In life, sometimes you come to a point when dealing with a problem where you don’t know what to do next. Either there’s no obvious solution, or it’s in somebody else’s hands and you have to wait.
In fiction, characters can face this same issue. Leads can dry up, tests have to be waited for, procedures followed.
However, in fiction, taking a break from the story isn’t really a viable option. Waiting six to eight weeks for the blood tests to come back from the lab isn’t going to be very interesting if you approach it realistically.
Or, if the character has come to a dead end, having them go to a woodland retreat to thinks thing over isn’t going to be received well, although it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do when faced with a complex problem.
Even if you have some entertaining stuff planned for what they get up to, the loss in momentum and general disconnection from the main plot is going to pull most readers out of the story.
And while the kind of character who always knows what to do and how to do it makes life a lot easier for a writer, that may not be the sort of character you want to write about.
If you want your characters to come to conclusions in a natural and realistic manner, you can’t rely on gung ho leaps of faith all the time, but you don’t have the time to let them slowly mature to a point where they understand life a little better (which is how most of us deal with what life throws at us).
Finding ways to keep the story moving forward without resorting to impulsive acts that conveniently pan out every time can be quite tricky. There are various ways to deal with this.
You can just skip ahead in time. Three days later the boss called a meeting... Nothing wrong with that if it fits the story, although if nothing of note happened in those days it may raise questions about the importance of the matter at hand. Or it may interrupt the flow and momentum of the story.
Another approach is to make sure the set up makes it impossible for the character to sit on their hands. If the bank says they’ll be in touch about the loan in 10-14 business days, and the gangster wants his money by tomorrow, the character will obviously have to make other arrangements.
The problem with forcing the issue like this is that it can affect the tone since most of the time in order to leave the character no choice you have to raise the stakes pretty high, and you may not want to put your character into panic mode at this point in the story.
You can also have the character seek advice. Going to a ‘wise old man’ allows your character not to have to act rashly but still move forward. The thing to watch out for here is to not let the character become too passive. Being told what to do and then going and doing it isn’t particularly engaging to read.
Which is why those sorts of ‘helpful’ mentor types tend not to offer easy answers. They make life harder for the main character, setting them tasks that force them to work things out indirectly.
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