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Old 05-06-2018, 08:01 PM   #1
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Writing yourself into a corner

Well, Hubert (was Fabio, was Nigel, was Dudley) is fitting in nicely with the other characters. However, the plot has dug its heels in and refuses to budge. Sigh.

Also, the scanning of hand writing is going well too. I'm so glad I asked.

Anyway, here's the next issue. I've written myself into a corner. Actually more than one corner. Kind of. Sort of like a cross between writer's block and writer's stupidity.

Disaster 1: I've got a short story about 90% finished but when I read it back (after leaving it for a month or two) the male MC has to act like a febrile dumbo for it to work. Damn! It's supposed to be vaguely funny in tone, so flailing doofus has morphed into creepy stalkerish nut case. MC needs a re-write and a slap upside the head. It (the story) has been on my computer in varying states of disarray for years (maybe 6 or 7).

Disaster 2: Story told from different POV (that reveal different things) is really hard to get a grip on. Punching the computer didn't help. Also years (and years) old. Could be my life's work.

Disaster 3: "Sliding doors" type story. Complete rabbit hole. The "what ifs" have gone slightly feral and have locked themselves in the bathroom and are breeding like tribbles.

So. Are these cases of "kill your darlings" (just on a larger scale)? Most of my stuff has been started ages ago - in one case, 11 years ago - and I'm rather attached. Could being "rather attached" be the problem? I'm wondering if they're cases of diminishing returns and they're never going to finish (well).

My problem is, I think, that I really like these crappy, half finished brain explosions. I just can't finish them. Also, I write purely for myself, so no financial imperatives, thank goodness. Otherwise I'd have starved to death about 10 years ago.

The Question (eventually!). What I'm asking is...have you written things that are problematic (characters won't behave, apparent plot holes, your romantic lead turned into a creepy stalkerish nut case) plot-wise and you've just pulled the pin on them? Do you try and salvage? Do you re-work? Do start again?

And yes, this post is part of my procrastination strategy. Well spotted.
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Old 05-07-2018, 12:24 AM   #2
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Sometimes it helps to start writing something else. Without the pressure of looking at your current story "head-on" you might be surprised at how solution(s) can sneak up on you.
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Old 05-07-2018, 12:03 PM   #3
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The advice to start writing something else is useful to keep in mind, but be careful it doesn't become a habit - it is easy for moving on to something else to become a default reaction and you end up never getting anything finished.

A long while ago I started this thread about Susan Sontag. That thread has a link to an interesting article, but also a quote in which she says that the problem is the solution.

I have found that aphorism is very useful to remember. It may be that you won't really understand it until it has happened to you in a big way (I think it happens quite often in little ways that we don't always notice), but once you do understand it, it gives you another way to think about the difficulties you are facing.

In my published fantasy trilogy I wanted four siblings to have special powers, and I had three of them worked out in detail. Each of those three had power that suited their individual personalities very well, and was manifested in a particular way that fit the logic of the story. But the fourth? I fumbled around that for a very long time, and it really seemed like I had written myself into a corner. She was such a meek little thing, how was she to carry a super power? And I wanted her to play a key role, it had to be a good power, and at least part of it had to be a secret from her siblings (which, given what I had already set up seemed impossible). ... But when I found the answer (I was in the shower at the time and almost started singing for joy ), I was amazed to see that it all fitted together perfectly - right up to how the trilogy would end.

It would be difficult to explain the solution without making this post really long, but it is enough to say that the power she had is part of what made her meek, it was part of what made secrecy possible, and it was part of what made the ending possible. (Even the background material made more sense under this solution.) It really was a case that what I had been thinking of as problems were actually part the solution - part of what made it all work - I just had to look at all the problems in the right way.

...

