Occasionally when one writes, one discovers the meaning of life, liberty, and the hardness of your head. It’s a skill requiring you to be resourceful and thrilled when everything moves in the right direction. For me, it’s a matter of being happy when the characters cooperate, the plot moves how it should and nothing stalls out for the next scene in line. However, it’s not always fun and games in our world of writing. Occasionally the characters throw up road blocks, the plot stalls, and worse– your fingers refuse to make one more movement on the keyboard. It’s time to review what’s there and take stock.
What does this mean? It means rereading the last ten pages or the last couple of chapters of what’s been written. It means taking a bit of time to interview your characters to see why they’re behaving in unusual ways they’ve never behaved before. It also means step away from the keyboard and do not write another word in the story until you have the right frame of mind for the scene you’re in. You might be heading in the wrong direction and not know it consciously, but unconsciously the warnings are blaring something fierce. So, how do you fix all this?
This is what I do– I reread what I’ve got. I make some notes. But I don’t do this on the computer I write. I put it on my Nook or I print it out and write on it. Why? Because having a different environmental look gives you a diverse feel for your story. It puts you in what I call “story mode.” This is important to figure out if your plot diverged into a subplot or perhaps your subplot transformed part of your plot into something different. It might also be that your main plot-line wasn’t strong enough to handle what you were doing and you added more to it. Then you realize, you’re missing something earlier to help carry what you’re doing now. That’s why the notes. I always start at least 1-2 chapters from where I stopped. Why? Because for me, that’s normally the area where my divergence started. I’ve learned my area where I tend to “fix” my errors. For you, you might do it a chapter before or three chapters before. You might be in the chapter that needs to fix the error and that’s why you’re not able to move forward. By rereading in sequence in one sitting, you can see the flow of the storyline versus piecemeal. When you find where the shift happens– note it, why it’s shifting and where you might have to lay earlier pieces of info in the story. Then you can go back later in the next draft to fix those issues.
Character interviews. I do this after I figure out what’s going on with my story. As your story has changed, your characters might have changed as well. It’s time to go back and talk to them. Find out what caused it– what their motivations regarding this change is and most importantly, how does it make them act/react when this comes into play. By updating your character sheets or the perceptions of the characters, you can make notes in your story on where you might need to shift descriptions or actions they’ve done earlier to reflect this new view. This also keeps you on track because you don’t have to spend extra time doing it– just note it and move on. You have a story to write.
If you are a plotter, it’s time to pull out your outline or plot sheet. Find out what’s coming up and what you’ve done. Check to see how these changes will affect what is ahead. Note what little shifts you can do and where to keep the plot moving forward with the new changes and at the same time, how to keep things the same as well. Sometimes, it’s small shifts you plan out over the course of the outline to give you the flexibility to handle this new info. The notes you’ve made help to keep you on target and to help layer in the new while keeping track of the old.
For pantsters, this is a bit different. You might feel like shifting completely to this new plot. Note how this plot shifts, what changes this makes to the outcome (ending), if it changes any of the major turning points you originally wanted it. Your next draft will take these new changes into account because you’ll have the notes to work with.
Who has the most to lose in this scene? This is what I go back and look at in this problematic scene. Sometimes, it’s not easy to pick out. I’m known for putting both the hero and heroine into a problem that risks them both equally where they both lose badly if either one of them wins. Thus, it’s a matter of which one makes a more compelling storyline to follow in this scene? Whose internal struggle will give more oomph to the story and carry the plot forward without going off on a tangent? When I reread the scene I’m stuck on, I ask is this the person who is the most compelling person for the scene? Are they the one who can lose the most, provide the greatest emotional impact for the reader and will they move my plot forward for the next scene? If any of the answers is no or maybe– I have to ask why and where the problem is. It might be I might need to up the ante there. It might also be that I need to rewrite the scene in the other POV to give it better life.
When road blocks hit you hard in a scene, it’s sometimes easiest to give in and write through, hoping that what comes out fixes the problem. Yet, what you really need to do is step back and look at the whole picture. You need to review what’s been written and make sure the scene is part of the whole and the characters are still behaving how you expected them to be. Once you do that, you need to see who has the most to lose in the scene you’re stuck on. Sometimes what you thought was obvious, isn’t. Sometimes the changes you’ve made show you need to change the scene itself a bit. You might even need to rewrite it in the other person’s POV. But it’s okay, you’re trying to move the plot forward in your story, even if the plot has shifted or completely changed.