I recently found myself at a dead end with my work-in-progress, Raven in Gray. If you’re a pantser like me you’re probably familiar with the question I was asking myself: now what?
I tried to write myself out of it. I played the what if game. I read. I went out and lived life, hoping to be hit by a lightening bolt of inspiration. I pinned to my book’s storyboard endlessly. I walked away from my manuscript, figuring I’d simply lost my pants and I’d eventually find them when the time was right. But time ticked on. And on. And on. Nothing.
I asked myself if there were fears I wasn’t acknowledging. Maybe that was the problem? Nope.
Then one day, when I was obsessing over the plot and my characters for the thousandth time, I noticed something in myself. It was a feeling that arose in response to one aspect of my story: the fact that my protagonist has a young son. It was a feeling so fleeting and subtle I hadn’t noticed it before. And the feeling was sort of like the sensation that comes over me when I think about doing something I don’t want to do (dishes, the dentist, parties.)
Since I approach writing as an intuitive process, I knew I needed to explore this feeling. The result of that exploration was the realization that my protagonist doesn’t have a son. Well, she shouldn’t.
But you’ve already written him into the plot! That will change everything!
Yes, yes, it’s a pain, but that’s how stories are written. They evolve and change. I had to accept the fact that my protagonist being a mother was simply not true to the story.
So I took out the kid and guess what happened? Bam. The inspiration, words, and ideas flowed like water out of a busted dam.
Being true to the story is kind of an abstract idea, but I think this is what it’s about. Stories and characters have a life of their own and it’s our job to represent that story and that character truthfully. It’s our job to find “the truth inside the lie” as Stephen King says. Our characters will let us know if we aren’t telling the truth. But sometimes they whisper their objections so quietly we can’t even hear. All we have is a subtle, ooky feeling that something isn’t right.
Don’t ignore that feeling. It can be the difference between a few small revisions and an entire re-write!
What about you? Are there times you realized you weren’t being true to your story?