Category Archives: Writer’s block

Procrastination as Creative Strategy

Over at Quora, an inquiring mind asked about how one deals with procrastination. The correspondent confessed to being a Ph.D. student, and so I assume he or she was worrying about the struggle to write seminar papers and the dissertation.

You don’t have to be an aspiring academic to confront this predicament. Most writers find themselves putting off the job, from time to time. Sometimes all the time.

It’s so common that I’ve come to think “procrastination” is actually a creative strategy. You need to take time away from the physical and psychological process of writing. Sometimes you really do need to get up and go away from your desk.

New insights come as a result of looking away, as it were, from the task at hand. At night, you can see a faint star with your peripheral vision – by glancing slightly away from it – when you couldn’t see it by peering at it straight on. Similarly, with a creative project you may develop insight and strengthen your grasp on the subject by looking away from it for awhile.

So, instead of fighting this phenomenon, it’s better to build time into your routine to accommodate it. Schedule time to go do something else.

Also, set aside a short period at an appointed time each working day (not necessarily seven days a week), to do nothing but work on your writing project. This can mean research, thinking, outlining, and revising as well as writing new material. Insist that the people around you let you have that time uninterrupted – no getting up to tend to the kids or water the plants or answer the phone. Assure loved ones and friends that you will be with them at the end of this period. It doesn’t have to be hours at a time: in fact, it’s better to keep it brief. Forty-five minutes or an hour will do, at least at the outset. The period may (or may not) grow as you get used to it.

You’d be surprised how fast you can get through a project using this strategy.

Image: DepositPhotos, © stuartmiles

Writer’s Block

Here’s a little essay I wrote back in the day when I was a working journalist. Camping in the bottom of Arizona’s wild Aravaipa Canyon, I was on assignment for what was then the country’s largest regional magazine.

Writer’s Block

A starry blanket covers us. Tom lies in a hammock strung between the branches of a gnarled mesquite tree, Virgil in his hiker’s tent, and I beneath the open sky. The men fell asleep as soon as our candle guttered out, but, as usual, I am slow to sleep in the wild, my mind aswarm with the images, adventures, and talk of the day.

Stars are about all we need as bedcovers. This morning Debbie remarked that her thermometer hit 105 yesterday. It was easily that hot as we started down the trail,and beneath a buttermilk sky we were all dripping before we even reached the creek. Here at Horse Camp, just above the confluence of Virgus Canyon, the heat softened a little after sunset, and now as I lie atop my sleeping bag I am not uncomfortable, except for the ache in my knee and hip brought on by a fall in the mud.

That’s Cepheus, the rectangle of stars with a couple of arms sticking out and the Milky Way flowing through it, framed between the cliffs and the lace-like canopy of mesquite leaves overhead.

A bat flies past, searching for bugs—I shoo a mosquito in its direction.

What, I wonder, am I doing here?

How am I going to do the job I was sent to do?

A single breath of air sighs through the still, dark canyon. Crickets sing in the brush around us, and some small night creature trills like a bird. A plane flies over—Aravaipa Canyon lies beneath a flight path, and a concatenation of jet noise echoes through this place.

The problem, I realize, is not in the story but in me. I’m no longer sure I want to continue writing. Why this should be so, I do not understand. But it is so, and it has erected a barrier as solid as those rock walls glowing silver in the starlight.

 ***

A blue starpoint of light twinkles in the brush behind Virgil’s tent. Some kind of glowworm, perhaps.

Tom says he saw fireflies in here on an earlier trip from the east end, but I’ve never seen one, not here in Arizona.

We hiked in here over four types of paving:

  • loose, polished river rocks in dry floodplain;
  • loose, polished, slimy river rocks underwater;
  • ankle-deep mud with the lubricating power of axle grease;
  • and ankle-deep sand.

That sand turns into a film of ball bearings the instant you set your foot on a rock.

Attack horseflies the size of F-16s lie in wait for the warm-blooded, as do swarms of gnats and mosquitoes. We kept an eye out for rattlesnakes and tried not to do anything stupid like putting a hand under a nice, cool rock where one might be resting.

