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Flash Fiction Friday

Charles Bukowski, theimpossiblecool.tumblr.com

Charles Bukowski, theimpossiblecool.tumblr.com

“Find what you love and let it kill you.”

Charles Bukowski, Los Angeles, 1982

Note: We tried something new for this edition of Flash Fiction Friday, we asked someone else to pick our prompt. Thanks to Jeremy Duke for the inspiration for our stories this week! We want to make this a regular thing, so if you’d like to pick our prompt for a future Flash Fiction Friday, leave a comment. We’ll feature you on the post and link back to your blog or website! Now, on to the stories.

Loud Man

by Paige Duke

Loud Man stood in line, silently waiting his turn. This was the only moment all week he was silent. They called him Loud Man for a reason. At the bars. They called him this at the bars, for where else would anyone call him anything? He was the kind of man a bar was made for, the kind of man the Elephant was made for, which was why he was waiting in line. Waiting silently for his turn, restless hands in pockets to keep the rest of him still. Silent so that he could think how best to speak to the Elephant. You’d think coming every week to the Elephant would accustom a man to how to speak to it, but then you’d be the wrong kind of person.

The Elephant. Loud Man had laughed loudest when he’d first heard of the ridiculous notion, of standing in line to speak to an elephant—a rusted, faded, cutout discarded by some passing circus maybe. But that was before he’d tried it. Before he’d stood silent long enough to gather the words together that rattled around inside him. Constantly. Louder than a rumbling train. Meticulously, silently gathered the words, lovingly calmed them like some shaking rabbit, tentatively offered the right ones like a prayer. Before he’d seen the Elephant’s kind eye watching him as he spoke his carefully, silently crafted thoughts.
The line shortened one transgressor at a time, bent beneath the woes or hopes or fears they’d been collecting all week; no one knew what another said to the Elephant. That was the point, wasn’t it? Loud Man was nearly there, his words lined up in a neat row, his now-silent tongue occupied with their repetition. Whispered, a fledgling in the mouth of this man with the busy jaw. And there now, he felt the calming that grew with every shuffled step.

His turn came at last. He stepped forward, realizing suddenly why he came. He brought the Elephant his words, as he brought the bartender his coin. Payment all the same, but the difference is in their eyes, he thought. The Elephant’s eyes were kind. Oh, and the mouth of rusted tin, it said nothing back to Loud Man.

He leaned in and whispered his confession to the Elephant’s wide, welcoming ear.

A Concise List of Things That Don’t Kill Me

by Dani Nicole

There’s a rule, you know, that if you find something you love it will kill you. Because that’s the only way to be in love. To die a little, in some way.

Sounds poetic right?

Bullshit. I hate rules. I love ice cream, but it doesn’t kill me. At least not immediately. I love my dog Chauncy but he hasn’t tried to attack me in my sleep like a Nylabone.

I’m not exactly counting the seconds until he plots his revenge for being locked in a kennel. In fact, I’m so fired up against this rule, I made a list.

1)   The stars. What kind of motives do the stars have to kill a seventeen-year-old dude? I mean I let them exist, I ogle at them when they come out, say poetic shit to impress my girlfriend. I draw maps of constellations and sometimes make up my own. One time I found a penis in the sky. Seriously, a penis. I dubbed it the Great Penisarium. I’m a genius, really. But I’ve been looking at the stars and planets and cool space shit since I was like three. And at three you don’t really get to pick what you love.

It just kind of picks you.

I stare at the sky everyday waiting for it to kill me, but it doesn’t and it probably thinks I’m an idiot kid who suspects the Great Penisarium is somehow phallically lethal.

2)   Naked women. As much as my health teacher wants me to think touching a bare breast will lead me to my imminent death, I’m not buying it. I’ve touched Rose’s breasts before, and if that’s dying, I’d do it a million times over. They are like natural pillows. No, like travel pillows. Always there to lean your head against when you’ve had a hard day or your pet snake died or you had to flush your cigarettes in front of the principal. Whatever. Boobs are worth dying for.

