Jul 04 2012

Painting Yourself Out Of A Corner As A Writer

Nearly every novel has them, that scene or chapter that just never feels right when being read in context with the story. Sometimes they are minor. Other times they are major. But the fact that they exist so often, sometimes multiple times in a single story, is a reality.

In a way, their very existence sort of gives us aspiring authors hope. We tend to fret about every bit of our story being so perfect. Not as good as it can be mind you, but one-hundred percent infallible. It seems that this is what holds us back more than anything else. So many people never submit the novel they have written because they are certain that it has faults. Even though every story every published has faults too.

Every story has segments that just seem so out of tune with the characters or plot. You know what I mean. That spot where someone seems to capitulate far too easily to some demand or another. That spot where fate twists to save the heroine from insurmountable odds. That spot where someone goes out of character and changes sides. That spot where a new plot element is dropped upon the reader that changes anything you have been led to believe is possible. That spot where luck spins in to throw a curve.

They often happen when the author needs to get from Point A to Point C but Point B, where the character and plot currently stands, has no clear path forward. Shazam! Something is done so that everything changes and miraculously there is a bridge from Point B to Point C.

Our hero, for example, finds himself ensnared in a chamber with walls slowly closing in, threatening to juice him like an orange. There is no escape, no flaw in the trap that has been sprung. Slowly the walls close in as the seconds pass. The hero is doomed. Then, suddenly, the walls cease their advance. The clunk of a huge lock is released and the door to the room opens to reveal a companion, once thought deader than dead, who just happens to return and saves the hero. Maybe a mysterious stranger just happens by to do the same. Yippie! The story can continue.

Of course, there are ways to mask this and make this seem less obvious than I have portrayed it here. Perhaps the companion, once thought dead, has a plausible tale about how he escaped his doom. Maybe the “mysterious stranger” is instead the daughter of the Lord of the castle the hero was trying to break into/out of. Maybe she does not like her father much or maybe she remembered a prophesy speaking of a hero who matched our hero’s description and who is ordained to overthrow him and save the kingdom. Even though prior to this point there was no indication of any of this? Sure! Why not! It’s a story after all!

The trick is to camouflage what you are doing and make the obvious, oh crap I do not know how to move forward from here moment look like you planned it this way all the time. But, try as authors might, some of these sorts of scenes always just glare at the reader who is left thinking that things really did not make complete sense. Maybe we are able to suspend disbelief just enough to ignore them. Many times thought, we cannot.

Oh well. It’s a story. We writers do our best. Problem is, we’re only human and we’re fallible. Can you forgive us?

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