All that reading of John Cage and drawing from the Oblique Strategies must be paying off. Earlier this week, while working on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, I ran into a wall — or rather, what only looked like a wall. Every obstacle is actually an opportunity, and all that.
Without spoiling too many details, here's what happened. I was confronted with a problem that I imagine most any author experiences at some point: there's a plot that's supposed to unfold, but the characters are preventing it from taking place. In this case, it was the mother of one of the characters — and when as we all know, when Mom says no to something, that's it.
At first I did the usual juggling-and-wrestling match, trying to get Mom to bend. But Mom doesn't bend. Or, rather, if she bends, it's not going to be because of something like this. If she bends, it's going to be in her own way and for her own reasons.
After spending about an hour jotting stuff down in the wiki for the project, I realized something I'd come to know with other projects, but it was the first time I'd really come to know it with this one. The difficulty I was experiencing was the story. The solution wasn't in trying to route around it, but in finding a way to make that disintegration all the more completely a part of what I was doing. Once that clicked, the solution presented itself in fairly short order.
I mentioned before how Flight of the Vajra benefited from this kind of head-on engagement. There, the problem was in how the spiritual order I'd envisioned for a far-future human race didn't hold up to scrutiny; it seemed like it would collapse under its own weight. Then I realized, maybe that's happening, just very slowly, and we're in the middle of watching it happen. Diving into that crack in the pavement, so to speak, gave me access to a whole new kind of story I wouldn't have been able to write before.
Philip K. Dick once gave a speech entitled "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later", in which he said, "I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it." Stories are about what happens when things become unglued, and we should always be open to the ways things, and people, fall to pieces in only the way they and absolutely nothing else can.