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The Sticking Place

Some people are naturally good at plots. Do you know those people? I sometimes want to give them a sharp jab to the ribs. (Sorry if you are one-- I won't really elbow you. But CANYOUPLEASEBOTTLETHATANDSELLITTOME?!)

What usually happens to me is that I have characters who are compelling, to me, and sometimes even a concept that intrigues me, and if I'm really lucky, I even get a solid beginning down, but then...I get stuck. Like "submerged my brain in superglue" stuck.
 
And then I spend hours writing the most obvious plot development ever, and deleting it, and rewriting a slightly less obvious but still obvious plot development, and deleting it, and getting frustrated, and making a sandwich, and...

A writer can only eat so many sandwiches.

But most of the time, I get past the sticking place, and as with many of my writing issues, it's because of the wisdom of my favorite writing professor. She told me something along the lines of: the end of your story is already there. All the tools to reach it are there. You just have to figure out what they are and use them.

So I get out of the sticking place by looking at what I've already set up. If I emphasized simulated realities in the beginning of the book, they shouldn't just fall out of the draft like they didn't mean anything-- they could be there later. If I set up self-sacrifice as the highest ideal to which my main character aspires, that could come into play later, too.

Every theme, and character weakness, and part of the world you've built is a tool that you can use to figure out where the story should go.

You know when you reach the end of a particularly good book, and you think "there were so many hints in the beginning, and I barely noticed them! AMAZING"? I always think of those things as effortless on the part of the writer--they either weren't aware of them, or the writer incorporated them without too much thought. But maybe they can be a little more deliberate. Maybe those little hints can actually help you to shape your story, and get your brain out of the superglue.
Veronica Roth

Veronica is the author of the NYT bestselling YA dystopian thriller series Divergent, published by Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books. She's also a graduate of Northwestern University, a Christian, and A Tall Person, among other things.

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9 comments:

  1. The way I see it, if someone gets to the end of my book and doesn't immediately flip back to the front to look up all the slight hints and clues along the way, then I haven't really told the story I wanted. :P

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  2. I like your professor's words. A lot. Sometimes I get so lost that I want to give up. I feel like I'm wandering around in circles and lost, but it always helps me to revisit the beginning and see what exactly it was I laid out.
    Great post :)

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  3. What a great post! I really needed to hear this today, because this is exactly how I'm feeling. Thanks for sharing this.

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  4. I love this! I often get lost in making things too complicated for myself, and sometimes all it takes is realizing that there's been a simple answer right in front of you all along.

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  5. I think those hints are both intentional and organic. In my own book, there are times when the wonderful words of your professor applied--where I got to the end and saw all of these pieces that fit together, so I crafted the end to incoporate them. But there have been other times that I got to the end and then went back and added some hints here and there. It's good to remember your prof's words though--they are solid gold!

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  6. This is definitely good information. I've found that dropping hints here and there as to what will happen is fun and enjoyable... well, except when I go back and read them and think to myself, "Uh, this is painfully obvious..." but that's not the point. The point is that these are fantastic tips that anyone who writes can use!

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  7. It's nice to be reminded that I am not the only person who suffers from writers block when it comes to plot. Thank you! And thank you for the great advice on how to find my way again. That is truly what I need to hear now as I try to finish my novel. :)

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  8. Great post, and I love your professor's quote, too! Nothing better than when a plot finally clicks, like it was meant to be - because it was!

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  9. OK, seriously? I had to read the by-line of this post like 10 times. Did the author of Divergent just say she struggles with plot?

    This is such a great post! It's so easy to think these things come naturally. Your hard work definitely pays off. Divergent is such a well-plotted novel. Maybe the things we struggle with behind the scenes end up being the things that shine after revisions.

    Thanks for sharing!

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Item Reviewed: The Sticking Place Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Veronica Roth