Thursday, April 07, 2011

Zette's Take: Getting Unstuck, 3

From For Blog

The material I've been posting here the last few days is from the Two Year Novel Course. While I have stopped doing the live versions, the ebooks are still available from Holly Lisle's book store, if anyone is interested:

This is the third and last of the sections on getting unstuck. I hope they've helped some of you!

Problem # 4: I'm just stuck

You've not been led astray by bright shiny new ideas, but here you are, stuck anyway. You are the lucky ones in this group. You don't have to worry about what changed, and how to fix it all. You just need to get moving again.

Being stuck can have an outside cause, but this isn't something I can answer for you. If you are under stress from other causes, it can affect your writing. Some of us are lucky and can use writing as an escape from stress, but it might be you need to step back from the novel and relax for a while. It will be there when you're ready to go on again.

However, if being stuck is writing-related, there are two things you should consider here.

1. What is missing?

Is the story not falling together properly? You may have reached an important point, and realize something missing. It might be a piece of the plot, or it might be a character motivation, or something as illusive as the proper attitude for one of the characters. This can be a difficult problem to solve. If you have gotten this far without the illusive piece, then it's likely not going to be easy to find.

Go back two or three scenes from where you became stuck and start carefully examining the steps you took to get here. Was the last scene absolutely thrilling and this scene dull in comparison? This will happen when you write one of those important scenes. It's hard to slip from that to something more mundane.

But you still need tension, even in the lesser scenes, and it may be all that's missing. You might use an otherwise quiet scene for your people to show their emotional fragility (if it applies). If you can't add in action-related tension, then look at other possibilities, like tension between people on the same side.

However, there may be another reason why this scene isn't working and you're stuck....

2. Do you really need this scene?

Sometimes the problem is that the writer is trying to tell every step of the journey when really all you sometimes need is an indication the story has moved to a different place. You may be trying to write a full scene when all you really need is a transition.

Make certain the scene is needed. Analyze what it does for the story. Is anything important learned from this scene? Or is it a placeholder which might be better done in a shorter version?

If, for instance, you have had your people go up against the antagonist and barely slink away, the next scene could be how they made their way through the alleys and back to their hidden HQ. Unless something dramatic happens on the escape, you don't want to write every twist and turn they take. Concentrate on the high points -- stop to bandage wounds, rest near the church, and reach their home ground.

If there is important information delivered in an otherwise unimportant scene, you are going to have to give the readers a reason for sticking with it. If a character accidentally gives away a secret in a conversation, don't try to bury it in pages of otherwise useless dialogue. One thing you can do is give it away along with a lesser secret which draws attention. Or give it away in the midst of a big important scene rather than creating a lesser scene to carry it.

Transition scenes are often the most difficult to write. Getting from 'here to there' -- whether in time or place or both -- often annoys and stops a writer. They don't want to run from one battle to the next because it wouldn't be realistic. However, those down times between can seem boring compared to the battles, and the writer (never mind the reader) can have trouble getting through them.

There are a couple ways to handle such scenes. You might make certain something significant happens between the battles. If you have a love story intertwined in a larger tale, this is the time for something significant to happen between the characters, especially if one or both are going to be in danger. A fight is as good as a consummation in this case. Both will add tension to the upcoming battle. Deliver a bit of information, kill off a minor character -- there are a number of things which can be done between major scenes. However, don't force it. If there is nothing you want to add to the scene, then write a short transition and move on.

While the general rule of 'show, don't tell' is important in most cases, there are times when the opposite may be what you need. Instead of showing the scene I talked about earlier, where the group makes their way from escaping the antagonist to the HQ, you can do something far more dramatic. In this case, you wouldn't write even the highlights of the escape. Instead, you would leap from a point where they're on the run and then start the next scene/chapter with a verbal statement summing it up:

Martin slammed the door closed behind them and spun on the rest of the group. "David, if you ever take off running like that again, I'll shoot you myself. We're damned lucky we made it back without half Freeman's madmen after us."

You don't have to see the problems of the race back to safety in a case like this, and you can create a sense of tension here, especially if David has a legitimate reason for running. He could have been charging an enemy Martin didn't see, or trying to reach the next corner because he saw a taxi go by, and hoped to grab it, or any number of things.

But the important point here is you do not have to show David running. Or you can, and cut at this point and then leap ahead to the confrontation over it.

The rest of how the group got back to their place of safety may be entirely unnecessary.

The problem you could be facing is making something exciting and important when it is not. If you are stuck, ask yourself if you really need the scene.

If you do need the scene, but still can't write it, jump ahead to the next point on your outline. This is one of the great parts of having an outline: you know where you are going. Sometimes moving a step or two ahead on the outline can help break up a block. Seeing where the characters will be after the problem scene can often help you see what the problem scene needs.

If you are stuck, experiment. Try leaping ahead, or if you are doing a multiple POV novel, try writing it from a different POV. Tell instead of show, or cut the scene entirely if necessary. But move on.

Keep writing.

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