Monday, October 5, 2009

SuperGlue on the toilet seat

....Or you will not move from this place without acetone or surgery or possibly both.

It’s been my problem (metaphorically speaking, so far) with various books. And they -- and I -- might still be in that place had it not been for intervention. For me, at least problem occurs if and when I feel the book is... um... in the toilet.

And many of the same practical solutions apply. For me at least, being stuck is usually a sign that the inner editor is unhappy. He does not see _why_ the characters -- who are well developed individuals with lives and minds of their own would even contemplate going on with this ridiculous charade-of-a-plot. You are stuck there, you total plonker, until you do something about it (and in future make sure you examine the situation before you stick).

The first step is to call for help. If I’m co-authoring that’s easy enough and Eric is good plot structure. I’ve found this is -in my case - my subconscious telling me something is wrong and missing. It’s often (from close up) very hard to see. Wood from the trees stuff, if you know what I mean. You - the author - know what is going on, you know the background, you know where it’s all going. That ‘this is confusing’ and ‘huh?’from another reader have been great at helping to choose the direction to pull free. Sometimes it’s as simple as inserting another point of veiw.

If that fails, or only helps a little by showing the problem but not what to about it: The second step is apply acetone. And the acetone of story writing is stuff called whyo which is gathered by unscrupulous dealers from small children who exude the stuff every time they open their little mouths. If they take too much the children are doomed to become non-reading-square-eyes, but, despite its rather unsavoury origins it is of vast value to me anyway. Because being stuck very often means I have failed to establish sufficient motive for the character to take the actions required for the plot. Asking why (and sometimes hows and whats) the character will take the steps in the direction I want them to go, often means that I need to go back and insert these motivations... and hey presto, I’m free.

But sometimes that doesn’t even work. On a couple of occasions -- and it is usually quite specific -- the way forward is surgery. This can be minor or drastic. But it usually means at a decision point in the story a little earlier, you took your character/s down the wrong path. Cut. Move off down the other tangent. (And this is usually accompanied by a feeling of freedom and relief, as well as considerable pain at losing what could be some good prose.)

The final possibility is just to pull the seat off and move on to get help. Seriously. Just jump ahead to a scene where you are free again. Very often the intermediate bit will resolve itself.

Ok - anyone else got any other suggestions to free the stuck writer? Back off with that dynamite, Bob!

Oh BTW - Amazon is shipping DRAGON'S RING. There is no SuperGlue in it at all.

17 comments:

RJ_CruzeJr said...

Dynamite? Never!!! Now Semtex on the other hand...

Or if you're in the mood for a more "organic" solution, a couple platefuls of sarmas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabbage_roll) and a Zippo lighter will do the trick.


:-D

Dave Freer said...

Ah the return of miz Atwood's talking brassicas. Graffitti 'planet x' on the door.

Amanda Green said...

I'm at the dynamite phase right now. I've had a project that's been on the back burner for months because that irritating internal editor kept telling me something was wrong and I couldn't figure out what it was. Talking it out helped some, but not enough to get the story moving forward again. So, since Sarah threatened to hurt me if I built a bonfire using it as fuel, I put it away. And, woke up middle of the night the other night with the solution. Of course, it means going back to the very beginning and reframing it some. But I think that is going to be enough to get moving forward again -- at least I hope so.

As for Dragon's Ring and no super glue needed there, you're right. It's much too good of a book to put down. The only superglue needed there is to make sure Monkey butt is kept in its chair and his fingers are busily working to bring us more wonderful books ;-)

Anonymous said...

The worst stuck I've been in didn't resolve until I realized that my main characters couldn't solve the problem.

:: sigh ::

The Bad Guy was the only one who had that ability.

So I had to reframe the whole story so he was clearly the Main Character. He needed more fleshing out, but I think my subconscious had been onto the problem right along, because it was not terribly hard. Then I had to create a new Bad Guy, but what the heck, slime bags are kinda fun to write . . .

