Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stumbling Blocks Paved the Way

When I began a short story in 2000, I discovered the idea I had of a modern Swiss youth returning to the 14th century to prevent the legend of Wilhelm Tell was too complex to be contained in a few thousand words. I overcame that stumbling block by thinking in terms of scenes within chapters. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process until I reached chapter eight where I encountered my 2nd stumbling block.

In chapter eight my hero rode on his motorbike across a fallow field on his father's farm. (I love the sound of 'fallow field' and I owned a farm at the time so I was complying with the rule 'write what you know'). The story hit a brick wall. Even my writers' crit group couldn't give me reasonable suggestions. One critiquer said, quite facetiously I thought, ''You've dropped the reins."  There was only one thing for it. Ditch the story and ditch the group. But I did decide that one day I would visit my setting and start again. Problem was, I lived in Australia and I'd set my story in Switzerland.

My chance to visit Switzerland and the Uri canton came in 2004 when my husband and I took our 14 year old granddaughter, Sara, with us. She knew about my hero, Stefan, and how he loved his homeland, but needed to get away because his parents didn't understand him. Sara didn't like Switzerland at all. The mountains were too high, there might be an avalanche, she felt claustrophobic. And, I realized that in this area where W.Tell lived, in the foothills, there were no fallow fields, no farms. I saw a guest house, hotel, church and museum instead. Houses looked like brown dots on the mountainside. So I faced my 3rd stumbling block.

However this stumbling block and my granddaughter's attitude transformed my book. I came home and wrote about a different Stefan, an innkeeper's son, with a different reason for wanting to escape.  He wanted to escape the narrow confines of his Swiss Alpine home and become like the tourists who came to the guesthouse.

 So, I took up the reins again and rejoined my on-line crit group. 117,000 words later I typed 'The End,' but have since polished The Unhewn Stone back to 93,000 words. I wanted to thank that crit- partner who caused me to stop writing when I did, but he was no longer participating in the group. If you are out there, Clive, thank you!

Incidentally, I did find use for 'the fallow fields' in this novel, but they belonged to a castle in the 14th century.


Pat McDermott said...

Onsite research. I love it! Sounds like you took wonderful advantage of that trip, and of your granddaughter's insight, Wendy. The Unhewn Stone sounds like a fabulous story. Looking forward to reading it!

Rosalie Skinner said...

Imagine the chance to tramp over the area you are writing about. As a Fantasy writer I can't see it happening for me.

Having had the privilege of reading The Unhewn Stone, I have to say that your experience comes through in the book. You have captured the settings beautifully.

Laurel Lamperd said...

This is the trouble all writers must have, Wendy. Are there fallow fields in Switzerland? In Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - bestseller of the moment - when the hero took a trip to visit an Australian sheep station it didn't read quite right to me. My husband was a broad acre farmer and sheep the main industry. How do you return to 1942 and in the skin of a nineteen year old soldier sent to New Guinea to fight againt the Japanese? We writers can have huge problems when we visit the past or places we have never been. I've read The Unhewn Stone and think you have captured the setting very believably.

Wendy said...

Yes, there are different types of stumbling blocks, not just writer's block. I just saw the movie of the last book in that trilogy where Lisbeth dressed in heavy punk chains and spikes to attend court. The problem was she was in jail at the time so how could she have such attire brought in to her and by whom and surely the warden would not have allowed it. As a viewer/reader I stumbled over that scene. The story lost all credibility for me after that and I began to notice more questionable activity. Thanks for your comment Laurel.