Coming to Life

I got kayoed for most of the day. Sitting at work this morning, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I started to get ill. Fighting off waves of nausea and a nightmare of a headache, I managed to make the commute home and collapsed into bed.

By evening I had slept all I was going to sleep, and I had had enough chicken soup to keep me functional. Instead of sitting with a blank look in front of the television, I decided to try and write. It took longer than normal, but I got through it and finished chapter thirteen.

In my condition I even managed to face down a sticking point. There was one unavoidable question that I had to deal with in order to keep the book from lapsing into Idiot Plot (Idiot Plot means the characters don’t do something obviously simple – like call the police – just so the rest of the book/movie can spin out the way the author wanted).

Up to this point I relied on the neuroses and paranoia of Richard and K in their predicament to keep from dealing with it. But with the introduction of Vic and Ray, two characters from outside the situation who were sane, the whole dynamic of the situation changed. Going into today’s writing, I knew I’d have to deal with the unavoidable question (“Why don’t you just do this…”).

So how did I deal with it?

I wish I could say it was a big, dramatic, literary struggle, but it wasn’t. It was one of those writing moments that happen so fast that you’re not sure how it all came about. In the movies they’d show the author typing at the computer, then CLOSE UP OF THE SCREEN as the critical lines spill into life. CUT TO THE AUTHOR as he stops writing and ponders his words. Then CLOSE IN ON AUTHOR’S FACE as we see the idea light up his features.

What really happened was more like this (and this is the way moments like this usually play out). I get into a state where my fingers are moving and words are appearing on the screen, but my brain is actually running a couple of paragraphs ahead. So when Ray’s questioning of Richard and K started taking a very pointed direction, I knew the unavoidable question was next. And then, just like that, the solution – in the form of K’s response to Ray – popped into my head.

I’m not sure if my pallid face lit up, but I did stop typing long enough to smile and nod and tell myself “All right!” Then my fingers were off and running again.

Maybe that’s not a very satisfying thing for some of you neophyte writers out there to read, but that’s the way it happens. You’ve read interviews with authors who say that their characters came to life and made decisions seemingly independent of the author’s will? I used to scoff at that, too, until it happened to me while writing A Death of Honor. I didn’t see it then, but in retrospect, I think it was a turning point in my writing. I had done enough work that I was learning to think ahead while my fingers did the walking. Typing The Book and Thinking About The Book became two simultaneous yet separate functions.

Just keep training: keep writing. Your time will come.

Tonight’s Scorecard
Chapter Thirteen (finished)
443 Pages (+8)
98389 Words (+1663)

NP – iTunes Shuffle Play (Joy Askew, “Cool Water”)


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