Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Being Stuck

First of all: Wow. You commenters are awesome. Yesterday when I sat down to work on my novel, I had nothing. And then when I blogged about it, I realized I had nothing and put up a post that was a bit too emo even for me...and just when I was about to delete it because I don't want to be whiney, I've got three messages in my email and a ton of happy comments, and I just couldn't bring myself to get rid of those kind words. So: THANK YOU!

One reason why I was so blergh yesterday was because I'd been stuck on a certain scene in my novel since last Friday. I know what happens after that scene, but I somehow just couldn't get the characters where I needed them to be. Then I read Robyn's post on what to do when you get stuck, and that got me thinking about writing methods I've used to get over the hump.

  1. Identify the problem: For me, I typically get stuck right before something big happens. For example, in my current WIP, I've got a murder mystery (set in space!) and I was stuck at the point where the protags get together and discuss who they think dunnit and why. But sitting around and talking = boring. Hence, I was stuck.
  2. Figure out what needs to happen next: So, the next thing I did was brainstorm where I needed the characters to go after discovering this. There's a lot of layers of mystery in this one, and I had to be sure to drop certain clues: I needed one character to start to show signs of depression, one character to add an emotional level to their motivation, and I knew I couldn't have them sit around and talk for too long or it would be boring.
  3. Figure out the logical next steps based on character motivation: One problem I think many writers have--myself most definitely included--is remembering character motivation. We know we need the characters to get to point B from point A, but we sometimes forget about the why in our hurry just to get them there. So if you're stuck, evaluating your character's motivation always seems to help.
  4. Go back to pacing: Typically, when I'm stuck, the pace is too slow. Blow something up, make someone cry, drop in a ticking clock, something to ramp up the pace and just get them going. (Side note: ironically enough, I usually have to look at the opposite--slowing pace--when revising, to make sure the charcaters shine through the plot.) More than likely, if you're stuck, you're stuck because either something that needs to happen hasn't happened yet (so make it happen already!) or so much is happening that you've lost the storyline (so slow stuff down and let your characters breathe).
Thinking through these problems helped me get past my hump last night. I realized that in my murder mystery (set in space!), I didn't really need a Scooby-Doo moment where they sit around and talk about suspects. I needed action--so I threw in a red herring, focused the conversation on what they were going to do (active) rather than who they thought the murderer was (passive), and wrapped the chapter up with them being forced from the room--so they were on the way to the next event, and not still sitting around, talking.

This method may not work for everyone (I don't think it'll help Robyn, for example, as she's stuck on a beginning chapter, not a middle if you've got advice for that, drop her a line), but it certainly worked for me! I've left the blergh behind and wrote two new chapters last night! if only progress reports weren't do tomorrow...

*sigh* ;)
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