Pep Talk from Tamora Pierce (2014)
Okay. You’re at the point that marathon runners call “the wall.” It’s the one where you’ve run smack out of inspiration and your start-up excitement. It’s quit or finish and you’d really rather quit, but you have all these words, and friends, family, and those nasty people at school or the office are waiting to see if you’ll finish.
So let’s talk about the commonplace: something you may not have considered when you got all swept up in the Characters and the Splendor and the Idea.
Try adding something short.
Show your main character doing something. They’re walking down a woodsy trail—unless they’re in space, in which case, maybe they’re jogging around the station, or coming in from fixing something outside. They aren’t really thinking about much, or if the end of their travels are in view, they’re thinking about news from home, a good person or a bad one, or a sudden summons from the boss.
Do it inside the airlock. Over and over they go, hearing yells through their communication system and the sound of the lock pressurizing. Then their foot gets caught in an open metal grip, twisting.
In the forest, they tumble down a hill, twisting an arm. Climbing out of a swimming pool, they slip on the rim; there’s a loud whack as they strike their knee on the pool’s edge. On the sidewalk, they catch a foot on a tree root and go down.
Try something surprising, painful, or frightening to jolt your character into behaving violently.
Are they exhausted beyond all reason, given everything you’ve put them through? Have they no resources of strength, health, common sense, or good humor left? This is what they called, during the American Civil War, “middle of the night courage.” If your character has it. Maybe they don’t. That could be what we need to know, that this person has to lick the remains of their courage off of the floor to be able to continue on. And trying something you hadn’t planned with this character to find this last, possibly stupid bit of self may be what you need to get moving.
What happens next? Does your character pitch a fit of rage? Do they throw things, or yell for help? Do they ask someone to take them to the doctor, not knowing that the other person isn’t to be trusted? Is their rescuer someone they didn’t know cared about them? What does your character do now? Maybe your character doesn’t trust this person, but his or her companions do. What do they do?
Try something small.
Your character finds a box (think of those medical researchers who found a box tucked away in storage and opened it to find six little vials of smallpox), a book, a message, a painting. It fascinates them until they have tracked down its history and meaning. These things can lead to a talisman for good or ill, wealth, something that carries you into your planned climax, something that helps your character meet a person they need to know for that climax to happen, something perilous that brings them to the climactic action wounded and full of doubt.
With luck, you put this letter aside halfway through because you thought of something that you had to write, and you’re on your way again. If you read this far for my immortal prose, don’t be silly! You can read after you’ve finished NaNoWriMo! Now go git ‘em!