Monday, November 30, 2015

Cul de Sacs

So you’ve been typing merrily along, telling a story about some characters that originally seemed worth your time and a reader’s interest. Then suddenly, or slowly, you don’t know what to say next. You have no idea of how this story might end. Your main character has no motivation to do much of anything. Or, maybe, there aren’t any obstacles you can see in his or her way of getting what he or she wants. You have written yourself into the dreaded cul de sac.  What to do?

Obviously, you are going to have to make some changes. How many will take some thought.

First, look at your main character. Just how well do you know her? How much time did you spend with her before you started telling her story? When was she born? Where? Does she have siblings? What were her parents like? What does she look like? Is she beautiful? Pretty? Plain? Passable? Does she know it? What is she hoping for in life? Is there anything she would kill for? What is in her way of getting what she wants in life? (If nothing is in her way, there’s your problem. There is no story to tell).

Study every main character just as closely. Can you visualize each character? What are their goals? How do those goals relate to the main character’s goals? Are motivations strong enough to support the conflict necessary to maintain a story?

Sometimes the cast of characters needs to be expanded. Each additional character, with clear motivation that affects the main character, expands plot potential.

Decide who fits into your story and eliminate or change those who don’t.

Think about classics that you can rip off. Ooops—use for inspiration. Cinderella? Sleeping Beauty? Snow White? Emma? Elizabeth Bennet? Jane Eyre?  Pip? Don Quixote? Sidney Carton?

Look at your setting. Can you really see it? What time of year is it? Can you see the interiors? The streets? The vehicles? The clothing? Do the characters you have created really belong in the setting you have chosen?

Now, look at what you have written and decide what must be deleted, added or modified before you can move forward.

Or—just maybe—you didn’t write yourself into a cul de sac. Maybe, you are paralyzed by the prospect of writing the Big Scene. Next time, I’ll talk about that.

Monday, November 23, 2015


It has been reported that when Harold Macmillan, who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain from  1957 to 1963, was asked what he feared most, he replied, “Events, dear boy, events.”

I am aware that less than a month ago, when I began this blog, I promised to post at least once a week. But all I can plead as a reason for breaking my promise so soon, is to paraphrase Harold Macmillan: Events, dear reader, events. Events both personal and international.

On October 27, our wonderful ex-racing Greyhound, Bingley, let us know that it was time to for us to ease his journey to doggie heaven. And if ever a dog deserved a beautiful hereafter, it was our boy, Bingley. He brightened our lives for more than seven and a half years, bringing smiles and laughter to friends and strangers. He had celebrated his twelfth birthday on September 5: a ripe old age for any Greyhound, even more so for one who had been subjected to the harsh realities of the racing circuit in his early years. We longed for another year, and another. It was not to be, so we are reminding ourselves to be grateful for the time we had him in our lives. But the rhythm of our lives has changed

We have focused on our surviving dog, Magic, who has never before been an only dog. We recognize that she is a little disoriented from time to time. And truth be told, we probably are, too.

Then, a week ago this past Friday, November 13, I was ready to leave for an afternoon of knitting at my local knit shop, Yarning for You. Before I left, I decided to check the news. There was a report of a shooting at a café in Paris and a link to France 24. For hours, I sat, transfixed in horror, watching the unfolding massacre in The City of Light. I continued to be so absorbed by events in Europe, I forgot about my blogging promise.

Such are the perils of a writer’s life. Especially this writer, who can be discipline challenged.

But I promise, the next post will be about cul-de-sacs!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Wall or Cul de Sac?

 At the Hera Hub Author Salon, a brave soul brought up the question that is the ghost at every writers’ party: What do you do when you’ve been writing along, three, four, five or more chapters into a novel, and suddenly you find nothing more to write. The Dreaded Writer’s Bloc? Not precisely.  Nothing that generalized. Just the cessation of ideas about this story at this juncture. 

What to do?

Before you abandon the project that has, up to this point, seemed quite doable, try to make a differential diagnosis of the problem. Have you written yourself into a wall or a cul de sac? The remedy is quite different, depending on the diagnosis.  And, although a wall sounds more serious than a cul de sac, just the opposite is true. A cul de sac means turning around and doing some serious deletion, revision, or even—heaven forbid—starting over. A wall is there to climb over, go around, or blast through, before you continue with your story.

I look at this problem from the point of view of a “typing into the mist” writer, because that’s all I know firsthand. As such, when I start a new novel, all I know are my heroine, and if I’m lucky, the hero. I may or may not know some other characters. Since I write traditional Regency romance, the plot is always the same: girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy.

Whatever genre you are writing, try to be clear about your basic plot line. Then think about the story arc: the beginning, middle, and end. The beginning of the story creates the problem/dilemma/mystery.  At some point, usually around the middle of the book, give or take a chapter or two, there is the point of despair/desperation/insoluble situation. The remaining chapters move on to the conclusion: happy, sad, or unresolved as the case might be.

I’m guessing that most points non plus occur just before the despair/desperation/insoluble situation is fully revealed. But I suppose it can happen at other places. Locate where in the story arc you were when you stopped writing. Although you are staring at a blank page, can you visualize a scene someplace in the future of your story? Do you know how matters should be resolved, what the last scene should look like? Go ahead and write that scene. After you have written the final scene, think about what might happen or needs to happen to get there. Perhaps you will have to introduce a new character. Perhaps a subplot is required. Perhaps motivation needs to be clarified, strengthened. Congratulations! You have just climbed over, walked around or blasted through a wall. 

I have used this method in writing both A Match for Lady Constance, and Boston Tangle. I filed these “final” scenes away and got on with my story. In both instances, I came across them after I had written the real final scenes. All I can say is, any resemblance between the first final scene and the final final scene was purely coincidental. But the first “final” scene had served its true purpose.

Next time—Dealing with cul de sacs.