Of course, it does have to be faced, sometimes what we've written really is crap and the best thing that can be done is to throw great chunks away. (I don't talk about those. )

But before you do that, consider whether the apparent problems are what actually makes the the story interesting and different. (In my case it was the dichotomy of the fourth sibling that made her the most interesting.) If every problem in a story had an easy solution then books would be boring, so the fact that we writers sometimes hit seemingly insoluble situations is a good thing! It means we're doing something right, and the rest of doing it right is to find the solution, to make the impossible possible. Nothing to it.
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Old 05-07-2018, 08:58 PM   #4
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Thanks rcentros and GMW.

rcentros, I did try the "write something else" thing. It certainly got the creative juices flowing. However, that's the story (now several stories) that is breeding like bunnies. So far it's a nice family of bunnies - not like the killer bunny from Monty Python's Holy Grail. Yet.

GMW I love that aphorism from Sontag. She's absolutely spot on, of course. I can also identify with the shower epiphany.

I now try to write all my eureka moments (or even only vaguely eureka-ish) either into my notebook or into my phone's notes app. It doesn't always work, of course. Currently I have a note saying "reindeer on the roof" which seemed noteworthy when I wrote it (??) but now, for the life of me, I can't remember why. I can't bring myself to delete that either.
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Old 05-08-2018, 04:21 AM   #5
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I've managed to build up a collection of bunnies too. Stories that seemed like they had promise when I started typing, but the promise seemed to fade the further I went. It's those killer bunnies that I keep looking for, the ones that keep chewing at you so you are forced to pay attention to them; only these have the stamina necessary for me to see them through.

You found one problem with recording eureka moments (not remembering why it was worthy of recording), the other is being able to find the one you need when you need it. I often feel like Neville with his "Rememberall": it's one thing to know you've forgotten something, it's another to remember what that is - or, in this case, where in amongst this huge collection of notes it is.
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Old 05-12-2018, 04:24 PM   #6
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The advice to start writing something else is useful to keep in mind, but be careful it doesn't become a habit - it is easy for moving on to something else to become a default reaction and you end up never getting anything finished.

A long while ago I started this thread about Susan Sontag. That thread has a link to an interesting article, but also a quote in which she says that the problem is the solution.

I have found that aphorism is very useful to remember. It may be that you won't really understand it until it has happened to you in a big way (I think it happens quite often in little ways that we don't always notice), but once you do understand it, it gives you another way to think about the difficulties you are facing.

In my published fantasy trilogy I wanted four siblings to have special powers, and I had three of them worked out in detail. Each of those three had power that suited their individual personalities very well, and was manifested in a particular way that fit the logic of the story. But the fourth? I fumbled around that for a very long time, and it really seemed like I had written myself into a corner. She was such a meek little thing, how was she to carry a super power? And I wanted her to play a key role, it had to be a good power, and at least part of it had to be a secret from her siblings (which, given what I had already set up seemed impossible). ... But when I found the answer (I was in the shower at the time and almost started singing for joy ), I was amazed to see that it all fitted together perfectly - right up to how the trilogy would end.

It would be difficult to explain the solution without making this post really long, but it is enough to say that the power she had is part of what made her meek, it was part of what made secrecy possible, and it was part of what made the ending possible. (Even the background material made more sense under this solution.) It really was a case that what I had been thinking of as problems were actually part the solution - part of what made it all work - I just had to look at all the problems in the right way.

...

Of course, it does have to be faced, sometimes what we've written really is crap and the best thing that can be done is to throw great chunks away. (I don't talk about those. )

But before you do that, consider whether the apparent problems are what actually makes the the story interesting and different. (In my case it was the dichotomy of the fourth sibling that made her the most interesting.) If every problem in a story had an easy solution then books would be boring, so the fact that we writers sometimes hit seemingly insoluble situations is a good thing! It means we're doing something right, and the rest of doing it right is to find the solution, to make the impossible possible. Nothing to it.
This is absolutely spot-on. If you're stuck let your subconscious chew on it in the back of your mind and you'll (sometimes) be amazing at what it will suddenly lay out complete. I had this happen not long ago with a piece that was complete except for one connection that I couldn't seem to make smoothly. I kept thinking, and trying this and then that, and nothing was exactly right, so finally I put it aside in a folder and went on to other things. And then suddenly one day - I wasn't at my desk or even thinking about writing - the very simple solution was right there and was perfect.

