Writer’s Block

Deb, I told you I’d write about you — oddly enough in another five-word challenge. I would have it known that only some of the characterization in this story is parodied. Other parts are entirely false for entirely fictional purposes; for example, coffee.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this piece.

Deb walked down the street, her coat tight around her, considering how much the neighborhood looked like that thriller mash-up she had seen the night before as she passed a group of beggarly old men and a man advertising pentacostal relativism. Must have been a philosophy major. Deb herself was on the hunt for a story, a detail, a fact, that would help her with her writings. That was what she was – a writer.

There was just one problem. She had been writing her novel for months and months, with a year of planning, with dozens of drafts, all culminating in…ugh. There was just something wrong with it. She couldn’t figure it out at all, spent nights unable to sleep worrying about what was missing. And then she showed it to her brother, and it took him about three seconds to figure out the problem. She had timed him.

“Your protagonist just isn’t compelling.”

Deb had left him in a heap by his overturned sofa. Curse him for finding it so fast. Now she was on a journey to find how to change the character, how to resolve him without utterly destroying the entire story. She soon stood in front of her destination, the wind blowing through her thick coat and her long hair as she stared up at the place that would answer her question: Starbucks.

She walked in and bought a coffee before making her way to one of the high tables by the window. She sat and pondered life while sipping black coffee. She really wanted to bang her head against the table in some vain hope that shaking her brain like that would some how conjure up an idea, but she had already spent an hour doing that at home, and she still had some residual pain from that. Instead, she stared at the bubbles in her coffee, hoping for some inspiration.

Her brother was right of course, he always was about this sort of thing. She knew the popular thing to do was to have the character change over the course of the story, but that archetype just didn’t apply. How would it apply to a dashing prince who was confident in his skills and abilities? His only challenge was really defending the kingdom against the hordes of enemies closing in around it.

Finished with the coffee, she left the shop and strolled down the street again to her apartment. Along the way, she passed through an alley which had several holes of water from previous rainstorms. She loved rain like a brother, which meant it was good if it held its distance, but woe to the one which started while she was out walking and made her miserable and cold. Then even the Devil himself fled in terror.

As she went through the alley, she heard an odd sound. Instinctively, she stopped, reaching into her coat for the knife she had, just in case. She had never used it – anyone dumb enough to try attacking her was subjected to The Stare, which her brother told her was like looking at pure rage while it burned with a thousand fires emanating fury that even Hell couldn’t contain. Victims had one of two responses to this: either they turned to stone instantly, or they ran as fast as they could, trying desperately to flee The Stare that had become implanted in their minds until it consumed them and they were left in asylums, screaming during nights when The Stare came after them again.

Deb slowly inched forward, hand on her knife, her eyes darting all over the alley. Suddenly, out of a building, came a white, translucent being, screaming like a banshee. Deb started, hand drawing the knife as she collected herself and administered The Stare.

“Wow, that is scary,” said the voice of her father. “No wonder your siblings went insane.”

“Dad?” she stared at what was most certainly her father’s ghost. “Why are you a ghost?”

“Because you need help, and you need advice,” he replied. “You know, you’re lucky I’m already dead – otherwise you probably would have killed me.”

“Then you shouldn’t have snuck up on me like that. Seriously!”

Her father chuckled. “Can’t I have a little fun? Anyway, I’m here to give you some good, sound advice, maybe sing a song, and tell you to follow your heart. Or, I could rewrite your story as I would have done it and mark it up for all the mistakes in each sentence that are largely stylistic preferences on my part. So what’ll it be?”

“Do you have to do a song?”

“Of course, darling! Otherwise it wouldn’t be right!”

Deb rolled her eyes. “Do you at least know what is wrong with the story?”

“Yes, I did. The protagonist isn’t compelling. I figured that out after about a second of looking at it.”

“Well, you beat my brother,” Deb muttered.

“How long did it take him?”

“Three seconds.”

“Goodness! I expected better of him.”

“So are you going to tell me what to do?”

“Only if you let me do the song.”

“No!”

Her father sighed in disappointment. “Fine. Don’t worry, though, you’ll find the answer you seek soon enough.”

And then he went back into the building. Deb, rather confused by the event, continued on her way. She knew she had several options with the character. She could make the enemy much more menacing, but that would only have so much effect, since there was only so much she could do in that regard. She could shake the character’s confidence, but that would also damage his credentials, and those were essential to his position in the world. She could kill him off at the end, but that was very cliché.

She came to her apartment complex, entering and passing through the long red hallways to the elevator at the end. Along the way, she passed an open room, where a woman was showing a laser at her tabby cat while several visitors laughed. Stupid cat. Didn’t it know it would never catch the laser?

Now this gave Deb an idea. The cat was fated never to catch the laser. What if her hero was fated to die? But, like the cat, he strove to find any way possible to survive, to continue on, not necessarily for his own benefit, but so that he could help his people – then there would be a sense of real loss. Now that could be compelling.

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One thought on “Writer’s Block

  1. Rob says:

    That had me rolling on the floor. Especially the sentence, “Her brother was right of course, he always was about this sort of thing.” I’d like to hear Deb’s thoughts on that!

    But then – ” … largely stylistic preferences on my part.” Ooh! Ooh! I would NEVER admit to that sort of thing. Even if I were dead. Even if it were true. Which it’s not. No, no, I’m not pointing out mistakes, per se; I’m merely rewriting sections of other people’s works to show them how to pursue the goals of Clarity, Brevity and Poetry. That is, does it make sense? Is it clear? And does it “sing”? I’ll give you an example in my next post.

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