Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Getting Stuck and Working Through It

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
StuckLast week I was working on my current project.  I felt good about it. I was definitely in the writing zone and everything was going well.

Then I got to page eighty and I stopped cold.  Something wasn’t right with the book’s pace.  I was advancing plot points too quickly and wasn’t nearly far enough along in the book for the second body to be discovered….but it had been. 

I got that familiar chill of what the hell am I doing? that I get for every book.  I'll get the feeling that I’ve massively messed up and don’t know what I’m going to do to get out of the mess.

Then I did what I always do.  I wrote the next scene.  Because I did know what I wanted to write next—the suspects being questioned after the second body is found.  I kept right on going, ignoring the mess for now.

I’ve found, for me, that the only way to fix a problem is just to go on and finish the skeleton for the book

Then I’ll go back and adjust.  Pace is going too fast in the first half of the book?  What am I missing?  Oh.  I didn’t really flesh out who these suspects are, did I?  I’ll add it. And…oh, I wanted a particular subplot to give my protagonist more opportunities to grow in this book, didn’t I?  I’ll add it.

We can’t get crippled when our manuscript fails to live up to our imagined masterpiece.  Finish it, fix it.  But finish it, first. Others will disagree here, which is fine. Whatever works—if it works better for you to edit as you go, do that.

For me, though, if I get stuck trying to fix an unfinished book, I end up tinkering with the thing so much that the story never moves forward.  For me, the big picture of the book in its entirety is crucial when I’m figuring out where I went wrong and what needs to be fixed.

Writing out of order: If I’m stuck because I’m not exactly sure how to move forward with my story (which sometimes happens when I don’t outline…and I frequently don’t outline), then I’ll sometimes skip ahead and write a major scene or even the ending…just something that I already am planning on writing and know the outcome of.  Once I wrote a book completely out of order.  I can’t really recommend doing that.   It was a mess to put together again and fix the transitions.

Writing ‘backwards’: I’ve also written half of a book from the end to the point where I got stuck.  If you’re thinking about your story in terms of scenes, this is easy enough if you know your ending better than your midpoint.

And then there’s always the old standby…outlining.   I’m not a fan, but I’ve made my peace with outlining since I have an editor who requires it.  I make mine as general as possible and keep my plot flexible in case I need to make big adjustments.  It helps if I don’t think of it as an outline—if I think of it as brainstorming a plan.

These are ideas for moving the plot forward when we’ve realized there’s a problem with our story and are getting bogged down with the problem. I’ve also written about other ways to keep moving ahead when we’ve gotten stuck. In that post I recommended writing in different locations, changing around our writing schedule, and  making lists (among other things.)

How do you keep moving forward with your story?