Question: What can I do when my story gets stuck?
Answer: I’ll tell you what I did. It happened in Chapter 29 of A Wrong Way Home. I was in trouble. This was the first book in a series and if I couldn’t make this story work I couldn’t make the story work. Still I was worse than stuck. I didn’t want anything more to do with Chapter 29.
The demon in my head even suggested I didn’t want anything more to do with the whole damned thing. The book – the series – all of it. I’d come all this way. I’d written 28 chapters but it was simply getting too hard. That was the theme of my whining anyway. So I tripped into something I do too easily – the avoidance dance.
I decided our bedroom must be rearranged. Heavy furniture needed moving so I recruited my husband. He had no idea I was really avoiding Chapter 29. An important step in the dance is not to tell anyone you’re doing it. After 42 years together my husband knows it’s sometimes better just to go along with things so he hefted the heavy stuff.
[That’s us on our hippie wedding day all those years ago. We weren’t moving furniture or avoiding because we were too busy dancing.]
Back to my story. The bedroom did look better and I gave hubby a hug and loads of gratitude. But Chapter 29 still loomed large on my laptop. I needed another detour. As I gazed around our newly imagined bedroom it occurred to me that we needed to be better entertained there too. Behave. I hear your sniggers. For once I’m not talking about sex.
I decided we couldn’t survive without Amazon Prime on the bedroom TV. Again I enlisted my husband as unwitting accomplice. He was more enthusiastic about this project than he’d been about moving furniture. The prospect of binge watching Ray Donovan all weekend lured him in. He took over the lengthy signup process I dread then binged away.
Unfortunately Monday arrived and Chapter 29 still lurked. I did my best to avoid my laptop. But I was beginning to feel some shame. I needed a truly justifiable diversion this time so I decided to pay the bills. There’s usually nothing I hate as much as the tedium of bill paying. Apparently I hated Chapter 29 more.
Monday turned to Tuesday but not before I developed a convenient cough in between. I told myself I had a summer cold coming on. It was August at the time. My grandmother used to say “There’s nothing worse than a summer cold” and Grandma never lied. So I downed a couple of pills that put my brain in a fog and that took care of Tuesday.
The next morning inevitably dawned and it was just as inevitably Wednesday. Hump Day. The day I had to get over the hump of Chapter 29 or give up altogether. Would the previous 28 chapters ever forgive me if I gave up? Would I forgive myself? Then I remembered that the most important writing exercise is to put your butt in the chair. So I did that.
I opened Chapter 29 and there he was – Matt Kalli – the hero even I’m in love with in A Wrong Way Home. Matt knew I’d been gone but he was only partly happy to see me back. “You have to make something happen here,” he said. “Something that kicks up more trouble between me and Kara.” She’s the heroine I also love in this story.
Suddenly the solution popped into my head. Secrets and Lies. My two favorite plot thickeners are also wonderful story movers. Have somebody keep a secret or tell a lie and the story suddenly gathers new momentum. I needed to plant a lie and a secret here. I went back to the end of Chapter 28 and started planting.
Kara finds out that Matt hasn’t told her something crucial – a lie of omission. But she’s not going to tell him she’s found out – a secret. Matt is worried about where she is at the beginning of Chapter 29. When she shows up she’s boiling angry and won’t tell him why. Kara knows why she’s red-hot mad. We readers know why. Matt has no clue.
This creates tension and drama and a “What will happen next?” feeling. That question and the suspense that come with it carry us all out of Chapter 29 at last. I’m so relieved I can’t help but have a mischievous thought. I even say it out loud. “What if all this red-hot anger in Chapter 29 turns into red-hot lovemaking in Chapter 30?”
Voila! The story is unstuck. And so am I.
I’m Alice Orr – author of 12 novels, 2 novellas, a memoir and No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells – soon to be updated and on sale online. I’m also a former book editor and literary agent. Now I live my dream of writing full-time. Plus I present workshops on writing for publication and/or pleasure. I have 2 grown children and 2 perfect grandchildren and live with my husband Jonathan in New York City. Occasionally we partner each other in the avoidance dance. This is us on our wedding day over 42 years ago – just dancing.
Find my books at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit my website www.aliceorrbooks.com. Regular mail me at P.O. Box 6224 – Long Island City NY 11106. I’d love to hear from you.