Why Isn't This Working?

This post, from Sharon Wildwind, originally appeared on the Poe’s Deadly Daughters blog on 10/13/09.

There comes a point when a chapter sits there and stares at you. The longer you stare at it, the longer it stares back. Some people call it writer’s block, but in fact, it may be more story block.

Granted, writers attempt to keep going under horrendous circumstances that have nothing to do with their story line. There comes a point where real life overtakes narrative. Writers have to stop writing while they work with health professionals, lawyers, spiritual advisors, or whomever the heck it takes to get through the crises.

On a less horrendous scale, we know the remedy list. Get more sleep. Exercise. Decrease stress. Eat more beans, steamed vegetables, and multi-grained carbohydrates. Drink less alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.

We also know the remedy list for the story. High public stakes, high private stakes, or both. (Donald Maass) Sufficient goal, motivation, and disaster for each major character in the scene. (Debra Dixon, Sherry Lewis, and others) Characters wanting something right away, even if it’s only a glass of water. (Kirt Vonnegut)

If we’re doing all that good stuff—or as much of it as we can accomplish in a given day—and the chapter still stares back at us, what next?

Change the point of view. Yes, your story may be in first person so all of the chapters have to be in Annabelle’s point of view, but as an exercise try writing from the point of view of anyone else in the scene, even the dog, cat or canary if you’re desperate. There a good chance that another character will spot the flaws.

Re-sequence. Right now Tyrone enters the scene after Annabelle says, “I’ve seen to it that Tyrone will never get promoted.” What happens if he comes in before she says it? Why would she still say what she said if he’s in the room? What if he comes in the split second after she says it, and neither she nor the reader are certain if he overheard what she said? The registered letter is delivered at the end of the scene. What happens if it’s delivered at the beginning? Or half-way through?

Read the rest of the post for more tips and advice on the Poe’s Deadly Daughters blog.