Tied in Knots

I have not been plagued by writer’s block. I generally skipped over the myriad blogs, papers, podcasts, and articles about it feeling vaguely superior.

Then I ran into a wall with my current novel, Fatal Cure. The plot is complex. I’m a hybrid writer … I do outline, but only broadly. Within the broad limits of the outline, I’m a pantser, letting the character and situation drive the story.

Nothing seemed to come together. “Write, just write something” didn’t work; the something I wrote was clunky and uninspired. Frustrated, I tried more outline detail: spreadsheet detailing what who was doing to whom and when, calendar of events, and so on. Nada. Rien. Zip.

Finally, just to do some writing calisthenics, I picked a character and a situation in the novel and forgot the outline … And, of a sudden, the writing flowed again, and the outline seemed to make sense.

Feels like the time I almost capsized a canoe … frantic countermoves to try to offset the oscillations. No forward progress. But when I stopped trying to control the situation, the canoe settled down … and then I could make forward progress.


I just took Gabe Tovar out of my third novel, Fail Deadly.  Damn!  I liked Gabe, but the poor guy was compromised by Russian mafia types, and he did add complexity.  Maybe he’s relieved, but I’m sorry to lose him. However, his loss didn’t hurt as much as Raisa Jarvinen, whom I had to take out a couple of months ago. She was an FBI agent, a specialist in languages.  She allowed me to exercise my interest in etymology, languages in general, and the Finno-Ugric branch of Indo European. See, Estonian is closer to Finnish and Hungarian than the Slavic languages that surround it as a result of the Uralic tribes … hmmm. Maybe it’s good for my readers’ sanity that I took her out.  

What I’m learning is that parsimony is valuable in writing, just as it is in science.  I don’t mean the penny-pinching skinflint kind; I mean the Aristotle-Duns Scotus-William of Ockham’s razor kind.  The kind that says Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate, loosely translated for the novelist as Don’t put in stuff that doesn’t move the story forward.

When I was about to publish Fatal Score, I asked for a review from Brian Lutterman, a Minnesota author whose work I admire.  He graciously accepted and wrote a lovely review.  Then he asked if I wanted an honest appraisal of the less-than-nice stuff. I did, and he explained that, while the plot was interesting and the writing good enough to merit his fine review, but I had too many characters. Parsimony, again.

Eep … The novel I’m finishing, Fail Deadly, had more characters than Fatal Score.  The plot is about as complex, which, following Ockham loosely means there’s less space for characters. 

Sic transit Gloria personae, Gabe and Raisa.  You’ll be back in other books, I hope.