3)    Freaking Harpists. I’m not sissy enough to actually play the harp, but I swear to the God that might be up there it’s an instrument of the angels. Just do me a favor, have a girl play the harp for you and try not to look at the way her fingers pluck the chords and wonder what it would feel like if they traveled elsewhere.

Listen to those notes and try not to fall into a trance where you think the world is made of pizza and you can only play football as a profession. Rose plays the harp, but mostly she just plays me. I’m like putty in her hands, as malleable as harp strings. I have this fantasy of walking up to her while she’s playing and leaning her back in her little stool and… I digress. Harps are the shit.

So take that messed up, screwed up society in which we’re all brainwashed to think that love is like Liam Neeson, that it will find you and that it will kill you, because I’m here to tell you I love many things. I love stars, breasts, harpists. Hell, I might even love Rose. What can I say? I’m complex. Maybe even the exception to the love rule. I guess you could say in some way, invincible.

 

 

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How a Victorian Engineer Inspired My Protagonist

I should have known by his name that this man would be the larger-than-life figure I needed as inspiration for my protagonist. Isambard Kingdom Brunel. You’re destined for greatness with a name like that. And I needed some real-world greatness to help me lay a foundation for my protagonist. In my previous post, “Research: An Antidote for Writers Block,” I wrote about using research to solve some of the structural problems in the world of my fantasy novel. I scoured the Internet for notable figures from the Victorian Era and stumbled onto Brunel. I had found my man: an influential engineer whose name, work, and character lived far beyond the reach of his natural lifetime. Not only did he create some of the most innovative and memorable structures of the Victorian Industrial Age, but he stood out among his contemporaries as a person of tireless vision and ambition, even from a young age.

Twenty-one years old. I was still in college . . . changing my major, how about you? What were you doing at twenty-one? This man, I.K. Brunel, was already working as resident engineer on the construction of the Thames Tunnel. Can you imagine?

Thames Tunnel, Lithograph by Taulman after Bonisch (public domain)

Thames Tunnel, Lithograph by Taulman after Bonisch (public domain)

He was working alongside his father, Marc Brunel, a prominent engineer of the time, who had invented a tunneling shield that made building the underwater tunnel possible. It was the first of its kind and, at its opening in 1843, it was named the Eighth Wonder of the World. But the road to success wasn’t always glorious—the tunnel flooded during the third year of construction, and six of the crew were killed; Brunel barely survived when his assistant pulled his unconscious body from the water. It wouldn’t be the last time Brunel found himself in a tough spot.

From there, he worked on the Bristol Clifton Suspension Bridge. Like the Thames Tunnel, it was a record breaker—the longest bridge in the world at the time it was built. Brunel, then twenty-three years old, submitted one design after another and found himself battling the design put up by Thomas Telford, a well-known engineer in his seventies and the chair of the Clifton committee. But in the end Brunel won the commission. As if that David-and-Goliath-scale victory weren’t enough, he gained more notoriety with his next stunt. During construction, someone had the brilliant idea to string up a 1,000-foot iron bar that would carry a basket back and forth to bring supplies across the chasm. And guess who volunteered to test it? Yep, Brunel—he climbed into the basket and set off across the gorge, and it was going well . . . until the rope snagged. So he climbed out and freed it so he could get across. He was stranded, what else could he do, right? Needless to say, people took notice.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, illustration (public domain)

Clifton Suspension Bridge, illustration (public domain)

So you can imagine by now what kind of man we’re talking about. Now think bigger, much bigger. As in Titanic. Before the infamous steamship was a twinkle in Thomas Andrews’ eye, I.K. Brunel was dreaming of The Great Western. He was convinced he could carry a passenger across the Atlantic by steam power—not so remarkable to a twenty-first century mind, but at the time it had never been done and . . . Brunel had never before designed a ship. Though he was opposed, ridiculed, and badly burned during construction, he saw the ship completed and arriving in New York from London in 1838. Oh and, by the way, it was the longest ship in the world.

