One of the most frustrating things about creative writing, in my opinion, is that it’s annoyingly easy to write yourself into a corner. I’m talking about those sentences that suddenly become dead ends or those events that suddenly seem to have no purpose in the middle of the story/paragraph.
That slow slide to a stop when you sit back from the keyboard and your mind is left with a bunch of question marks and the overwhelming feeling that you’ve dug down and you can’t climb back out.
Alright, so maybe that got a teeny-tiny dramatic towards the end of that description but, can you see my point?
Just the other day I had a character leave the house and return hours later with no information about what he did in the hours he was gone. Why did he leave in the first place? What did he do while he was out? Why did he come home? Well, if I’m the writer and I don’t know the answer to those questions (I still don’t know) then I don’t think that the reader has a chance of figuring it out.
That’s one of the main areas where editing thrives because taking out dead ends tends to make a piece of writing flow much better.
Yet, I always want to be better at avoiding these dead ends in the first place.
Avoiding boring sentences is usually the first step to this. I’m talking about sentences that aren’t necessary. If I’m asking myself, “Do I need to describe him putting milk on his cereal?” The answer is (almost) always no. When you’re following a character around, the day-to-day business of their lives is really only relevant if it furthers the plot. Yet, sometimes it’s tempting to get caught up in the small details as a writer.
Let’s be honest, working with original characters is like trying to build a person from nothing. Basically, all you have is small details. As you write, it’s inevitable that you need more and more details to stop you’re character from falling completely flat. People are really, really complicated but, just as you don’t need to know every single second about your best friend’s day, you can skip the boring stuff in favour of the rest when it comes to your character. It’s okay if we don’t know what kind of cereal they’re eating but, as readers we should know why they’re leaving the house.
Writing carries a weird sense of purpose. There’s a reason why we bother to scribbles words on a page so it shouldn’t be surprising that characters require reason for action as well.
A dead end means that you’ve come to a complete stop. These instances tend to be really uninspiring. So, the last time I wrote myself into a corner I skipped a couple of days in the narrative and started from there. New page, new day, new events.
The popular rule of improvisation is that every answer is “yes, and…” in order to keep the narrative going. Nothing stops a story more than a resounding, definite “no”. So, this rule isn’t a bad thing to apply to creative writing. If your sentence doesn’t have something about it that you can expand on then, maybe you should take a second look at whether it should be there in the first place.
Another way of moving things along, as well as giving your character something to say yes to or skipping to a new small beginning, is to throw something unexpected at your character (not always literally). It’s an immensely popular short story writing exercise to present your character with a situation, other character, etc. that changes the pace and guarantees that your character will have to interact with the situation to progress. Realising that there is nothing but yourself stopping you from putting whatever you want in your character’s path is kind of a weird moment of power in my experience. Your character sees a llama in the middle of the road? Great. Your character suddenly decides that they’re going to travel the world via boat? Awesome. An alien shows up in their bathtub? Well, okay then.
It’s a weird gig.
The point I’m trying to make is this. Dead ends are only permanent if you fail to carry on. So, keep writing and good luck.