Thoughts on Impasses

This week, I want to write about a character who showed up who I thought of writing out. (For the sake of the story and for this character, who is quite shy, I'm not going to tell you anything about her or her name. I can see how that would be annoying. I hope you can forgive me. I think this post has some interesting ideas about how story is created. Please read on!)

Here's what happened. I tussled with my draft this week. Let me say that I'm not of the “write a first draft without thinking” school. I figure out a lot of things in my first draft. I don't feel comfortable moving ahead until it feels right to me. That doesn't mean that's it's perfection. It has to make basic sense to me. I want my characters to learn things in interesting ways. I want twists and turns. This may should like a “pantser,” a writer who makes things up as she goes. I'm not. I have a solid sense of the basic components of the story before I start out. But characters do surprise me.

Last week, I came to an impasse. I knew where the story had to go. I knew what needed to happen, but none of my characters wanted to do it. I couldn't imagine the scene. I kept trying different settings, different angles. None of it clicked. The first thought I had was of character sacrifice. Maybe the problem was this particular side story. Maybe I had bitten off too much. Maybe I had asked a character to do too much. Maybe other characters were mad because it was taking up some of their story time. So I wrote an outline where that character didn't exist. (Note: This is one of my favorite writing tools. When I wrote the first draft of my first book, I would often write out a numbered list of the story scenes before I began each writing time. It kept me on track. It comforted me. I felt if I knew the story, and I could write it off the top of my head, in “Well, this happened, then this happened” way, there was a good chance that the story made sense. I still do it now, but not usually every session, when I have moments like this when I feel like I may have walked in the woods rather than staying on the trail.)

Anyway, when I started this outline without this character, I first felt exhilarated. It was working! Of course! Then I felt sad. The story felt so short, rather impoverished without this character. She had to be in it. I went back to what I was doing. I tried to place myself in it. I tried to imagine what the other characters would be doing, how they would be feeling, but I couldn't find a way that made me happy. I resolved if I felt this way tomorrow, I would just write a crappy scene that took me to scenes where I felt more comfortable and know that it would just be a placeholder so that I could continue.

But then I woke up this morning, and I had the answer. At least I think I do. I haven't yet worked on my draft today. The character comes in later. It seems so obvious now. That's why I felt that initial happiness working on that draft. I had just forced the entrance of this character. Since she's shy, she's happy to come in later, and it makes sense for the story.

The lesson here for me and perhaps for you? Have faith that the answers will come. Try to look at the impasse as an interesting puzzle. Those pieces don't fit, no matter how hard you try. You have to surrender. If characters don't want to do something, listen to them. Otherwise expect super boring material or no shows. See where they want to connect.

I hope this is helpful to you. If you would like to share your creative process story, please feel free to do so in the comments below.