Friday, March 4, 2011

How to Solve a Problem: AHA Moments

I hate it when I get stuck.

Book stuck... not like in the mud or snow stuck, or in a dead-end job stuck... but I'd hate any of those too.

Anywho, I've been trying to edit one of my novels for the past, uh, ever... (meaning I have no clue how long) and I've been royally stuck in chapter 4.

I've edited the book as a whole many times, but given some feedback I received on the edited version, I rolled up my sleeves and decided to make a few critical changes.

I rewrote much of chapter 1, then read it, and said, "This is pretty good!"

I edited chapter 2 and 3, not a rewrite, but some good tweaking, then read it, and said, "Not too shabby."

But then I got to chapter four. I edited. I rewrote. I deleted. I ate chocolate. I edited again. I deleted again. I banged my head against the keyboard causing something like oierytliehfldfhglosehrtgloaqhet to appear.

I stayed that way for oh... two months? Maybe more? Granted, given my current personal issues going on with my daughter (for those that don't know, she's in the hospital waiting for a heart transplant) I'm working much slower these days. But... two months trying to figure out one chapter... NOT FUN.

So the other day, I cracked my knuckles and decided that I HAD to figure out something to get through the wall.

I've heard many times that when you are in writer's block, kill someone. In your book, not in real life, just so we all are on the same page.

Well, no one could really die in my scene. But the basis behind this advice is to raise the stakes. Make things worse.

This is done best when it isn't a contrived moment. It isn't something that you just dream up out of the blue, but many times it starts out that way. It is something that is at odds with the current issue. Something that directly relates.

For me, my aha moment involved rain.

In a previous version, my chapter 3 ended with my heroine taking a walk instead of sucking up her pride and asking for a ride, even though she was in an unfamiliar town and wasn't really sure how to get to her destination.

Chapter 4 in a previous version had hero almost running over heroine in his car at night after heroine got a little lost.

My problems where the following:
  • The town she was in, while new, is very small. It's hard to get THAT lost.
  • Even if it were at night... I could see him not seeing her, but her crossing the road when a car is coming straight on? She's not THAT stupid.
  • It was too coincidental. Not believable. Given their conflict in the previous chapter, that he just "happened" to almost run her over... we can ask readers to suspend a little reality, but it tipped the scales a little.
  • It wasn't organic. It was... weird. I like weird in my books, but I think I stepped over a line here.
But... I still liked the preface. That she went for a walk and he finds her later and is like, "Why didn't you ask me for a ride, you beautiful Moron you?" It works well in the story and originally was pretty funny.

But just seeing her walking down the road is, well, boring.

What's a writer to do? I couldn't have her almost run over.

So, what's something believable that could happen that could be funny that I could use to torture my heroine and let me hero be, well, a hero.

Then the other day, it hit me.

Here is my last line of chapter 3 in heroine's POV:

She could do it. It was probably only a mile or so.

And here is my new first line of chapter 4 in hero's POV:

Stupid rain. Rueben flicked his wipers to a higher speed. Just a half hour ago it had been sunny and bright before the dark clouds marched in as if they owned the town.

Yep... I didn't kill anyone. But I did bring in the rain.

Discussion: Have you had any "aha" moments in your WIP? And if bringing in the rain is still a stupid idea, I'm open to suggestions! 


Sandra Stiles said...

Yes! Thanks for the insight and encouragement. I got stuck during the outline process (I'm not much of an outliner but it was for a class). Wrote up to that point and was still stuck. I had everything that should happen after the point I was stuck but needed it to be believable like you. Then it just happened. Thanks I'm fairly new at this and often feel like these are just my problem. Glad to see I'm not alone.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Is it weird for me to say no? Maybe I just haven't written enough, I don't know. Or maybe I am just getting too old to remember it! lol Anyway...I am SURE it will happen at some point and when it does, I'm gonna call YOU! :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Love Aha moments. Seriously a fool for them! Had one yesterday, a way to keep the momentum and the conflict running in my WIP. I got it after (actually during) having breakfast with a friend, listening to her story.

~ Wendy

Angie Dicken said...

I have Aha moments often...that's why I don't get my heart set on my original plot outline. It usually depends on my character development and they kind of drive the story in a new direction giving a little more believability and depth...I love Aha moments!!
Thanks Krista!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I find Aha moments come at ridiculous moments like riding in the car on the way to church, in the grocery story, or during a phone call-with an unrelated topic....its that something shiny moment. My head was away from the pressure to solve the writing problem, free to toddle through random memories. It finds the solution then rudely interrupts whatever I'm doing. That's when a mini notebook and pen come in handy!!

Pepper said...

Great post
And I love rain (think P & P - Mr. Darcy & Elizabeth or think Australia, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman...sigh)
Good idea ;-)

I love AHA moments. Or AHA characters that pop out of nowhere and give the bridge in your story that you need. Love it!

One of my AHA moments came from simply creating a thorough backstory for my villian. Once I did that, it gave me a deeper understanding of my heroine/hero story.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Yay for AHA moments! I've had a few in past stories, though I usually get them when I stuck writing the first draft--not so much in editing. I love that advice to raise the stakes. Pushing characters to their limits or dropping them into an irritating situation is a great solution to get your story going again. Have a great weekend!

Katie Ganshert said...

I also love AHA moments! Your chapter ending and your next chapter beginning rocks!!

Ralene said...

Like Cindy, I usually get my AHA moments in the first draft, not in the editing. That's half the fun of a first draft! However, I'm in the editing phase of my current WIP, and I know when I reach the last few chapters, I'm going to need a few AHA moments to smooth it out and up the suspense!

Christine Long said...

I loved the head against the keyboard comment. Been there! Done that! My AHA moment had to do with my ending. I worked feverishly writing my book, 2000 plus words a night. So excited about the storyline! One problem. I didn't know the ending. I know. How can you write nearly 90,000 words and not know where you're going? I had several ideas, but I wasn't feeling them.

Then someone said to do the worst possible thing to your hero. Lightbulb! The poor guy never saw it coming. And it's the perfect ending!

I need a few more of them as I continue editing. Maybe I'll try chocolate.

Keli Gwyn said...

AHA moments are great. Almost as good as chocolate. =)

I'm plotting my next story now. (Yes, after spending two years in Revision Land on my last one, I'm a pantser converted to plotter, and it's going well so far.) I'm working to come up with my chapter endings and beginnings before I start writing the story, which is proving to be lots of fun.

Sometimes, though, a particular scene doesn't come clear in my mind, so I'll leave it be and let my subconscious work on it. Then, when I least expect it, I'll have an AHA moment and race for paper and pen to capture it.