SS Great Western (public domain)

SS Great Western (public domain)

The rest of Brunel’s life followed a similar trajectory of one innovative project after another. And it was this more than anything that drew me to him as a character of history: he was a man with astounding imagination, who broke through the boundaries of the known world, and the challenges of his own life, to pioneer a way into the future as we know it. I relied on details from Brunel’s life—engineering competitions, the setup of a drafting office, techniques of shipbuilding—to help construct my protagonist’s life and work, though the challenges he faces are of a more fantastical nature. Still, he has the heartbeat of men like Brunel: ambitious, visionary, groundbreaking. After all, it’s what makes us love them and root for them no matter where we find them.

Brunel with the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern, his later and most famous ship (public domain)

Brunel with the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern, his later and most famous ship (public domain)

How about you? Where did the ideas for your characters or other narrative elements come from? Did you look into history to find inspiration or another place entirely?

 

– Paige Duke

Phase to Phase, and the Words That Get Us Where We’re Going

IMG_1851.JPG

The other night, as I walked out of Barnes and Noble with a woman from my writing group I’d only met once, something profound happened to me.

The woman, whose name I’d just asked, shook my hand and smiled. “You really are a great writer.”

“Thank you,” I said, trying my best to accept the compliment gracefully and not be my normal, awkward self.

“You really will make it,” she added.

She walked away and left me contemplating what had just happened.

I played the scene in my mind the next day, tossing around the words she’d said. I really will make it. I really will.

Each word had its own weight in my heart. That woman had vocalized what keeps me writing – the idea, the belief, the chance that I’ll make it in the end.

It’s not always the feedback of others that keeps us going. It’s not always our successes that keep us trying. Sometimes, it’s just a few simple words. I can do this. I will.

The hardest part of pursuing a dream of any kind is having faith in yourself even when it seems stupid. Even when you’ve been rejected or criticized. Learning to use your setbacks as opportunities for growth and change is an essential part of the process. We must not lose those words, those mantras that keep us going as we transition from phase to phase.

Sometimes those words come from a new friend outside the bookstore, but most often they come from within. Relying on our own internal cheerleading can make the creative journey a difficult one. One that demands something from us that we are not readily willing to give.

Faith.

– Dani Nicole

Flash Fiction Friday

Nevermore, angelarizza  DeviantART

Nevermore, angelarizza DeviantART

 

 

Battle of Names

by Paige Duke

“You live up to your name, Dage,” Amarjaa shouted toward the fallen warrior, “you stood firm. Admirable. But even your might cannot alter the Vision. I have foreseen the end. If it’s to be a battle of names, yours is no match for mine.”

The priestess was closing in on the piled bodies, her armor scraping, catching on the refuse of battle. Her sword hung sheathed by her side, its case still wet with blood. In the predawn light, she saw Dage smirking at her with what little strength he had left to hold up his head. The insolent fool! “You wear the grimace of death, old man, can you not feel it?”

“Death, aye. He draws near. I smile not at death, but at your fate.”

Amarjaa’s laughter rang over the smoking ruins, rebounding off the cliffs that had trapped her enemies through the night, and rolled back to her in a wave of clanging mirth. “What do you know of my fate, Dage? Let me tell you what I have seen, lend me your dying ear. Let me tell of you how from your birth you were meant to die at my hand. Let me show you the futility of your life.”

“The Vision shows my frame rising gloriously forever, the victor over my enemies, drenched in their blood, the smoke of their defeat rising to greet the day. The world is mine. Who remains to parry my blow?”

She smiled her cruelty down upon Dage, the last and greatest of her foes. “Look about you, if you have sight left in those eyes. Is it not as I have foreseen? When you pass into death, it will come to be. Amarjaa, Forever.”

Now it was Dage who laughed. Long and ragged. The sound chilled Amarjaa and she resolved to hasten his end. But his words halted her,

“Pity you know not my true name. Then you would not have misread what you saw.”

“Fool. I know you. I have known you for all these ages past.” Her voice was unyielding as iron.

