Every serious writer goes through periods when he is stuck. Or, better put, the story is stuck. The writer reaches an internal roadblock and can’t figure out how to advance the story.
I spent a lot of time last summer thinking about my story. I pondered possibilities. I thought through various scenarios. I obsessed over characters. And I didn’t put a single word down on paper. I spent a lot of time not writing, or, I should say, not writing my story. I wrote blog posts. I started a new fiction project. I wrote stuff not related to fiction. I just couldn’t write my story.
Then I had an epiphany, with a little help from Larry Brooks and Lisa Cron. More on that later. Last winter I had read Larry Brooks’ excellent craft of fiction book, Story Fix. At that time my story needed a lot of fixing. I received my edited manuscript from my book editor in the late fall of 2015. It needed a lot of work. After analyzing the edits and talking to some of my closest writer friends, I made the difficult decision to throw out the entire second half of my story. It didn’t work and it made the main character appear unsympathetic and cold. This was the opposite of how I wanted the reader to feel about my main character. Larry’s book helped me to recast and reorganize the latter half of the story, but the path was still hazy.
In her new book, Story Genius, How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Lisa Cron discusses how the secret sauce of a story is the main character’s internal struggle and how she resolves it. I will be blogging about this book in more depth in a future post. One of the things Lisa urges writers to do at the outset is to identify the main character’s misbelief. What does the character mistakenly believe and what obstacles must she face before she can overcome that misbelief? What is the character’s internal goal? What is her internal struggle? I wish I had done this work before I started my work-in-progress (WIP).
She writes, “…the protagonist’s internal struggle is the story’s third rail, the live wire that sparks our interest and drives the story forward.” She writes that it is “emotion, rather than logic, that telegraphs meaning. This emotion is what your novel must be wired to transmit straight from the protagonist to us.”
This triggered my epiphany. That was what I was missing. What was my character’s misbelief? What did she do as a result? What specific events will cause her to confront her misbelief? I sat down and brainstormed until I had answered these questions. And suddenly the whole second half of the story, the new story I struggled to write, fell into place.
During the past week, I’ve written 7,000 words. I feel as though I am in full NaNoWriMo mode, only this time I am armed with a specific road map. It’s a great feeling.