Deep in the gorge, lion-colored cliffs rose 1,000 feet above us, mottled lichen-green, studded with agave spires. Saguaro forests, cholla, prickly pear, and barrel cactus cover the high, buff palisades down to the wine-red ryholite streambed. Clouds of butterflies blew in the air like autumn leaves, and red and blue dragonflies cruised the still pools.

Tentworms festooned young cottonwoods with silken filaments like angel hair; thumb-sized toads speckled with ruby spots hid in the rocks, invisible until they moved.

Vail, Buzan, Brandenburg, Kilberg, Zapata, Martinez, Wood, White, Hartman. They ran cattle and farmed—citrus, peaches, pecans—and from our perspective lived an idyll.

Louise Ruddick Hartman: “For two years we worked and played. “We lived outdoors under a big cedar tree and moved into the tent only when it rained. . . . Around every corner adventure was waiting for us, and opportunity kept banging at the door. We tried not to miss anything, nor did we.”

Clovis and Cochise, Hohokam, Papago, Sobaipuri, Apache: Gone. Dead and gone before Louise Hartman came along. Dead and gone so that she could come along. Camp Grant stood just down the river, site of a slaughter so perfidious that even the invaders’ own people cried atrocity.

Starlit clouds pale as spirits lick the canyon rim. I hope it doesn’t rain. But at last sleep comes for a time, brief oblivion.

A brilliant half-moon has begun to rise when I wake; through the branches it casts spectral blotches on our packs and the huge downed log Tom converted into a kitchen.

Again the problem of the story presents itself.

Why do I still follow this line of work? One old friend would have an answer. But even as the moon glows down on us here, it shines through the window of the hospital room where he lies ill, at this moment dying.

He represents a school of elegance and precision that, moderns tell us, has no place in our time, this time of dwindling literacy and growing apathy. When he is gone, something more than a friend will be lost. A part of America’s cultural and intellectual prime will die with him.

Moonlight ghosts over the cliffs. The trees whisper.

What is wrong with the story is that it is swamping in a tide of grief—not just for him, but for my people and all that we have forfeited.

When next I wake the moon is straight overhead near the constellation of Cassiopeia. The space boxed in by the stark, pinnacled walls is filled with silver light. Mesquite leaves silhouetted against the shining sky look like black filigree.

 

The evening’s conversation replays in my head. Somehow it had turned from the grandeur of the universe to Sedona’s New-Age vortexes to our kids’ education to the times of our lives, and we agreed that now, in middle age, is the best.

Neither Tom nor Virgil said much that was profound, nor did they mean to. As we gathered in the circle of light cast by our candle, an old friendship was cemented and a new one begun.

While the candle held back the night, we shared an unspoken sense of human continuity, with each other and with those who came before.

* * *

Dawn seeps pearlescent down the reaches of Horse Camp Canyon, past the bouldered grottoes of Virgus Canyon, up the gurgling course of Aravaipa Creek and into our refuge.

A canyon wren’s melodic tremolo descends kamikaze-style as though the bird were diving off a cliff:

CHEE-weewee wee-wee-wee

Eighteen turkey vultures ride the clear eddies over the rim; only half that many watched as Virgil and I trudged into camp yesterday evening. In a few minutes, Tom will brew us fresh coffee and sweeten it with cocoa and our human day will begin.

There is much to say.

 

What to Do about Writer’s Block? Part 4

Another idea on how to get over writer's block!This is the fourth and last — and maybe the strangest — suggestion in a series of suggestions for dealing with writer’s block.

Have a conversation with one of your characters. Imagine that he or she can see you and is persuaded to speak with you, and ask for an explanation of some aspect of the person’s experience, thinking, or belief that you don’t understand.

[The time-traveling writer:] So. Would you tell me what’s bothering you?

[The protagonist:] I’d have to sit down and have a drink and think it over. [he  looks at her reflectively. he’s considering the possibility.]

Have some of this. [she offers him her boda]

[he takes a swig] That’s very nice. Smooth. What is it?

Just red wine. It’s from…the south.

Ah. They do make some good liquor down there.

Well, take a seat and have some more.

