One of the best pieces of advice on getting “unstuck” in life I’ve ever heard was from Donald Miller – I’ve filed it away in my head as the “drop a plane out of the sky” rule.
When it comes to writing characters – Don had a conversation about taking one of the characters to the next stage of the story with some more experienced writers.
He thought the reason the character would change and move on was because “he wanted to.”
“That’s not how it works, man,” Ben said, pushing his hair back and nodding.
“Characters don’t really choose to move. They have to be forced.”
When he said that, I thought about those women I’d heard about on the radio. “How do we get Don to go?” I asked Ben. I was thinking about women, but I was also thinking about myself sitting in my chair watching the Tour de France, wishing I was out riding a bike, all the while completely able to ride a bike but for some reason not doing it. I thought about my father too, and how I wasn’t moving on that story. And I thought about a specific girl I wasn’t going after, and realized that the principle that characters do not want to change applies to more than fiction.
“We make him go,” Ben said. “We blow something up,” Steve said. “We get somebody pregnant or drop a plane out of the sky.”A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
The idea is that most characters in a story can get complacent and bored if they’re in the same scene long enough. If that story is your life, you’re that character, and your scene isn’t changing – you might be bored too.
“The inciting incident is how you get (characters) to do something. It’s the doorway through which they can’t return, you know. The story takes care of the rest.Donald Miller
Growth comes out of pain, discomfort and change – and often not by choice. So, if you want your character to change – you need to force them to take action (in writing – they call this an inciting incident).
A lot of times, these incidents are outside your control – a divorce, death, freak accident, illness, breakup or something else – but it’s also possible to avoid these for long periods of time given how comfortable modern life is.
That’s where the “drop a plane out of the sky” rule comes in…
If you want to get unstuck – drop a plane out of the sky (metaphorically) on the character in your story (aka you).
Do something drastic. Change the fabric of your character’s reality. force the character (read: you) to walk through a door that they can’t come back through.
Move. Make the call. Start the blog. Apply for the job you’re “not qualified for.” Write the letter. Quit the job. Sign up for the race. Send the invoice. Take a step outside your current boring story.
Change the scene.
Then, figure out what a good character would do in your situation and do that.
The new story will take care of the rest.