I’m completely stuck in my current novel. The scene I’m on isn’t moving forward, and I can’t seem to just drop it and start the next chapter. I have a pretty good idea of what’s holding me back, too, and what I’d tell other people to help them fix it, but my own tips don’t seem to be getting my characters to actually speak to each other. On top of that, I’m coming up on a self imposed deadline on Friday to have the first fifty pages written, and this damned scene is bogging me down.
Without going into too much detail, the main character needs to leave the hospital, get to a friend’s house, confront her controlling Mom, and come to terms with the realization that she’s underestimated her Dad. This one is a murder mystery, so there’s a killer out there, but I don’t think that’s my problem here. My real problem, in a nutshell, is that this scene is dull.
It’s a draft. I know that if I can get the basics down, I can work out the “dull” later. But the dialogue at this point sounds like my internal monologues. It sounds like me working out plot details, with a lot of “As-you-know-Bob”ing and “Is she really that dumb” moments. As a reader, I hate those. As a writer, I loathe them. And, while I understand Anne Lamott’s advice about shitty drafts, and deliver it regularly to my comp students, I have a hell of a time applying it to myself.
The Bitch is a control freak, and she’s just the worst of my personalities. Everybody else likes to be in charge, too. They all three go back through my manuscripts diddling with fixes instead of plowing ahead, even though they know I’ll be combing back through the whole thing later no matter what.
And I’m not the sort of idiot who thinks the muse has to be present before I can finish a project. I understand that writing is a process requiring “butt-in-chair” more than any other quality. (Though keyboarding skills help.) I’m perfectly willing to glue my ass to the seat in order to get this portion of my project put to death. But I’m still struggling to get these two women to talk to each other plausibly.
It’s the dialogue holding me up. I need the two characters to distinguish themselves from each other. Up until here, the speakers have all had pretty unique voices. The controlling Mom is kind of overwrought and melodramatic. The Dad is quiet and squeamish. The medical staff are all clinical with a good bedside manner. But I haven’t quite got a handle on the best friend yet, and she’s in danger of sounding too much like my protagonist.
After much wrangling, I figured out the hook today, just now. The best friend is going to be the one who pushes the protagonist to realize that she’s underestimated her own Dad. So I think I can make the friend’s lines really contrast with the tone the protagonist uses in the narrative sections – this one is written largely in the first person – and thereby give each woman a distinct voice.
But, with a boatload of essays to grade and precious little time this week between kid activities, it means something has to go. So. I’m going to have to hold the blog over my own head as a kind of carrot. “Get your work done and you can blog your success on Friday, Jessie.” That kind of thing. I’m not going to be posting Wednesday, or possibly even Thursday updates, because I am serious about my Friday deadline, and that means I’ve got to turn on my tunnel vision. I made good progress today doing some grading this morning and some writing this afternoon, and I’ll be doing the same tomorrow and probably Thursday as well.
Mostly, this post is to let you know I haven’t quit the blog just because I’m dropping out of sight for a couple of days. It’s also an odd sort of way for me to work out what’s really holding this chapter up without assigning dumb dialogue to my characters. Hopefully, I won’t be returning for the next two days with more holdups that need thinking through. Hopefully, you’ll have radio silence from me and know that I’m turning some white screens black with ink.
Wish me luck folks. I’ll see you Friday.