I become lost in my stories from time to time. It is never immediately apparent at the moment I stray from the path, but before long I sense something is wrong. I am the visitor to a foreign city who has misread his map, and the neighborhood is looking dodgy. Now, my characters have nothing interesting to say, and I can’t see any details of the world they occupy.
It can happen very quickly, losing one’s narrative way. Your hero meets a stranger and you have the thought, “Maybe they should buy some pears.” It isn’t a very interesting thought to you, but at that moment it’s the only thought you have, and so you follow the dull thought hoping somehow you were wrong. Now your character is buying pears and you couldn’t care less, and if its one of those days, you wonder what is wrong with you, and why can’t you make this scene work, and maybe you should abandon the whole story.
The beauty of fiction, of course, is that every word is just an idea until it goes to print. Before then, everything can be changed. When I become lost in a story I usually retreat to the last point where I was on the path and toss everything else. Next, I get very, very quiet. The wrong path was a reminder that I had been impatient, a common problem of mine. The quieter I become, the more patient I become, and eventually the next step presents itself.
I wander from paths all the time. One thought is all it ever takes, and I find myself chasing an idea down dark alleys. Sometimes these thoughts compel me to move not just in mind but in body, and I find I have literally traveled somewhere I don’t want to be, where I am in the company of people with whom I share little, or working at a job I dislike.
The moment I recognize that something is wrong is often a grim one. If I am feeling small and bitter, I blame fate or the rude demands of others. If, on the other hand, I get very, very quiet, no matter how far I’ve wandered, I sense the path I had been following and where I must turn next to find it. In this way, becoming lost is often the greatest gift, reminding me as it does that every path eventually leads home.