (overseas) since the 1950s, but they weren’t really seen in the UK until BICS and other pens were aggressively marketed in television commercials. Papermates! Click click! When you were around 14 years old, you would probably get what they called a “gift set” for Christmas. This would be (if your parents were rich) a set in a box that included a Parker Cartridge pen, a Parker ballpoint pen and a Parker propelling pencil. The propelling pencil rarely worked, the ballpoint pen only lasted half a school term, and all that was left was the Parker Pen and it wasn’t required because your old one still worked well. (Of course I was given the substandard Winfield version of this gift set, but don’t get me wrong, I was happy with it and very grateful.)

When I finally dropped out of school and started working in the City of London in the early 1970s, we were no longer using ink pens. From then on, everyone used ballpoint pens (fibre tips were popular too). And throughout my entire working life since then, I never touched an ink pen again.

Except. Except, now. Yes, I know that fountain pens no longer seem a very sensible writing tool. And I know they are useless for everyday use, but the humble ink pen has somehow been elevated to the status of “uplifting life accessory” in this very odd year. Yes, ink pens are seen in the same way that starched cotton or artisan bread is seen. They have somehow been transfigured in our collective imagination (from something horrid and unpleasant) to become something wonderfully healthy just because they come from a simplistic time, so they are comforting in a kitschy nostalgic way.

My new pen: a solid blue marble gold-tipped by Jinhao

So I looked-up fountain pens on eBay (other multinational e-commerce corporations are available) and was surprised and delighted by what I found. Everyone else has apparently had the same thought as me (probably inspired by the free Parker pens offered by those lowlife scumbag funeral people, I expect) and so the market is full of magnificent & outstanding quality ink pens, impressive looking, too. In all shades and colours. And at incredible prices.

So, I bought myself a solid blue marble gold-tipped Jinhao fountain pen (Jinhao pens are made in China by Shanghai Qiangu Stationery Company) that has been built to look and feel like a classic Montblanc. (The Jinhao motto is something along the lines of: “this is not a fancy pen… it just looks and feels like one.”)

And, my word, when I unpacked it, I was blown away. It has the same balance, weight, radiance and irrefutable elegance of a classic Montblanc. (To be honest, not that I’d actually know, I have never handled a Montblanc pen, but this is from an entirely Parker driven perspective) — my gosh — this is a wonderful pen. It’s the best pen I’ve ever owned. Not strictly a fountain pen (it came with five cartridges), it penned (I hope that’s the verb) so flawlessly and effectively that I went and got myself a pad of writing paper just to write some rubbish. It’s so good, in fact, that I put another three Jinhao pens into my wish list… and here’s the most staggering thing of all: my new pen cost me £6.99 (postage included.) What? Yeah, you heard right, just seven bucks. The one I want next has the map of the universe on its side. It will cost a whopping eight bucks. And there’s one with a compass on the lid (five bucks) and one entirely made from rosewood ( this is really expensive, though, it will cost me a tenner if I put it in my basket.) You can even get a pure chrome one for sick squid and a clear blue transparent one for the price of a Starbuck’s Caramel Grande. What you waiting for?

Right, where is the blotter? Let’s get some more ink writing done…

Comment below or tweet me @neilmach

Words: @neilmach 2020 ©

The English novelist Neil Mach has gained widespread recognition for the creation of strong female characters and for compelling stories that often revolve around the themes of loyalty and duty.

His character MOONDOG is a Romani detective. He is called-in when other investigators hesitate. The detective inquires into things that lay “beyond normal human experience” where things hang in the balance between mundane and miraculous.

