Remember when I told you about the literary pause? Well, last week I hit a literary roadblock on my string quartet novel, and it’s still quite blocked.
I’ve narrowed down the problem to this: my main character (Joey) changed a lot between versions. She’s more proactive now, but she still doesn’t have a central focus. Due to Joey’s toxic family, there’s a subtheme in the new version of the novel of people as being disposable. She’s generally been the one disposed-of, not the disposer.
In the scene where I got stuck, Joey is at a dinner with the quartet’s sponsor (complicated backstory) and the sponsor is questioning the cellist, leaving him uncomfortable/humiliated. The first violinist is in league with sponsor on this point.
In the first version: Joey just sat there, frightened.
Intended for this version: Joey should redirect the conversation by asking the second violinist a bombshell question, effectively stopping the grilling of the cellist
My problem: That’s pretty damned heartless of her — and it’s not really like her. It’s also going to make having the second violinist open up later (which is important) practically impossible.
How to solve this, then? I’m not asking for suggestions. I don’t want suggestions. What I want is something only the author can give, which is insight into why she wrote herself into a corner.
Oftentimes when this happens, the roadblock at the end of the book lies in the beginning. It’s my subconscious telling me something is wrong, only it’s buried way down low in the story. In the past I’ve unwound the knot with a crash self-psychoanalysis. I’ve solved it by taking an exchange from the final chapter and retrojecting it backward a hundred pages. In The Boys Upstairs, which you’ll all spend tomorrow reading (right?) it was solved by having Jay ask Kevin for something only Kevin could give.
But this one–this answer’s just not coming.
The obvious solution is to jump over the conversation and write it later, but in this spot I can’t backfillbecause this scene is pivotal to what happens in the next — and the one following this is pivotal to the rest of the novel. A lot of emotional intensity building right at this point. How the characters act RIGHT HERE, right now, needs to be emblematic of their approach to the rest of their lives. It needs to highlight exactly why they’re in this conflict in the first place.
I suspect the real answer is, I don’t know what Joey will do because I don’t know Joey well enough. She changed from Version A to Version B, and perhaps I haven’t got as good a handle on Version B as I need. So we may be spending the rest of the day doing character sheets and going backward through the book to rewrite her, re-define her needs, her wants, her fears, the things she never thought she would say or do — and how I’m going to maneuver her until she actually says and does them.
It sounds so evil when I put it that way. But at the last writer’s conference I attended, one instructor said, “There’s a point at which anyone will snap. You need to find that point.
Cricket asked a while ago if I’d write even if it didn’t feel good. And it’s occurring to me now — this kind of situation must sound maddening to a non-writer. (It’s maddening even to this writer.) But engaging with this person I’ve created does feel good. It feels great when I immerse myself in her. Solving this will feel like standing at the top of Mount Everest, minus the hundred mile an hour winds. With this roadblock resolved, this scene will hit the ball out of the park.
It’s just that for right now, I’m becalmed, and I don’t know why.