If you’re stuck, is there a layer of your story that you haven’t yet understood?
I’ve just finished reading Robert Harris’s Enigma. In the acknowledgements he thanks two special people, ‘neither of whom ever lost faith in the story, even on those occasions when it was a mystery to its author’.
How those words resonated. Enigma, about code-breakers in World War II, is a great read – and yet there was a point at which the author felt deeply lost. Which made me think, especially as I’ve been feeling lost myself.
My MC had got to a crisis point but it wasn’t gelling. I came up with something that would definitely be shocking but it looked desperate. A clumsy attempt to play the sympathy card.
Finally, it clicked. I hadn’t understood what the real story was, where Act One was leading. My horrifying event wasn’t germane to the true problem the MC faced – his journey to discover who he really was. The most appalling thing to the reader would be for him to give in to the pressure around him. Surrender his spirit by deciding to be like everybody else. That would be much more powerful than doing something violent, say.
In fact it was one of the options I’d thought of earlier on and discarded – because I hadn’t understood what the real story was. But now I realised it was perfect.
(Frankly, I wish my subconscious would be a little more explicit, instead of letting me waste time with guessing games.)
You may know what the characters are doing and the quest you set up for them. But these details are superficial. Story events and characters’ urges are often code for something deeper, and that may be what is making the real connection with the reader. If you haven’t cracked that code and figured out what it is, you may remain blocked or make choices that feel hollow and wrong.
Have you felt, like Robert Harris, that your story is still a mystery? Did a realisation like this help you move forwards with it?