Is your story grinding to a halt every time you set fingers to keyboard? Have you found yourself playing minecraft, or suddenly absorbed with facebook games/obsessively tweeting random things about armpit hair? It’s time to play hardball with your story. If you’re not excited to the point of wetting yourself (okay, maybe that’s just me) every time you settle in to work on your WIP, chances are, there’s something wrong. Either it’s something wrong with you, or more likely, something wrong with the story. Just to be safe, rule out that it’s not you, first–are you sick? Worried about family issues? Being chased by bears? If so, it’s okay to let escaping the bears be the priority.
But once you’re safe from bears, it’s time to figure out what’s troubling you about your story. And it may very well be that You Done Got Hitched.
Here Comes The Bride?
Somewhere, during the course of the WIP, you probably got married to something you didn’t expect and had no conscious intention of marrying. Like a weekend bender in Vegas, you woke up one morning next to a stranger with a ring on your finger (and maybe a new tattoo) and are understandably freaking the hell out.
First, don’t sweat it too much. Vegas Weddings, being the epitome of the sanctity of marriage that they are, come apart with strong sunlight and a simple trip to the county courthouse. I think there might even be a drive-thru nowadays. Now if you’ve found yourself leg-shackled to a terrible idea in your WIP, that might be a little harder to dissolve than a Sin-City “til death do us part,” but it can be done.
A Match Made In Hell
Like any good divorce, you’re gonna need a good excuse (“I didn’t know the guy” didn’t work for much of human history and still doesn’t fly in many instances today). If there’s Trouble in Paradise, the first thing you identify is why Paradise was Paradise in the first place. Was it warm, sandy beaches? A warm, sandy story about finding home? What’s the most persistent thing that made you want to settle in and live in this book for heaven knows how many weeks or months or years? And what is missing from the swamp you’re currently slogging through?
To figure out where you’re going wrong, you have to know what’s oh-so-right about your WIP. You’ll never understand why it didn’t work out between Peggy Sue and Crankshaft until you understand that Peggy Sue’s charm comes from her ability to vacuum in pearls and high heels and her obsessive-compulsive animosity towards dirt, while Crankshaft’s natural milieu is automotive grease (and because I am who I am, I am totally imagining just how they would, in fact, work out by bringing out Peggy Sue’s secret fetish for greasemonkeys and Crankshaft’s not-so-secret love of homemade pie).
Enter The Confessional
If you’ve found yourself flailing in your WIP because you’re married to something that doesn’t work, you first have to identify the monster in the bed. Chances are, you’ve been thinking obsessively about it for quite some time. Trying to unconsciously fit in that trip to a candy factory in the middle of your “Diabetics in Love” coming of age story (if you have, it probably goes at the end and is part of a suspenseful climax where the characters have to face their worst nightmares to earn their happy endings, and it should probably include a Boss Fight with Paula Deen). Or trying to fit the really witty dialogue into a tender confessional during an end-of-life scene (probably not gonna work outside the black comedy or satire genres). This isn’t an easy thing to do, because you have to be really honest with yourself over what’s NOT working in your story. But once you do (and ask yourself at least three times because otherwise, you’ll lie or change the subject and end up flailing), here comes the hard part.
The Gentle Let-Down
Those ideas that you grow so attached to are hard to let go. But let go, you must, because your brain power, your muse, your creativity, and all your attention, are being sucked into them like cat hairballs up into a bagless cyclone tank, leaving nothing but dead, lifeless carpet behind. In beige.
But these suckers don’t let go easy. In fact, you’ve probably come up with them for a very good reason that isn’t self-sabotage. They’re part of the discovery process of learning about the story you really want to tell, and they’re as important as any scientific discovery that leads to a dead end. You’ve heard the Thomas Edison quote in response to a Times reporter in the late 20’s/early 30’s:
“I have not failed seven hundred times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work.”
Because he followed it up with this:
“When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
This might have been a marriage doomed from the start, but you’re allowed to acknowledge that it might have been a good idea. Just not for your particular story at this time. Once you complete that process of saying, “It’s not you, it’s not me, we’re just not right for each other,” you can then cheerfully shake hands and part ways amicably. Chances are, you might even walk away with some of that idea, like getting the Cuisinart instead of that hideous punch bowl.
“I have not failed seven hundred times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those seven hundred ways will not work.
My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is out now! Please check it out!
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She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.