There’s a fun moment in “The Princess Bride” when Inigo is talking Wesley (who has been mostly dead all day) into assaulting the palace–armed only with Fezzik’s strength, Inigo’s steel, and Wesley’s brain. Against 60 men. Wesley is not impressed. He says, “If we only had a wheelbarrow, that would be something!”
It’s a throw-away. At that point, he has no plan, he’s just pointing out that they don’t have the resources they need. The same thing happens to writers every day. But, lo and behold! They do have a wheelbarrow, along with a Holocaust cloak even Inigo didn’t know about and Wesley is able to come up with a great plan. So the question for fiction writers is, where’s your wheelbarrow? And what else do you have that you don’t know about?
Taking inventory can be a useful approach to solving plot problems. I often find when I don’t know what happens next that the most exciting event or solution will be based on something I already have–some small detail, rule of magic or historical footnote I included without thinking it was important. Instead of continuing to bang my head against the keyboard, I pull back and brainstorm about my assets. What have I already given myself that I’m not using now, or not using to its highest good?
I find the same thing when I’m critiquing the work of others: many authors drop in fun things or establish spells, character traits or details of setting which they don’t realize could add up to create a great plot point. Next time you feel stuck, think about the Albino’s wheelbarrow, and look for your Holocaust cloak. Chances are, you’ve got everything you need already in the toolbox.