Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Zette's Take: Getting Unstuck, Part 2

This is a continuation of yesterday's blog. There's one more section to go!

Problem 3: Stuck at a Bad Spot

Maybe it's not as bad as the pictures I painted in the last class. Maybe you're stuck at a bad point in the story. Sometimes the best written outlines can have problems, because stories grow and change with the telling. A subtle change here, a slight shift there -- and suddenly, you face some step you had planned in the outline realize it doesn't quite work.

Ask yourself why it doesn't work. Did the change in plot improve the story? Or is it a change just for the sake of change? Often when an author reaches the writing part of the work, they have lived a long time with the story from the initial idea through the outline. The writer may change things because knowing the story makes it seem too common. If you do this, but you don't get stuck, it's not going to matter. However, you may find you're making changes which substantially affect the story, rather than adding new layers to it. If you are suddenly stuck, step back and examine the work and see if these changes caused the problem.

And, having found these changes, there are some things you should consider:

1. Looking over the changes, you decide they have stopped your progress and are not a real improvement to the story. At this point you can (a) go back and rework what you've already changed and get the story back in line with the outline or (b) you can put a note in your manuscript explaining what you need to change in the first part of the work and then move on as though you have already made those changes. (This works, of course, for any plot problem, including when you followed the outline closely and it still didn't quite work.)

This last method is the one I use, and the one I picked up from Holly Lisle. One of the things I've found helpful is to put notes at the top of the manuscript reminding myself of changes to make in the rewrite as well as at the point where the changes are incorporated into the story.

2. You may, instead, decide that this is the better story to tell, despite being stuck. If that is the case, you can either (a) abandon your outline and move on hoping the story doesn't continue to produce road blocks or (b) you can sit down and rework the rest of your outline so you can keep moving ahead with new goals in sight.

Every time you go off the outline, you run the risk of having to repeat this process of evaluation and change. It can become very frustrating, and it can ruin a story as it goes off in a different tangent every few chapters. There is also the real danger of the story hitting a dead end rather than just a road block.

Be careful of going too far off the road map you made. You can always make notes to come back and examine ideas and places with other characters. In fact, this is a great way to generate future writing projects. Right now, however, tell the story you intended to and save the other stories for later.

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