Encountering Writer’s Block

Some 35,000 words into Empty Luck, perhaps half way, I encountered the dreaded Writer’s Block. I had managed to paint my characters into a corner and they were in such an untenable position, I could not see how they could safely extricate themselves. I was stumped for months. Maybe there was no way out. Maybe there are those rooms one enters from which there is no exit.

No. There is always a way. A writer can fall back on “an act of God,” a sudden earthquake that reduces the walls to rubble and allows the hero to walk out of the room, shaken, but free. Or the writer can kill off the threat. Amazingly, the man who was there to kill our protagonist suffers a brain hemorrhage and collapses, conveniently leaving the door ajar as he dies.

But these all seem like cheap solutions, cheating the reader of a believable story and not incidentally cheating the hero of a chance to show his or her cleverness. I was bound to find a plausible answer, a realistic solution the reader could believe.

All right, what was the problem, exactly? One of my characters had stolen a lot of money from a powerful Mafia figure. Although he escaped with the loot, there was no doubt he would be pursued without mercy. The Mafioso knew his name, where he lived, what he looked like, and who his friends were. He would certainly find him, recover the money, and probably kill him. Also in jeopardy were our hero’s unwitting accomplices: his brother, who was a rookie police officer, and two friends.

It is hard to pin down where creative inspiration comes from, but I believe it lives within us, and takes its own sweet time to emerge from our unconscious. In this case, without my full awareness, my mind was turning over all the elements of the story: the Mafia leader and his associates, the police officer, the friends, and the specific locations and motivations of all the characters.

One morning at last, a magical click occurred, and there was my answer. I won’t reveal a spoiler, but a surprising and believable outcome came to me. It involved a minor character, but one who had his own motivation to act, and realizing that, I wrote the rest of the tale. It taught me I have to look outside the box, to a wider world of possibilities, beyond the limited set of characters I have focused on.

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