Writing Yourself into a Corner

Over the last few years of struggling to get a coherent plot out of Hunters as someone who doesn’t do anything even remotely resembling plotting ahead or planning, I have painted myself into a number of story corners. From what I’ve seen, there are basically three options when this happens.

These suggestions are in reverse order, for a good reason. A lot of times, writers seem to think that the easiest solution is the best one, and I’ve found that this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the most difficult solution is the one that really packs a story punch for your readers. Whatever you decide to do to get out of your story corner, remember that the point is to build a great story.

  1. Before you start scrambling to get out of the corner, make sure you’re in one – are you really stuck here? Really, really? If having a supporting character show up or a mysterious telephone call or some other distraction technique or Jedi mind trick will solve the jam, it’s not really a corner and you can play with the options and move on, no problemo.
  2. Give up – as painful as this might sound, it’s actually the easiest of the options once you’ve decided you really are stuck. How many novels or short stories do you have sitting around on your hard drive unfinished? My personal count is up in the double digits. Sometimes, this is also a valid option. If a story just isn’t holding water, finding a way to patch all the leaks might not be worth the trouble. I try to let my passion for the story guide me here. If the story has captured my heart and imagination, it’s worth fighting for.
  3. Redesign the room – you are the author. No matter what corner you find yourself in, there’s always the option of tearing down the walls. Backtracking by deleting words or subplots or even characters is a valid method of fixing a rough spot in the story. I’d advise caution here, though, because unless you’ve exhausted the other options, this one can lead to years spent reconstructing that same corner with different details. Even for those folks who cringe at throwing out a word and whose delete and backspace keys have a layer of perma-dust, this method is often easier and quicker than #4.
  4. Look for a mouse hole – No, really, I mean it. When I find myself in a story corner, the first thing I try to do is find an unlikely exit. Even the tiniest crack in the plaster can give your protagonist room to wiggle – a way of leveling the playing field just enough to get out of the trap. Think outside the confines of a normal room.  What untapped talents do your protagonist characters have? What props are available in the scene that they can use to get a (momentary) advantage? What mistakes has the villain made that the clever hero can exploit to his own advantage?

One very important caveat though, whatever solution you come up with, keep the goal in mind – you want your protagonist characters to be active, to think their own way out of jams. Having the villain pull a too-stupid-to-live moment or having the rescue come from a god or the Justice League, from outside the structure of the protagonist “team” of characters, will leave most readers feeling cheated.

A situation that appears hopeless will have readers on the edge of their seats as they race through the passage, trying to figure out how the protagonist will get out of this one. Thinking outside the box will give them something worth the excitement.

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1 Response to Writing Yourself into a Corner

  1. tambo says:

    I do whatever best serves the story, easy, hard, or just about freaking impossible. Sometimes a total overhaul is in order, sometimes a small tweak early on re-sets the dominoes and their patter of falling, sometimes it just ain’t gonna work and it’s time to walk away. Only you and your story know for sure. I hope you find your way past the problem. {{huggs}}

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