One of my favorite movies is Ice Age and one of its most delightful characters is Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel.
Watching the determined little scrapper chase that acorn, worry it, cherish it, and lose it again is, for me, some of the most memorable scenes in that line of films.
I often feel like Scrat when I’m writing. I’ve been told that many authors are able to envision their novels all at once from beginning to end. It’s not like that for me. I usually start from an idea, a hook, or a character, maybe just a scene even and work from there.
This often leads me to write lots of pages that sometimes go nowhere. (I should just virtually crumble them and toss them in the trash but I usually end up keeping that stuff. But that’s another story.) I outline only a few chapters ahead of where I am in the story and far too often, I’ve no idea where the story will go beyond the chapter I’m currently writing.
This is not usually a problem. By the time I’ve finished a chapter, I usually have a vision of where to go in the next chapter or chapters. But every once in a while, I don’t like where it’s going. When that happens I end up worrying that nut. I turn the scene that’s in my head this way and that. Look at it from different character’s POV, and try to think of why it seems wrong.
I always figure it out eventually, but sometimes it takes days to do this. I’ll think about it while I’m on one of my daily walks, and often, it’s on one of these walks that the answer comes to me. Sometimes it will come to me as I am drifting off to sleep or just woke up.
Even so, while I’m worrying the nut, I’m not writing anything. I suppose I could move to another project and start writing there, and I have done this. It always ends up with me finishing that other project while the current one languishes, opining to be finished, clawing at my consciousness and calling to be fully formed. Not really, but that would be kind of cool.
No, what normally happens is I forget about the current project and all of a sudden find myself a year away from it and telling myself it’s time to go back and finish. But I still got to finish worrying that nut. Turning it over and over, looking for the easy crack, the small fissure that will allow me to get down to the meat of it and continue with the story.
I’ve lately employed a tactic of writing out all possible scenarios in outline form. Anything I can possibly think of that would move the story. That helps by forcing me to consider any and all options. It helps me find that proverbial fissure in the acorn that will allow me in.
It gets cumbersome when the plot has many threads, many characters and groups of characters involved. It’s tough to know if I have thought of every possibility when there are more than ten characters in five or six different groups with various alignments between them.
If I don’t find the fissure in the acorn this way, I often just have to wait. I hope the answer will come when I’m close to something I can jot it down, usually a memo on my phone. Because I know if I go much more than a half hour before I write down the answer, it will disappear, and I’ll be back worrying the nut all over again.
I suppose, that’s the most frustrating thing that can happen; knowing I found the way in, and not remembering where that opening is. Frustrating and worrying, am I just getting old or is it a sign of early onset dementia?
I don’t know any easy way to crack this acorn. I just keep going, worrying it, looking for the small fissure, hoping to find, or re-find, the meat trapped in the nut’s shell.