MataPam

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

You LIE. Dragon's Ring is all over superglue. The kind that keeps your eyes glue to the page all night. I went through a con in a fugue state, trying to get back to the book and continue reading. Nothing else mattered... :D

As for the stuck story... I've been known to cut one third of the book and go back. It hurts. Lately though I found out it was the character's name holding me back. Someone explain that ONE to me.

Save said...

I've seen some people say that one benefot of working on two (or more) books simultaneously is that you can put one aside to marinate a bit and work on the other. Then, as you reread the first to remember where you were at, the obvious plot hole stares you in the face.

I'm not so sure but as soneone who's writing slowly (writing fiction that is) I have certainyl seen the benefit of a delay. It made me realize that I needed to add a few days to the duration of my story. Not only did that help from a plotpoint of view, the requirement to add some days in the middle meant I needed to find stuff to for the characters to do/talk about and that meant better background introduction and the requirement that a certain cardboard minor character become rather more important. Which ended up giving symmetry to the romance aspect and well now its a win all around which it wasn't before

Francis Turner said...

OOps SAVE comment was me as my alter ego "Save the Dragons"

Dave Freer said...

Sarah, of course I lie. I'm an author. But like most wise liars I avoid it unless unavoidable. It makes people more likely to believe me when I really need them to ;-)

Dave Freer said...

Yes, Francis, sometimes noodling it for a few days can help. Noodling with a dose of well applied whyo works better in my experience ;-)

Anonymous said...

This used to be the bane of my writing. I always felt I couldn't go forward until I had this part fixed. I never got anything finished. Now, I employ your final fix. I skip it until I absolutely, positively have to deal with it. And you're right. There's usually something AFTER that point that helps me fix it. I'd have never seen that if I'd insisted on fixing it right then and there. It's really, really hard for me to skip the problem at that time, but it usually does work out for the best.

Linda Davis

Dave Freer said...

Yes Linda, I do that a lot more now too. But one thing I should have said -- these are cures that work for me. No two writers are alike.

Kate said...

My issue tends not to be superglue, but the... ahem... opposite. So many brightshinyhappy new ideas, so little time.

When I block, it's usually physical (I'm sick and having a bad case of brain no workie - identifiable because nothing else workie either), neurophysical (oh crap, forgot my meds two days running and now I'm wandering around in a haze and should not be let out without a minder and optionally a leash), or I need to have the next part a bit clearer before I can move on because there's something I"ve got to set up.

Weirdly, I tend not to throw out. So far the detours usually end up picking up something the story needs and adding to it. Of course, I suffer from characters who insist that if I just let them handle it, it will all be fine. Yeah right. Where have I heard that before.

Chris McMahon said...

I must admit to never using the skip forward option. I am too plot-driven and too damn stubborn!

For me its more about accepting that the there is a delay between analysing the problem and getting the 'Ahaa!' solution.

I using prod and poke and analyse what the problem is from every angle I can think of. For me this is 'charging the problem'. Then the solution will usually appear organically, often while I am doing mundane chores like shampooing the Llamas or saddling the crocodiles.

One key to this for me is letting myself off the hook - allowing myself to consider this excerise in navel-gazing valid writing time.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Actually I do what Kate does with SERIOUS block. If it goes on for more than a day -- four and counting -- I'm usually ill. the sign is nothing else gets done. This time I don't FEEL ill, so it's either hormonal or I'm just tired. (Frowns.) Maybe MileHi would be a BAD idea.

Dave Freer said...

Kate, every one is different. And no one is only right. :-)

Dave Freer said...

Chris - what do you do when that goes beyond days?

Anonymous said...

When stuck, I read a _good_ book. Unless I'm feeling masochistic, then I read slush, and punish my brain.

And when I get really desperate, I give up sugar and caffenne and get lots of healthy sleep. I think this terrifies my brain into a creative fit. Good nutrition couldn't possibly effect . . .

Dragon Ring has arrived, and will no doubt keep me out of trouble till at least midnight.

MataPam