Five ways to over-deliver in your next novel

Five ways to over-deliver in your next novel

A story to be told

1: Make sure you treat your characters as if they are “real” actors playing a part in your production. Treat them like valuable artists and they will become your most precious assets. What does this mean? It means that the person on the page ought to be seen (by you) as “real”. The participants in your novel have their own basic emotions, needs, wants, and requirements. But you, as the author / director of the narrative, will want these troupers to “appear” in the production and to act a part. So be kind to them. Negotiate with them, reward them, reassure them, and flatter them. I like to imagine that they are waiting outside in a dressing room and preparing their lines. You will walk in and announce that you are looking for a hero, or a champion, or maybe a rogue or even a minor role, for example a bartender or a school secretary, and everyone who enrolls will advance forward to shout “Choose me! Choose Me!” They all want to be in your production. They are keen to help…

Think of it this way, if I offered you or your best friend a minor role in a big-budget movie, you (they) would take it seriously, right? Wouldn’t you want to give your role some personality, oomph, pizzazz, persona or other uniqueness? Yes, of course you would. So, treat your actors (background roles, or otherwise) as performance players on your movie set.

If you follow this advice, the characters will not be “cardboard cutouts” of proper people. They will absolutely be proper people!

2: Give all your people a set of positive and negative traits. I mean, everyone. If you fill your actors with what I call “Kinetic Potential” they won’t let you down. They will entertain and reward you. But this means that you will have to make them “wholly rounded” individuals, and this will require them to take-on some negative as well as positive traits (and vice versa for antagonists). So find two or three “negatives” for your protagonist; for example, a Harry Potter type character is also impulsive, obsessive, reckless (choose your own, these are just my suggestions!)

And you don’t have to make your antagonist admirable or likable… but why not make Him, Her or It more convincing by creating a genuinely three-dimensional anti-hero that betrays positive (yes, positive) traits? For example, Lord Voldemort is a charismatic leader, Darth Vader is a skilled space-pilot, and Dracula is an attentive and passionate lover.

I use the Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, and I hope you will too. It helps because it provides the visual clues, the non-verbal “ticks” — if you like — so it means you will tend to “show” rather than tell (which is a good thing!)

3: Give your characters identifiable obstacles. We don’t all have a physical disadvantage or a history of abuse, right? We are not all orphans. So it’s hard to precisely relate to these burdens, isn’t it? But we have all lost something that we treasured. We have all found ourselves on the wrong side of events or arguments. We have all done poorly in an important test. We have all felt bad because we could not achieve what we wanted. We have all missed-out on a treat or a reward. We have all been scared of not living up to someone else’s standards. We have all been disappointed. So give your characters obstacles that will be understandable to all readers. So they might feel empathy.

If you follow this advice, your audience will identify with your characters; and all their strengths, weaknesses, and struggles will be realistic

4: What’s in Area 51? Don’t you just love a mystery. What is yours? I emphasise this: your story does not have to be a detective novel or a thriller to have an enigma hidden inside it. All stories can be vastly improved with a fascinating secret. Have you conceived one yet? I hope you did, because even if it’s a “side show” to the key events, it will continue to drive your narrative. Think of your mystery element as a new ship: it has to be designed, tested, and it has to be launched (preferably fairly early on.) You have to talk about it. It should be seen from a distance. And then it must be lost. Although perhaps it may appear in view (from a distance) at various times. But we don’t get on board. Nobody gets on board. Not until the time is right. And that’s right at the end! In the big reveal!

5: Make your players mysterious by giving them facets of character. This will mean that your actors will not be inexplicable mystagogues or (worse) carbon copy tropes. We know that traits reveal a character’s underlying values ​​or beliefs, but to make your people absolutely compelling, we need to take their negative & positives (see tip No.2 above) and dig into them, to root out the facets.

What do I mean? Well, let’s say your hero is friendly. Doesn’t that also mean that we can easily manipulate them? Abusive people will “burden” a friendly soul with problems or cause friendly folk to do things that they would rather not. By being friendly (all the time), will your friendly player follow their own wishes or dreams? Or will they just be doing things for others? Think about it.

And say you have decided that your antagonist is impatient — doesn’t this mean they will busy themselves on projects, get things done, work to strict deadlines, be remarkably well organised, and generally well-prepared? These are the “facets” — or, if you like, the counterparts of good / bad attributes. If you work on the facets of character (the contradictions found inside the traits), your create characters that will become ever-more mysterious but, at the same time, magically, more relatable too!

