Converting the Catalyst

I have recently finished my rewrites on the Shadow King manuscript, and so I’ve plunged into my next novel – a Warhammer 40,000 offering that I can’t go into detail about just yet. I’m about 7,000 words in and have hit a hump. For several days I’ve been avoiding writing the next chapter, finding all sorts of ‘essential’ things to do (and some that are blatantly displacement activity with no excuses whatsoever).

For some the first blank page is the scariest to look upon, but I find starting a piece to be no trouble at all. The goals at the outset are quite simple – establish character and setting, put in motion the central conflict of the story and away you go. The barrier I’ve run into is not one of ignorance – not knowing what to write – but one of approach – how to write it. It’s not writer’s block in the normal sense, there’s an undercurrent of apprehension that one sometimes feels when facing an important decision. On the other hand, it may well be simple procrastination…

In simple terms, this is where the story really starts. It is the ‘catalysing event’ that propels the main character from normal life into the narrative that drives the novel. Often such a catalysing event is external – something happens that the character is forced to react to, thereby pitching them into the plot. In the case of this novel, while there is certainly an external event that forces the character to react, the manner of the reaction is utterly internal. Its affect is so profound, in fact, that it fundamentally changes who the character is.

The actions and choices of the character have to possess a certain quality of internal consistency in order for the reader to understand them, which in itself is problematic because I’m dealing with an utterly alien mindset. The balance between reader empathy and the otherworldly thought processes of the protagonist is a fine one. Too little and I’ve failed to create a character anything more than ‘human with pointy ears’; too much and the character’s response will seem nonsensical.

It is the most important part of the book, so a degree of hesitation and forethought is warranted. In any story, the reaction to the catalysing event(s) sets the character and plot into narrative motion. In a nuts-and-bolts fashion I already know what happens, but conveying that scene to the reader in an appropriate fashion is essential in bringing them onto the journey; in terms of the writer-reader relationship it’s a potential deal-breaker. If I don’t get it right, the readers are going to be left with a big, fat ‘Huh?’ and there’s a chance I will never get them back.

The solution? More ‘couch writing’ for a couple of days… That is, not staring at the screen but instead getting away from the keyboard and visualising the story without words before I can translate them into writing. I’m a bit of a ‘method’ writer – I have to get my head into a place where the character can take over and lead the story. I would guess that many writers are the same, consciously or otherwise. Once I’m there, it’s usually plain sailing, the story does write itself.

A walk in the park, perhaps? Well, it’s raining at the moment, so maybe not. Some lounging around letting my mind wander? Tempting. This could be an opportunity to do something I haven’t done for a while – paint some toy soldiers. A simple physical activity allows the mind to walk some strange paths. I may even have to resort to the ‘just write something‘ approach, knowing that I’ll have to come back and give it a good reworking later.

Cups of tea will definitely be involved.  

Event News: I’m pleased to announce (at rather short notice) that I will be attending AdeptiCon in Chicago, April 3rd-5th. I’m looking forward to returning to the Windy City, perhaps I’ll see some of you there.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 11:13 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Pointy Ears? Exciting stuff!

    If the stories so far have been an indication, I’m confident it’ll merely be a matter of waiting for the ‘click’. Even then, if there’s one character I couldn’t sympathise with, it’d have to have been Kage (more so than even Vect, alas).

    But then, Kage was endearing (and alien, so to speak) enough that sympathy with him might not be quite the right word to capture the reader’s relation to him entirely accurately.

    It’s certainly intriguing to follow the ‘angst’ of an author as they forge their way through the process. One man’s writing block might be another man’s lazy day, afterall.

    Remarkably off topic: How greatly was the novel Malekith’s account of ‘elf/dwarf first contact’ different from the lore beforehand? I only ask as it had caught my eye in the latest army book regarding Aenarion and Grimnir, which prompted me to dig out my trusty copy of Grudgelore to scour for details. Though I’m now well revised regarding the names of Caledor II (the pointlessly tall), I remained no further forward with the conundrum…!


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