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Personal Musings

A long, dry spell

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I am writing a novel.

That's what I tell myself, anyway. The truth is, I wrote three chapters, fast. I started them around Christmas, 2004 and began the fourth chapter in January 2005. I didn't like the fourth chapter. I needed to get to a particular milestone in my plot but I couldn't figure out a rational motive for my characters to make certain decisions that would take them to the milestone. I decided I needed to re-think all of my characters' attitudes, agendas, motives, and find another way to move the story forward.

To understand my dilemma, you need to know that my story is a historical novel. I know that a certain battle took place between specific people at a specific place, but I also know where they live, and about forty years of events that leads up to this battle. What I don't know is what motivated the attacker to attack in the first place. That question is the one that my novel centers around, so understanding motives is crucial to understanding why the battle happened at all. What I thought was a good motive was beginning to appear simplistic as I moved my characters through time and geography. My primary question is, "why would x be in y's lands at the time of the battle?" Why then? Why there? So, I stopped writing chapter four. I threw it away.

I decided that maybe I could find some factual basis for the question so I delved deep into research. It is productive; it is facinating; it is time-consuming. Unfortunately, it has also become an excuse for not writing. While I now have a much more intimate knowledge of who these people were, I still don't really have a good rational for events.

It comes down to this. If x were trying to build or rebuild a power base, he would have travelled east, over the top of the site of the battle. This is the reasonable motive and the reasonable course of action. But it takes him well away from the battleground, so the timelines don't fit. On the other hand, if he went by a more direct route to the battleground, then he wasn't building the strength of numbers he is supposed to have had and his motive must have been more personal and less power-based than history claims, so although the timeline is right, the details are wrong.

I think I have come up with an excellent fictional twist to the historical records that may provide me with my storyline. I have already invented a fictional woman and an interesting romantic side-plot. If I twist that side-plot into a rivalry or a jealousy, I might have a quite reasonable explanation for things. It means, however, that my first three chapters are no longer my first three chapters. I might be better off putting chapters one and two about 1/4 of the way into the story and completely re-writing chapter three, though.

Having decided this, I re-wrote chapter three last June. It just isn't working. "It" this time is my creativity. I hate what I've written. So, for the last five months, I've been alternately letting it sit and re-reading it, trying to figure out where I've gone wrong.

This is the longest, dryest stretch of writer's block I've ever had. I'm hoping this entry in my blog will jog me into getting back into the writing.
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  1. Jean-Baptiste's Avatar
    That's great that you're putting so much thought into motives. Isn't it frustrating when a story does not simply appear, or characters refuse to do what should be natural? Not that this is intended to be of any use to you, or influence your decisions in anyway ("listen to my words of supreme wisdom, and be guided to the destination that you obviously are incapable of coming to on your own"--nothing like that) but I wonder if human motives need to be anything more that simplistic. Could your battle come about merely by contact between these factions, instigated only by any previous, mutual anymosity that they've held for each other?

    I like the thoughtfulness of this post of yours.