April 16, 2009: Don’t Be Gentle

This morning on the bus, I discovered another way to unstick myself.

I had a seat to myself, so I spread out the way I always do when that happens. I thought for a few moments, considering this, that and the other thing, storywise. It struck me that I have a bunch of large story questions lurking in the shadows of my mind, waiting to pounce on me later. I thought it would be useful to write down what they are, to drag them into the light so my subconscious and the Girls in the Basement could start working on them. For all I know, it was the Girls themselves who gave me the idea, because it turned out to be a very fruitful exercise. I had what to write next handed to me, something so perfect that on some level, I’m thinking, “Well, duh!” Even better, the idea I got perfectly illustrates something I’ve struggled with, in concept and in practice: when a character solves a problem, the solution should create a worse problem. It’s not a “Well, duh!” moment; it’s “Ohhhhh, I get it now!”

Having the solution make things more difficult doesn’t apply to characters alone. I’m doing it to myself, too. One of the story questions I need to figure out requires choosing one of two possible courses of action to begin the solution; essentially, the character is in possession of troubling new information and he has to decide whether or not to tell what he knows. When I think about this question, there’s a part of me that wants to choose silence, because confession will complicate things and I don’t know what will happen to the shape of the story if I go in that direction. It will make things harder. Another voice is saying, “Complicate the story. Make it harder. Go into the unknown.” When I consider the dramatic possibilities of complicating the story and making things more difficult for everyone involved, including yours truly, it’s a no-brainer.

And that’s the last valuable thing I got out of this morning’s ‘write down the questions’ session. Not bad for 10 minutes’ work.

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