On January 13, 2010 Maybe a Writer definitely wrote, What I can’t seem to get, is what happens right after my beginning. I sometimes don’t even know where I’m taking the story, but I have a tiny idea for a plot. The story I’m working on is the most well-planed out I have, but I’m still on page three. Any ideas?
Alas, I’m having the same problem right now, and this will be my twenty-first book, counting just the published ones! I’m on page thirty-one, not three, but I haven’t figured out how to move further into my story. What I think I’m working on is a fantasy mystery sequel to an old Gothic story that involves embodiments of the south wind and the king of a river. The issue may be that I haven’t made either of them real in my mind yet, so they’re not working as characters. So far I haven’t even introduced them into the story.
I haven’t run into this particular problem before, although I’ve written about all sorts of creatures. I don’t believe in fairies, but I’ve had no trouble making them come alive on the page. I’m writing notes to figure out how I’m stuck and where I can go next.
For you, Maybe a Writer and anyone else who shares our predicament, there may be something inside your story that’s stopping you. In 1993 I wanted to write a novel based on Cinderella, but the fairytale itself got in my way. Cinderella is so disgustingly good and so incomprehensibly obedient that I didn’t know what to make of her, and I didn’t like her. I couldn’t get started until I thought of the curse of obedience. When I had that, I understood her and I was able to write about her.
If your trouble is inside your story, try my method and write notes about it. But notes don’t work for everybody, and they don’t always work for anyone. You can talk to a friend or relative about the way your story might go. You can even talk out loud to yourself about it. It may also help to look at my post of October 28, 2009 about writer’s block.
This prompt comes from a writing book called What If?, which is full of terrific prompts. (Kid alert: Most of this book is fine for writers and readers of any age, but some chapters are for high school and above. Check with a parent or a librarian.) The prompt comes from the book’s title. Take whatever you’ve got as a beginning and ask yourself “What if?” about what might happen next. Ask this repeatedly and write down the possibilities, whatever ideas come to you no matter how crazy they are. As in, What if the girl in the green dress who is all alone at a party sees a framed photo on the mantelpiece and recognizes one of the people in it as her sister. Or what if she starts writing on a wall of the living room where the party is happening. Or what if she interrupts two dancers and starts dancing with them. And so on.
Write ten what-ifs before looking them over. Try the one that appeals to you the most and see where it takes you.
This is a variant on another prompt in What If?: Write ten beginning scenes without thinking about what might come next, and make the scenes at least three pages long. The purpose is to get away from anxiety and think only about what will grab a reader.
When you’re finished, pick five and write another scene for each. Next, pick three out of the five and write another scene for each of them. Then see if you want to continue with any one of them.
I generally write in order, but you don’t have to. You might try taking the characters from your first scene, those three pages, and write another scene for them, out of sequence. If there are no characters yet, this is a good time to invent some and take the pressure off plot. The new scene could be something you have in mind to happen later in the story, or it could be something that went before. Or it could simply be an exploration of the characters’ relationships with one another. Write the scene in the world of the story. If the story takes place in the kingdom of Wohadfub, keep it there. If the story is set in your home town, keep it there, too.
If you’re a kid, under twenty-one, say, I don’t think you need to worry about finishing stories. The problem will take care of itself if you keep writing. You will eventually start a story that you can finish.
If you’re over twenty-one, you probably shouldn’t worry either, because worrying does no good. But for me there is always some gritting of teeth to get myself to the end of a book. And stubbornness. I’m utterly unwilling for a book to get the better of me.
I’ve mentioned that I’m writing poetry for adults, and I’m unpublished as a poet. While I would very very, as many verys as can be, like to be published, there is freedom in not being. Nobody cares what my poems are like, because nobody (except a few other aspiring poets) is reading them. Little is at stake. I can take chances and be outrageous. If you aren’t published, I hope you will use your freedom. And I hope you’ll have publishing success too. But for now, experiment! Have fun! And save whatever you come up with!