Some (stupid?) things that keep writers awake at night

You’ve just finished chapter twenty-something. You’re feeling good about yourself. The story is coming along; the players are performing well, and there’s a better-than-even chance you’ll beat your deadline, assuming you have one.

If you’re self-publishing you might be wondering why you don’t have one. What’s your plan? When will it be done? Why didn’t you give yourself a deadline when you started?

If you’re writing a book as part of a contract with a publisher, you most certainly will have a deadline. Is it reasonable? If not, why did you agree with it? Did you fight for better terms? Should you have gotten an agent,or if you have one, should you look for a better one?

It’s far more likely, however, that what’s keeping you up at night has something to do with your work in progress. The questions that keep rolling around in your head feature things you normally wouldn’t think about. For instance, let’s say you’ve told the bulk of your tale using a first-person character (“I thought this…” or “I did that.” etc.) named Albert.

So, good ol’ Albert opens the story as a decent chap, one most readers will react to sympathetically. That’s almost always a good thing. But as the tale unfolds, you slowly realize that in order to make certain subplots work, Albert needs to move toward the dark side, and a different character needs to become the protagonist, and now you need to let poor ol’ Al take a dirt nap.

But wait! If most of the story is told in first-person, doesn’t that imply to the reader that the storyteller will survive until the last page?

Maybe, maybe not. Storyteller survival to the end of the book is most likely the norm, but quite a few authors have figured out how to get around the tricky business of having a dead character continue in the role of narrator, at least, if not working as a ghost. Union rules don’t apply here.

The alternative is to go back through all those twenty-something chapters and recast your first-person character in third-person (“He thought this…” or “He did that.” etc.).

Novelists tend to think of bizarre things from time to time. A writer friend had a character break out a box of day-old doughnuts in his story. That set me to thinking of ways to kill off a bad guy using something similar. That brought to mind the concept widely known as “Chekov’s Gun.” Simply stated, it means you can’t shoot a player in scene two unless you’ve introduced the gun in scene one.

Suddenly, a fractured version of that idea began churning my few remaining brain cells around something I thought of as “Chekov’s Doughnut.” It was good for a couple hours of nonsleep, at least.

This, I realize, represents a miserly few of the often stupid things that occupy writers’ minds while they’re trying to sleep. So, if you run into a writer who looks like he or she hasn’t enjoyed a good forty or fifty, undisturbed winks lately, be kind. If not, you might find yourself in their next epic.

Just sayin’…


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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