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* ;)


Liyana said...

Thanks for the tips! Great blog post. :D

PJ Hoover said...

So glad you're feeling better!
I've used this method to eliminate talking head scenes, and it's amazing the wonderful plot elements it's actually created!
Good luck!

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Great post! I helped out Robyn the best I could by reading her first page and critiquing. I hope I helped! Thanks for some great tips. :)

Rebecca L Sutton said...

So glad to hear you're feeling better about it! I was slow on my blog rounds so I missed your first post but I think its awesome the readers gace you that extra positive motivation you needed. Blogging rocks!

When I get stuck I usually skip to the part I know I'm good with or really want to write. Then I go back and fill in the blanks between scenes. I'm sure this won't work for everyone but it really helped me and somehow seeing the word count go up and up gave me the motivation I needed for those rough patches. And the nice part of going to what you know works can sometimes help you see what needs to be stronger before that point.

Jennifer Shirk said...

That's great you figured it out! I just got past a little "bump" in my chapter, too. :)

I always keep a "cheat sheet" of my characters out while I'm writing. Sometimes I get sidetracked and then I have to look and think "Now what's the deal with my characters again?" LOL!

Traci said...

I'm stuck because of fear I think. I am afraid to proceed forward. Afraid that I will mess things up and make them worse in editing. I'm not sure when I developed this fear, but it's sort of paralyzing.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

when i get stuck - i use a life line and call a writer friend :)

Danyelle L. said...

Amen! I quit believing in writer's block as this vaguely malicious impediment to writing once I understood the reason I was getting it. Like you said, first step needs to be to identify the problem. I think that's when the stuckness starts--when we verge off from where the story is supposed to go, but don't realize it.

Glad you got past your hump!

Robyn Campbell said...

YAY, glad you got through it. Isn't it (to refer back to your school day) hell? I think I have that first page figured out. You'll let me know, won't ya? :)

Heather Zundel said...

Congrats!!! You rock. And rule. Whenever I seem to get stuck, I actually do something very interesting. I try and look at it from another character's perspective who is in the scene (this also does wonders for character development).

Whichever character I am using as a lens, they will see themselves as the main character of their own story. This exercise often produces some surprising and brilliant results, because they are often thinking of things I would have never expected and it propels the story forward in some very cool ways.

Sometimes I even look at a character that isn't there, to see what they would be doing at that exact moment. This often solves the snag I have with my real main characters, either through an action or a piece of dialogue one of the other characters says, all because I switched my perspective a bit. :D

Christina Farley said...

Okay so I'm behind but so glad you got through the stuck place. i'm a big fan of action when in doubt. Or romance. Love the kissing. Will you have kissing? I hope so. :)