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.

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