What is the 100 Page Wall?
The 100 Page Wall is a barrier that hits a writer at or near the end of Act 1.
Has this ever happened to you? You are enthusiastically writing a new story, either free writing or working with a loose mental outline. The words flow out onto the screen or page in such a beautiful rush, you are convinced this book will write itself.
And then – bam! Your momentum slams to a halt. You reel back, your enthusiasm changed to exhaustion. The rush is gone, replaced by the realization that you’re not quite sure where to go next. Or maybe you’ve started to head down the wrong way. Or–gulp!–maybe there’s no way to head and your story just died.
Welcome to the 100 Page Wall.
That is my term and this is my theory, but it’s a theory based on working with a lot of writers and hearing repeatedly about this experience. It’s always the same: the author starts on a new idea with gusto. For about 100 pages, the author writes without a hitch, and then a hitch appears at 100 pages.
Why 100 pages? I think that’s how much new, free-floating story data the brain can keep before the need to organize and shape arises. This happens to planners and pansters both, so it’s not so much about method as a mental wake-up call.
The first 100 pages of a story is a busy lot. The conflict must be set up; the characters met; the setting presented; the story problem put forth; the hero/heroine journey laid ahead. These are the tasks of Act 1.
In a standard manuscript of 400 pages, Act 1 takes up about 1/4. When Act 1 ends, a protagonist makes a decision that will marry him/her to the conflict. There’s no turning back for the protagonist.
For an author, the end of Act 1 presents an equal commitment. Looming ahead is the vast Act 2, which will be a vast empty wasteland if you don’t have enough story to fill it.
The 100 Page Wall forces the author to take stock. And breathe. And realize, this book is not going to write itself. It’s like coming down to earth after being in the rapture of Easy Writing Land.
It’s fun to write 100 pages, but now the sticking-to-it begins. That middle is big. If you’re going to fill it up, you will need to work. If you don’t love the story as much on page 100 as you did on page 1, writing it may be turning into a chore that will only get harder.
Also, on page 1, you thought you had a great idea that would be a good novel. On page 100, maybe you’ve solved the story problem or you are close to doing so. This is where you may discover one of two things: you don’t have enough story to sustain a novel and/or you are really writing a short story.
How do you avoid hitting the 100 Page Wall? You can’t. You shouldn’t.
I think writers who hit the Wall do so because they need it. Whether it’s exhaustion, overload, commitment anxiety or running of out things to do next, the 100 Page Wall is a wake up call.
The challenge is not to panic. Because you hit the Wall doesn’t mean you need to stop. It means you need to pause, think about what to do next, maybe go for a walk, and do some planning before you move on.
If you can’t think of what to do next, or how to add enough to the conflict you’ve developed to make another 200-300 pages out of it, be grateful. You can put aside this story without investing more time on it–time that will be unproductive. Better to stop at 100 pages that didn’t go anywhere, than to write another 300 of a hot mess that wasted your time and effort. Moving on to a new story can be a positive act.
If/when you hit the 100 Page Wall, embrace the pause. Question why it happened, but in a productive way.
~ Should you stop and throw away this work in progress because an idea is not a story?
~ Should you acknowledge it’s the right size and shape for a terrific short story?
~ Should you soldier on because, after you think about it for a while, you know what’s ahead to enter the vast expanse of Act 2 and come out on the other side?
~ Should you stop free-writing and put down an outline or story board the middle so you can wrestle a plan out of it?
Have you ever made the brave decision to abandon a story that’s not working? Stuck with one because you knew it could be worked out but you had to wrestle with it a while? Or have you never hit the Wall and you are the rare and lucky author whose books just write themselves?
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