Friday, September 7
Put Baby in the Corner: Write Yourself Into a Corner
I'm about to suggest something that many folks will point to and say, "No! Bad advice, don't listen to her!"
Write yourself into a corner.
I do this a lot, because I like to get my characters into as much trouble as possible without always knowing how they'll get out of it. For me, this makes the story more unpredictable, because if I don't know how they're going to get out of it going in, how can the reader figure it out?
It keeps me in the moment and close to the protagonist's head. I get to decide what to do based on the information at hand (as opposed to knowing how it will unfold), and I'm not unconsciously (or consciously) nudging them toward the solution the entire time. I've found that when I know exactly how my protagonist is going to get out of trouble when I start a scene, I let my bad guys slack off and only do what's needed to fit the plot. The tension drops off because the bad guys aren't really trying.
(More on making bad guys try harder here)
When I don't know exactly how things will turn out, this wonderful back and forth occurs. My protagonist does X, so my bad guys have to counter with Y. Then my protagonist has to do A, which gets thwarted by B. Both sides keep trying to stop or evade the other, and they're doing everything they can to achieve that goal. My bad guys really are trying to stop them, not just going through the motions. And the story is much more compelling because of it.
This technique does have its drawbacks, however. I've written scenes where it took me several days (or longer) to figure out how to get my protagonist out of the mess I'd created. Sometimes that comes from studying the scene, but other times I've had to go back and add a few details to help out my protagonist. If you're the kind of writer who gets frustrated by being stuck for days at a time, this might not be a good technique to try.
(More on getting past hard to write scenes here)
I've also run into scenes where there was no way I could figure out how to get the protagonist out of that jam and I've had to scrap the whole scene at start over. If you get frustrated trashing large chunks of your novel, this is not a technique for you.
But if you like a challenge of getting yourself into situations just as tough as your characters, and you can plot from both the good guy's and the bad guy's perspective (important so you can make things get tougher and tougher), and you don't mind if some scenes take a long time to work themselves out, you might be successful writing yourself into a corner.
If you're not sure which side you fall on: Try it and see how it works for you. If you start getting annoyed, stop and do it your way. While I'm all for trying new things, you should never feel forced to do something that makes you want to pull your hair out. There are a million ways to write and they all work just fine for lots of writers. Don't be afraid to try new things, but also don't be afraid to say, "nah, not for me."
Have you ever written yourself into a corner? Was it on purpose or accident?