Sunday, April 14, 2013

When something isn't working in a story...

Sometimes in a story, something just doesn't work and suddenly you can't write anymore. 

As a pantser, this happens to me a lot. A lot. And usually it ends in a period of agonising writer's block and angry self-recrimination. Because that's what writer's block is. You hit the block, you stall, and you're stuck. 

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So here are a few tips that sometimes work for me, and might work for you: 

POV: Are you telling this scene from the right point of view? Are you telling the whole story from the right point of view? Pick another character, spin out a scene or two, and see if that flows better. If anything, it will get the words coming again. 

Is This Scene Necessary? Do you need this scene, or are you only using it as a filler between action scenes? Is it full of telling instead of showing? Does every scene advance the plot in some way? If not, kill it. 

Your Character's Motivation: Does it make sense? Does it change? Even if it does, your character has to retain some consistency. Your character isn't there to get buffeted around by all those crazy plot twists. Your character is there to drive the plot. 

Don't lock yourself into your story. Be prepared to rip it to shreds and put it back together again, just to see if it looks better that way. 

And here's the biggest tip of all, and one that I've only recently learned: 

Write your query first. Those few sparse paragraphs are the heart of the thing, and if you write them down first, you won't lose sight of them. 

Happy writing! 

***

Any tips or tricks you care to share? 

10 comments:

  1. Who is in the scene and why? Everybody there is there for his or her own reason. Is somebody just standing there observing when he or she should be active? This is part of your Motivation point, but applied to other characters. If your MC is having an argument with his barista girlfriend in the coffee shop, don't just think of the flow of the argument. She's trying to work, trying to not get in trouble with the boss for having a personal conversation. Other patrons are trying to get served or, if they're regulars, are wanting to defend "their" barista. The boss and her fellow workers are there, too.

    Maybe the shop isn't the best place for the argument. Maybe you need to change the SETTING because the strain of trying to ignore all the variables you KNOW are in that setting is what's blocking you. :)

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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    1. Great advice, Marian! Sometimes it's the setting that isn't right for the scene. Different settings have lots of different variables.

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  2. I just lost about seven pages of story because I followed the wrong lead. I'm still hoping I can use some of it later, but I had to rip it out and backtrack to the place I got lost. I do that a lot as a pantser, because I want to go off and explore stuff that doesn't really advance the main plot. I usually end up with a separate, novel-length Word document of cut scenes when I'm done writing a story. Ah, the life of a pantser. :P

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    1. I'm the same! But I've tried to be a plotter, and it just doesn't work for me. I'm slightly more organised when it comes to plot these days, but I still end up with a novel-length of cut scenes. As long as we get there in the end though, who cares? :)

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  3. That query tip is great 'cause it focuses everything down to the core of the story. Not that I've actually done that, of course, but it sure would help.

    And my tip to get new ideas going would be to take a long walk. They really do help. Especially if your walk leads you to getting chased by a rapid raccoon and taking refuge in the local church, where you're tended to by the parson's wife, who insists on removing your pants to be sure you didn't get bit, which leads to a passionate romp in the candlelit pews, and culminates in you eloping to Tibet.

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    1. Oh, I hate it when that happens. The number of parson's wives I've later left stranded in Tibet when the old buyer's remorse hits... oh well!

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  4. I got stuck lots of times on my latest WIP, and had to use all sorts of tricks to keep it moving. POV was a biggie, and one thing that got me out of a big rut was to remember to think about what was happening to all the off-stage non-POV characters who were nevertheless playing an important part.

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    1. With a big cast it's like juggling -- trying to keep all the balls in the air while moving forward at the same time. The POV thing was one that really works for me as well.

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  5. With my current WIP, going back to analyse the story structure is what saved me. While studying the hero's journey plotting device, I read the part which says something like 'antagonist steps up the attack'. I suddenly realised I could make my minor villain actually *do* some antagonist stuff directly to the hero.
    I like the query tip too, but as a fellow pantser something it's hard to fill in the gaps!

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    1. That's a great tip, Charlotte, and one I should use more often myself. My biggest problem is a pantser is that I don't use much of a structure to begin with, which leads to difficulties pulling it all together down the track. I MUST TRY HARDER!

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