Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Breakthrough: Writing Past the Doubt

Ever work on a story and know in your gut it’s not working. Of course, everybody feels that way sometime, but what if the feeling won’t go away?

The same happened to me, and will happen again, with the novel I’m writing. Weeks passed, and I couldn’t shake the sense that the story wasn’t working. Then it hit me—my plot was one-dimensional, and for a story to be worthwhile it had to be three-dimensional—the difference between a human being and a paper cutout.

If you’ve experienced the same unease, some will try to console by saying it may not be as bad as you think. But if it is, and feelings like this are visceral, it’s important to understand why the story isn’t working. I love that question of “why.” It’s a great drill-down you can keep asking until you can’t ask anymore. Then you’ve usually arrived at the problem. To fix my one-dimensional plot, I started asking “what if,” what if this or that happened? Once I asked the question, several options arose.

For these situations, Michael Neff of Algonkian Writer Conferences suggests the prose description questionnaire to prompt writers to “imagine the difference between an object [or plot or character] that is foreign to you and one that is familiar.” If you keep in mind the difference and strive for the latter, the writing and the work will improve.

To put today's musing into action, check out the tip at the top of the list, and let me know how it goes.

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