Monday, January 3, 2011

Writing Yourself into a Corner


Here we are in the new year and, with this post, I'll be consigning another year's blogs to the archives. It's kind of a nostalgic feeling and I couldn't help revisiting a few of my older posts. There is the risk in revisiting the past in discovering not much has changed, but sometimes this is also the reward.
Dusted off from the archives, from 2009 actually, here's a post on what I think is either one of the most exciting or frustrating experiences of writing: Writing Yourself into a Corner.
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At some point I always seem to write myself into a corner, a plot situation where I wonder, how in the world are they going to get themselves out of this one? This is a good thing when reading someone else's story, but unsettling when, as the writer, I just don't know where they go from here. It feels like I've pushed the limits of plausibility and taken the advice "make it worse" to the point of burning my bridges for the characters.

And I always wonder, from a writer's perspective, if the writer KNEW the solution beforehand and only gave the masterful illusion of writing themselves into a corner or if they, like me, felt like they'd created a monster; written themselves into a corner with problems so big there is no way a happy ending can be achieved. I wonder, how long did the writer agonize over finding the answers? How many alternate scenarios did they experiment with before finding gold or giving up?

I did a google search on "writing yourself in a corner" and found an interesting mix of opinions. Of course, I'm hoping to find reassurance that my "I don't know" method isn't hopeless, so I picked what supports what I wanted to hear. :) Here are a couple:

http://ravingdaveherman.blogspot.com/2008/06/why-writing-yourself-into-corner-can.html

This one embraces "writing yourself into a corner" as a deliberate and purposeful way to work. I like that. After all, impossible situations are by their nature intriguing. I love the quote this blog uses by Ethan Cohen of the Cohen brothers on an impossible situation.

“That stumped us for a while,” says Ethan, “and we had to resort to the ridiculous extreme of, you know, stopping time.”

"Stopping time" doesn't seem like an easy fix, but this reinforces to me that nothing is impossible to get out of and rediculous extremes may be necessary. Next, I went to:

http://wyrdsmiths.blogspot.com/2007/04/writing-yourself-into-corner.html

This one speaks of "writing yourself into a corner" as a fear. I hadn't really thought of it that way, only as a frustration. Great, now I'm frustrated and afraid. lol This blog suggest that the trick is to back yourself out of the corner, but that isn't what I want. Eliminating the corner isn't an option. I went there with a purpose, ignorant of the way out, but brave in having faith it would be, could be found. So I loved the comment from a reader to the post:

If the writer doesn't see a way out of the corner when they get there, chances are good that the reader won't either, and that's what you want, a reader who doesn't know what's going to happen next, but who wants to know. Writing yourself into a corner is an opportunity to heighten reader impact.

It doesn't get much better than that.

The writer's mind is a strange thing. Sometimes the well of ideas and imagination seems to run dry, and then suddenly, it's as though a geyser erupts. It might take a lot of "what if" playing by either brainstorming or writing it out, but suddenly that "click" can happen. A big part of the negotiation with yourself is keeping not just the possibilities, but the impossibilities on the table .

Do you dare to write yourself into a corner? Do you do it on purpose? When it happens, do you back your way out or search for the impossible? Has the process changed over time?

4 comments:

  1. I think I've written myself into plenty of corners. I've got one in the current WIP, and it feels like my brain is handcuffed to a chair, struggling to find a way out of the situation. LOL But I know it will, so I just keep plodding along.

    And I like the comment about the reader won't know what's going to happen next -- that really is a good place to be. It's kinda scary when you are trying to find your way out of that corner, but boy is it exhilirating when you DO come up with a solution!

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  2. I'm with you there about the exhilaration following finding a solution. Even if the solution is going to mean some revisions, it's so exciting when it comes together. There have also been a couple of times I've come up with a solution that I thought was so unique only to later find out wasn't so original, but then I have to remind myself everything has been thought of at one time or another! LOL

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  3. I wonder if the solution needs to be unique -- when we get our characters trapped in a situation, they are going to look for the best/easiest/most logical solution rather than something really crafty and unusual. LOL Or at least, they should go for the most obvious thing.

    And I guess that's what it comes down to -- what would make sense for the characters to do in this situation we've gotten them into? They would all react a little differently because of their different personalities. (They probably won't bang their head against the wall like I would. LOL)

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  4. The interesting thing to me is that I've found a few of those impossible solutions I didn't have (or hadn't imagined yet) when I first wrote this blog. And it does all come down to: does this make sense for the characters? Even for a paranormal, when "what makes sense" is usually something, by nature, unbelievable, it just has to make sense with what is "normal" for the character.

    In the brainstorming part of looking for a solution, I often think "this won't work" because it's what my dog-eared Humanites text calls: the deus ex machina -- any contrivance of plot that violates the probabilities of human behavior. But I've learned it's a great place to start. The only thing I have to do is make it "probable." Piece of cake. LOL

    And actually, it's spot on about what you say about "they probably won't bang there head against the wall like I would." My ghost DID want to bang his head against the wall. Then he discovered he couldn't because he went through it! LOL But the logical human impulse was there even if the outcome wasn't logical.

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