Writer Woes: The right path up the mountain

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I was reading this blog post, which asked, “what are your biggest writer woes?”

One of my biggest– the one that’s currently got me beating my head against a wall– is what I like to think of as finding the right path up the mountain.

Our Hero has made her grand journey across perils unnumbered, and needs to find the next clue. It’s at the top of that ol’ mountain over there. I know it is. Seriously, it’s right there.

The problem is, I can’t figure out how to get my Hero up that slope. She could just skip on up there, but that rings false and shallow. She could go through endless harrowing experiences, dealing with avalanches and close encounters with cliffs… but this mountain is just one tiny obstacle, not the subject of the entire book. In the end, I just want my Hero to get up the damn thing so she can move on to the next plot point, but do so without it seeming too trite or too over-the-top.

There are a lot of ways to handle this, and each situation usually requires three or four coping mechanisms to chug through:

  • Rewrite the trek up the mountain. And then rewrite it again. And then rewrite it again. I have a single minor transition scene that has nearly a dozen completely different incarnations for this reason exactly, and my final draft ended up being a combination of several of them.
  • Talk to someone who’s unfamiliar with the story, or only passingly familiar. Kya is my go-to with this sort of thing, but there’s only one of her and I’ve got dibs. Sometimes just the act of explaining the problem is enough to get you thinking in the right direction.
  • Read a book. Watch some good TV (or hell, watch SharkNado). Take a break from your own efforts and try to absorb how other people handle story.
  • Act it out. It’ll look silly, but you and your best friends are going to have a grand ol’ time, and you’ll be amazed at what you find.
  • Ask a professional. If your character is trying to climb a mountain, then locate a mountaineer and interview them. If you’re trying to get through a cave, find yourself a spelunker, and so forth. They’ll have insights you couldn’t even dream of.
  • Crowdsource. Ask a whole group of people about the problem and see what they come up with.

Do you ever struggle with this sort of thing? What do you do to find your way up that mountain?

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