I have a lot to do before I leave for RWA National, and I was hoping for a productive writing week. Turns out I spent most of it spinning my wheels, completely blocked on an important scene. I was desperately frustrated at my lack of progress, but when I finally solved the problem I realised getting stuck had been a Good Thing.
I ground to a halt because what I was trying to write took the story in a wrong direction.
The problematic encounter takes place immediately after a fight scene in which much useful information has been discovered, but at a high cost. Most importantly, the hero’s father has been badly injured in an unexpected manner. The old man is unconscious and exhibiting severe hypothermia-like symptoms, and the hero and heroine must care for him and keep him alive until help arrives, while staying out of sight and earshot of the bad guys.
It’s a quiet interlude, allowing the story to breathe after the high-tempo action of the previous scene, but the aftermath of the fight leads the main characters to take significant decisions, so I wasn’t expecting it to be a problem. Wrong. The first draft was so boring I nearly fell asleep writing it, and I ground to a halt about halfway through.
I went back to the drawing board and started again. Got stuck again. And again.
It took me all week and I don’t know how many re-writes to get to a place I’m happy with.
My first big problem was that after making the old man comfortable and wrapping him up nice and warm, the hero and heroine basically hid on a hillside and talked. In whispers, looking around periodically for the enemy, but otherwise it was a kitchen scene, where the characters chat over a cuppa. In other words, boring. I needed Michille’s post from Thursday about character actions 🙂 .
My next mistake was letting the injured man regain consciousness by the end of the scene. What was I thinking? He started to improve quite quickly, which undermined the significance of the fight and took all the tension and energy out of this scene and the ones that followed. I can’t believe it took me two days to figure out that I’d made a colossally stupid decision.
So the stakes had to go up and the poor old guy had to be hurt much worse than I’d intended. That helped immediately, because it put much more pressure on the heroine (the fight escapade was her idea) and the hero (he approved it). That pressure drove them both to react in a much more powerful way. No more sittin’ and chattin’!
My final challenge was that I also needed the scene to change the relationship dynamic between the two main characters. I’d achieved it in a not-very-exciting way in the kitchen chat version of the scene, but now the situation had become more desperate, they needed to respond more forcefully. It would have been unrealistic and wrong to have them wrangle about personal matters when the hero’s dad lay so badly hurt and Somebody had better do Something about it PDQ.
I’d emailed fellow bloggess Jeanne a snippet of part of this scene, and she made the excellent point that in addition to covering up the injured man, one or both of the main characters should cuddle up to him for added warmth. I really liked that idea (thanks, Jeanne!) and it gave the characters something to do. So I wrote a scene where the H&H snuggled up either side of Dad and talked across his body. That felt creepy and I didn’t like it. But then – finally! – I had a brainwave.
The heroine is a skinny, underfed long drink of water and the hero is a wall of muscle, so the logical choice is for him to lie down and keep his dad warm while she stands guard over them both. Not only does that make the most sense in terms of the story, it also achieves exactly what I wanted in terms of changing the dynamic between the hero and heroine, and showing it through an important action.
Sounds obvious now. Seemed obvious as soon as I thought of it. I re-wrote the scene for (hopefully) the last time and I’m really happy with the result.
Lesson learned? For me, at least: if you get seriously stuck, there may be a good reason. Take a break, ask yourself what’s wrong with the story and why you don’t want to write it. Make sure the characters have a clear goal, identify the conflict, make the scene more active, try raising the stakes. Rinse and repeat until it feels right.
How about you?