The Character Who Wasn’t Dead

I’ve been a bit stuck on my novel recently. 

I’m still not very far into it, only within the first 50 pages and so I’m at that point where getting stuck could have dire consequences, ie, the whole damn thing could fall apart. 

When one gets stuck in the early stages of writing a novel one runs the risk of convincing oneself that its the novel’s fault and one shouldn’t write it anyway.  Then one begins to ruminate, why be a novelist?  And then, why write?  And then before one knows it one has gotten out the bottle of Cabernet and, well, then one gets no more writing done.  And one has a hangover in the morning.

So I’ve been at that stage of the novel.  And what happened was that I got my characters to a funeral.  The two main characters are sisters and it was their beloved grandmother Edna who had died.  But, I have to tell you, we have been at that damn funeral for the last two months.  I’m not kidding.  Edna had the longest-lasting funeral in the history of the world, ever.  And furthermore, nothing happened at it.  No matter how I tried to make the characters interact and move and talk, it didn’t matter.  Nothing happened.  I simply couldn’t move forward.

And let’s be clear.  It is not as if I don’t have enough other writing with which to occupy myself.  I just finished a book for Atlantic Publishing and I’m here in LA to meet with a client about ghost-writing.  And there is my journal, and this blog.  So if my characters are stuck at a funeral, it is a huge temptation just to leave them there until they either learn their lesson or get so bored they start behaving.

But yesterday, while lolling in the warm sun of LA (it was a sacrifice, especially to all of you in snow-covered parts of the country, but I did it for your own good), I had a revelation.  Perhaps it was the feeling of the 75 degree air around me that warmed my brain to the point that all the Oregon moss finally dried up, allowing creative thoughts to surface.

Whatever it was, the blinding flash as the thought entered my head must have been visible for miles around.  Here it is:

Edna isn’t dead. 

There could not be a funeral for the beloved grandmother who died because she didn’t die. 

Oh, duh. 

I thought I needed her death as an inciting incident for the story but it turns out that another incident will work ever so much better plot-wise anyway.  And this brings me to the point of this diatribe post which is that often when we get blocked it is for a reason.  Now that doesn’t sound very earth-shaking, but it is true.

We get blocked for a reason and that reason is that something is not right.  There is an element of the novel or story or screenplay which simply isn’t working.  And then it is your job (as it should have occurred to me to do much earlier) to figure out what element that is.  Possibilities include all the usual suspects:

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Location
  • All of the above

In the case of Edna not being dead, it was both character and plot related.  But I’ve had this occur with location, too, when the scene I was writing was occurring in the wrong place.   So the best thing to do when you get blocked is to ask yourself the simple question:

What is wrong?

And then run through the above list and see if you can make a connection.  Over time, you may well find other common wrongnesses and if so, add them to your list.  And then all you have to do is remember to ask  yourself the question in the first place.  I could have saved myself a couple months worth of not working if I’d remembered sooner.

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3 Comments on "The Character Who Wasn’t Dead"

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Jen
Guest

GREAT post! I once spent three months stuck in a prison visiting room. Not a fond memory…

Charlotte
Guest

Hmmm….I think maybe you win. The prison visiting room sounds worse than the funeral! Thanks for the comment.

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[…] If you uncover reason number two, that you were wrong, that’s really not so bad either, because at least now you know.  You might have been laboring under the delusion that your characters needed to go to a funeral, for instance, when in reality that character isn’t dead. […]

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