At the 2013 Rainforest Writers Retreat, Mark Teppo gave a talk called “Nuns with Guns.” I was eager to hear what this chat was going to be about. Was it going to be about crazy ideas for stories, strange combinations or maybe a discussion about religion and war?
None of the above. It was about how to fix your story when it goes astray. Why the title, Nuns with Guns? Mark says you don’t have to have nuns with guns show up to save your story. (unless, of course, you’re writing about nuns who have taken up arms for some reason). If you’re stuck on your story, or you feel like something is wrong with it, don’t just throw in a big crazy, out of the blue story twist that probably makes no sense within your story, just to try and fix it!
If you feel like you’re forcing things, like figuring out how it could possible make sense for nuns with guns to show up and thus give you something exciting to write about, it’s time to re-evaluate. Take a look back and see where things went off track in the first place and fix it. You’ll find it. Things will have been going along well, and then, things will seem wrong. Then you need to find a way to fix it.
Are you asking yourself the right questions about the story? What are you trying to accomplish in the scene? Don’t write forced scenes with your characters just to move the action forward. Mark says, “Don’t write sh*t you don’t want to read.” Advice to write by.
As a group, we then discussed ways to fix a story that has gone astray. Mae Empson had a great suggestion, to have a fake conversation as your character with someone else, so you only have control over one side of the story. Make sure the person you’re in the conversation with knows what you’re up to, or that might get awkward. I think it would be a great way to get to know your character better, to delve into their motivations and actions. I’m going to try it next time I get stuck.
Lesson learned, when things get tough, don’t call in the Nuns with Guns! Find what’s wrong in your story and fix it.