Hijacking Your Story: Beating Writer’s Block

Okay, so I’m a dumbass. I’ll admit it.

I’m feeling particularly stupid right now, the day after I had a major epiphany. It’s all thanks to Donald Maass and his book that I’m reading right now, The Breakout Novelist.

So, you know how I’ve had this disdain for One. I like to pretend that it’s because it hijacked my personal life and then ruined my plans for last year’s NaNoWriMo. As much as that’s true, there was another reason for my half-joking animosity towards it.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I am absolutely, totally and out of control madly in love with the story. I love the characters, I love what happens to them. However, something about Book One just wasn’t working.

At first story flowed out so deliciously – like beautiful, yummy chocolate rivers flowing through a fountain, it spilled out onto the page. But then I got stuck. Dreaded writer’s block. I’ve been in the editing process for what feels like forever with still a few chapters to write. The story just wasn’t coming together and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

You see, when I first started envisioning the whole series, Des was the main character – the focus of the first book and potential leader of The Destined. The series would start with Des’s story of how she was catapulted into this bizarre underworld of magic, vampires, demons and hell gods. Following close behind her would be Audra, the other heir apparent to The Destined leader throne. The two would butt heads and create all kinds of chaos for the group, instead of concentrating on solving the very pressing issues at hand.

Except there’s a fly in that ointment.

Des starts on her journey out of Normal World and into Crazy Nightmare Land when she finds her boyfriend Chase being attacked. The three players to the catalyst – Sierra, Mestipen and of course, Chase himself, were supposed to cause pandemonium, then disappear off into the sunset.

But they didn’t.

As much as I tried to get them to go away, they wouldn’t. Like unwelcome party guests who never leave, they just never left! They hung around and created all kinds of confusion and turmoil, angst and conflict – it was amazing! They turned things upside down. They became the life of the party they were ruining. Oh, and of course, like typical bad party goers, they brought along a friend – Rory, who was never supposed to be and has probably become one of my most favourite characters I’ve written to date. Bastards! Every last one of them. How could they do this to me?

There was Sierra with all the relationships and all the guys and the backstory and the wondering what was going on and what is their story? and all the really awesome stuff. Those were the parts of the story I loved to go back and read and looked forward to going through during the editing process. Des, if I’m being totally truthful, was kind of tedious.

It nagged at me that Des didn’t seem to have enough to do, wasn’t involved enough and the story never seemed to want to focus on her. She was running around, looking for Chase and hitting roadblocks, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

And of course, last night’s epiphany – I was trying to squish what should rightfully be two books worth of story into one. And the major, mind blowing, earth shattering point: Sierra was the main character of this story, not Des.

I wanted to believe and I didn’t want to believe. So I did a little exercise. And the paper doesn’t lie. Maybe cake does, but paper sure doesn’t.

I had chopped up the manuscript into chapters, thinking that maybe if I re-arranged the order of the chapters, the story would work better. I took those chapter “packets” and started grouping them by which character it belonged to. When I was done, guess what? Sierra had far more than anyone else and Des had the least. Voila! Problem unveiled – you can’t have a main character of a story and have them driving the story the least. Yeah, I know. Duh. I told you.

It was all at once thrilling, euphoric and completely devastating. It had finally clicked. The series – the complete story, not just Book One, would have to be completely re-written. Part of me is ecstatic, knowing that Sierra’s story line is the main one, because I am so in love with it. The other part of me is in despair knowing that the story as I envisioned it, cannot be.

And so, it’s back to the drawing board. My epiphany leaves me in the position of throwing out a good deal of the over arcing story between all the books. Months of work down the drain.

But don’t weep for me, it’s not a bad thing.

I started taking all the characters and their “jobs” in the story line and re-arranging them in my head. Thinking things like, what if Chase was Audra’s boyfriend instead of Des? That could possibly work, but it tied up Audra too much and she wouldn’t be free to do the things she needed to do down the road. Then I thought, what if this story wasn’t the first one in the series, what if it happened later on? What if we come in earlier on the story (in the timeline) or what if we come in later? What if I wove sub-plots in earlier or certain key points happened sooner? Or later?

Basically, I turned everything upside down and started tearing storylines apart and merging them with others and had characters switch roles. It’s incredibly freeing, just to go all crazy nuts with your story and let ridiculous things happen that you had never, ever intended to have happen.

If you’ve been blocked with your story, pillage and plunder it. What have you got to lose? Swap roles with a supporting character and your main character. Turn your story inside out. Change around what characters do what to drive the story forward, but don’t change anything about them, other than what they do in terms of the story. None of these changes have to be permanent, but they are incredibly liberating. And eye opening.

Donald Maass offers some fantastic writing exercises to get you to see your story in a different light, while adding layers and further developing your novel. You’ll find some on his website here. Better yet, go get a copy of his book. Apparently any of his books are awesome. (I’ve only read The Breakout Novelist  – it’s completely amazing. And eye opening. Did I mention the part about having your eyes opened?)

So thanks Donald Maass for making me realize I’m a dumbass and allowing me to be happy about writing my story once again.