The practice of buying your project a beer, like many others I’ve come to use regularly, comes from Havi Brooks’ The Fluent Self. Thoroughly recommended for feeling less like a giant disaster.
A couple of Tuesdays ago, opening my notebook after a fortnight’s hiatus, I was conscious of a nasty suspicion of impending stuckness. I’ve written before about how stuckness scares me much less than it used to, but I was still a bit scared by this one. Apart from anything else, the idea behind the deliberate hiatus was to pre-empt the stuckness.
I was hanging around in London for an hour after work before catching the train home. I’d thought that I’d sit somewhere and have a cup of coffee and do some writing. After all, the stuckness hadn’t quite landed. Yet. I thought I had another few hundred words that I could squeeze out.
I went to a bar that came in just below my ‘not for the likes of us’ cut-off, and I sat outside under a parasol, and I ordered a sour cherry lemonade. Across the square, people were watching a big screen with the Williams sisters playing the Wimbledon doubles. I got my notebook and pen out of my handbag.
I’d meant to just work on the book itself, but instead I wrote:
The problem is, I feel I haven’t really got a handle on Polly.
I kept writing, and new possibilities emerged:
This may not actually be a problem if Ben hasn’t got a handle on her either.
Do I need to write something from Polly’s POV and be prepared to junk it?
Do I need to keep ploughing on with Ben and trust that Polly will come through his self-absorption for me as well as the reader?
Then I wrote the thing that was at the root of the stuckness:
I am afraid of running out of plot before I get anywhere near the target word count.
But I had an answer to that, too:
Does Ben have any sort of love life aside from Polly? Has he ever had one? If so, it’s going to have been a mess.
The answer, it seemed, was yes. But it only raised further questions. I knew some of the answers, but not all of them:
(Mélanie, soigneur, tracks him down – but how, why, has she left the team or something – parents tell her where he lives hoping she’ll get him back into the sport. OK, so what happens, is this before or after the middle of the book, it’s got to be after the CC debacle or it’ll anticipate the blackmail aspect, what do Polly and Vicki make of it?)
Then I ordered a vegetarian scotch egg. And very tasty it was too.
I kept writing:
So Polly’s just beginning to fall for Ben, no, not even fall for, look kindly on, and then Mélanie turns up WHILE VICKI’S AWAY WITH GIANNA. Ben neglects Polly, she gets back together with Michael
Why don’t Ben and Mélanie work?
Because the thing that they have in common is misery.
How does it end?
Ben realises that he’s happier 9-5ing than he ever was cycling, even with a team he liked
and Mélanie doesn’t get his responsibilities
nothing awful happens to Polly – in fact, Michael happened to look round so she was fine – but Ben feels awful about it – maybe a burglary?
(what is it? doesn’t go back to organise a meal? ends up staying out all night?
Mélanie doesn’t see Polly as a sexual threat. Ben finds this perversely irritating.
he’s pleased to see her – cross with his parents – painful memories
Polly’s cautiously pleased
Vicki doesn’t approve at all, thinks he should move on or at least make his mind up
maybe Mélanie secretly wants to expose Grande Fino and is looking for other
Bang. I wrote 863 words on the theme of ‘Mélanie secretly wants to expose Grande Fino and is looking for other people to help’ on the train home. By the end of those 863 words most of the rest of the braindump was out of date (Vicki wasn’t away, Polly and Michael were already an item…) but I had the makings of a creditable subplot.
I still don’t have a handle on Polly, but I expect she’ll make herself known in time. I might go out and get a drink and see if she turns up.
2 thoughts on “Unlikely writing techniques 2: take the book for a drink”
I love the way your thoughts were cascading there Kathleen. It’s the same process I go through when I’m thinking of how best to meet a child’s needs 🙂 Glad that you’ve got the makings of a sub plot.
It’s so interesting to read how authors come up with their storylines. I am sure you;ll develop Polly’s character over time (and who knows – next time you are having a drink, it might be Polly who benefits from all your clever ideas :-)). It’s great that you were able to develop your sub plot. Thanks so much for linking your post to #TalkoftheTown.