Sometimes, when I’m writing something and getting close to the end, I’ll hit a sense of malaise. A dissatisfaction with the story that, until mere moments ago, seemed fun and energetic. A real romp from beginning to end.
Now, though, it’s dead. A floundering thing that has lost its spark.
In the past, I’d hit this moment earlier. Page ten – after the initial surge of creativity melts into the sludge of one-word-after-another. Or even the third paragraph, when a short story suddenly reveals that it’s going to be far too long for the required length, or far too straightforward.
With experience and better outlines, I’ve been keeping the inspiration going longer. I have more confidence in the ability to work through tough scenes, to inject personality and conflict into small moments necessary to keep the story going forward. As such, by the time I run out of gas, I’m now 40,000 words in rather than 500.
This, of course, presents a problem. If a story idea doesn’t pan out, you don’t want to have invested weeks or months of work to find that out. If you’re doing this for a living, you simply may not have the option of sacrificing that time and declaring the story a failed experiment.
Which leaves you (me) with two choices:
- Grind out the story anyway and finish it. This may not be the most enjoyable thing, but you may pick up the threads you lost. Fall back in love with a character you were bored of. You might find working on another project for a few days or a week to be a good way to come back to this – step away from the story so that it feels fresh. Perhaps most important is that you’ll end up with a completed work, which can either be published or, if you really feel it’s not good enough, set aside for later polish.
- Go troubleshooting. Find the boring parts, and by these I mean the parts that are boring to you, and obliterate them. Tear them apart. Examine them for problems if you want, but I’ve increasingly found it better to just rip out the scenes and start again. And add magic.
What does that mean – to “add magic”? I’m not talking about wizards here, though those are certainly fine if you prefer. Rather I’m talking about spicing the words. Taking what might otherwise be a dull or by-the-numbers affair and turning it into something truly memorable.
Take, for example, a scene from Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. We’re introduced to the protagonist’s quirky father and brother in-law at their farmhouse. In a shed in the back, to be precise. The discussion that occurs is interesting enough, though mostly serves to illustrate the interactions between the three people, but the fact that they have it around the cage of a giant boa constrictor makes it memorable. We’re paying attention to the dialogue, in part, because we’ve just been told there’s a ridiculous snake nearby. A snake that, Chabon notes, has a habit of escaping.
Is the snake a crucial plot element? No. Does the boa constrictor have a major part to play in the scene? Nope.
But its presence makes Chabon’s world a little more surreal. A little more fun to be in.
So when I’m going back to find where I lost myself, I find those dead scenes and try to add that spice. Tear out the dull settings and inject some fun. Some strange. Some weird.