- September 16th, 2009 — Charlie Huston
Getting stuck sucks.
I’m not talking writer’s block here.
When I imagine writer’s block, I have visions of a vast balloon inflated in the middle of my brain, squeezing all thoughts against the inner surface of my skull until they are flat, two dimensional and useless.
I’ve never been hit with anything like that.
(NOTE: yes, that is the sound of me knocking wood in the background.)
But getting stuck is another matter.
I get stuck on little things, tiny things, inconsequential things that I should not be stuck on, hook me and keep me frozen.
That whole dialogue thing I do:
He snaps his fingers.
-You know, using a character’s action to set off their line of dialogue.
-Yeah, so it tips off who’s talking?
He males horizontal cuts in the air with the edge of his hand.
-It helps to balance the lack of quotation marks and the bits of narrative a smart writer would use.
She stirs her index finger next to her ear.
Yeah, you are crazy for making this any harder than it has to be.
It’s those little gestures and movements that fuck me up. I use those not only to indicate who is speaking, but also to tip off emotion. My characters generally don’t spend much time expressing their feelings to each other, the reader or even to themselves. Sometimes all the person flipping the pages has to go in is the way a character kicks the ground before they speak.
And the thing is, I have a ton of those beats in every book. Because my characters may not talk about what they feel, but they are total fucking chatter boxes. And when I’m writing all that dialogue, I have to come up with god knows how many tiny actions and gestures to compliment the words.
And let me tell you , there are only so many times in one fucking book that Joe fucking Pitt can light a cigarette, take a drag off a cigarette, flick ashes from a cigarette, crush a cigarette butt under his heel, or stare at the floor, before it becomes utterly fucking repetitive and I want to fucking run screaming.
So I sit there.
Full of the knowledge of what the next line, is, knowing exactly where the story is going, fully prepared to write the next five fucking pages, I sit there, hung up on whether Joe should shrug or tug his ear lobe.
No fucking lie.
An hour or two can disappear as I work through one stanza of dialogue.
Ever seen the 1972 TALES FROM THE CRYPT?
It’s one of those British horror anthologies.
Best story is called “Blind Alleys.” In which the cruel new director of a home for the blind is taken captive by the residents. While he’s captive, he can hear them doing two things, building something large, and not feeding his viscous German Shepherd. After a few days, the door to his room opens and he finds himself at the mouth of a booby-trapped maze that zig-zags through the corridors. After negotiating the maze, he finds himself faced by closed door, behind which he can hear his growling dog. The door flies open, the dog comes after him, he runs back into the maze, and the lights go out on him. Actually, the lights go out on him when he’s in a very narrow run of the maze where the walls have been studded with razor blades.
Here’s what it’s like writing dialogue some days.
It’s like edging down a narrow corridor of razor-studded wall and constantly snagging your hands, legs, elbows, cheeks and ears on the protruding corners of the blades.
And when it’s at it’s worse, and there’s a deadline behind you, the lights sometimes go out.
OK, yeah, that’s a little melodramatic.
But it does suck.
And it’s not just dialogue.
Deciding what kind of car a character is driving, what they’re eating, whether they have a limp, if the sky is overcast…
And don’t get me started on guns.
Here I am today, this guy I’m writing about has on a frock coat, but what kind of shirt is he wearing under it?
Fucked if I know.
And he won’t just turn the fuck around and show me.