So I’m writing along and the story is flowing nicely. And then the characters decided to sit down and drink a cup of tea and chat about the weather, how their favorite sports team has lost the intergalactic space series, and how their shoes hurt, and…
And the story just grinds into a horrible, crashing halt.
I write into the dark, to use Dean Wesley Smith‘s words. That’s because I get bored easily, and I don’t like telling a story that I’ve already told to myself. Meaning outline it first, setting up the story and then filling in the blanks. If I already know the story, writing goes from fun to work. And I’m way too lazy to spend more time at work. So, I pantse everything.
But sometimes my characters go grumpy. They don’t want to play anymore. Usually it’s a sign that my subconscious hasn’t really caught up with the story, or perhaps that the story has taken a wrong turn somewhere, or there is unfinished business or I’m trying to tell a story I’m not skilled enough to handle yet.
So what do you do then?
Well, I could analyze the story, write all the plot threads down using different colored pens, and try to figure out a solution. But I already said that I’m lazy. If writing isn’t fun, why do it?
Instead, I have slowly collected a set of tools that can take me past those difficult times.
One of them is basically going back to the scene before everything bogged down, throwing it out, and writing from there.
Sometimes this works. Sometimes the problem is that I did a bobo, and my subconscious is yelling at me. So that’s technique #1: throw out a scene or two.
But sometimes I’ve just run out of story. The problems remaining for the characters are either too big, or already solved. The characters really do need a rest. They don’t want to keep working, fighting, struggling. They just want to sit down and gripe.
Fine. That’s another way to tackle the problem. Let the characters think through the situation and figure out what to do next. This is basically the sequel part of this scene sequel story format. Technique #2: Let the characters think about it/talk it out.
But sometimes that doesn’t help. The characters are just whiny brats and they don’t want to get going. That’s where the two guys with machine guns come in.
You throw in unexpected problems. It can, like in my current work in progress, be the bad guys charging in yelling and shooting. You don’t have to set it up. They’re bad guys, they’ve been doing planning and preparation off screen while my characters are bumbling around. Machine-gunning the scene creates immediate problems, gets the characters moving, and gives me lots of loose threads to tie up later.
I just have to show the effects of blam-blam-blam, eeee, screech, BOOM. Let the characters figure out why all of this happens later. Technique #3: Throw in big, immediate danger. Figure it out later.
But if you’ve just had a big action scene, that might not work. Then you can do the sequel version of the big danger take: have your characters remember what’s at stake.
Basically, if the story has slowed down, and the characters are sitting down for a little chat with each other. That’s when the point-of-view character goes: “How can we dance when our earth is turning? How do we sleep while our beds are burning?” Technique #4: Have your characters remember the big stakes.
Those are the techniques I’ve been using so far. Quite often they work, but sometimes they don’t. And in those instances maybe the story just needs to be put away for a while.
Write something else. But do keep writing.