Sunday, June 03, 2012

Caught in Dead Water

"When caught in dead water Fram appeared to be held back, as if by some mysterious force, and she did not always answer the helm. In calm weather, with a light cargo, Fram was capable of 6 to 7 knots. When in dead water she was unable to make 1.5 knots. We made loops in our course, turned sometimes right around, tried all sorts of antics to get clear of it, but to very little purpose." - Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian Arctic explorer, from his ship, Fram, in August, 1893
Dead water is a nautical term for when fresh or brackish water rests on top of denser salt water.

It’s the kind of phenomenon, as the Arctic explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, discovered, that can force you to come to a near standstill.

In your writing, you might think of dead water as the spot in your manuscript where the story falls flat and dries up, the pages where you don’t find any life.

It's the place where there’s no energy in the prose, no fizz in the characters, nothing compelling about the story.

Somehow this passage of dead water has sucked the energy out of your story’s forward momentum. You (and your reader) are now stuck, just like Nansen and his crew, forced to try "all sorts of antics to get clear of it."

The good news is that you’ve noticed the passage of dead water on this round of revisions rather than ignore or overlook it as in previous drafts.

Now you need to wade back into the water in order to figure out how to swim through it and clean up the mess and bring the water and all within it back to life.

Maybe you need to study your choice of words. Are they specific enough? Or do you gloss over details with general descriptions?

Maybe you need to dive deeper emotionally into your characters or into yourself?

Maybe you lost the conflict somewhere along the way or, possibly, failed to set it up?

Maybe your story took an unexpected turn, or you veered away from a difficult or painful subject that you weren’t ready to deal with yet?

Whatever the reason, you’ve found a patch of dead water.

Now you need to figure out what needs to be done to restore life to the page so you and your reader can swim through that section of the story with ease.

For more information about swimming through dead water, visit:

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