Stalling on a Scene: A Writer Muses

I haven’t written any fiction in about a week. And I’m here to talk about why, for my sake and maybe yours.

My current process is to work on two projects at the same time, switching at the end of each chunk. The idea is it keeps me fresh and allows me time to have perspective on each story. I’m being strict with the process. If I can find excuses not to do the work, I usually do, so there are no excuses. I finish each bit before I move onto the next. I’ll maybe allow myself to nibble on a new project in between blocks, jot down ideas that jump into the mind, but that’s it. So far so good. Sometimes I’ve hated the work I’ve been on, but sometimes that hate has got me to write so I can be free.

But now I’m stuck on a scene. That’s not good. Why?

I generally try to plot out a scene in my head before I write it, imagining it like it was a movie playing out in there. Some people like the thrill of discovery writing, me I find I write better and quicker when I’ve made the plans ahead of time. When I can’t though, I’ll just pick the right moment, a witty line, and see what happens. I am not a fan of the whole “just get it down so you can fix it” approach – my best work, personally, is well planned and clean the first time – but sometimes you’re in a place where life’s given you lemons. Squeezing them in your eye isn’t a strong decision.

This time though, I can’t even think of the moment or line. What’s going on?

The smart thing to do, or so most people I know say, when you have something that’s not working is to ask yourself why it’s there in the first place. There’s a good chance that the feeling of it stalling is your instincts not seeing the point of the scene. Even if you’re right that the scene should be there, it’s a useful diagnostic tool.

The scene in question is from a project I’ve codenamed Sparrow & Stab. In it Sparrow, a kind-hearted sorcerer’s apprentice trying to become an evil overlady, is about to meet with the thief (who has her own problems) who stole a precious spellbook with the intention of getting it back so she’s not up the proverbial. It’s an important meeting.

Or is it? I know this meeting won’t just join up narrative arcs, it will play a big influence on what both characters do next. The problem is I’m not sure what each character is doing next. The thief will be trying to steal a *REDACTED* as part of her plan to make the big leagues of crime in the big city. Sparrow’s going to… what? I think I’d been hoping that this would come clear from writing the scene.

Still. I think it part of the story. I think it’s an important part of the story, potentially.

Let’s review this from a different angle – not that of the plot, but of Sparrow’s internal arc, which is wanting people to stop treating her like a cute harmless pushover. What’s changing here? So far, Sparrow’s surprised herself a little with how un-cute and harmless she can be. But is this scene her trying this new approach and it going wrong? Her reverting back to type? Does she end it discouraged, or thinking she’s doing the right thing? Honestly, I hadn’t asked any of these questions before. I’d been hoping it would work free. Now I’m asking these questions, I think things are indeed starting to shift.

The important thing is that Sparrow’s going to walk into this scene like she’s twelve feet tall (or her version). She’s been having successes. She’s on a roll. She’s got this. The best way to show this is in contrast to someone who’s feeling a lot more nervy about this – someone like Stab, who’s been having a crap time and has taken a dangerous decision to be there and who’s a lot more afraid of the thief than Sparrow is. This scene will start with them arguing, which will also make for a good sequel to Sparrow’s last scene (her emotional response, for those unfamiliar with the scene/sequel plotting method, not that this article particularly follows that terminology).

That’s my in. I have a lot more questions but with an in I can knock them down.

Now I just need a snappy line to get things working, and I will be unstalled.

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