Mark Terry

Monday, October 01, 2007

Writing Inspiration: Just Showing Up

October 1, 2007
I think Woody Allen was right when he said that 9/10 of success was just showing up.

In my current work-in-progress, I sort of wrote myself into a corner. I knew I hadn't, really, although as any writer will tell you, self-doubt is such a big part of the gig that sure, I was convinced the novel was dead in the water right around page 100.

Here's the thing: I know that right around page 100 is where we end act I and start act II. There should be, from a totally structural point of view, some sort of reversal at this point in the story.

I know this intellectually.

It just didn't occur to me.

Now, for those of you who might wonder, no, as a matter of fact, when I'm writing, I don't think about story structure that way. Not exactly. It's a gut feeling, one in which I'm thinking, "Hmmm, something needs to happen here, something big." I tend to think, when this happens, that it's just my Boredom Meter red-lining. "Eh, I'm a little bored, let's have something exciting happen here." That's part of it, sure. But it's also a sort of built-in meter in my head that understands the three-part story structure in a subconscious way--after all, like most modern people, I've read thousands of books, seen thousands of movies and TV shows. The three-part story structure is essentially: beginning, middle, end. But most people aren't all that aware of it. But by writing a million or so words or more, it gets embedded in your subconscious. It's the skeleton that you build your novel on.

So, anyway, I was struggling with this. You could call it writer's block (you could, but I won't). But I kept showing up at my desk and staring blankly at the screen and maybe writing a page each day, then the next day invariably tweaking it. In other words, the story wasn't going anywhere and I knew it. I didn't know what to do.

So I told myself: "Self, come up with something."

And I did. Something big. Something dramatic. And something that restructures the story in a way that makes complete sense based on what I know about the main character.

And I realized--belatedly, I think--that I just had hit the "reversal" and that the story had taken on a different tone, that I had solved the problems I had been wondering about: What to do with the civilian my main character was teamed up with and even more importantly, what to do with the really complex secondary opponent.

I had, as it turns out, hit the second act. And the second act is going to structure the middle section of the book until the third act, which generally requires some sort of major reversal and, no, I don't actually know what that is. Although I would guess it has to do with the main character discovering what the whole plot is about and preventing it from happening.

The point here is that I kept showing up. I was hoping for inspiration--I went looking for it, instead--but I kept showing up and doing some work in hopes that it would happen. And it did.

The muses can be fickle, that's for damned sure, but I have faith that if I show up, they'll show up.

Mark Terry


Blogger Aimless Writer said...

Keep showing up. What good advice and perhaps the hardest to follow. I've had a hard summer, then surgery (rotator cuff)and I'm thinking of 2007 as the year of pain. And writing dragged. Got hard to type with one hand. But then I decided to open that word doc and just show up.
And so it goes.
As always, Mark, good advice.
Off topic question: what happens if your story comes up page short? I'm almost done and I'm only on page!

7:48 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

That's a toughie. The problem might be that you didn't flip things around page 100--you might be missing a whole act!

Is there a way you can make your main character's life really miserable?

8:35 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

That's why I'm afraid not to write a day. What if I miss that muse, LOL? What if I'm not there when he decides to pass by?

I'm so glad you found your solution! You know, every time I get into a spot like that, a small part of me worries that this'll be the first time I won't be able to come up with the fix. But I pretend I can't hear that voice.

I don't call anything writer's block, either. Sheesh, I'm too scared to, you know?

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

And so here I am...I showed up at your blog and I can't even think of anything useful to say....

11:50 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Thanks Eric, from 9/10s of my heart!

12:33 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

Ahhhh, torture! The fun part. How could I forget. Hmmmm, back to the keyboard to have some fun.

and to think some agent told me my stuff moved too fast!

3:10 PM  
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