There is a reassuring piece of advice that I find myself giving writers over and over these days, in the hope of sparing them not only a ton of rewriting, but saving them from that nagging voice that keeps suggesting they take up needlepoint and have done with this crazy writing thing once and for all.
It’s this: When you’re stumped about what might happen next, or where the “drama” will come from, or what your protagonist will do, you don’t have to look further than your story’s own backyard. But unlike Dorothy (why does everything always seem to come back to The Wizard of Oz?) just looking won’t do the trick. For writers, you have to dig in it. The good news is this: there is always buried treasure there beneath the surface. Always.
This advice seems relatively straightforward and easy, but it turns out to be hard to implement because there’s a big fat writing myth that gets in the way.
The myth is this: when stumped, the answer to “what should happen next?” is found by turning to the outside world, as if there’s a generic grab bag of Dramatic Possibilities that you can reach into and, voila! problem solved! And so suddenly, out of the blue, it turns out that your protagonist may have murdered her ex-husband (geez, I didn’t even know he was dead); or is now battling a supernatural force that is out to either a) kidnap her child or b) sap her life force for unspecified nefarious purposes; or suddenly she has a lifelong debilitating disease.
The trouble was – in each of those four real cases — that the Dramatic Possibility had absolutely nothing to do with the story the writer was telling. This was a glitch that, once pointed out, the writers in question instantly recognized for what it was: a darling quickly in need of dispatch, rather than what they’d thought it was: a way to amp things up, to make things happen, to be dramatic and so – they hoped – hook the reader.
The irony was that instead of pulling the reader in, [Read more…]