[he thinks for another second, then decides to accept. he sits on a rock next to her and sips at the wine. then he passes the boda back to her.]

Care for some imp? [he pulls a pipe out of his vest pocket and begins to pack it with herb.]

Is it very strong?

No, this is mild stuff. Daytime smoke, hm? [he picks up a twig, lights it in the campfire, and puts it to his pipe.]

[she watches as he lights the pipe and inhales deeply. he smiles, holding his breath, and passes it to her. she takes a toke and hands it back to him.]

So. What’s eating me? I don’t know. Everything and nothing.

Does it have to do with the fight?

Of course. I don’t like to lose my men. And — well, Robin, that was pretty…pretty bad. Little Guelito, too — just a boy. What a… Well, it all seems so wasted.

There’s more to it than that?

Yeah, I suppose.

Like what?

I don’t know, woman. It’s hard for me to put my mind to it. I can’t really…it’s like I don’t have the words to explain it.

Well, would you try?

I don’t know. Nothing seems quite right to me any more. At the base. It’s as though everything that we…all the reasons that we do things? They’re wrong. Or they really aren’t reasons. Or there really aren’t any reasons at all. Do you understand?

Sort of. Like what reasons? What reasons that you do things, and why are they wrong?

Why are they wrong? For the same reason that there aren’t any ghosts. They’re just not true. I don’t think. . .I don’t think that a god who wants us to kill everyone around us, who wants to take our Brez — his son, hm? — to kill him at the end of a few years of leading us, I don’t think that’s much of a god. I mean, what kind of a god would do that? And what kind of a god would let people — no, make people — suffer the way they do? Why would a god give us sickness and pain before we die? Make us die in terrible agony? It just doesn’t…you know, I don’t think I can believe in a thing like that.

Oh.

Does that frighten you?

No. I just thought… Well, I thought that was just the way your people explained things. It’s a pretty harsh world, after all — so there must be a harsh god behind it.

Well, it’s not a very good explanation, is it.

I don’t think so. But I’m not one of your people.

No. I can see that.

So. You can’t buy the Hengliss version of god. Can you buy that there’s a god at all?

I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be much logic behind things, when you look at the world…that way.

No. It’s chaos. They say there’s order in chaos, though.

Who says that?

Some people who… Well, they died a long time ago. And whatever they said, it’s been forgotten. What about the Espanyo idea of god? Does that make any more sense to you?

Nope. Less. You know what they think.

Not really.

It’s superstition. All the silliest blather. Ghosts and saints and three-headed deities in singing chariots and angels and devils — my god!

But maybe what the Hengliss think is superstition, too.

That’s right.

Hm. What about the Udanites? Do you know anything about their belief?

Yeah. It’s…different. But different doesn’t make it right. In fact, maybe the fact that they’re all different makes them all wrong.

I see. Is that the main thing that’s bothering you? A crisis of faith, as it were?

What does that mean?

That none of your religious beliefs — the things you were brought up to believe — seem to fit any more.

Ah. Yes. That’s part of it.

But is it the main thing?

I don’t know.

Nary a word of this fantasy exchange ever made it into the novel’s narrative. But it informed my understanding of the character, and that understanding drove the narrative in ways that showed the character acting on or questioning his beliefs. Taking time to write something that wasn’t part of the novel but let the character speak for himself, off the record, made it a lot easier to move forward with the narrative.

This and the ideas suggested in my last three posts are only a few of the many strategies a writer may use to deflect writer’s block, revive the creative energy, and get on with the story.

What’s your weirdest or silliest strategy to deal with writer’s block?

Writer’s Block, Part 1
Writer’s Block, Part 2
Writer’s Block, Part 3

What to Do about Writer’s Block? Part 3

Interesting way to get help with writer's block.Here’s a third suggestion for coping for writer’s block — part of a four-part discussion.

