Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Writing Oneself Into A Corner

We've all been in this situation before. You're writing away at a fast, action-packed, suspense-filled scene. Your characters are all in place, you see the end of the chapter in sight. Then all of a sudden you realize you're standing at the edge of a proverbial cliff in your plot line and you have no idea how to build a bridge across it.

"Make something up!" You say, which is the obvious, but often misleading answer on how easy it is to build a strong, seamless connection from that point to where you planned on being. You, bold and intrepid writer, have written yourself into a corner.

Because all the good pictures cost money...pic by Thristian

Traditional advice for writer's block often results in cliches (ex: make something explode), or steeping one in further confusion as to where to go because the advice only applies for the destination rather than the journey(ex: killing a character). Unfortunately, such advice may either discourage you with how it does not apply to your conundrum, or cause you to believe that the solution will just hit you randomly as you're out picking up some Mountain Dew from the 7-11 in the middle of the night.  Before you place that manuscript aside for inspiration to strike you, keep in mind that a high frequency of epiphanies only occur in movies for the sake of keeping a plot within 120 minutes. More than likely if you table that book, you'll either forget about it, or scrap it for the excitement gained in starting a new one. Thus you need to find another strategy to get on with the most important thing, the story.

Here are a few strategies that may help you get out of that corner.

-Research some aspect of what just happened in the plot, or even some object of significance. Or even do some research on a plot point you are planning on bringing up later. Sometimes you'll find a cool fact or addition that fits perfectly into your story.

-Read a book! Read several books! I don't mean books on writing, I mean some of your favorite books or books within the setting or genre you are writing. See if there are any situations similar to your own and analyze what the author does with them. I'm not telling you to plagiarize another person's work, but you'd be surprised how learning to pay attention to what you read will make you notice possible pathways out of a roadblock that you may never have thought of taking--whether they are a new take on a previously written idea, or something entirely your own.

-Look at what's available to your characters and MacGuyver it. Was there anything in the setting you described that could be used to solve their problem or to segue you to the next plot point? Think of a creative way to use it to your advantage--combine it with something else until you have a working Rubes Goldsberg machine of plot!

-Take a vote! Have a couple of ideas already thought up, but you can't decide which one sounds the most awesome out of them? Bend the ear of a few friends, family members, or your writing peers with your ideas. Oftentimes they can point out any holes in your logic, or any cliches so you can narrow down the list a little.

-Pay attention! Question everything that just happened. Put yourself not only in the point of view of your characters, but the point of view of everything around them. Consider your character's tendencies, emotions, and instincts. Consider the environment and the actions just taken within it. How would anything or anyone respond given what has just happened. Environments and bystanders are never static in real life, so why should they be in books? If you think laterally, you'll find the path really is just the next logical step in action and your characters and your world will write it for you.

Keep in mind that all of these strategies will only work if you are immersing yourself into your story. Relax, stop worrying so much about presenting something new when you already have a rich world with living characters who will react to whatever comes up. If they can't properly jump through the hoop you placed in front of them, realize whatever they do to get around it can be just as interesting--and possibly better for them.

So what do you do to get yourself out of writing into a corner?

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