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.
I think my first attempt at a novel was like that… I hit a giant wall, although I think it was after 50k. Still…the problem was I had no idea where the story was going and no idea how to end it. I had no plan, no concept of what the protagonist wanted to accomplish. I was rambling aimlessly and hoping I hit something. I still have that draft, and I did push through to the end. The very lame, painful, ridiculous end. Someday I’ll re-write that thing. Someday.
Hey Melinda, I’m sure every successful author has many of those novels, stuffed away in the drawer. But you had to go through all that heartache. One, to learn new skills, and two, to figure out if you are going to stick with all this nonsense. I’m so glad you did.
Yes, I do hit a wall especially when there’s a ‘hard bit’ to write. The key is to keep going as James Scott Bell says in the Art Of War for Writers – great book, can highly recommend it. ‘Keep going and do not stop even if it’s like chipping away at the wall with a toothpick – KEEP GOING.’
This is a very hard thing to do as you and Melinda have found. But bum in chair and do not leave until you’ve battled your way through. For God’s sake don’t overthink it and start doubting the whole work – that is the fast track to the loony bin. Trust your gut and do the hard thing and move forward.
It’s all about structuring the scene. Keep the scene structure (Goal – Conflict – Disaster) tight, that usually helps. If you’re in the middle of a sequel/deep ipov/narrative and you’re stuck, again keep the structure tight (Emotion – Thoughts – Decision – Action).
What happens is that the scene develops sloooowly and then all of a sudden away it goes and your protagonist has come to a decision to act. Of course it’s probably not the right decision and he suffers a setback, but that’s what moves the story forward again. The harder he tries to fix/fight/work/move forward, the further away from his goal he becomes and that’s what keeps your story trucking along and the reader turning the page.
And another wee tip – Enter a scene late and leave it early – can’t remember who said those incredible words of wisdom, I think it might have been a screen writer. But that phrase revolutionised my writing a couple of years ago when I was battling. It works.
Actually, I’m supposed to be writing right now, but couldn’t resist popping in for this.
Great post, missus!
I love “Art of War for Writers” I can also recommend his latest book, “conflict and suspense.” As for the bit about entering at the last moment and leaving early, that was drummed into me back in my television news days. Get to the point, we have no time to linger. All very good advice, thanks so much.
Fantastic post! I’m reading Save the Cat right now and I’m loving it! I’ll have to pick up Art of War for Writers – don’t have that one yet. 😉
I’ve been fortunate to be part of this WANA group with so talented people willing to share their experience and knowledge with me. Matter of fact – I’m diving back into that WIP and knocking down that wall! Hear that Mr. 50K Mark? I’m coming for you and I’m not giving up!!
Thank you for all your help, Rachel!! 🙂
I’m doing the happy dance for you Jennifer. I’m so thrilled that you are back at it, and I’m sure that will will come tumbling down. I’m getting “chicken skin” just thinking about how great it’s going to be for you. And yes, It still amazes me how wonderful and powerful our WANA group is.
Well, believe it or not, I haven’t hit that wall. Of course I only have 3 completed manuscripts, but I hear that this happens all the time. So far I’ve managed to avoid the “now what?” phase.
Maybe there’s something wrong with me? Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Hmmm.
I’ve heard the Save the Cat books are pretty awesome.
w/a Jansen Schmidt
Reblogged this on Hunter's Writing and commented:
Reblogging because I like the image.
I ponder this, though. I’ve been reading a lot of writer’s posts where they have set themselves targets or say they are stuck at the 50K mark. I guess that level – 50,000 – has been handed down to us by NaNoWriMo and other writing marathons, because for me, writing in a genre that expects 80-130K novels, 50K is only mid-point (in which case, I can perfectly understand getting stuck there).
Hi Hunter, thanks for the re-blog, the image is from clipart.com a service that you can subscribe to and get all sorts of images. And yes, genre is certainly an issue here. And I as a rule tend to underwrite, I just get the basics of the scene, the dialog and not much else. I know the book will “grow” in the next revisions.
My experience for faltering around 50k is that I didn’t have a clear, strong conclusion of my story in mind. I start to question where I’m going with the story and how its going to end. And it’s difficult to get to the end of you don’t know where it is (so to speak). A good log line is the single best thing I’ve found that helps me start a story confident that it has a purpose and a meaningful (emotional payoff) ending.
Of course, whether I can write anything that measure up to a decent log line is another thing 🙂
Hi Nigel, I know from having attended the Maui Writers Conference that John Saul and his writing partner Mike Sach won’t start a new book until they have a decent “what if” question or logline. I did the same thing here, where I was getting stuck was how to weave all the subplot threads in such away to keep the action moving toward the larger set pieces. Always love hearing from you.
The Maui writers conference? I really wonder how anyone can concentrate on sorting out log lines and character arcs in a place like that. That’s one of the things that makes the DFW writers conference so good. Unless you like giant expanses of hot concrete, there are noooooo distractions. Of course, the fact it’s practically in my back yard helps, too.
Seriously, I’m sure it’s a great conference and I’m only a tiny, tiny bit jealous 🙂 I’m with them, a strong log line is a must for me to start.