When Your Character Eats Porridge

   Posted by: Faith   in Rye Thoughts

Ever been writing something and discovered that… well… your characters aren’t exactly doing what you want them to? In fact, they’ve stopped running around and solving their conflicts and falling in love and saving the world and are instead, perhaps, standing around discussing the weather, or the irrefutable health benefits of cinnamon, or even—perish the thought—are simply enjoying a bowl of their favorite sugary breakfast cereal?

You’re not the only one. (And not that there’s anything wrong with sugary breakfast cereal.)

Oooh lockers and homework... thrilling, no? ...that's what I figured... In the WIP I worked on during November, I realized about halfway through that my characters were standing around in front of lockers, talking about homework. It occurred to me that this was incredibly boring—if I’m bored writing it, you’re definitely going to be bored reading it—so I had one character punch another character in the face for no particular reason (though I sorted that out later).

Voila, action! Problem solved, and the story got moving again! (Albeit illogically at first, but it all came together in the end.)

And isn’t it wonderful to know that this phenomenon isn’t limited to those of us without agents / book contracts / novels on the NY Times Bestseller list?

A quotation from ridiculously amazing author Neil Gaiman’s blog post on December 31st, 2010:

“And also, please wish me luck with this short story I’m writing. I’m up to page 19 and nothing’s happened yet. Right now, they’re eating porridge. In my head, by this point in the story everyone was going to be terrified, and strange oogly things would be happening to all the villagers. Porridge!”

Would you like some porridge? Ahh… doesn’t that just make you feel so much better about getting stuck? You have years and years of plot holes, sluggish characters, and seemingly insurmountable writing blocks to look forward through, regardless of your publication status!


Seriously, though… it just goes to show that writers, at no matter what point of the journey they may be on, can commiserate together over things that those who don’t write would just shake their heads at and say “so make them do something, already!”

How little they know… (also, I now want a bowl of oatmeal/porridge. With honey. And almonds. And those oddly delicious golden raisins…).

When was the last time your characters participated in an equivalent activity to eating porridge? Or talking about homework? And how FRELLING EXCITED are you that you share writing woes with Neil Gaiman?!

(Kinda makes you want to force your characters to eat porridge. Just a little.)

(Or maybe Fruity Pebbles instead, just to change it up a bit.)

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 13th, 2011 at 5:59 am and is filed under Rye Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

12 comments so far


Mmm… I just finished my porridge, and while it was not at all boring for me, I can’t imagine anyone else wanting to know about it. :)

January 13th, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I’ve spent so much of my life avoiding conflict, sometimes I have to remind my characters that conflict is good.

January 13th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

I have to agree with Angela because I tend to avoid conflict myself however I remember someone telling me once that killing off a character was really hard and so I killed off someone that I thought would be a supporting character. Felt no emotion. I wonder if it had anything to do with my Dexter obsession! Great post!

January 13th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
Susan B

I’m with Jennee – great post! My characters LOVE food and eating – sometimes they even go out for lunch with friends or family! They never order porridge, though :)

January 13th, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Great post! I’m a new follower and I’m glad already. If Neil still has these issues, I guess this reaffirms for me that anything is possible.

Injecting the absurd and unexpected action is a really fun way to get things moving!

I actually had to remind myself that my characters needed a break once in a while. A simple mention that they ate or slept. It’s strange that my characters forget to eat. I never seem to have that problem in real life!

January 13th, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I’ve been there so many times. It’s always fun to add the excitement in, though. And yes, it’s nice to know that everyone goes through it.

January 14th, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Hello, I’m a new follower too. Yes, it is somewhat consoling to find published author’s still face the hurdles we novices face. And a bit daunting, too! You like to think it gets easier and easier. I find I seem to have my characters at the dining table a lot! Quite the opposite of Kari’s comment. :-)

January 15th, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Okay, is it me, or will all your readers today go make a big bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and cinnamon? Hmmm?

January 17th, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Su – I know, I love oatmeal… I eat it as often as I have a clean pot to make it for breakfast (LOL)

Angela – And I think that’s the danger sometimes… we spend so much time leading safe lives, that it’s hard to push out of our comfort zone and introduce conflict, even when it’s within a fictional framework.

Jennee – You killed a character just like that?! Perhaps you should be writing murder mysteries or thrillers :) Wait… do you? I don’t remember. Haha.

Susan – Thanks! I think food can be a great conversation starter or a jumping-off point for important dialogue/setting. For me, the danger is in focusing on the mundane instead of using it as a tool for conflict!

Kari – Hello! Thanks for stopping by! It’s so easy to forget that characters need to eat/sleep/perform natural bodily functions, but I kind of see it like watching the Amazing Race… we know the contestants MUST eat and stop for bathroom breaks at SOME point along the way, but the producers never show it… it’s just implied. That keeps the action moving, rather than focusing on the everyday things (though I bet there are some great stories of using bathrooms in some of those countries they visit!).

Susan – It’s fun to add the excitement in and get the story moving again, the challenge is making sense of the “dead moment… ACTION!” in revisions! Haha.

Elizabeth – Hi there! Thanks for joining me! I know, it’d be nice to think that this gets easier as we go along, but at the same time, it’s good to know we’re all at a similar starting point when we tackle a new project.

January 17th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Lydia – I wouldn’t blame them if they did! Heck, I think I’ll go have one right now… :D

January 17th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I’ve found that whenever my characters are doing nothing, someone pulls a knife. That never fails to get things going again. Maybe Gaiman gets there eventually too. ^_^

January 19th, 2011 at 1:36 am

Does it work to have your characters eat porridge just so you can have them punch each other in the face?

January 19th, 2011 at 1:48 am