Well, at the time of preparing this article, I was also busy preparing last year’s Christmas stories. In particular, I’d just written the fourth one. This one was a bit more of a challenge than usual since, thanks to what I’d thought was a clever plot twist at the end of the third story, I had placed my main character in a seemingly unwinnable situation. I’d written myself into a corner.
If you take a slightly more laid-back approach to planning your stories, then this can allow you to surprise yourself in all sorts of cool ways whilst writing. But, it can also sometimes lead to situations like the one I mentioned earlier.
So, what can you do if you’ve written yourself into a corner?
1) Think it all through: As counterintuitive as it might sound, look closely at the “impossible” direction your story is going in. Think about it in as much depth as you can and look for any small flaws or gaps. Once you find one of these, exploit it for all you can!
For example, I’d ended the third story in my Christmas collection by showing the main character – a private detective – almost being put out of business by a trendy new start-up company (which was meant to be a parody of “disruptive” crowd-sourced companies). It seemed like a really clever modern twist on an old plot device.
But I suddenly realised that there was no way that, if I wanted to keep the story vaguely realistic, my main character could actually “win” against a company like that. My main character also didn’t seem like the kind of person who would want to join such a company either. But, of course, I’d planned to write six or seven more stories. What could I do?
Simply put, I thought about the idea in more depth. One of the problems with crowd-sourced companies is that the “staff” aren’t always as experienced or qualified as those in more traditional occupations. As such, with something like private detection, they might find themselves “out of their depth” fairly quickly. What does someone do when they find themselves in this situation? They find an expert.
As soon as I had this thought (from thinking about my “unwinnable” story situation in more depth), the blockage cleared. The direction seemed obvious. My main character could become a Sherlock Holmes-like consulting detective! A detective for other detectives.
So, if you want the solution to an “unwinnable” situation in your story to fit in with your story, then just think the situation through from every possible angle until you find a flaw that you can exploit ruthlessly.
2) Look back: Look at the earlier parts of your story and see if there’s anything there that you can use to solve your current problem. It could be some background element or a throwaway line of dialogue or something like that. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes a possible solution to your problem can actually be hiding in an earlier part of your story.
For example, when I started writing the troublesome fourth story in my collection, I’d started it with a cynical piece of narration about how Sherlock Holmes made everyone want to be a detective. This was a brilliantly cynical opening line.
It also, perhaps subconsciously, helped me come up with a solution to the writing dilemma I found myself in about two paragraphs later. After all, Sherlock Holmes is a “consulting detective”. But, surprisingly, I didn’t consciously realise this until I’d gone through the thought process I mentioned earlier in this article.
Again, this doesn’t always work with every story, but sometimes you can use something you’ve included earlier in your story to solve your problem.
3) There are no unwinnable situations: Simply put, the best attitude to take to these situations is simply to remember that there is always a solution. It just involves determination and a willingness to think outside the box.
If it helps, think of your story like a challenging computer game. A computer game may contain difficult situations, but no game is intentionally designed to be unwinnable – however it may appear to the player. In other words, there’s usually a solution. It may be hidden or it may involve the player having to do something that the designers hadn’t planned for (eg: exploiting a glitch in the game’s code in order to defeat a challenging level boss etc..), but it’s there.
If you take an attitude like this, then it will put you in a much better frame of mind for dealing with the times when you’ve written yourself into a corner.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