Ready, Brain – Storm!

There comes a time when it finally hits home – if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same results.  This week it was clearly my turn for the revelation.  I was trying to write myself out of a hole and failing miserably.

I’ve been writing fairly consistently for a while now, yet recently a disproportionate number of scenes have been discarded.  One was a bit too fluffy and felt fake.  Another had great tension, but when I stood back I didn’t think the character motivation was consistent.  I had scenes of witty repartee that went around in circles.  I even tried to pants my way out of the hole, but with no direction the scene wobbled off into overly descriptive mode.  Eventually I had to face the fact:

My story had stalled.

It was clearly time to change tack and try something new. In my last post, Lost in Transition, I looked at the problem from a timeframe perspective.  I figured I could skip a relatively uneventful part of the story and pick it up later, so long as the transition for the reader was seamless.  But it didn’t work.  Whatever timeframe I went with I needed a better way to tie the story together; and it was going to take more than a small linking scene.

So I scheduled a brainstorming session.  My plot had a hole in it and it was going to take time to patch it properly.  I blocked off a couple of hours, turned off the phone and sat down with a notepad and stack of note cards.  (I’ve never worked with note cards before, but figured they would be the perfect accessory for a plot-brainstorm).

On the cards I wrote the last few scenes I felt were keepers, and the next major scene I was heading for.  I made a list of the five (yes five) POV characters, and sketched out their motivations heading into this phase of the story.  What I discovered was two of the characters were frustrated, and trying to write their POV was like wading through porridge.  Yet my villain, who has very limited POV page time, was in raptures. His plan was falling into place nicely thank you, and he was enjoying pulling the chains of the other two.

So I looked at this period through his eyes.  Neither of my main characters knew they were being manipulated, and my villain loved being close enough to watch them struggle.  He had plenty of ideas of how to cause trouble and make sure none of it was attributed to him.  I jotted each one down on a card, and then put my increasingly frustrated characters into them.  All of a sudden I had a handful of scenes with some depth, and purpose – even if the POV character couldn’t understand it.

The note cards, turned out to be extremely effective for this process. By using a one sentence scene shot on one side, they were easy to manipulate and helped me visualise the flow of the story.  And I used the back of the card to jot down snatches of dialogue and/or ideas for the execution of the scene.

A few hours later I had enough cards to comfortably bridge the plot gap, as well as a few new gems which should help tie the end up tight. Best of all I’m excited to start writing again!

A few hours brainstorming has given me a new lease of story life.  How about you?  How do you jump-start a stalled story?

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5 thoughts on “Ready, Brain – Storm!

  1. That’s awesome! I’m glad you managed to move forward. I’ve never tried plotting on note cards, but it seems really helpful. On the other hand, I could stick with my more generic “lists and scribbles” method of plotting… by some miracle it’s worked so far! 🙂

    1. Ah the tried and true ‘lists and scribbles’. That has always been my approach of choice too. I think I just needed to try something new, and was pleasantly surprised at how effective notecards were. Possibly because I needed a good nuts and bolts outline review. (I suspect most normal people don’t bother at first draft stage – or start out with such a big story…).

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