“Nay, you are the fool, Eternal One, you shall live forever, indeed, but mine is the name that triumphs. Turn your eyes upon me, gaze the rest of your days upon the Stone who has conquered you in his final hour—for it is I, Chimwala Dage!”

With the swift uncurling of his clenched fingers, Dage revealed a stone. It was smooth and white as milk, pulsing at the sound of its namesake. The laugh that was perched on Amarjaa’s tongue turned to a scream and she tried to flee, but her feet were already turning to rock, her knees were stiff and gray, the shining breastplate hardened, and her lips trembled as they whispered “the Stone.”

Then they too were cold stone and spake no more. Dage indeed wore the smile of death now, as he looked upon his final conquest for one glorious moment. His head dropped and the stone fell from his lifeless grasp. The sun peaked over the horizon, gilding the battlefield. A fearsome figure stood gazing out over the carnage. The statue of Amarjaa, the Eternal One.

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
– Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Prowl

by Dani Nicole

She perches on a branch, just below the moonlight, scanning passers by. Some midnight visitors are drunk with moonshine, others drunk with sorrow. They rest flowers on tombstones and take away memories in the form of tears.

Her helm is heavy on her head; her neck tires of the burden. But still she perches, waiting for the one to end the curse.

“Is he coming tonight?” she asks No One.

“Indeed, he shall,” No One answers.

“And the curse will be forgotten?”

Nothing.

She can only wait. For people to pass by. For leaves to fall. For the sun to rise and end her reign.

Banished to the night,
delight in collected souls,
until you find the thread that binds,
to free you from your plight.

“Is it you?” She whispers in the direction of a man with stained pants and a ripped shirt. He sways when he walks and belches loudly. “I’ll take that as a no.” She scratches behind her ears as the raven rests upon her shoulder.

“I wish you would just tell me,” she says to No One.

“Better for you to see.”

She waits for hours as the dawn threatens to break. The graveyard is still and empty until, faintly, she hears the sound of gravel beneath shoes. She stands alert, leaning as far over the branch as possible without losing her balance.

A man stops at a marble stone, falls to the ground, and weeps.

She lands softly on the ground beside him, as gracefully as if she had wings. He doesn’t hear her approach.

“Tears do not resurrect the fallen,” she says.

The man jumps up and withdraws a knife from his pocket, wiping his tears with the back of his other hand.

“Who are you?” he asks.

She can hear panic in his voice. “They call me Raven Girl.”

His eyes widen. “That’s impossible.”

She twirls her blonde hair around her finger. “Not a fan of stories?”

“Those are fairy tales. The soul collector. The girl with a raven upon her shoulder that searches through souls.”

“And yet here I am, a girl, with a raven upon my shoulder,” she says.

“A cruel joke to a grieving man.”

She takes a step toward him and reaches for his hand. “On the contrary, I am here to comfort you. I watch many pass through these stones, and I have never seen a man weep as you. Tell me, who is the one you’ve lost?”

He retracts his hand so she cannot touch it. “My daughter, Avalyn.”

“Would you like to see her again?”

This does not seem to be the answer he expects. “Excuse me?”

“I can bring you back to her.”

“You’re insane.”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps I am telling the truth.”

He looks into her eyes, searching for sincerity. She can tell he does not trust her, but may be miserable enough to try anything.

“How can you do that?” he asks.

“Give me a drop of your blood. And I will carry your soul to the next world.”

“Next world?”

“The beyond… where Avalyn rests. I am the only hope you have to find your daughter again.”

“And you know this will work?” he asks.

She hates that question. “I was supposed to meet the one who breaks my curse tonight. If the raven scans your soul and finds that you complete the thread of the curse, your soul will pass on to the next world.”

“And if I’m not?” he asks.

“Your soul will rest with the others until it is released.”

He stares, waits, thinks. She is patient. He is skeptical, but desperate. He will come to her in time.

“For your Avalyn, do this,” she says.

At last he takes his knife and opens a cut on his forearm. The raven on her shoulder begins to squawk.

