Writing Past Speed Bumps by Dianna Love
What’s a speed bump? That moment when you run into something you can’t figure out and stop writing. When you spend more time fingering your keyboard than actually typing until you finally get up and walk away to…make a mad dash into the kitchen to load those three dirty cups into the dishwasher or decide you really have to go retrieve today’s mail this minute or you’re sure a really important email has just popped up in your inbox.
In other words, it’s whatever causes you to lose momentum and stumble on your story. We all stumble on stories, but it’s what you do next that will determine if it is just a speed bump or an all out road block. I’m a plotter by nature, or probably more of a hybrid since I don’t clear a wall in my home to create a flowchart and tend to start typing on a story the minute it begins to flow while I’m plotting. I do like to have an idea where the story is going when I start just to keep me from stalling out when my creative juices are flowing. But even with a plot developed, the process of writing is a creative and changing one.
You can be a plotter or pantser and still hit that point where “something doesn’t feel right” or you’re all of a sudden “not happy with what how characters are behaving.” Even if you know where your story is going surprises jump out of nowhere as wonderful gifts that enrich your story, but they can also cause a kink down the road.
Try a couple simple exercises. The easiest way to continue being productive is to jump ahead to the next scene you know and continue writing, but I realize this really plays havoc on linear writers who can only continue writing in an orderly way. Even so, we normally know one or more scenes further into the book that will need writing at some point. Open a new file – away from all that orderly writing – and just type the scene. One thing that will probably happen is new ideas will pop into your mind as you’re typing that may break your mental log jam on an earlier scene. If not, when you finish the scene, think backwards on what would be the set up for that scene and consider more than one way to get to that point.
If something just doesn’t feel right or if you’ve hit a current scene that is starting feel like “filler” look at the three prior scenes and ask these questions of each one:
~ What is the purpose of this scene (the answer should be something significant that affects the character and/or the plot)?
~ What changes in each scene from the opening line to the last paragraph?
If you have a hard time answering that about any of these three scenes this is likely the point when your story started to jump track. Consider pulling that scene out of sequence, going back to the last one that “worked for you” and write down three possible ways you could move ahead to reach the next unwritten scene you have in mind. Consider using a different setting that would create more problems or conflict for the characters, or throws at least one character out of his/her comfort zone.
If your character is not being active or not getting the job done in the story, try the quickest fix of switching POVs (if it is in third person). You’d be surprised at how many times that solved scene problems for me.
If there are more than three characters in a scene, try writing it without one of them. If there are only two, try bringing in another character – especially an unexpected one – that will up the conflict, because “lack of conflict” is at the center of most scene and story issues. One common "type of scene" that loses story momentum – which leads to speed bumps – is when two people are driving somewhere to basically put them together for a bit to talk (and dump information), but with no real purpose beyond the dialogue. If this is the case, cut it and make the drive “off stage” then find a better place to weave in that information in a more active way. Or sometimes it’s a meal where the only obvious purpose is to bring people together in one spot, but again – no real conflict or point to the scene.
Keying in quickly on the problem you’ve run into gives you the power to fix it and move on. The idea to being productive at writing is to continually “brainstorm” as you write. A speed bump is a sign you are not allowing your creative side freedom. You can fix a problem if you can identify it, because you ARE a writer. All you have to do is allow yourself the leeway to recreate something that truly is not set in stone unless you let it be.
Speed bumps are when we get in our own way. When we are so focused on everything unfolding only one way in the story that we prevent our creative lobe to function at optimum level.
So give yourself a writing challenge for at least a week to just burn through some pages and you’ll probably be surprised at how much you can do when you open the valve to those creative juices. And when you do push through the tough times, don’t forget to do something really nice for yourself…because you deserve it!
In the meantime, what do you find helps you stay on track the best and do you reward yourself for writing past those speed bumps? If so, what is your reward? :)
Don’t miss Maureen Hardegree's “Feedback: Five Steps to Separate the Wheat from the Chaff”on Tuesday, November 18th.
NYT Best Seller Dianna Love writes romantic thrillers and urban fantasy.
Her next release is an urban fantasy novella - MIDNIGHT KISS GOODBYE - in the Dead After Dark Anthology (December 2, 2008). Dianna's upcoming thriller is WHISPERED LIES (Pocket/May 2009). And watch for the nonfiction book she and Mary Buckham have coming out June 2009 - Break Into Fiction®: Power Plot Your Novel.
For more on Dianna visit www.AuthorDiannaLove.com