TRAPPED-NO PLACETO GO
A few days ago I discovered I’d boxed my main character into a corner. She had no way out, no way to finish solving the crime. Something like being in one of those mazes made out of shrubs. You’d find yourself in the middle of one and wouldn’t find the right path.
What if there was a killer in that same maze, looking for your main character? What then?
Well, it wasn’t as bad as all that, at least as far as danger is concerned. However, when I reached chapter 23 of my current WIP, the third in a cozy mystery series, nothing went right. I knew what I wanted to accomplish by the end of the book, had the ending in fact. Now, roughly two-thirds of the way to being finished, I found myself unable to go on. While I didn’t have writer’s block, what I did right didn’t work. So, I deleted most of chapter 23, after thinking about what I considered to be the way to go. The result was, if anything, worse than before. Things were happening in that chapter, but they didn’t match up correctly with the main mystery, or even with the red herrings. The events in the chapter didn’t advance the story, nor did they seem to have anything to do with the mystery. That problem had to be resolved. I needed to figure out why I’d put those events in the chapter and where they would lead.
I debated whether or not I should toss it and start over, but instead sent it to my critique group, trying to ignore the unsettled feeling I had about the chapter. Then I started chapter 24 and realized I had no idea what to do with it.
Now, I’m not basically an outliner; I’m a pantser. Still, I do some outlining at the beginning, a brief paragraph about the story, and then, after doing bios on my main characters, I get to work. Every now and then, I find it necessary to go over what I’ve done and then do a brief outline, maybe 3-4 chapters, always keeping in mind the ending of the book.
It didn’t work this time. So, I resorted to something I do when my mind refuses to cooperate with ideas. I play cards on the computer. Some people go for walks and such, but that doesn’t help. I’ve no idea why playing cards helps me and don’t intend to question it. However, the cards failed me. I began to worry. Was I stymied with this book? Would I have to trash it, start over with another book? I’d never had this happen to me before, and didn’t like the experience one bit.
The answer didn’t come to me until late last night. I needed to go a step farther than going over the last few chapters. What I needed required a lot more work than that, requiring me to toss out the lazy bug I’d acquired and do a detailed outline of the chapters written so far. Not an easy task when it’s late at night and I have to go to work the next day. I finished the outline, printed it and went to bed, hoping ideas would come to me as I tried to go to sleep, as they sometimes do.
But no epiphany came to me that night, so I printed the outline and took it to work with me. The job I do on Friday is a volunteer one where I fill in for the receptionist. The phone almost never rings and since I’m an unpaid worker, I get to do what I want: read, write, whatever. At any rate, as I perused the chapter by chapter outline, I realized what it needed was a detailed outline of the mystery clues and red herring clues in chronological order. So, I worked on that all afternoon, not an easy task and certainly not exciting. But, when I got near the end of the outline, the ideas began to form in my mind. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to list the tasks my characters had to complete in order to solve the crime. Then, just as important, I needed to do a similar list for the red herrings, all the way to their resolution.
It was about half an hour before quitting time when everything solidified into a cohesive whole. I had the plans for the rest of the book, written down in list form. I’d be able to get my character out of the boxed-in-corner and finish the book.
I’m greatly relieved, even though I didn’t get to write chapter 24 today (I needed to get this blog article done), but as I write this, I wonder if this experience counts as writer’s block – or did I suffer from just plain laziness, trying to get by without formulating my plan. Have any of you gone through anything similar?
Joan K. Maze
writing as J. K. Maze