For a reader, a novel is a well-tuned vehicle that transports us – over hills, through valleys, deep into caves, up onto mountaintops, and into the hidden rooms within our psyches.
For a writer, a novel is a jumble of wheels, bolts, braces, panels, wires, and other assorted parts and pieces of the vehicle. The first draft is a prototype that we test drive, and it always breaks down. Always. And not once, not twice, but multiple times as we figure out how to put the parts together in a way that not only looks good but gets us through the obstacle course to where we want to go.
Stalling out usually happens somewhere in the middle of the book, often in the middle of a scene. We stare at the computer screen and crank the engine, but we can’t seem to get started again. Aargh. Is it the dreaded WB? Writer’s Block?
Louise Hawes thinks not. She says, “You don’t see truckers swooning and saying, ‘I have Truck Driver’s Block.'” Truckers may stall once in a while, but they fix the problem and get back on the road.
So how can a writer get the vehicle up and running again? Here are 10 suggestions:
1. Go to the place you’re stalled and empty the characters’ pockets. Or purses. What are they carrying? How can you use that item to propel the scene forward again?
2. Similar to #1: Add an item to the scene. Put something on the table. Or have a character knock something off a table or stumble over something or maybe something flies through the window . . . Just considering the possibilities may get the vehicle started again.
3. Have the characters touch each other. Angrily (a punch? a shove?), playfully, lovingly, timidly, assertively? Touch is powerful action, and action is fuel for forward movement, because with action comes reaction. A few days ago in revisions of my WIP (work-in-progress), I had my main character give her mother a manicure. It was just something benign that I added to the scene, but as she bent over her mother’s hand, an amazing thing happened. She remembered bending over someone else’s hand, and the connection of the two sparked a strategic realization for her and a powerful nodal point in the story for me.
4. Research some aspect of the novel that you’ve left untouched. In my WIP, the main character off-handedly mentions Georgia O’Keeffe. During my fifth or sixth draft, I decided to read a book about O’Keeffe. Much of what I discovered fit perfectly with my story and led me into new and deeper paths for my character.
5. Take a different route. Imagine the scene in a completely different setting. Sometimes we get bogged down in the few settings we envision for the story, and we need to break out in order to get started again. We need re-vision. In my WIP, I was in a settings rut. Picturing my character by a cane break at the river gave me fresh possibilities. I may or may not use the scene, but it stoked the engine. (A cane break is what we call a thicket of bamboo here in the South.)
6. Skip ahead. Leave the stall and stroll ahead. Type question marks into the draft and make a suggestion if you can, like: ???She meets HB’s friend??? If all else fails, just put ?????. Go to the next scene that gets you started again. In the process of writing a later scene, I often hear the muse whisper, “Remember that stalled scene? Here’s what happened . . .”
7. Sit back and remember what made you want to write this story in the first place? What excited you about it? Write that down. Have you detoured from the place the story first connected with your vision? Go back to the excitement.
8. Ask: Have I stalled out because I’ve come to a spot in the story that will take me to some emotional place I don’t want to go? You may be stalled because you’re resisting the valley you’ll have to drive through. If that’s the case, you have to decide. Make yourself go there, or set the story aside until you’re ready to go there.
9. Take a break. Give yourself a literal change of scenery for a while. Live. Listen. Connect to life. I can’t even list the number of times I’ve just heard a comment or watched some real-life situation that led to an idea that was crucial to the book I was currently writing.
10. Read, read, read. It’s like riding in someone else’s car – or a rental car. You get to try out a different make and model and see how you like it. You may get ideas about plot, structure, character. Maybe you want power windows too. Or a sunroof. Or not. Maybe you want to create a jet plane or a canoe.
Or a sailboat. Even with a sailboat, you can hit the doldrums. But never fear. There’s a solution. As Phyllis Root says, “When the wind dies, row.”
Happy writing, happy reading!
© 2012 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com