The Wall


   July 2019    

      The Wall

Let’s talk about building a wall. Walls can keep others out, or keep us inside, like the Great Wall of China.  As writers, we can erect a wall or tear it down, heed the handwriting on the wall, or hit the wall. These are walls your characters erect, for reasons of protection and survival. Or fear.

We all accumulate emotional baggage over the years. In 11 SignsYou Have A Wall Up In Your Relationship, Sara Altschule says you shouldn’t go into a partnership with your eyes closed, but it’s important to let down some of those walls, especially as you grow closer in a relationship. Has your character gotten too comfortable inside their wall? Are they afraid to open up so their partner has a chance to experience the real person inside?

In The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maass suggests blowing up the wall: “Confessions, needs, and secret fears come tumbling out. Bad behavior becomes understandable. Solutions arise.” What is “the match that lights the fuse” and “the new freedom that follows the bang”? If your main character needs a course correction, what would serve as a catalyst to bring that wall down? What would be the resulting catharsis? Sometimes, just loosening a few bricks can bring needed interest to your writing. Who or what can “chip away” at your character?

“The writing is on the wall” means an inevitable result or imminent danger has become apparent, a hidden agenda is finally revealed. Originating from “mene mene tekel upharsin” written by the Hand of God (Daniel, Chapter 5) to warn King Belshazzar of his impending doom. The Arabic words refer to “two minas, a shekel, and two parts” — meaning Belshazzar had been “numbered, weighed, and divided,” and found wanting. The point is that Belshazzar couldn’t see the obvious because he was more occupied with sin and revelry. In the early 18th century, Jonathan Swift used “writing on the wall’ figuratively, providing a warning where no actual writing or walls were involved (Miscellaneous works, 1720).

In sports, “hitting the wall” means sudden fatigue and loss of energy caused by a depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. For marathon runners, it happens at around the 20-mile mark. If it’s a 26-mile marathon, are you in trouble? Do 50,000 words equate to running 20 miles? Non-technically speaking, writers “hit a wall” when they’ve run out of things to say!

Kathleen Pooler (What To Do When You Hit A Wall With Your Writing” suggests reading (in other genres), playing or listening to music, getting outside, or attending a writer’s workshop or book event. She firmly believes “being connected to your purpose for writing your story will propel you through the ups and downs and get you to the finish line.”


On thing author and Blogger, Kristen Lamb, suggests is changing your Protagonist (has he/she taken on more than they can handle?).

Donald Maass (The Emotional Craft of Fiction) says your protagonist should change like your other characters, and when “your protagonist slams into someone else, that second person has no choice but to push back or move.” He believes “your protagonist is all of us. Your secondary characters encompass the range of what it is to be human.” He also asks what kind of spirit your protagonist has – positive or negative? Do you know? How does he/she react to obstacles? What are their expectations? If a protagonist is fundamentally negative, he or she can’t inspire us.

Finally, has your protagonist (or any of your characters) put up a wall? Why? Can it be torn down? How? By what or whom? If the wall falls apart, what will be revealed? Will we (or they) finally be able to read the handwriting on the wall?

Thanks for walking through the corridor with me.


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