“Never mind him, he doesn’t like the smell of blood. Come press your wound to my marking,” she says. She extends her arm tattooed by the dark silhouette of a raven.

He presses it against the ink, and is bound to her. He is immobile. As is she.

The world spins around them. A thin, golden thread appears before them, knotting itself into a braid. The raven on her shoulder begins to speak.

“The bond created never severed, for all the pain you both have weathered, a gift of the world beyond is given, for your soul the curse has striven,” says No One.

The man disappears, as does the raven tattoo.

“Where is he?” she asks No One.

“The world beyond,” he says. He flies from her shoulder for the first time in twenty years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction Friday

Lost and Found

by Paige Duke

“Pass through town and keep walking ‘til you feel you’ve gone too far; there you’ll find Harrow House,” I repeated the old hag’s words to comfort myself. I had already felt, more than once, that I’d gone too far, but the house was nowhere in sight. Only endless, empty fields. Now I just felt foolish. For believing some hogwash about a destiny. For chancing the precious few coins I had left to a gypsy’s word. For running from the sorrow that will forever cling to me. As my doubts swelled, the daylight disappeared, all too quickly.

Hopeless, I thought.

Hannah, I heard in the next heartbeat. My name coming to me across the long grasses, spoken by no human tongue. I shivered and could make my feet move no further.

Winking at me out of the dusk was a ramshackle house, where before there was nothing. What sort of trick was this? I spun around but found no one to answer me. No sound but the breeze and the whisper of my name again, no soul in sight but the Man in the Moon.

Hannah.

I felt a sharp prick against my wrist, an insect’s sting. But I looked down to see only the old trinket the gypsy had pressed into my hand at her glassy-eyed divination. A charm she’d hung on a chain, but the thing was too small to fasten round my neck, so I wore it as a double-wrapped bracelet. It didn’t look like much, little more than a chipped or halved coin. But from the moment I wore it, the thing seemed to hum there against my skin. Its strange energy coursed through me, pulsing at the emptiness, the raw ache at the center of me, that place where the child had left me but its soul still lived.

I looked between the charm and the house—its siding grayed with dirt, the roof as threadbare as an old dishrag, the doors hanging from their hinges.

Where else could I go? Even if the old woman had cheated me with her talk of fate, it was shelter for one night.

Hannah.

Suddenly weary, I surrendered. My tired feet slogged through the tall grass as if it were mud, but the gypsy’s trinket thrummed louder with every step. I felt the burst of new life, fresh purpose, though all around me was the stench of mold and decay. The porch creaked, and I tried not to imagine what creatures might be lurking in the darkness of that house.

As I passed through the door, a ray of moonlight sneaking through a patch in the roof illumined the house. All around me was dust and ash glittering in the silvery light, a curious sort of beauty. My hollow womb grieved at the sight, another emptied and abandoned room, and still the charm’s magic pulled me forward.

A weak cry startled me. Now it was my heart thrumming in my ears as I turned to find the source. Just beyond the moon’s spotlight I saw a wriggling mass of blankets I’d mistaken for a trash heap. I approached, my limbs alive with fear. Before me lay a tiny babe, tucked inside a blanket. It couldn’t have been there long, so healthy and perfect it looked. The poor thing was hungry, though, it suckled its fist and squirmed.

I called out, I searched the whole place, but of course the thing’s mother was nowhere to be found. I came back to the wailing child and longed to take it in my arms. As I lifted the tiny thing, the blankets fell back and around its neck hung the thinnest chain of gold with half a coin, whose mate still pulsed at my wrist.

The Case of Beatrice Burns

by Dani Nicole

Beatrice Burns disappeared near Wicker Place at dusk. She was victim twenty-six.

The old house got its name because of its burn marks. One match, and the whole place would ignite like wicker.

No one remembers how the house got its burns. There are no news stories covering an accident. No wildfires. No discarded cigarette butts.