Please let me know how you get on. Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

how to use previz in your novel

What is previz story-boarding? How will it help you write better scenes?

It was a dark and stormy night…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies…

We are all used to launching a story where the “seeds of imagination” become planted in the mind of an audience and ground rules are introduced at the outset… this “start” in a narrative journey is a technique that must have been employed by storytellers for millions of years.

But perhaps we give less thought than we ought to in developing each scene in a yarn. There is some sense in this — it is unnecessary to remind the audience every-step-of-the-way how stormy the weather is, or that the events occur in outer space or Dorothy lives on the prairie — but it is useful if the author, the character (and the reader) know what is expected of them all the way along along their journey: (which is why stand-up comedians “refresh” the backdrop of their story as they go along: so these three guys stepped into the bar… and like I said, they were celebrating a big win...)

The “seeds of imagination” have to be replanted (or at least watered and re-fertilised, as the storyteller goes along the narrative journey) and rules must be restated and recalled. It is best if an author does this reiteration & reinforcement before the characters embark on a new scene, so everyone (author, reader, character) knows what is expected beforehand.

You will know that film directors use story-boarding techniques, either in the form of sketches or, more often these days, through the use of digital technology, to plan and conceptualise each scene in their film so that the finished product is accessible, intuitive and contextually transparent. They call this pre-visualisation, or PREVIZ for short.

The benefits of using PREVIZ (pre-visualisation) in movie-making is that a director can adjust lighting, camera position, character movement, stage direction, and even think about editing before “the shot” — thus saving money, time and effort and also concentrating resources. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the PREVIZ approach is the ability to target and engage with the “cause and effect” before going ahead with a scene. Why? Because once a director (and players) are certain of “cause and effect” everything else fits into a coherent sequence of events that will facilitate the shoot and make the scene easy to act & follow.

Like film directors, I suggest that you use the PREVIZ approach in creating your scenes, principally in the “setup” phase and more especially in complicated scenes, before you get to the “inciting incident” that is, the point of the scene. This will help you avoid purple prose and become less melodramatic and clichéd in your storytelling.

Here are some prompts that might help:

  • What will the background sounds be? (Include background dialogue here, that is, words the “crowd” or minor characters will speak.) Also, what natural sounds can be heard? Or perhaps there’s an absence of natural sounds: In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.
  • How will the scene be visualised? Will you write this with a “wide angle” so you and your audience see the full extent of events on the widest canvas, or will you zoom in on the action so the reader can feel breath and smell the blood? Will the scene start with a panoramic view before you frame your principal players? Think about how the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the Star Wars movies, maximised a wide-screen focus before getting very close to the faces. First, this will help “set the scene” to activate the reader’s imagination, and it also serves another purpose: it shrinks and / or subdues even the greatest hero / opponent, so they fight against the world / universe / landscape. The terrain is another “adversary” or obstacle that they must overcome. The immensity of the challenging landscape might threaten to overwhelm them long before they set eyes on their opponent.
  • make a list of the sensory inputs you could use: textures, smells, tastes, foley sounds (boots crunching on gravel, coughing, clocks ticking). You can use some or all of these in your final writing.
  • Now think about the emotional state of your characters. How do they feel physically? How do they feel mentally? Remember previous experiences or encounters; for example, if you gave them a wounded arm in a previous scene, won’t this change events? Similarly, if a protagonist or antagonist becomes emotionally ill / damaged, won’t this have an impact?
  • What intellectual point do you, the author/director, want to convey in this scene? Will the lesson be: Don’t play with matches? Let sleeping dogs lie? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link? Try to pin down a proverb or proposition that summarises your moral object or lesson. It doesn’t automatically have to be a maxim or mindset, it could just be the artistic or visual “point” of the scene, i.e. corn ripens fastest as frosts are settling in, or: a woman’s anger melts between night and morn. Note: You won’t literally tell this maxim to the reader (you might hint it) but it will be helpful if you know the intellectual point before you write your scene. It will help you adjust the settings: i.e. lighting, mood, “camera” angle, etc. And it will also help your character development if you (and your character) are familiar with the intellectual points.
  • Narrative and context. We will place this scene between other scenes (unless it is the opening of the book), so think about how the scenes before and after will be influenced by this scene. This will help you build your transitions.

