Over the past week or so, I’ve been struggling with a new novella. The story lacked momentum, in my head as well as on the page, and the hero wasn’t the kind of guy I’d like to sweep me off my feet. The heroine seemed more suited to a mystery or a thriller than a romance. On top of all that, I had no idea which direction the story was going to take. Usually I can get along okay with a vague outline in my head.
Not this time.
I live in fear that I might one day sit at my computer and realize I’ve used up all of my story ideas. That I’ve hit my lifetime writing quota, and I’ll be forced to twiddle my thumbs as new books hit store shelves and rocket to the tops of Best Seller lists. I’ll swear that I can write better than some of them. But I won’t be able to because I’ve nothing left to write.
Part of me thought I hit that point as I stared—beyond frustrated—at the Word document. I wanted to write so much my body ached. I wanted to get swept up in the words that appeared on the screen as fast as my fingers could type them. All the wanting in the world didn’t change the fact that the sentences sat stagnant on the page, refusing to lead into each other and create paragraph after paragraph.
So I did the only rational thing in order to keep my sanity: I stopped writing. That might sound completely counterproductive because I never know when a keystroke might trigger inspiration. But when working on that story made me hate writing, I knew that I had no other choice.
Abandoning the story completely wasn’t an option. I’ve had too many incomplete novels wither away on hard drives that I won’t send anything to the literary graveyard without first giving it a fighting chance.
I grabbed a legal pad and began to mull over how the hero and heroine would meet. Then I sketched out a basic outline more detailed than the skeleton of a story I had already. That gave me a lot more to work with when I opened the document again. But I still didn’t feel an urgency to tell the story.
In my opinion, one of the most difficult parts of writing a romance story is creating a successful moment of despair. This is the point that could be considered the climax. In it, the reader has to believe that the massive hurdle keeping the hero and heroine from living happily ever after can’t be overcome. They’ll never be together. Romance stories have happy endings, so the trick is creating a situation where the reader doubts that fact.
This story didn’t have that. Not yet.
I made a list of worst case scenarios. What would be the absolute worst thing that could happen in this novel? The possibilities grew bolder with each new list item. Have the bad guy win? Eh, but he’d still have to lose. The bad guy takes the hero’s soul? Maybe, not great though. Kill off the hero? Now that had possibilities.
The more I challenge my characters, the more excited I am to see how this story unfolds. I still plan on doing a bit more outlining in order to understand the big scenes, and there will still be plot holes and character issues to be ironed out in revision.
But I will be writing again. Having fun with it. And giving the bird to the doubtful part of myself that says I’m out of ideas.
Not today, my friend. Not today.