Describe the setting or action from the point of view of one of the characters, not necessarily the one whose point of view is represented in the scene under construction. Example:

Ottavio Ombertín had never seen so many tents as filled the glen where the raiding bands were based. Shoved along by the Hengliss man, he passed several tunnel-like affairs covered in hide and canvas. Here and there stood smaller dome-shaped shelters, six or eight feet across. Horses grazed complacently, hobbled or penned inside a circle of parked wagons. A few men lounged or puttered near smoldering campfires. Some greeted the Hengliss with calls that sounded like musta qué or ku’na. Pine needles sighed. A pair of jays commented on their passage. Somewhere far off young voices shouted and bantered as a group of friends threw a ball around a makeshift ha-lo court.

Tavio scarcely noticed these things. It didn’t occur to him to remark on the gathering of tents. He no longer registered much, except for the screaming.

They stopped before one of the domes. The Englo said it was his lodge and sat Tavio down on a flat rock near the fire ring, which flanked a second lodge nearby.

Then the man turned away, picked up a pot, filled it from a bucket, and hung it off an iron hook staked over the fire. From a canvas sack, he pulled a couple fistfuls of grain, which he sifted through his fingers into the heating water.

None of this, either, was observed very closely by Tavio. He huddled on the stone, his eyes cast down. He saw that his right foot was bleeding, but oddly, he felt no pain. He put his hands over his ears to block out the sound of the screams. Yet when he did, he could still hear them, Tisha especially, her voice shrilling a note he had never heard before and then shrieking for her mama. A shadow fell across the ground. The Hengliss was standing over him.

You may never use this material. Or you may use some of it, either whole cloth or much massaged. But it will give you some insight into or purchase on what’s going on, and that may be all you need to put your Jeep back in gear.

Have you written passages that you never used in your fiction, for the sole purpose of clarifying characterization, setting, backstory, or the like? How did it work for you?

Writer’s Block, Part 1
Writer’s Block, Part 2

What to Do about Writer’s Block? Part 2

Tips on getting over writer's blockThis is the second installment of a four-part discussion of ways to handle writer’s block. The first post appeared yesterday.

Remember that gold is a soft metal. Your golden words are malleable — NOT graven in granite!

Regard what you’ve written as draft at all times. Never stop revising. And be aware that it’s a lot easier to revise and rework than it is to choke out brand-new creative content. Just get it down on paper. Or on disk. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Not the first time around, not the second time around, not the third time around.

Knowing that you can always jimmy the copy, add to the copy, cut the copy, totally change the copy makes it a lot easier to get something out.

Just write it, and don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.

Chapter 1, Take 1 (or Take 2 something like that):

It should feel good, Kay thought. Watching this happen should feel good. He ought to feel back-slapping, hollering, falling-down-drunk happy, or at least for God’s sake like raising a swig of whiskey to the moment.

He and his cousin, Mitch―Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos―stood atop a promontory, just a low butte, actually, about a hundred feet tall, and surveyed the battle’s aftermath. Fallon, still clad in his leather chest armor, saw them climbing up here. He followed and joined them a few minutes after they stopped at the bluff’s edge. When he reached the two, he shook Kay’s hand, punched Mitch on the shoulder, congratulated them on a fine day’s work.

And the men had done a day’s work. Together the three looked out over the scene. Hengliss allies―Okan and A’oan marching under the Okan brez, Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel―had taken the town in three weeks flat. It was an incredible feat. Roksan, the principal city of their principal enemy, should have been impregnable. But they had shown it was not. Now the men, scruffy irregulars, most of them, pressed into duty by the obligations of their betters and not because they knew much about soldiering, spread over the plain before the burning town’s gate. No one down there seemed to suffer any qualms. Their noise reached the hilltop as unruly hubbub like a huge outdoor party gone too far in drink. Men laughed and shouted, a few surviving women squealed as the boys had their fun with them, horses and wagons rattled around. Guys compared plunder, traded booty―some had set up open-air markets to trade or sell the loot they’d carried from the city before the heat pushed them out.

A brown and gray pillar twisted upward toward white clouds that galloped before a chasing wind, and Kay knew the smart breeze would keep those fires going until they had done their job. The place would burn to the ground before they smoldered out. The flames would leave a pile of ashes, maybe a few blackened rafters, charred bricks. And scorched bones.