Your storyboard previz will be a set of bullet points or, if you’re a visual/spatial thinker, it might take the form of a cloud diagram or just some ideas sketched onto sticky notes and taped to your mood board.

I think a fishbone diagram is particularly useful for previz because the “head” of the fishbone is an arrow that faces the “problem” and all the bones along the spine are the “causes” so this helps you concentrate on cause & effect. Creately have a useful fishbone diagram tool here: https://creately.com/diagram/example/jrsug0ys/Fishbone+Diagram+Template)

Good luck with your previz storyboarding.

Let me know how it goes and if you have comments on Twitter @neilmach

Neil mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

Writing the death of a character without shtick and cliché

or: how to kill a character in a way that will break your reader’s heart

Sooner or later you will get to the point where you have to write a purpose-filled death for one of your main characters.

This will be a character that you and your readership will already have built a successful relationship with (so the death will come as a shock). You’ll want to make sure you pick the right time and place for such a momentous milestone.

But be aware that this death will not be over in a chapter. And will take a while to build. There will be consequences (the five stages of grief, for example) and there will be an accumulation of events. The story will build-up to the moment and rumble on afterwards.

Note, also, that the path to the death scene might not be a slow decline for your character, but rather an ascendant (perhaps transcendent) climb to what you might call the pyramid of martyrdom, where the sacrifice is the pinnacle of the character’s sum achievement and worth in your story.

Ask yourself these key questions. What does your character:

  • Most fear?
  • Stand for?
  • Stand against?
  • Most love?
  • Excel at?
  • Symbolize?

Also, think about this: how would your character want to be commemorated? Memorialised?

Now set your mind against all these possibilities and think of the worst possible outcomes for your hero by turning things completely around and switching things on their head (this will also help you to show-not-tell).

Examples:

The hero fears spiders? Getting attacked by a multitude of giant spiders is too easy. What about this? The hero has to save a spider, but this triggers an early death (perhaps squished by a mutant fly)

The hero stands for honesty? The hero is tried and executed for telling lies is too easy. What about this? The character has to defend a known liar out of compassion / duty, but this causes a fall (the liar survives) and the hero suffers a wretched death

The hero opposes all forms of bullying? Attacked by a notorious bully and beaten to pulp is too easy. What about this? The hero has to form an alliance with a notorious thug to help humanity / others, but this causes a hero’s fall from grace and subsequent death in ignominy (everyone thinks the hero has been the bully all along)

The hero loves animals? Savaged by a much loved pet is too easy. What about this: the hero must destroy a large number of animals to save a family / loved one / the world. But this leads to the hero’s disgrace and gradual decline toward darkness & extinction. No one will ever know that the hero sacrificed his/her own values ​​for the sake of those he/she loved

The hero excels at swordsmanship, but is brought down by a complete beginner is too easy. What about this? The hero’s excellence at the craft propels him/her to the top of all ranks and makes him/her dominant in the field, but this means the hero does not learn simple (new) lessons / tactics that everyone below his/her position will have discovered / performed / practiced. I mean, everyone uses a crossbow these days, don’t they? How did he/she not know?

The hero is famed for being insightful but is brought down by an unthinking idiot is too easy. What about this? The hero’s perceptual intellect enables him/her to identify dangers that lay way ahead, but the hero becomes so consumed by remote dangers that he/she does not see or recognize a greater and more deadly threat that sits right under their very nose.

So try these character turn-rounds / transformations / volte-faces / capitulations… and approach the death of your character while avoiding melodrama and stale tropes.

Neil mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.