Down in the Valley  6/7/2017
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box can·yon

noun NORTH AMERICAN

1. 1. a narrow canyon with a flat bottom and vertical walls. Origin Spanish cajon meaning a large box We’ve all written ourselves into one.

You know what I mean – that hopeless place where our heroes or heroines are stuck with no way out. With unscalable walls, a rock slide blocking the exit, and not a clue as to how you got here. The spot where your imagination feels like it's caught in the La Brea Tar Pits and is sinking fast. This wasn't supposed to happen. You had a plan. You had direction. Heaven forbid, you might have even had an outline!! Yet somehow, you're still off track. So what went wrong? As Bugs Bunny used to say, "I knew I should've made a left at Albuquerque."

Here are three of my favorite strategies for fixing a runaway plot. The first one is simple – read your story. From the beginning. Out loud. Pace the floor. Act out the parts. Chances are, you’ll catch where you made the wrong turn that plunged you into the valley.

If that doesn’t work, the second thing to try is to read your outline (if you’ve made one) or the notes you’ve scribbled on various napkins or paper scraps and compare those to your story. Did the heroine zig instead of zag? Should she have been at work but instead played hooky? Did the hero go out with the guys instead of spending the evening washing his car so the heroine could chance across him as she walked her little brother to the playground? Sometimes the smallest thing will send your story in a new direction that seems exciting but ends up with your characters all boxed in.

By now you’ve probably discovered where you took the wrong fork, but just in case you haven’t, the third fix is to have someone else read your outline and story. Another writer is best, but make sure it’s someone who will be objective and tell you where you need to untwist the pretzel. No, your mother is not the person to call on here, unless she can be ruthlessly critical. By having another person read, you’re getting a fresh viewpoint and someone who isn’t involved so deeply in your story that he or she gets bogged down.

Most of the time, one of these three actions will help you dig your way out of any box canyon you encounter. If not, I know someone who has a steam shovel…

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