editing, how do I edit, how do I write, Samuel Eden, the editing process, The Hemlock Notations, the writing process, Trouble with a Story, writing, Writing into a Corner
So, you’ve written yourself into a corner. There are three things (well, four, but I don’t think living in the corner for the rest of your characters’ lives is a real option) for you to do. The first involves (what I’m going to call) “going up the wall.” The second is the Uncle Karl Fix (-ish). The last is rolling with it.
Let’s go over “going up the wall.” I want to state here and now that “going up the wall” is the least preferred of the methods of getting yourself out of the corner (by me anyway, others can/will/should have their own opinions). What I mean by “going up the wall” is this: essentially you break the rules of the story, the rules you established for the world you’re writing in. I, personally, don’t like this because it can feel like you’re pulling one over on your readers. You’ve taken the time to make believable characters, to get them to like the characters. You’ve put them into a world of wonder that they’ve gone into willingly. They trust you, and you pull the rug out from under them by having something they thought was impossible happen. Now they don’t know what to think. They’re entire world has been turned on its head. It’s the easiest way to get yourself out of a corner, but it costs you more in the long run (I think).
DISCLAIMER: Breaking the rules of your world can be done, and has been done, in a controlled and planned manner to add tension to your story. What I’m talking about here is breaking the rules to fix something—essentially it’s like telling someone they were never able to walk, because they’ve fallen and broken their leg.
The second method is the Uncle Karl Fix. Those of you who are long time readers know what that is. It’s a lot to explain, so if you’re new you should probably go read the two other blogposts about it. Now the Uncle Karl Fix is waaaaay more work than “going up the wall.” It means looking at your whole story again (seriously, go read the other two posts). In the long run, though, I think this is a much better approach. The Uncle Karl Fix lets you keep the integrity of the story, of the characters, and as a writer. And, let’s be honest, if the story didn’t need an Uncle Karl Fix, then you probably (PROBABLY) wouldn’t be in a corner right now.
The third method: rolling with it. This solution might not be as much work as the Uncle Karl Fix, but it can be more exciting. Think of rolling with it as knocking down the wall to get out the corner, or to be more precise, writing your way out of the corner. Basically, you keep writing until what put you in the corner becomes true, the corner becomes a door.
As always, here’s an example from my writing group. So, this colleague of mine wrote a story with characters with magic powers. One of those characters had precognition—they could see the future. The character was introduced to the story by saving the main character from an attack that hadn’t happened yet. Which I thought was cool. Eventually, though, relying on the character’s precognition, they make a decision and get ambushed. At this point the story, thus far, ended, the colleague was stuck. I never saw the story again; though the writer brought other stories to be workshopped, and since then we’ve both left the writers’ group. So I don’t know how she reconciled the ambush with the rest of the story.
For some fun let’s look at how using each method of getting out of the corner can resolve this.
Going up the wall: The most obvious “going up the wall” is that the ambushers found a way of blocking the precognition, or of sending the character a false vision. This isn’t so much a breaking of the rules, but it does bend them quite a bit. It can raise questions like: if the bad guys—who they’ve been fighting for years—can block the precognition of the good guys why don’t they do that all the time? What good is precognition then? Why is that character even there? Of course, you can keep writing, adding scenes to explain this, but it can interrupt the story (in the case of this story, it was pretty time sensitive, end of the world type stuff). It can cause more problems than it solved.
The Uncle Karl Fix: Okay, so you’ve looked back at the story, you’ve looked at what the character has accomplished in the story. Here are a few ways to Uncle Karl this: 1) the character sends them a message about the attack, but is a coward and is in hiding so they aren’t with them to make the decision that puts them in the ambush’s path. It’s quick and we lose the character for the rest of the story, but it accomplishes the exact same thing without making the problem later on. 2) Have one of the existing characters get the vision, then stay behind to ensure the main character’s escape. This is a classic, and would put more tension and emotion into the story. 3) Don’t have the character with precognition. This does two things, one it gets rid of the character, and two the story gets a massive battle scene (because no one warned them it was coming). This was the path I advocated in group. I’m sure there are other Uncle Karl Fixes, but these are the ones that come to mind.
Rolling with it (writing until the corner becomes a door): There are a few ways to write yourself out of this particular corner. 1) Of course the precog character saw the ambush, but they had to get ambushed for the next part to happen, and the “next part” is what’s important. 2) The precog character didn’t see the ambush because they saw something that happened after the ambush (like the first one, but slightly different. The first solution makes the person less sympathetic, but more guide/one-with-everything-y. While the second one keeps the character sympathetic but makes the power useful but unpredictable/unreliable.) 3) Of course the precog character saw the ambush, but they’re a traitor. Oh no! World rocked! But, in this case, in a good way. This third choice is another one I advocated for in group.
As you can see, writing yourself into a corner isn’t a death sentence for a story. There are multiple ways to make a corner into something else. You just have to be willing to do the work, and look at your story from different angles.
SECONDARY DISCLAIMER: I would like to mention that this specific example had multiple ways of “rolling with it.” Not all corner problems will be able to be written out of. Some—I’m going to go with most—you will either have to “go up the wall” , or do an Uncle Karl Fix.
Until next time: remember that a corner is only a corner if you stay there, and: Be you, be well. Write you, write well.