Fal, wiry and saturnine, his dark beard and mustache trimmed as if to cut down wind resistance, offered his boda to the two older men. They accepted the liquor cheerfully. The drink passed between them while they gazed at the scene below.

“Beautiful sight, isn’t it?” Mitchel remarked.

“Oh, yeah,” Kay said. “That it is.”

“Must do your heart good.”

“You bet.”

“How long has it been for you?” Fal asked.

“Twenty-eight years,” Kay replied.

Chapter 1, Take 5 or 10:

Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells rarely gave himself over to speculation. If on this good day you had asked him how the Hengliss tribes came to see themselves as one being, a living organism whose limbs and body and soul formed a single piece—or even if they did—he would have laughed. He would direct your attention to the pillar of smoke twisting skyward where Roksan burned, and he would turn your question obliquely around. He would ask you, then, had they not, the bands of Okan and A’o fighting as one under the Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel, had they not done a fine thing?

He passed the lambskin flask that was making the rounds among several companions to Jag Bova Mayr of Rozebek. Bova, a chunky flaxen-bearded northerner whose heft made Fal’s long, wiry frame look slight by comparison, lifted the boda in a friendly salute, swigged its unrefined contents as though he were taking a deep drink of water, and passed it to Kristof Mayr of Oshin.

“That was one hot maneuver you two pulled inside them gates,” Robin Mayr of O’a remarked to Fal. A slender, muscular young man with a smooth chestnut-colored beard, he accepted the boda from Kristof and lifted it vaguely in Fal’s direction.

“Mostly Kay’s idea,” Fal said. He shrugged as though he’d had little to do with the swath they’d ripped through the defenders in the long chaos after the Hengliss had breached the enemy city’s entrance.

“Bull!” said Jag Bova. “He couldn’t have done it by himself. And I’ll tell you—when he takes them kind of ideas into his head, I’m sure as hell glad I’m not the one who has to fight on his flank.”

Fallon laughed with the others. But he was glad, too, that it wasn’t Bova. He wouldn’t have traded his place at Kay’s side for any honor the brez could dream up.

“He had his reasons for going after the bastards like that,” Kristof remarked.

“Must have felt damned good,” Robin added. “If it’d been me, I’d have tried to squash every cockroach I could catch.”

“Yeah. Well, we just about did that,” Fal said. “Not too many of ’em left in there.”

Even where they were standing, a mile away, heat from the fires burning the sacked Espanyo city reached them. It took the chill off the cool air that drifted down the distant snow-covered Achpie and Serra peaks flanking the wide bottomland along the Wakeen Ribba.

“Ain’t none of ’em gonna crawl out of that place no more, no how,” Robin agreed. He passed the drink back to Rozebek.

Bova raised the flask to that, and they all murmured their appreciation of Robin’s whiskey-laced profundity.

“There goes your kubna with his cousin now,” said Bova. “Looks like they want to get a view of the doings.”

By “your kubna” he meant Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek, the man to whom Fal, Robin, and Kristof owed their first loyalty. The cowndee of Rozebek belonged to the house of Puns, and Jag Bova served its kubna, Rikad of Puns.

They watched Kaybrel and Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos stride through the festive troops gathered on the plain before the burning city. Kay was carrying his leather helmet in one hand, his silver-streaked hair flowing loose around his shoulders. To Fal’s eye, he looked tired, but the others didn’t see that. The two kubnas cleared the mob and headed toward a low butte that rose above what had a few hours earlier been a battlefield. They disappeared around the side of the promontory, seeking the gentle rise up the hill’s backside.

“How long has it been for him?” Robin asked.

“What? Since Moor Lek fell?” Fallon read meaning into Robin’s question. “I think he said…no, it was the kubnath who said that. Maire said it was twenty-eight years ago this spring.”

“Twenty-eight years! She wasn’t even born then, eh?”

“Neither were the rest of us,” Fal replied, and what he said applied to everyone there but Jag Bova, the only man among them to have reached his early thirties.

Lordie! I must’ve been listening to Willie and Toby singin’ Whiskey for My Men when I scribbled that version.