Most people of Blanket, Texas choose to forget, but I’ve made it my focus in life to not ignore the abnormal, for it will always catch up with you.

I set my newspaper on the table and grab my banana, peeling it slowly as I read the bolded headline.

NEW REPORTED DISAPPEARANCE NEAR WICKER PLACE

The victim was only twelve, and new to town. She was walking her dog Toto near the perimeter of 766 Destiny Lane and never came back. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

“Another depressing headline?” Jennie says. My wife comes into the kitchen, her hair a bird’s nest on top of her head. The camisole she wears is thin enough to see through.

“You know, just another victim to the house.”

“You’re not still on that are you?” She yawns, stretching her arms above her head. I pull her close to me.

“It’s the only answer. Every time someone disappears in this town they are last seen near the perimeter.”

“It’s a house, Ray. It doesn’t just eat people.” She laughs, but it’s never funny to me. “Are you going to have a real breakfast, or just a banana?”

I kiss her on the cheek. “Have to run. Be home at 6.”

She smiles and smacks my butt on the way out of the house, but all I can think of is victim twenty-six.

#

“Victim, Beatrice, female, twelve, last seen near Wicker Place,” Sergeant Waters says. He slaps a folder onto his desk. “This is the twenty-sixth disappearance in five years.”

Since the burn marks appeared on Wicker Place.

“I want to put an end to this. We need to find the common thread.” His eyes hesitate on mine. “And something I can use in court, not a superstition.”

He moves to a chalkboard and starts writing details. We hypothesize about the connection, but my mind travels to past cases. It took three for me to put it together, to start associating the house with the disappearances. Once I did, I visited the house after each victim. But I never found anything.

“… Dakota? Are you listening?” Sergeant Waters says, staring at me.

“Yes.”

“Good.” He tosses me the folder. “I’m putting you on this one. You can start by interviewing her family.”

The others exit the room as I weigh the folder in my hands.

The afternoon consists of a visit to the Beatrice’s house, where her mother is hysterical and difficult to talk to. Her father is calmer, and is able to verify that his daughter was out walking Toto and never came back.

“Someone took our sweet girl,” said Beatrice’s mother. “Who would do that?”

“We don’t know that yet,” I say, scribbling notes in the folder. “Let’s just start with what we know.”

Beatrice’s father assures me that she had no enemies, no suicidal thoughts, and had never talked about being bullied or followed.

“It was completely unexpected,” he said.

That’s what they always say.

I pack my briefcase and drive to Destiny Lane. I step out of the car and walk in the street, only able to glance at the house from afar. Its white walls are splattered with ash. Its roof caves in. Weeds poke up all over the dead yard.

This place is a gravesite.

The metal door is hanging off the mailbox, secured by only one screw. It looks as though it hasn’t been filled with mail in a long time – perhaps five years. I scan the rest of the scene, not finding anything that grabs my attention.

I turn to walk back to my car, and stop.

“Hello,” says a little boy with blond hair, standing near my door.

“Are you lost? Where are your parents? It’s not safe out here.” I squat down so that I am at his eye level.

“My camera is broken,” he says, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Maybe I can fix it. Where is it?”

He walks through the weeded grass to a small camera resting on a child’s sized tripod. “It’s right here. It won’t take pictures.

I push a few buttons. It doesn’t even turn on. “I don’t know if I can fix this.”

He starts to cry, but the camera flickers on. “Yay! Yay! Now I have to take a picture. You stand over there.” He points at a space in the grass.

I take a few steps back and smile.

“One, two, three–”

He clicks the button, there’s a flash, and I am moving.

I land on hardwood, the smell of ash filling my nostrils. There are walls on every side of me, burn marks splattered across them.

On the wall there are twenty-seven pictures.

Mine is the last.

 

 

 

 

It Takes Balls to Be a Writer

Picture from borderlandswp.wordpress.com

Picture from borderlandswp.wordpress.com

The day I decided to really pursue my dream of becoming a writer was equal parts “You’re a genius” and “Oh god, what if my parents read it?” I can’t even imagine the phase erotic novelists go through, when they decide to put their reputation on the line and let loved ones read their dirty work.

