Monday, June 18, 2012

Re-grouping, kicking down writer's block, and feral cats

After a few weeks of stutter-start work on 'Brake Fluid', I'm back at it again today.

I've been thinking a little about my recent post on description and a little about writer's block.

Usually I stop writing mid-scene because it seems to be easier to start back up again the next day. Often if I finish off a scene, then stop, the next time I sit down to write, it's like I've lost the momentum of the story and it sometimes takes up to a few days to get back in the head-space necessary to continue on.

Something I discovered though... I find it way easier to get back in the scene if I stop after a line of *good* description, OR, just before a place that needs a line like that.

And I think that's all about that necessary head-space, getting sucked into the mood/voice of the story, re-syncing with someone that's nothing like yourself.

Last time I stopped, I had a partially written scene. For explanation purposes, let's split that scene into four parts. The beginning, the escalation, the downturn, and the ending. I only had part of the downturn and part of the ending written. No beginning, no escalation, the downturn needed to be transitioned into the ending, and the ending itself needed a few more lines to finish it off.

Confusing? Yeah... I write like this a lot. Every scene is like a mini-story where I try to play with the pacing and transition between the different pieces.

The 'downturn' started with a horribly overwritten line I knew had to be dumped/re-done, but I wanted to preserve the intention behind it:

Triss gives her normal, teasing smile and pats my head. “I’ve tamed you. You don’t bite anymore.”

The ending 'ended' with the line:

I toss the butt out of the car and roll up the window. “Yeah. Let’s get this over with.”

The scene before this (well, the scene in the 'present time-line') ends mid-way through a phone-call, so I knew the beginning of this half-written scene had to finish off that plot-point, but the line it ended with (though an excellent line to end on) didn't necessarily inspire me into the right frame of mind to write.

So, I went back a couple of lines until I found this:

I nearly stutter out an apology, but Triss isn't clawing at my arm anymore. She leans back, away from the hand that’s keeping her at bay, and she wraps her fingers around mine.
She smiles. Not her genuinely real Triss smile, but something softer.

...and I re-wrote it into this:

I nearly stutter out an apology, but then Triss stops clawing at my arm. It’s not the lack of pain that shakes me back, it’s the loss of her warmth against my bare skin. She leans back, away from my outstretched hand that’s keeping her at bay, and she wraps her fingers around mine.
She smiles. Not her genuinely real Triss smile, but something softer. She curls my flared hand into a loose fist and presses it against her cheek, and I can’t look away from her eyes.

Sure, the re-write needs work still (like deleting the pesky repeated word 'back'), but it fulfilled the necessary job of syncing my brain with the MC again, and I knew how to finish off the phone plot-point and link up the disjointed pieces of the half-written scene.

Something that is really key to this particular character is how much Triss affects his/her view of the world, especially through physical stimuli.

An image I always had for this character is that of a feral animal, hence that horribly overwritten line that needed to be dumped/rewritten*.

Another thing I always keep in mind is an interesting book I once skimmed through... wow, too long ago to even suggest an accurate number of years... called 'The Five Love Languages', by Gary Chapman. I remember it being mentioned on a writing blog and I looked through it at someone's house once, but don't own it (though I keep thinking I should buy it since it was an interesting reference).

Essentially, the theory behind the book is that each person predominantly sees/views/uses one method of communication over all the others. The 'languages' are, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, acts of service, and physical touch. If two people in a relationship are speaking different languages, they aren't getting what they need from their partner and will, most likely, feel unfulfilled and break up. Like, if one person thinks gifts show their love, and if their partner never gives them gifts because they feel quality time together is the best thing that shows their love, there's going to be resentment/conflict because they're both 'giving' but not 'receiving' what they view as most important.

The idea of physical touch being a 'language' really intrigued me, possibly because I had a feral cat as a pet at the time I skimmed through the book. This cat would sit on the doorstep looking through the glass sliding door every day for hours, but if you opened the door, she would run away. If you left the door open and walked away, she would occasionally sneak into the kitchen and, if you were sneaky, you could close the door and trap her inside. Yes, the kitchen closed off completely from the rest of the house.

Over a period of years (yes, I'm stubborn), I got to a place with this cat where we had a routine. I'd get her in the kitchen, I'd chase/trap her under the table, pick her up (her body would go completely rigid, like she was scared stiff), sit in one particular chair, and I would hold/pet her.

Does that sound mean? Maybe... but as soon as she was on my lap, she would relax. She'd even purr, rub her face against my hand, stand up and rub my face, and eventually she even loved to be brushed. She would sit there for hours if I didn't move, but as soon as I did, she'd remember she was 'wild', dash somewhere I couldn't catch her, eyes wide, body tense, and wait for me to open the door so she could escape.

But the next day she'd be sitting right on the doorstep again... waiting to be let in, trapped, and held.

After I left home, she still would sit on the doorstep and occasionally my parents would take pity on her and let her in. She'd run under the table and hop onto the chair we always sat on together... and happily stay there for hours. Only on that chair though. And even if the door shutting the kitchen from the rest of the house was open, she wouldn't venture further into the house, and she would never let anyone else touch her.

Whenever I'd come home for a visit, she'd fall back into our 'routine' like I'd never left. Unfortunately, she died two years ago. Her name was Sims (like the snowboard brand) and I still miss her.

So, all these ideas coiled together into the mental image of the main character for 'Brake Fluid'.

I think this is why description helps me re-sync with the character, because it links me to his/her world view where physical contact with Triss is such an unsettling, yet important part of their relationship. I wanted that wild/heightened focus to come out in the character, so the descriptions are always extremely lopsided when it comes to touch versus the other senses, though 'sight' also plays a large part. visceral descriptions are really important, not only to the story, but to my writing process. The stronger the image, the stronger the link to the 'voice'.

Realizing exactly what it is that allows me to sync myself with this character was a bit of an epiphany, but as I think back to other writing days, other characters, other stories, I see a very clear pattern.

How about you? Do you you think much about how/why you can sync some days, and other days you get struck with brutal writer's block? Have you figured out your patterns and how to kick-start your writing when you've been stuck?

...I'm sorry if my tendency to overanalyze freaks you out a little ;)

*YES, this got re-written! And it's WAAAAAAAY better. Seriously, you know I'm not afraid of getting laughed at when I post crappy first-draft lines like that...


  1. I think it depends on outside stiumli for me. It takes me a while to get into the heads of my characters, and if I don't have that time, then it all ends up being crap.

    1. And I suppose having young kids can be pretty distracting ;)

  2. The cat story made me want to cry. Aw aw aw.
    I sort of do what you do. I'll end on a line that's sort of a cliffhanger for myself (not that it will necessarily remain a cliffhanger) and then when I come back the next day, I'm able to ask myself the implied question and get right back into the swing of things. It's when I end on a chapter or a long paragraph of descriptions that I feel out of touch with the story.

    1. I've got a particular fondness for animals no one else wants. She was beautiful... orange with dark stripes, like a tiger.

      Cliffhangers... yeah, you're right, I guess I do that too :)


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