Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Good vs Evil - Getting Unstuck

Sometimes you get stuck. You like the story. You know it's one you can write but every time you tackle it, you seem to get a little more stuck. It's as if the story is on the other side of a thick glass door – you can see it but you're not getting through.

What to do? Should you bail on the whole project? I say only as a last resort. For one thing, throwing out ideas is kind of like breaking promises to yourself. Do it enough and your creativity will become suspicious of your intentions. Stories come to those who welcome them. Turn too many away and they will know you can't be trusted.

Try this instead. If you really believe the story is there and you just can't get a handle on it, try writing out a list of Good and Evil.

On the Good side, list all of the things you want to see in the book. Don't censor yourself. Don't be afraid of being too specific, too general or too juvenile. For example, for my current work-in-progress, my list includes such mastermind desires as "cool con man tricks" and "a really nefarious plot for the bad guys." I know what you're thinking – that's probably exactly what Faulkner and Dostoevsky aimed for too. Hey, this isn't the finished product. It's what you would really love to see in your story. (I have a few things on the list about my main character's inner journey as well, don't worry. I'm not a total mental four year old.)

The wisdom of being broad and optimistic on the Good side reveals itself when you start writing the Evil side. The Evil list contains all the fears, concerns and dreads you worry are keeping your story in the shadows. Don't include any "real world" stuff, like your boss commandeering your time or the prohibitive price of printer ink. This is just story time. My Evil list includes fears that my main character won't prove she has the chops to fight the bad guys; that the aforementioned nefarious plot will be obvious or threadbare; that I won't adequately express the coolness of the con man tricks.

The end result? By specifically listing the desired elements, I could focus on the fun I want to have writing this story. The Evils were all just fears of "not doing," easily conquered by, well, doing. My story felt stuck because I was holding back on the Good things, doling them out with a stingy hand as if too much of a Good thing would be dangerous.

Good vs Evil – If you're stuck in your story, try breaking it down to the basics. What would be on your list?


Clarissa Southwick said...

What a great idea! I can't wait to try it out on my WIP. Thanks.

Donna Cummings said...

I hate to give up on a story too, but sometimes I haven't felt quite ready for it. This might help me do the trick though. Sometimes it's a good thing to list the fears so you can blast through them. Kapow! (Sorry I just figured out a scene in my WIP and I'm feeling like a superhero now. LOL)

Leigh Michaels said...

Wonderful tool, Sheila. I can especially relate to how the thing preventing you from writing is fear.

I have a post-it on my monitor that says, "What am I afraid of?" -- it's a constant reminder that giving in to fear gets me nowhere!

Anonymous said...

Hello I am a writer. Just kidding I am someone who likes to spend a moment here and there fabricating unreadable manuscripts and I also dislike believing in anything above all reality from which I must be assumed to originate. At this random juncture: find an email address, my own. Accept my smiling jovial mark of approval toward these blogs so recently apparent and in some way perfectly relevant to my always nebulous condition. The Hebrews Call Me DAN(u)EL, I believe in reference to a canaanite divinity who they thought well of: El. You be the judge.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Great post, Sheila!

I will definitely have to give this a try. I hate when I get stuck, but usually just keep going even if I think I'm writing crap. Eventually something good comes out of it :-)

SG Redling said...

I appreciate all the feedback. It always seems to come back to fear, doesn't it? And what has less reality than the fear of failure? To be paralyzed by the fear of failure is to fail. Uh oh, I'm slipping into Laptoptician think!

Liz Lipperman said...

I'll have to give this a try. I find when I am in that spot, I need more plot. On my last book, I jumped ahead several chapters since I knew where I was headed. Going back and filling them in wasn't so bad after that.

Loved your idea and will definitely give it a try.

Marilyn Sue Shank said...

Love this--can't change what you don't acknowledge, as Dr. Phil likes to say. By acknowledging fears about the story, I can change them. Good plan, Sheila!