Sometimes if you can’t move forward with the new writing, going back and revising material you already have will help. Notice how radically different Take 2 is from the first effort: a different character’s point of view, an entirely different set of characters with the protagonist taken off center stage, facts presented in a slightly different context through the mouths of different characters, and a different kind of characterization of a central figure.

I’ve found that every time you rewrite a scene from beginning to end, it improves. Often, even very small changes — a turn of phrase here, a gesture there, a detail or a word choice — have a large effect.

Have you had that experience?

Writer’s Block? What to Do?? Part I

Writer's block -- what to do?Students and scribbling friends have occasionally asked, over the years, for ideas on how to handle writer’s block. It’s not something I had much problem with, at least not as a working journalist, and so I have to confess to emanating a few glib answers:

Visualize your byline on the “Pay to the Order of” line on the paycheck.
Imagine your editor’s response when you call to say you’ll be late on deadline: “Bye!” Once and for all.
Write a letter to your mom describing all the things you learned on assignment. The story will write itself after that.
Go play with the cat.
Pour yourself a (glass of wine, cup of coffee, can of soda).
Go for a walk.
Quit with the drama already and get down to work!

Those of us who write on deadline for pay rarely suffer from “writer’s block” — there’s no time for it — and so for years I doubted it was for real. But once I began to write novels, I realized that fiction is one heckuva lot harder to write than nonfiction. So much so, in fact, that you really do reach impasses where you know what you want to say (you think) and you think you know what your characters are gonna do and you can envision the time and the place and the action but it just won’t come out in words!

Disturbing. What to do when this happens?

It’s occurred a number of times during the writing of the Fire-Rider novels, and especially in Book II, which is in progress and which carries the characters and the action home from the battlefield and into new, more sophisticated psychological and moral territory than they traversed during the swashbuckling Book I. I’ve actually been reduced to having to think, of all the despair-inducing shockers.

Several chapters are written in the first person, from the point of view of a character named Hapa Cottrite, whose journals, in the series’ larger conceit, are the source of all we know about the people of the dark ages from which he writes. Cottrite: he flummoxes me. He’s smarter than me. His insights are sharp and closely observed. But he’s an outsider, and I’m not sure how much he understands, how much he intuits, and how much he could be expected to misinterpret or even to know nothing about. Meanwhile, because he’s an outsider, the other characters’ responses to him are multifarious and sometimes unpredictable. I’m almost scared of Cottrite.

None of this is conducive to fluent writing.

Nothing makes it easy, but a few strategies have come to hand. Let’s start with one today, and move on to others in the coming posts.

Enter notes, no matter how fragmentary, at the bottom of a chapter or scene. Use these as cues to help jump-start the narrative and keep it rolling around.

The current problematic scene has Lhored, the local boss of bosses (he’s the equivalent of a medieval king), visiting the widow and two sister wives of one of his followers (Mitchel), who was murdered while catting around a town they visited after a disastrous battle with the enemy. She is a potentate in her own right; her young adult son is a chip off his father’s block, not an altogether flattering comparison.

Lhored of Grisham Lekvel and two of Mitch’s followers arrive at Mitch’s castle; word of Mitch’s death has preceded them. Braced to answer her questions and to make some difficult explanations, they offer their sympathies. But…but…THEN what? And where is Mitch’s son?

She nodded patiently. “Let’s sit down.” She waved us all toward the fine leather and wool chairs and benches that populated the hall. Lhored was directed into a comfortable armchair and I was seated nearby. The three women pulled up smaller chairs to make a conversation circle around Lhored, the two mayrs, and me. Food and drink appeared, borne by two [women who look working class] and a young boy, and we were all served, solid stoneware dishes a luxury after our weeks of eating off tin plates.

“You’ve heard the news we bring,” Lhored began.

“Yes. We heard before Mak’s men reached Rittamun. One of the outlying herdsmen brought word a couple of days ago.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

She let this rest briefly. “They say he didn’t die in battle. Can you…will you tell us how this happened?”

Lhored looked pained. This, he had said more than once, was the conversation he dreaded, and here it was upon him. “Bett,” he said, “we don’t really know.”

