Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Problems with Solutions

Something that happens when I'm workshopping someone else's work is when I see a problem and raise it with the author they say something like X has to happen because of Y. Or this character has to behave like that because later on they're going to do B.

I've been in this position as the author getting feedback and what I've discovered is that often the 'problem' was once a solution.

What happens to me is this. I'm writing, and I get stuck. I need to make a decision about something. It might be an event or a characteristic or situation, whatever - it needs to be fixed before I can move on. So I come up with a solution, it seems to work, so I carry on writing.

Aaaages later, and I've finished the draft. I get feedback, and the feedback says they don't like that solution. But, I whine. But it's got to be like that because of X so I can't possibly change it. The person giving feedback will usually back off at this stage and go on with doing more useful things while I do a little light sulking before getting back to work and sorting out the problem.

In A Single to Rome, for example, Natalie wasn't a lawyer for several drafts, she was in marketing because at the time of writing the first draft I didn't know what she did, and randomly picked that career because I know a little bit about it. I clung onto marketing for ages, before I realised it wasn't working and changed it. Once I'd changed Natalie's job lots of other things fell into place and I had one of those whoopee! light bulb moments that make writing worthwhile and the next draft was easy peasy to write.

I've learned enough to know that nothing should be sacred. If it isn't working, it isn't working and it doesn't matter what it is, it has to go. All plots can be re-arranged, and just because something was a solution once it doesn't automatically follow that it's a solution now.

So, if you ever find yourself saying, I can't change X because of Y, pause, rewind, and ask yourself "Has a solution become a problem?" And then look and see how you can fix it.


Giles Diggle said...


I enjoy reflecting on your thoughts about writing before I start work on my book in the morning, so thank you for being so generous with your experience.

Do you have any plans to collate the best of your blogs into a book? I would certainly pay. £4.99 for an ebook edition. It would serve as a very useful Primer (and reminder), full of common sense and written in plain English.


penny simpson said...

good post, Sarah. I've just had one of those light bulb moments. Had decided to relocate my main character to New York and then had her go on a recce to San Francisco. Duh!

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi Giles - it's on my To Do list for 2012! That doesn't mean it'll get done, of course, but it IS there.

Penny - I love those light bulb moments - aren't they the greatest?

Philip C James said...

Great post, Sarah.

Sadly, my light-bulb moments so far have involved the long-life, low-energy light-bulbs, flickering slowly into life to cast a wan glow of illumination. Hey-ho, we live in hope, and they are good for the environment...

Sarah Duncan said...

Those light bulb moments will come Phil, I'm sure. Just give it time.