Lindsey here, Community Liaison for NaNoWriMo.
Last week the love interest in my novel did something kind of abhorrent. He drugged the neighbor's dog and blamed it on his girlfriend. I couldn't believe he did that! It was a completely unauthorized move. But once it was done, there was no undoing it. All the things I had planned for him to do and say in upcoming scenes were all wrong—suddenly my knight was a first-class jerk. Even if I went back and deleted the scene, I'd still know what he was capable of. (It seems I have a "no take backs" approach to my characters.)
So I did what any overly emotional, sleep-deprived writer would do: I broke up with him. And in doing so, I kind of broke up with my novel, too. This started having all kinds of adverse affects on my life. I lay awake at night, puzzling over how my good guy went so bad. I couldn't get to work in the morning for all my distracted agonizing over what to do. I was getting out of the shower with shampoo in my hair, leaving the house in my slippers, and dazedly driving to the grocery store instead of to the office. My character was everywhere, begging to be heard, asking to be redeemed. My word count was getting further behind with each passing day, and I was well on my way to being haunted by an imaginary being. But he didn't feel so imaginary; I'd brought the story to life, and those characters, and that world. It was just dangling there in limbo, derailing my focus and turning me into a bit of a loony.
Though I still had no fix in mind and was far from forgiving his behavior, I returned to the scene of my character's crime and gave him a second chance. And you know, the apology that poured forth was fairly epic. His girlfriend forgave him. It was so good that even I forgave him. In fact, this foray into his dark side has done some really great things for the depth of his character. He is less jerk and more bada##. (I added number signs) The novel has righted itself and everyone seems back on track for the rest of the story to unfold.
In this coming week, if you find yourself mired in a dead end, bored stiff by your protagonist's lackluster performance, or generally feeling that your plot is tripe, don't despair; you actually have the answer. Don't do what I did and shelve your novel. You'll probably go nuts. And you'll have to live with the knowledge that there is a half-dead story out there, haunting you with its zombie characters and shadowy half-world, just waiting for your pen stroke to set it straight. Because that's all it takes: returning to the wreckage and committing yourself anew to the phoenix-like resilience of this world you're writing.
I'll see you at 50K!