Last year, a story popped into my brain. It arrived with all the excitement and expectation of a parade, and it bounced through my mind like a big, bass drum. It took only a few hours to write a five paragraph synopsis, a ten page outline for the 25 chapters, and to develop my main character--a 13 year old boy named Micah. I knew exactly where the story was leading me, or so I thought.
It was going to be another coming of age story like my middle grade novel Search for the Red Ghost. The first three chapters were easy, and my mind said the plot and conflict were set. I made sure each chapter started with a minor problem and left a mini cliff hanger at the end to carry the reader to the next chapter. Chapter four was not so easy. This is where the min-plot twist and turns comes in. The outline I originally wrote had a different path than I thought Micah needed to take, so I struggled along my new path to finish chapter four. New ideas for his journey seemed to flow through my mind. Sure they might change the outcome of the book, but they were flashier and shinier than the original. Chapter five was easier, and I became convinced that my deviation from the original path was spot on. I continued writing through chapters six, seven, and eight, but then everything stopped. The story had run cold!
I read through the 14, 726 words with a fine tooth comb. "It just needs revision," I told myself, so I revised, and revised again. That didn't work, so I put it in a drawer to look at later. Two months later, I pulled it out. I kept telling myself, "It will work. It just needs a new angle." That didn't work either, so I put it away again. Well, last week I opened that drawer and read all eight chapters again, and then compared it to my outline and the original synopsis. My conclusion? I made the story run cold. I had written myself into a hole, and there was no way Micah could climb out. My original plotted outline was the path Micah needed to take, not the one I chose for him to take. It was me, the writer, who took a story that was warm, encouraging, and even challenging and created one that started forming ice crystals in chapter four.
My flashy and shiny ideas were not part of the original story that asked to be told. Instead of bringing greater expectations to the story, they derailed it. This has been a learning experience for me, and while I am certain that Micah will someday see the conclusion to his story, I am not yet ready for the challenge it presents. It is enough for me right now to know that I can be my own worst enemy when writing. I can make write myself into a dead end, and I can make a story run cold. Have you ever made one of your stories run cold? Did you learn from it?