Zzzzzz…. Okay, you can’t be exciting every moment. Move on, move on!

Notes at the end of the file:

[what is going on here? What is Hapa observing? Move forward into some other part of this chapter and then come back here. This piece is going nowhere!]

What’s going on here? Darned if I know. Start writing some other part of the chapter? That’s a possibility. Then this comes to mind:

[Lhored is about to speak when Lenn shows up. Lenn is surly, aggressive, and obnoxious. He demands to know what happened to Mitch. What was he doing out there alone. Then he demands to know why they let him go out alone and D says he tried to go along and was rejected & the others say that’s so. They work their way around to saying HC was sent as a gift from the seeyo; they’d probly better tell them about the elaborate funeral and the loot first.]

 All right. Let’s try that. It’s better than working, anyway. I guess. {sigh}

The front door opened, letting in a beam of light, and someone was heard passing through the vestibule. A tall, slender young man, about seventeen and still beardless, entered the hall. Dressed in work clothes and boots, he pulled off a pair of riding gloves and offered a hand to Lhored, who, with Mak and Jode, stood to greet him.

 “Grisham Lekvel,” he said, accepting a firm squeeze on the shoulder from the brez. “And gentlemen: thank you for coming. Mother,” he addressed the kubnath, who remained seated, “sorry I’m late. We were working the stallion up on the other side of Nole’s Butte. I came as soon as Wood let us know you were on the way up the road.”

 “It’s good to see you, Lenn,” Lhored replied. “And it’s good you were able to be here.”

 He gestured as though he was about to introduce me to the young new kubna, obviously Mitchel of Cham Fos’s son, but Lenn interrupted.

 “Lhored,” he said, “let’s get down to business. What the hell happened to my father?”

Meji gasped softly. The other two widows glanced at Lhored expectantly. Jode and Mak looked on, stolid as ever.

 If Lhored was annoyed or otherwise perturbed, he didn’t let it show. “He was murdered,” he said.

 “Yeah, so we’re told. How did that happen? And who did it?”

 “He died on a street in Lek Doe. Apparently the killer was a thief that jumped him.”

 “That doesn’t make any sense. My father would take out anyone who tried to bring him down.”

 “He probably didn’t see the guy come up on him. It was stone dark that night.”

 “Night?”

 “Mm hm. We think it was pretty late. He’d been out on the town. And he was in a lane where all the shops were closed.”

 “Come on, man! What the hell was he doing out in the middle of the night, on some godforsaken back street in Lek Doe where nothing was going on?” Behind him, Bett sent Lhored a narrow-eyed [CAUTIONARY? GIMLET? PIERCING? SHARP???] look and shook her head, almost imperceptibly, no.

 “We don’t know, Lenn. He must have gotten turned around and lost his way.”

 “How the devil could something like that happen? Who was with him?”

 “No one.”

 “No one? What was he doing out there?”

Lhored regarded Lenn while he let this set for a second or two. “He was celebrating, lad. Far as we can tell, he’d just come from a saloon.”

Salon was more like it, I thought. Liana’s place did let the liquor flow, so one could call it a bar. Sort of.

“Celebrating? If he was partying, why wasn’t anybody with him?”

Progress made. Very, very slow progress. This took all afternoon to gag out. At least we’ve got some conflict going on, between the “king” (as it were) and the surly young son of the deceased potentate, heir to his father’s rank.

We haven’t gotten around to the delicate matter of why Mitchel refused to take anyone with him when he went out for a night on the town — he was haunting his favorite houses of ill repute — nor have we explained the potentially explosive matter of why Hapa Cottrite is present: he was sent by the town’s governing councilors as a kind of “gift” to express their regret at the loss of a powerful and dangerous warlord. But at least we have something in glowing little computer characters.

Do plot outlines, scene outlines, or just random notes ever help you to get past a low spot in your writing?

The passage above is draft material for a yet-to-be published sequel. But the story of what happened to Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos appears in the third Fire-Rider volume. Order a print copy here, or download the Kindle version from Amazon.

3 Homeward Bound

Blank book image: Shutterstock, © 2016 Evgeny Atamanenko