Once upon a time, DH and I made our way down south for a job interview. While driving along, we came upon a very recent train derailment. The damage was incredible. Cars tipped over a football field off the track. Cargo scattered across the ditch in ways that defied logic.
Thankfully the train troubles occurred outside of town and far enough off the road that nobody was injured.
Upon our return, the mess had been cleared away and we completely missed seeing the site of the accident. Virtually all traces of the derailment were gone. And while the train company must have dealt with extensive and far-reaching damages, the casual observer would have missed the fact that twenty-four hours earlier, a near catastrophe had occurred.
Our writing is like a train track. We have a story arc that begins in one station and ends in another. Along the way, we transport our precious cargo. We may make switches along the way, dropping off some cars and picking up others. We may speed up and slow down for towns and bridge crossings, but we never stray from the track.
Unless, of course, we get derailed.
When this happens, we have two choices: clean up the mess, pay out the damages and deliver our salvaged cargo or go back to the station and start our trek all over again.
Neither option is fun and both require a lot of work. Critique partner and soon-to-be-pubbed, Calista Taylor, recognizes her risk for derailment and takes another set of tracks to ward off disaster. When the writing gets tough and she’s “blocked” for longer than a week, she retraces her steps and finds out where she went wrong.
With my current WIE (work in edit), I discovered yesterday (45 pages from the end) that I had failed to make a detour when I should have. Instead of switching tracks, I steamed forward and missed out on adding some cargo to my train that will invariably make my novel much stronger and more intriguing.
While I didn’t totally derail, it was like I jumped the track. I took a short cut and deprived my potential readers of the scenic route.
What do you do when you find your story floundering? When do you realize your writing has derailed and how do you fix it? Do you automatically trunk a derailed manuscript or do you try to salvage what you can?
Curious minds want to know.