Blocked! Not Quite.

First posted on The Writing of a Wisoker on the Loose, 11/11/2010

The other day, I was thinking (rather smugly) that I haven’t run into writer’s block for an awfully long time.

Yeah. That was stupid, huh? Enter brick wall, near immediately. Only it isn’t, really.

I would have seen this as writer’s block a while back, but now I see it as needing to step back and think my premises through more carefully. I began writing this series a loooong time ago–it’s been building for almost ten years now. Along the way, I’ve experimented with different literary devices (flashbacks, framing techniques, and dreams, to note a few)–and the guidance of a good editor on the first two books has clarified what works and what doesn’t. Which has, by neccessity, refined how I convey a plot. How I present a character. Here’s what I mean:

Cafad Scratha is a jerk. A total, utter, asswipe. He smacks Idisio around, in Book One; he throws his lover, Nissa, out into the street naked and yells that she’s a whore to all within hearing. Never mind the reasons for those actions, he’s a jerk to be able to react that way at all. But no matter how mean I made him, people still come up to me saying that they like him; he’s bizarre and goofy and just a good guy in a lot of pain. Which is true; but it’s also true that some characters just don’t get that, such as Deiq of Stass. Deiq sees Lord Scratha as a total ass, but not because he smacked Idisio around at one point; he’s disliked Cafad for many years, over totally unrelated issues. On the other hand, Nissa of Sessin is deeply in love with Scratha, and while she’s something of a naive innocent herself, there has to be something gentle about Cafad, in order for her to be so passionate about a guy (much older than herself, by the way) that she would risk lying to him about her real identity.

So Cafad has to hate Sessin Family so much as to react explosively over finding out he’s been sharing his bed with a Sessin woman. There has to be a valid reason for that hatred. He also has to hate thieves with just as much blazing passion, and have an equally solid reason for that. But when he catches Idisio picking his pocket, he has to see something, in that moment, that makes him stop his normal action: which would be to kill the thief on the spot and move on, serene in his desert lord status that protects him from any retaliation (not that the death of a street thief would particularly outrage anyone, except possibly the people who have to mop up the street later). His paranoia over people plotting against him has to be so high, then, that he wants to question Idisio rather than kill him right away; and Idisio has to be quick-witted enough to make hay out of that opportunity, or he’s on the burning slab by tomorrow.

But why does Cafad Scratha instantly think Idisio is part of a plot to frame him for something, to embarrass him, to mock him? Well, that  is because of a lot of off-camera stuff that the reader doesn’t know about yet — but I do, and I know it comes into a later book, and shapes Scratha’s actions there. Given that Secrets of the Sands is written from Idisio’s point of view, there’s actually rather a lot that Scratha thinks and sees and does that Idisio doesn’t know anything about. But since I plan Book 4 to have Scratha’s point of view, I have to know everything back to his childhood in order to present him accurately. (Editing note: Book 4 does not have Scratha’s POV. The Children of the Desert series wound up focusing on the Alyea-Idisio-Deiq-Eredion thread almost exclusively to date. Scratha’s POV will be in book 5 instead. And book 5 WILL finish off this particular series. I promise. 😀 )

So, back to my current brick wall. Two characters in the (as yet untitled) third book, Tank and Dasin, have a very complicated relationship. I’ve always planned for it to be complicated, and hopefully to spark off some arguments among readers over morality, choices, nature versus nurture and all that.  Homophobes probably need not read further in the series than book two (Guardians of the Desert). I present gay and lesbian characters the same way I would hetero couples: as complicated, flawed, and occasionally very stupid in their personal choices. However, my earlier attempts at framing that relationship were done . . . at a less mature level, let’s say. A less educated and experienced level. Which is to say, in the middle of editing a long-standing scene, the characters faced off with me and said, essentially, “if you want us to behave this way, we need a better motivation than just being horny!”

And they’re completely right. They do have better motivations, because the basic scene (I’m told) is all right; I just need to be more clear on why this scene happened (just as I needed to know why Scratha didn’t kill Idisio out of hand), and build that insight up throughout the story arc. Otherwise, they’re rather embarrassed at what people will think of them: too stereotyped, they said. Too obvious. And I agreed.

So I’m staring at the wall, and playing Jewel Quest 3, and napping a lot–and listening; literally asking, “All right, Dasin, who are you? Tell me what I need to know about your life. Tank, you too. Who are you? Why did you react this way in this scene and another way over here? Have you grown up, since I first wrote about you, and now I have to rework everything I’ve been writing–or do I just need to clarify a few points? What’s your favorite color?” And so on.

It’s tempting to just strongarm the problem, and say that I wrote the damn scene, buckle down and behave: but it doesn’t work that way at all. I’ve come to realize that the reason I don’t suffer from writer’s block as much as I used to is that I now respect the characters, and listen to my subconscious when it wants to talk to me about something I’m screwing up. Once your writing-brain/soul/impulses/ego/muse/whatever the hell you personally call it — once that part of you trusts you to trust it (hopefully I didn’t just make your head explode) — that’s when everything unlocks and you generally wind up with more than you can ever use. Scary, yes. Treacherous, yes. Needs to be carefully guided, oh yes. Otherwise you never finish a project, but flit from one to another to another–like writing blog posts instead of thinking on the current knothole in the plot.

Er. Perhaps I’d better go back to Jewel Quest 3, so that my organizational and guilt-ridden “I’m not working hard enough” brain has something to focus on, and my creative mind can wander around unfettered in the background. Yes. That sounds like an excellent idea.

I’m not blocked. I’m thinking. Really…..