by Janis Patterson
Whether a plotter or a pantser or anything in between, I’m sure every writer has reached a point in their current work where they despair. The characters aren’t behaving. An enormous and seemingly insoluble plothole has developed. The timeline makes no sense and crumbles under the slightest scrutiny. The whole project has turned into a dogs’ dinner of a mess and simply doesn’t make any kind of sense.
This kind of despair usually hits in the last few chapters, where the writer is desperately trying to wrap up all the plot threads and create a satisfying ending. Usually at this point the only thing that keeps you from tearing everything up is the sad knowledge that nothing new could be any better. This is why some writers drink. Others, like me, tend to wear out their hot tubs and wonder why they didn’t become a plumber.
Fortunately, though, professionals have learned how best to deal with the situation. I’m not going to say how, because the answer is different for every writer and sometimes for every book. What counts is the result, not the process.
When a writer is brainstorming trying to get past these obstructions, we sometimes have strange fancies. Not too long ago I was trying to finish up a novella that had given me trouble from the beginning. My stories are very character driven, meaning that after the initial set-up what transpires is the result of the characters and how they react/behave. (The opposite is called plot oriented, where the plot is fixed and, however illogically, the characters are required to behave in a way that forwards the pre-determined plot. Both versions have their reasons and their adherents.)
Well, I did have a skeletal story framework (it was an historical romance), but my characters rebelled. Instead of being a benevolent ringmaster guiding the characters through their logical paces, I had to become something between a dictator and a prison warden, forcing my recalcitrant and obstreperous characters to do what they were supposed to do to preserve the integrity of the story. It wasn’t a fault of the plot/story, because that worked out perfectly – in theory. The characters were just acting out and refusing to behave. Yes, for most writers the story develops to a point where the characters take over – and that’s a good thing, most of the time, because it means you have created real people, even if they do exist only in your head. (There is a reason writing has been called controlled schizophrenia for fun and profit…)
Anyway, I had been fighting this kind of rebellion for several days and the deadline was approaching with alarming speed. Had there been more time I just might have started over and locked this story away for a year or two, but that luxury wasn’t available. Finally I just sat back and decided that the best way to solve this was an unexpected ending – I would just have a T-Rex arise from the ornamental lake and gleefully eat all the characters. A nice, clean (except for the resultant and inevitable mess on the lawn) ending that resolved all problems.
Don’t worry – it remained a fantasy, but a most satisfying fantasy. I of course kept at it and finally figured out a way to resolve the problems, bring my recalcitrant characters back into line and end the story as planned. And I guess rather successfully, as the resulting book is one of my better sellers.
This ‘solution’ has been very beneficial, so much so that it has almost become standard in our house. As I near the end of a book The Husband has become canny enough to read my moods – and at certain times generally stay out of my way for his own safety! In these times he asks, “Is it time to call for the T-Rex?” If I say yes, he usually knows that it would be wise for him either to cook dinner or take me out. (I am so blessed to have him…)
As the word of this development spread through the family my nephew (who shares my somewhat skewed sense of humor) gave me a plastic T-Rex about six inches tall. This little gem resides in a small box decorated to look like a lake… until it is time to call him out; then he sits in proud glory on my desk, just waiting to devour any misbehaving characters.
Hey – it works for me, and no one ever said that writers have to be sane all the time!