Granted, I don’t write erotica. But there’s a certain amount of fear associated with going public with your writing – a fear that I had no idea existed until I received word that some of my work would be published.

This moment went about the way I imagined.

A squeal. An onslaught of text messages. A Facebook status update. Everything was wonderful and I was up in the clouds until… I realized being published means that people can actually read your work.

My writing has always been private. Since college I have joined several critique groups, but even still, my writing doesn’t make it past 10-15 sets of eyes. My pieces have never gone WORLDWIDE on the Interwebs.

This… this is a whole new level of transparency.

And that’s when I realized that writing takes balls. It’s one thing to write your heart out, it’s another thing to show it to someone.

I started to make a mistake once people congratulated me on my achievement. I started conceding my accomplishments with excuses. I said that my writing wasn’t what I normally wrote. That it was extra snarky and I didn’t know if people would like it.

But what I realized is that apologizing for expressing yourself violates the basic reason to write. It is an art form. I never heard J.K. Rowling apologize for putting witchcraft in her books. And I’m not going to apologize for what comes from me freely, whether it is something raw and gritty and transparent, or something light-hearted and sarcastic.

All of my writing is a facet of me.  And going public just means owning who you are, and what you’re capable of.

-Dani Nicole

Research: An Antidote for Writer’s Block

The dreaded curse of every writer—writer’s block! Though definitions of the term vary and its actual existence is at times hotly debated, the writing community agrees at some level that sometimes a writer is just plain stuck. Your stream of inspiration has run dry, your once-nimble fingers have grown rigid and unwieldy, the solid road along which your characters were walking has become obscured and hazy. So, what do you do?

Sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.

Berate yourself for losing your mojo.

Beg, bribe, and cajole your muse.

Fake it ‘til you make it.

Well, there are many positive ways of pushing through that rough patch that, for the sake of this post we’ll call writer’s block, but there’s one in particular that’s been immensely helpful for me. When I begin to feel uninspired, unsure, or just totally lost, I often turn to research for help. I know, that sounds boring and academic and not-at-all-inspiring. But stay with me, I’ll give you an example by way of explanation.

My novel is set in a Victorian-inspired fantasy world. Early in the process, I envisioned my protagonist and his love interest meeting in a library where he worked and she visited often (because what’s more romantic than the dusty, silent stacks, right? *sarcasm*) Anyway, I kept bumping into one wall after another until I was at a complete standstill. I just couldn’t see a way forward for these characters. I couldn’t find the right pieces of their backstory that led them to this place in time. In short, it was an unsustainable idea, propped up on a very shaky scaffolding.

And so I went back to the drawing board and did some research. I tried to find out what kinds of employment were available for men of the age and station of my protagonist in historical Victorian society. What educational background usually led up to those positions? Were they available in rural or urban areas? You get the idea. To my surprise and relief, my protagonist’s past, present, and (a portion of his) future magically opened up to me, because . . . drumroll . . . I suddenly KNEW what the possibilities were for a person like him. (The old adage “Write what you know,” turns out to be true in its most literal sense.)

Let me add a caveat: in fiction, fantasy especially, we have the privilege and responsibility of making stuff up!! At times, that’s an ingenious way of getting out of a tough narrative spot. But there are many times when the problem is that you can’t write your way forward in a story simply because you don’t know what is possible or likely or available to your characters. In this sense, knowledge truly is power.

This tool works in so many ways, both big and small, across genre lines and in all kinds of settings. A tiny seed of an idea is sometimes all you need for the character or the city or that piece of authentic dialog to open up for you. And in the age of the Internet, all the knowledge you could ever need is available at your fingertips. So dig deep, get creative, and put on your research cap. Before you know it, you’ll breeze right past that block that was looming so large in your view; it’ll look no bigger than a pebble as you pass by.

 

How has research helped you overcome writer’s block? What other tools do you use to confront similar challenges in your writing process?

 

-Paige Duke