Today’s post was inspired by Jennifer Lewis Oliver a member of my WANA class of last year, she posted that she felt stuck in her latest work, that she didn’t know what to do next. And when I participated in a fast draft with other writers, someone mentioned getting stuck at the 50,000 word mark. When I wrote the latest version of my novel, I was also stumped when hitting that number count. So of course, because I can’t leave well enough alone, this got me thinking, and hitting the books.
I went back to Blake Snyder, in his book, “Save the Cat Strikes Back” he talks about how the action just after the Point of No Return, or if you study Chris Vogler, he calls it the “Ordeal” is one of the toughest to write. If you do the math, and your goal is an 80,000 to 90,000 or so word novel, you should hit the Ordeal at the halfway mark, around 45,000 words. Now you are in that awful place. Your hero has just emerged from an awful situation, and yet you still need to fill information before the race to the end.
Here is what Snyder says about this moment: “Having crossed the “point of no return” at Midpoint, a hero of a story begins the most difficult phase of his transformation. And this is true for the writer of the tale as well.”
Snyder, Blake (2009-11-23). Save the Cat!® Strikes Back Save the Cat! Press.
Here that Jennifer, “it is true for the writer of the tale as well.” He goes on to remind us that change is painful. Transformation of character is not easy, that’s why it takes a HERO to do the job. That’s why we love to watch them, because face it, most of us wuss out. Then he says, “And you as the writer have to go with him. Part of the reason this section is so difficult to figure out is it’s about stuff happening to the hero — that will lead to the ultimate when he “dies” on page 75. As writers we like our heroes to be proactive, leading the charge, always in control. But this is the part where what the hero once believed was real, solid ground, is crumbling away, forcing him to react.”
And that is the magic word “react.” Which, is what we lowly humans do all the time. We simply react to stimulus. So now, the hero who has worked up all this energy to be active, active, active, has to slow down and really figure out how he is going to move forward after “dying” on page 75 (for those who are not familiar with his work, Blake Snyder taught screenwriting and uses the 120 page screenplay as his model)
So, as writers, we want to push, push, push through, and get to that fabulous ending, we don’t want to slow things down, take a break. We don’t want to lose our readers. But look at it this way, if you have held their attention all the way through 50,000 words, give them a chance to catch their breaths. Give them a chance to mull over what it would be like if they had done something that tough in their own lives.
In my experience, I’ve seen a lot of writers abandon their work at this stage because it is so hard. And, it is also my experience that this is where you need to trust the process. You have to trust that your subconscious mind has already figured this part out, it’s just waiting for you to hit that wall, once there, and if you don’t give up, it will reward you with that scene, or that sentence, or that look, that will transport your hero, and you into the next phase.
What do you think? Have you hit any walls lately? Does it just suck the wind right out of you? What solutions have you come up with to get you over the hump. I’d love to hear from you, and thanks again for stopping by.