Wednesday, 25 November 2009

What would you do?

I know it’s been so long since I posted about writing that many people who drop by here will have forgotten that that is ostensibly why I keep this blog—because I'm supposed to be a writer. I haven’t been mentioning it much, not because I haven’t been doing it but because of late I seem to have been doing it very badly, which is all highly frustrating and depressing. The book that I’m working on has been started no less than 3 times now, and each time I’ve trashed ten thousand words or so and gone back to the start, convinced that this time I’ve nailed the small plot/character detail that holds the key to the conflict and all is going to go smoothly from now on.

Unfortunately it’s not really working out like that.

I’ve been stuck on a particular key scene for the last week now, and no matter how I approach it I don’t seem to be able to make it work. The characters don’t seem to be able to relax and talk naturally in the situation I’ve put them in—it’s a bit like working with actors (and Abby Green would know a lot more about this than I do) who are reading the script and rolling their eyes and saying ‘but what’s my motivation?’

I’ve tried to explain their motivation endlessly, but there comes a point where endless explanation becomes a problem in itself. I’ve tried to tell them that they have to do this scene one way or another, or else there’ll be no story and we’ll all be out of a job, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. So now I’m wondering, maybe it’s just because none of us know each other properly yet? Maybe I should pick up the story after the pivotal point and keep writing, and then go back at the end and fill in the blanks?

I find that idea logical but terrifying. Has anyone else ever done it? Does it work? Is it a direct route into another wasted week of sleepless nights and negative word count? And what would YOU do?


Anonymous said...

I think it's a fab idea to leave your uncooperative hero and heroine where they are. Lock them in the room and walk away and write on...and then it'll come to you and when you go back to let them out of the room they'll be so pathetically grateful they'll do whatever you want..!
x Abby

Anonymous said...

FWIIW - as a newbie.
Yes, I have done that many times - in fact it is a standard technique in screenwriting. And I use it all the time in crime writing as part of the editing/revision process where you HAVE to make sure that each reveal is going to build in tension/clues/conflict etc.

At the end you know what the key self revelation is, you know how the hero and heroine have revealed their " ghosts" and now you work backwards to plant and foreshadow and set up the key turning point scenes.

So basically, I just mark the scene with a one line placeholder description [ a tells b that her husband knows about their affair ] and carry on from the next point where I know how the action/reaction is going to work.

And of course this is just the discovery draft and can be hacked in revision where the reveal sequence is tracked through the whole story from hints and glimmers to full blown screaming.

Hugs on the trashed words, hope that they can be recycled.
Courage ma brave, courage. Your lovely characters will tell you what they wish they had said to eachother earlier.


Rachel said...

Oh gosh, poor you, India.

Being still hideously unpublished, I would never dare to proffer advice, but I would say that Abby's and Nina's suggestions sound good to me. In fact I'm going to try it myself having faffed about for over a week producing very little more than replica shopping lists.

I do think it's also fair to blame the awful, dark weather for scrambling your brain too. And the 'C' word of course...

Keep at it, you'll get there and it will be wonderful!

Lots of love,


Kate Hardy said...

Nina and Abby are about right there :o)

Writing out of sequence is fine. Then you'll get to a point where they say or do something - and bingo, then you can rewrite the bit you were stuck on.

(Doing this myself, right now - slashing and burning the first 3 chapters - so I know exactly where you're coming from. We all get books like this, so don't worry too much, hon.)

India said...

Oh, thank you ladies... (sniff sniff)

So grateful for your time and your thoughts, and as the general consensus is a great big 'get on and do it' I'm going to do that right now. (Well, right after I've made a pot of tea and dug out the emergency kit kat in my special secret hiding place.)

Feel so much better now-- apart from the odd inspired retrospective addition I've never written out of sequence before, so it feels very reassuring to have your permission.

Rach-- it goes for you too, you know... Jump ahead, keep writing and let me know how it works out!

Caroline Storer said...

