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The Most Frustrating 6,000 Words

Last week I teased a little about some issues I'm having with a book I'm writing.  I mentioned that there's what will (probably) be a 6,000 word gap in my draft if I can't figure out some good material to connect the dots.

I didn't get into the specifics because I didn't want to get sidetracked, and also because it allows me to pull a Hunger Games and needlessly get two posts out of the same dull story.

So my story roughly goes like this: the protagonists of a post-apocalyptic world go on a long trip to get to the mythological Independence City, a place that they've heard is a land of opportunity.  When they get there, they find that it's not all it's cracked up to be.  [Some stuff happens], and then they try to leave - but before they can get away, they are caught by the main antagonist of the story.  [Some more stuff happens], and then the protagonists part ways according to the ending I came up with months ago.

My goal is for this to end up being an adventure comedy.  I don't want it to get too morbid, but I don't want it to be too sappy or predictable, either.  And that's why these two gaps are giving me such a hard time: the ideas I keep coming up with keep throwing off the tone.

One of the ideas I had was that one of the protagonists realizes that their antagonist was responsible for the murder of her brother many years ago, and so the story takes on a sort of Wild West revenge spin in the last act.  I could weave hints about this into some earlier scenes and, through close revisions of what I've written so far, even it out so it doesn't look like a totally obvious and poorly conceived plot twist.

But that takes it from "largely a hopeful and carefree adventure story" to "dark and gritty even though it's trying to be funny."  Forget whether or not it's contrived - I just don't want it to ruin the story.  You have these two folks going on a long walk together and cracking jokes, and then suddenly one of them is out for blood?  That's not really fun, is it?

Another idea was for one of the protagonists to find a key to a major supply depot buried somewhere nearby, and this then makes him a high-profile target for the central antagonist.  This is a little more in line with the theme and suitably ties the story together, but there's almost no way for me to insert it into the story logically.  How the hell would he get the key?  Either he'd have to stumble on it accidentally, which in context makes no sense since the antagonist would have been looking for it for ages, or he'd have to be handed it by some throwaway character earlier in the story, which makes even less sense because the throwaway character would have no reason to surrender the key.  In a post-apocalyptic world, why would you ever give away your ticket to a major stash of supplies?

What it boils down to is that I need a plot device that accomplishes all of the following:

1) It gives the protagonists a good reason to stay in Independence City instead of immediately leaving;

2) It must directly involve the antagonist;

3) Its consequences must be so dire that it is suitable for the climactic showdown of the story; and

4) It must be something I can seed early on enough that it doesn't feel like it comes out of left field at the very end.

Considering that the protagonists are walking 100+ miles from the beginning to end, that fourth bullet ends up being one of the trickiest parts.

An optional fifth criteria would be "It is inventive enough that people won't complain about it being predictable," but you know what?  Predictability is totally fine if you have a good story to build around it.  I'm not interested in re-inventing the wheel here - I just want to tell a story that's fun and makes enough sense that people won't be annoyed by it.

I'll crack this nut eventually, I'm sure.  I just haven't had the "ah ha!" moment I really need to tie it altogether.  As frustrating as writing can be sometimes, those moments fill me up with so much joy and enthusiasm that they make the slog worth it.

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)