Short Story Slump: Breaking Out of Habits

Hello, my name is Melissa and I’m a dissertation zombie.  Don’t worry; we’re mostly a benign breed, although I cannot vouch for your safety if you start using phrases like “word count” “deadline” or “oh really? and how are you going to use that to get a job?”

The pictures in this post are absolutely irrelevant to what I’m talking about. But they’re pretty. And really, who needs relevant images, anyway?

As a result of academic woes, writing for fun has been a spotty endeavor at best.  When I do come up with a brilliantly awesome short story idea and eagerly type it out, I often notice that it looks strangely similar to about half a dozen others I’ve already written.  I then face that existential crisis of, ‘How many short story ideas are out there, anyway?  What if they’re all used up?  What if this is the last short story that I ever write? And it’s bad!’

It made me wonder how many other people find that when they sit down to start working on a short story, or even a book, they come up with some of the same stock characters, the same ideas, the same themes in their writing as they’ve always used before.  And that made me wonder if perhaps those of us caught in this slump might not try doing something about it.

This stealthy bumblebee could be the next character for your story! There. I made this image relevant.

So I’m going to suggest a few ideas this month that will hopefully get people thinking, writing, and expanding horizons.  Or, you know, will help me escape from my dissertation for an hour and still feel like I’ve been productive.  At least one of those.


  • Break the Character Mold

This week, I wrote a short story that I actually really like.  I was so proud.  Here I am in the throes of dissertation-induced trauma and I was able to come up with a splendid short story idea.  See, it features this sarcastic girl in high school and some splendid internal monologuing…

Okay, wait a second.  If you’ve been keeping up with my serial The Holder Wars, you know this is similar to my main character Mikaela.  The novel I’m working on (currently titled Danni, because my creativity rarely extends to titles) is about a sardonic, internal high school girl named Danni.  In fact, most characters who feature in my stories tend to be snarky and female.  Probably, that has something to do with the fact that I am snarky and female. But that kind of makes me lazy, doesn’t it?

Tea and cake: a writer’s best friends. I think I’m getting better at making my images seem relevant.

Changing up your stock main character can be a good exercise.  If your default is female, try using a male character as your main focus.  Or vice versa.  If you go for sarcasm, what if you tried sincerity? Or vice versa. If they tend to be a certain age, go older or younger.  Develop a background for your character(s) that is different from what you normally go for.  Look for habits that you default into when writing a story and try to break away and try something new.  Just for fun.  And if you write stories with villains, watch out for those default villains too.

I can’t promise that a successful story will be produced as a result, but I know if I can get outside my own head and outside my normal habits, I often like the results more than my standard issue stories.  Of course, I stick with certain character types because I know my strengths.  But ironically, most of my favorite short stories have been the ones that are not about snarky, young females.   They are about a snarky, ageless cat or a creepy, little boy or a gothic pirate duke prince guy.

A pretty waterfall! ….. Yeah, nothing’s coming for this one.

Anyway, I would love to hear about some of your favorite and most unique characters, both in what you’ve written and in what you’ve read, and why you think they worked so well.  Maybe bringing some good character samples together will inspire those of us in need of new ideas.

And the excuse, ‘Sorry, supervisor, I can’t finish my dissertation chapter right now. I’m expanding my character-building horizons in the glorious name of short fiction!’ could be useful…


About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on July 4, 2012, in Characters, Humor, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Photography, Story, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. One of the favorite characters is Sparhawk, from The Elenium Series by David Eddings. He is perhaps one of the most likable unlikable characters I have ever read. As a knight, he is dangerous and lethal. He has a code of honor, treating everyone with kindness unless that someone gets in his way or he has reason to believe they are evil, then that person is general dead…Needless to say, the character is complex, witty, strong and yet very human.

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