Hi India - again FWIIW - as an unpub - when I've been stuck on a particular scene I've often skipped to another chapter - even the ending once - and just started typing. Sometimes the lightbulb moment switches on when you aren't expecting it and you can then go back to the "horror scene". Take care. Caroline x

Trenda said...


So sorry your darling characters are being so uncooperative. I agree with everyone else here that your plan to move on and come back around to the tricky bit is quite smart. Trust in your own unique creative spirit! You'll come through this one with your usual flair and style!

Hugs across the pond,


Kate Hewitt said...

Commiserations, India. I can relate, as I just scrapped 17,000 words and started a completely new ms!! I am not a skipper, I just can't write out of sequence although lots of people do. What I do is just give myself permission to write a scene badly, knowing it will need to be completely fixed and/or scrapped, and then forge ahead. Often it is in later scenes that I figure out what the problem is with the motivation or conflict, nd going back to fix the lousy scenes I wrote isn't as arduous as I thought!! Good luck!!

India said...

'Horror scene'-- that description made me smile, Caroline. (No mean feat at the moment) Thanks so much for your advice, and I'm in total agreement about the lightbulb coming on when you least expect it. So much so that yesterday, instead of jumping ahead as planned, I found myself back at the beginning writing in a whole new character. Not sure whether that was a good idea or a terrible one, but it made good sense at the time. We'll see!

Trenda-- thank you for the hugs. Much appreciated, and returned. xx

Kate, I think I'm like you-- not a natural skipper, but this time I'm desperate. I'm aware of the minutes ticking by and the days slipping away while my wordcount remains frozen and I'm panicking! How is your new book coming along? I totally admire you for having the courage to start again and here's hoping you're forging ahead and it's all going smoothly.

Sally Clements said...

Hi India. I think the thing to remember is that you are a fantastic writer. If your characters are not co-operating why not try a Laurie Schnebley Campbell idea (www.booklaurie) and interview them? I find this great. Just sit down and type to hero.. So, what's your problem with doing this? what do you think about it? Why don't you want to (insert scenario here). Then type his answers and get a dialog going. Maybe one of your characters will give you an answer you're not expecting?
Worth a try.

India said...

Sally-- thanks for your calm, rational and eminently sensible advice (just the way you wrote it made me feel soothed!) It's a great idea, and totally on the nail as the scene in question is one where the heroine is supposed to be interviewing the hero, who is utterly allergic to talking about his private life. Trying to interview him myself, I feel her pain!
Thanks, Sally. Much appreciated. x

Morton Gray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Morton Gray said...

Have you thought about trying hypnois? Just make sure it is a well trained one the BSCH website would give you some names.

As a hypnotherapist turned writer, I have been considering offering hypnotherapy for stuck writers or writing a book on the subject. It might just be the key to unlock the block!

Amanda Holly said...

Relax! Breathe in ... breathe out. Slowly! Go within. The answer will come to you if you quiet your mind.

If you need permission to forge ahead without sorting out this scene - don't do it! If it goes against the natural way you like to do things it's not going to feel right either.

Take it from whence it cometh ... an unpubbed writer who loves your voice! Have faith in yourself - I do!

India said...

Morton, that's a really interesting idea and I can easily see how it would work. A few years ago now I did try hypnosis to see if it could help with my horror of spiders, but I was far too interested in the whole process to let myself go 'under' if you see what I mean. All these years on and 3 squealing daughters has meant that I have a much more pragmatic approach to eight-legged things, and am so tired most of the time I go into a trance-like state at traffic lights sometimes, so I'm sure it would be different now. A book about it would be a great idea-- get writing!!

Amanda, you're absolutely right, bless you. I've been trying to push on but it hasn't been entirely successful so I've ended up going back to the planning stage and writing a really detailed outline. (This was after a long phonecall to Abby Green's Writers' Helpline...) And now I need to go back to the start and tidy up before I go on. Thank you for your wisdom and your kindness-- they both mean a lot! xx