My players’ characters stared at the computer console debating what to do. There weren’t too many options. The goal was to gather data and there were two doors to unlock. However, they were with a monk who revered technology as a god of sorts and they didn’t trust him. While staring at the screen, arguing about what could happen, doing nothing to progress the story, I had a change of heart. The monk was supposed to be good. He wanted to help the group and his purpose was benevolent.
My change of heart told me he’s a part of a cult which wanted to bring conflict to the world. “Excuse me,” he butted in, “What if I take a look at the computer? I could open the armory and get the data I require.”
Having no idea what to do, and excited at the opportunity to get into the armory for free (nothing is ever free, friends), they agreed. While sorting through the armory with ridiculously powerful goods, there was an alarm which went off. Two giant robot creatures awoke and started to destroy the earth. If my players weren’t going to act, I would force them to react.
You might not play role playing games. You may never have this problem with players being indecisive. But I will bet you one of the few hairs left on my balding head that your characters in your writing have done this to you at some point. You sit to write, dreading the scene because it just won’t stop. The characters keep talking, keep doing their routine, keep doing nothing worth writing or reading, and you dread sitting at your computer. Every word you type makes you want to retch. “Why,” you cry out to the heavens, “Why have my characters forsaken me!”
The issue is not your characters. There were obstacles placed in front of them, and if they are able to ignore them, that’s on you. I understand not controlling your characters, but you do control the world. You control what happens, who shows up, who doesn’t show up. Your characters are boring? The story is losing traction and you’re fairly sure it will be used as an anesthetic for insomniacs? Shake up that snow globe and see where the flakes land.
Blow something up, show the love interest on another man’s arm, perhaps she’s kissing another woman, a dragon attacks, an assassin comes out of nowhere, someone has a heart attack, and so on. The twists are limited by your imagination, but they are all there if you reach that point where you can’t write because it is so unspeakably boring.
My story was having issues. It was getting a little drab, everything was predictable, and my protagonist was just going through the motions. The story was getting blurry aside from the broad strokes, and he ended up in a verbal altercation with another character. It wasn’t planned, but it wouldn’t throw the story out of order, either. It just made sense. However, this was not what broke the monotony.
Through dialogue, all the required information was spat out, the characterization was finished, and from that point on they were just going to yell at each other until it was all out and they could get back to work. Boring. Then I realized an old man was getting immensely angry with a young man. What happens when the blood pressure of the elderly spikes, especially at a point where there is a ton of tension outside of that isolated argument? They have heart attacks. It messed up three or four scenes where this man was expected to participate, but I turned something boring into something unexpected. I made my protagonist a man through the responsibility he suddenly inherited. I had to rework the outline, but it was worth it, and significantly better for it.
Throwing in such events won’t just help you get past writer’s block. It also introduces an element of unpredictability. While all actions need to make sense, if you introduce chaos in the moment, no one else will see it coming either. Just make sure it flows naturally.
So cause a natural disaster, introduce an eldritch being, give someone psionic power. Do whatever it takes to transform boring pros into something gripping, as long as it flows and remains with the spirit of the story.