Does anyone else besides me start a story only to realize four chapters in that their muse just got fuzzy because they didn’t start the story in the right place?
I know, I know. The outline and working cards and all of that are supposed to keep this from happening. Those tools help you see the structure of your story which helps you make sure that you have those things like twist and conflict and balance of characters from the beginning (or it is more likely you will have them from the beginning; we all know things change when you write). I’ve been good for this novel. I wrote my one liner. I wrote my paragraph. I wrote my outline. I know what the beginning middle and ending are supposed to be, or at least I thought I did. I set up character sheets, and conflict analysis. I thought I was finally ready to write so I sat at the keyboard.
Then I started writing and my muse took a vacation and my manuscript The Finder (Working Title) went sideways on me. Everything I wrote sounded like cardboard. I think in other years I would have blamed it on report cards or vacation or even the phase of the moon.
Normally keeping up with my muse is like clinging bareback to a galloping horse intent on leaping fences. The ideas run through my head and pour out onto the keyboard and it is all I can do to keep up the pace. There is this sudden click into gear when the muse gets comfortable on the sofa and just starts handing over reams of words and the story just pours out. This manuscript didn’t do that. I got words down in dribbles, most of which are cardboard paragraphs that will end up lining the round file. At the end of six weeks, I had only 7 thousand words.
Finally, my muse crossed her metaphorical arms and went fuzzy. We both sulked. I pulled my hair out, poured the wine, rearranged the cards, then I dyed my hair red (a way to cover up the parts I was pulling out) and muttered at my child and my husband. I dumped everything I had written into Scrivner, then I tried again. And again. And again. I downloaded an excellent Holly Lisle resource about getting your muse to talk to you, and I read it. And I shared it with my writing group. And I sat at the keyboard.
Not one of those pages is going to see the light of day, dear reader, but at least I sat at the keyboard.
Finally, my muse decided she was going to tell me what was wrong. I guess sitting at the keyboard and filling in detailed character sheets is one way to wait her out. “What you wrote is boring. Why don’t you just let the story be what it is going to be? You need to make the reader want to find out what happens next, and handing your police officer a medal as he walks out the door is not it.”
I threw up my hands in irritation. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do?” I steamed as I stomped down the stairs to make supper.
“What if…” my muse whispered slyly over my shoulder while I chopped onions, “The day her mentor police officer retires he gets hit by a car and nearly dies–a car aiming for her, so he heroically sacrifices himself to save her? Then all his memories of her as a little girl finding bodies can be coma dreams. What if her partner’s retirement is the reason the stalker has decided to make his move? Because the stalker knows that there is something about the last body which can identify him. He has to stop her somehow because she is the one who can put all the pieces together and he knows it?”
It is a good thing spaghetti sauce needs to cook for a while. Four thousand words later, the beginning of the story is flowing and I am back on the galloping horse.