Interestingly, many writers say answers to problems come in the shower, or while doing dishes, or raking lawns - doing something with our hands that has nothing to do with creative work. And often something to do with water, which is interesting!

I do differ though with 'throwing great chunks away' - I may delete chunks from a story but I never throw them away. They go into a file called HMMM - Maybe Useful Someday.

As far as the problem with so many starts and stops, I would say pick.something.and.finish.it. Just to retrain your writing muscles, and establish in your brain that you do complete the work. Since you aren't writing to be paid anyway it won't matter if this version is pretty bad; you will have set the idea within yourself that you.do.finish.
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Old 05-12-2018, 09:58 PM   #7
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Sometimes, the funny, adorable doofus, really IS a creepy stalker. Sometimes, the character knows exactly how he needs to behave. something to think about, at least, you know, when you're staring at that enormous blank page or that GIANT empty screen!
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Old 05-13-2018, 02:31 PM   #8
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Thanks rcentros and GMW.

rcentros, I did try the "write something else" thing. It certainly got the creative juices flowing. However, that's the story (now several stories) that is breeding like bunnies. So far it's a nice family of bunnies - not like the killer bunny from Monty Python's Holy Grail. Yet.

GMW I love that aphorism from Sontag. She's absolutely spot on, of course. I can also identify with the shower epiphany.

I now try to write all my eureka moments (or even only vaguely eureka-ish) either into my notebook or into my phone's notes app. It doesn't always work, of course. Currently I have a note saying "reindeer on the roof" which seemed noteworthy when I wrote it (??) but now, for the life of me, I can't remember why. I can't bring myself to delete that either.
There's a reason that many truly great mystery novelists start out writing the murder scene first--not the discovery, the murder itself--from the standpoint of the murderer--the scene that will never been seen in the actual book. That's because while it's fascinating to write up the red herrings, the characters, etc., it's nearly impossible to do (for mere mortals; I speaketh not of the exalted heights of the Dame or Rex Stout, etc., who could apparently poop plots and murders with their morning coffee) without knowing all that which is hidden, first. Without knowing precisely what the murderer did, that equals errors or clues.

I have no real idea how fantasy authors do it--given that you have to work out your per-book plot arc and your per-trilogy/whatever plot arcs--but I imagine it's much the same. One big long mind-map or similar/org chart type thing, moving through all the plotlines.

Honestly, it would drive me bonkers to write, write, write and NOT know how I was going to wrap up the end, or, like GMW wrote, not know what that sibling was going to do, or how she'd tie into everything. Waiting for that Eureka! moment? I could never do it. I'd live in dread that it would never come, and I would have to go back and revamp and rejigger everything to make it work, due to some horrible oversight.

(FWIW--before I chucked writing, dog's years ago, I had this happen. I'd written out not one, but two novels, one with >65K words, and both had fatal flaws. FATAL. The kind where you just have to either toss them, or live with one of those "TSTL" plot elements. Like the ubiquitous mystery or suspense/etc., where the hero/ine is haunted by the ghost of the dead person, and doesn't just ASK the decedent who the hell killed him/her. I mean..urgh! I guess it's fine if your audience is going to give you a pass--you write up some drivel about WHY the ghost can't tell the hero/ine, but I just can't live with that. The plot's got to work for me, in minute, believable detail, or I just couldn't keep going with it. No doubt why I decided decades ago that I wasn't meant to be an author.)

