when in doubt

I have this tag for posts, “when in doubt.” It refers to the old writer’s axiom, “when in doubt, send in a man with a gun.” Not literally a guy with a gun, necessarily, but something to shake up the plot, jolt you out of whatever rut you’re stuck in or route you around whatever wall you’re facing, and make it possible to move on with the story (in a more interesting fashion, hopefully).

Well, right now I have a bit of plot I need to figure out and haven’t yet, plus I’m exhausted from waking up at 4 a.m. (Thanksgiving travel, how I hate thee). So I sat down and thought, “okay, I can splice in this bit, and hopefully that will get me up to my word count for the day, but a) it’s going to be hard work with my brain this dead and b) I don’t know where I’m going after that.”

Instead, I gave a character malaria.

When in doubt, send in a mosquito with P. falciparum.

0 Responses to “when in doubt”

  1. arielstarshadow

    I have a question about that axiom – is it generally meant in the “just do something to move past the stucked-ness” with the knowledge that most likely, you’ll remove it later (so really, just do the first thing that comes to mind), or is it more something that is expected to stay in the story after the first draft?

    • Marie Brennan

      Well, I imagine different people mean it in different ways. Me, it tends to be something I plan on keeping — not just “look! A purple giraffe!” but a plot twist that will make my story richer. It doesn’t always pan out, though; my first use of the tag was for an assassination attempt that, upon reflection, I decided would not fit the story after all.

      • arielstarshadow

        So not just something that is off the top of the head (aka the purple giraffe), but more something you think about a little at least. That makes sense. 🙂 Thank you!

    • houseboatonstyx

      I thought the expression came from the days of pulp serials, where each installment was published as fast as written, so the author was stuck with the gunman.

      However, she would have considerable time before she had to provide an explanation and connection for him, if ever. He might shoot and escape, or shoot and be shot, leaving the main characters to speculate about him for the rest of the series, if necessary.

    • marycatelli

      There have been random plot twist generators for the get-past stuff.

  2. aliettedb

    Hahaha, I’d say malaria is quite as bad as a man with a gun 🙂
    (I generally throw random scientific/magical problems, because men with guns have a hard time featuring in my short stories).

  3. Marie Brennan

    In this case it’s more a problem of “X needs to happen next, but I’m not sure how, given that there’s an obstacle in the way.” Sort of an “insert clever solution here” thing, but when I have to wake up at 4 a.m. to catch my flight, we are fresh out of clever at this particular establishment….

  4. Marie Brennan

    I see no reason why those two things are incompatible.

  5. mindstalk

    I’m reminded of the Spirit of the Century GM advice: “when it doubt, send in the ninjas”.

  6. Anonymous

    Well, do your characters have to know immediately why the obstacle no longer applies, or can they speculate about it while getting on with the story?

    “I just got a call, the Bureau has reversed its decision. They just approved the project!”

    “Why in the world?”

    “Maybe Paul Drake can tell us when he gets back from Argentina.”

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