I didn’t intend to take a spring break from my blog, but sometimes you just have to give in to life once in a while. My son’s baseball games got rained out today, so I have a few moments of free time to reflect on a nasty lesson I learned over the past two weeks that hopefully will help other writers. My problem? I got close to the climax of my book and it wasn’t working. In fact, it was fighting me. Nothing worked. I’d send my protagonist in one direction, and it wasn’t exciting (it’s supposed to be a suspense novel–what good is a boring suspense novel?). I’d send him in another direction and it was unbelievable. I let it frustrate me for nearly three weeks, pushing, and writing, and deleting, and kicking and screaming and whining to my computer screen…
(This obstacle is courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)
Then I got smart. I remembered reading somewhere that difficult endings or saggy middles is actually a problem with something much closer to the beginning. I thought my beginning was super solid, so that couldn’t be the problem. I couldn’t identify where it all fell apart. So I did what any sensible writer would do: shipped it off to a buddy (you rock, Dragonfallacy!). My friend read the first 23 chapters (75,000 words!), which was about as far as I’d shoved forward. Then she told me the story started going stale at chapter 10. WWWAAAAYYYY back in the good parts. Then she went above and beyond what any normal friend would do. She brainstormed alternate pathways for my protagonist to take. She identified other hurdles that could cross his path and make life harder. She pointed out information that could be doled out at a much slower pace, therefore increasing the tension for unknowing characters. She found new motivations and increased the stakes and inserted tricky time limits. She put the suspense back in.
If I’d calmed down and thought the problem through, I might have come up with this solution on my own. But I’m so thankful I have a wonderful friend who’s willing to help out when things get dire. I hope I get the chance to repay her someday when she’s got a rough patch she can’t get passed.
Bottom line, I learned two valuable lessons from this problem: 1) ask for help from other writers when the story is kicking my butt; 2) back up from the problem spot and try a different approach. As I’m sure others have hit this problem before, share with me and my handful of readers what you did to overcome.