:-)

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Old 05-13-2018, 11:18 PM   #9
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Isaac Asimov once noted that on his later long novels, he worked out the start and finish in detail, so he knew where he was going; and then worked out the middle as he went along. Always knowing the ending kept the middle on track.
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Old 05-13-2018, 11:23 PM   #10
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Isaac Asimov once noted that on his later long novels, he worked out the start and finish in detail, so he knew where he was going; and then worked out the middle as he went along. Always knowing the ending kept the middle on track.

And wasn't it Mickey Spillane who said that the beginning and ending of your novel are crucial; the beginning sells this novel; the ending sells the next.
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Old 05-14-2018, 01:45 AM   #11
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When I write myself into a corner I have a giant robot punch its way into the room through the wall.

While giant robots may not fit every genre, I think the idea has merit. By throwing a spanner in the works I force the characters to react and break them out of whatever's holding up the story.
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Old 05-14-2018, 09:26 AM   #12
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[...] Honestly, it would drive me bonkers to write, write, write and NOT know how I was going to wrap up the end, or, like GMW wrote, not know what that sibling was going to do, or how she'd tie into everything. Waiting for that Eureka! moment? I could never do it. I'd live in dread that it would never come, and I would have to go back and revamp and rejigger everything to make it work, due to some horrible oversight. [...]
Part of it is an act of faith. A lot of it is the fact that I'm not doing it for a living, so it doesn't really matter how long it takes or if I end up throwing it all away*. But most of it is the experience: I'm telling myself the story. In my writing journal l once made the equivalence of: writing is to reading as reading is to watching the movie. For me, writing is like reading a fascinating story intended just for me, but a story that evolves over months rather than hours or days. I get to see so much more than the reader ever will. It doesn't always work, which can be disappointing, but sometimes it pleases me very much, which is a buzz.

If I was truly serious/professional about the process I would do it differently ... but at the moment I suspect the result would be rubbish, I don't have that sort of talent ... or maybe it's just something that I still have to learn.

* pendragginp, I don't meant that literally, my notes folders are littered with attempts at scenes or stories that didn't work but I can't quite delete.


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When I write myself into a corner I have a giant robot punch its way into the room through the wall.

While giant robots may not fit every genre, I think the idea has merit. By throwing a spanner in the works I force the characters to react and break them out of whatever's holding up the story.
I like this idea very much. I can imagine flicking through my collection of story ideas - most of which are just tiny snippets that will never make a complete story - and throwing them into a stuck mix to break it up. As long as you're careful not to turn it into a deus ex machina (it shouldn't be used to solve problems, just to mix things up a bit) it could work very well.

... It seems to me that we've identified that: sometimes a story needs more, and sometimes a story needs less, and sometimes a story has exactly what it should if you look at it the right. So all we writers have to do is work out which situation we're facing.
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Old 05-14-2018, 10:12 AM   #13
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When I write myself into a corner I have a giant robot punch its way into the room through the wall.

While giant robots may not fit every genre, I think the idea has merit. By throwing a spanner in the works I force the characters to react and break them out of whatever's holding up the story.
Was it Dash Hammett, or Raymond Chandler that said something along the lines of this? That if you get into a jam in a plot, have a man with a gun burst into the room?

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Old 05-14-2018, 02:05 PM   #14
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Was it Dash Hammett, or Raymond Chandler that said something along the lines of this? That if you get into a jam in a plot, have a man with a gun burst into the room?

Hitch
I'm not sure, but I think it was Chandler.

It's been many years since I read either.
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Old 05-14-2018, 03:11 PM   #15
Hitch
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Posts: 7,000
Karma: 63399999
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Device: K2, iPad, KFire, PPW, Voyage, and NookColor. 2 Droid, 1 Win8 ePUB rdrs
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemurion View Post
I'm not sure, but I think it was Chandler.

It's been many years since I read either.
Yes, I suspect you're right, and that it was Chandler. My "I write like..." buddy (remember that old site? LOL...it claimed that's who I wrote like. I should be so lucky....)

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