I am in love with description.
I was talking with someone recently about getting stuck while writing, and how that never really happens to me. I suppose in that instance (and this one) I was talking about the stereotype of Writer’s Block, how the words simply won’t come.
I’ve never experienced that sort of stalemate with my muse. My problem has always been more like a blind date where I’m really, really anxious because I don’t want to be stuck with a bore for two hours – not only because I’ll be bored, but because I’ll feel like a bore in return, passing judgment on the worth of another person (or, at least, the worth of that person being in my life). Truth is that, anxious as I am, every time I sit down to coffee with my muse I find the experience worthwhile, even if she’s a different person each time.
When I find myself in a bog while writing, I usually turn to one of two techniques. It’s not that I’ve designed these two methods as The Best Way for getting out of literary jams or that I think they’ll necessarily work for anyone else, but just that, looking back on what I’ve written and how I’ve written it, this is how I tend to keep myself writing.
1. I do something “experimental”, such as include a set list of a band whose playing in the background of the scene, start writing in playscript format, mess with perspective (for one memoirish essay, this meant changing the scene whenever I looked in a different direction), or, well, anything to turn the focus on the form rather than the content. Usually, when my forebrain is concerned with form, the hindbrain fills in the content.
2. I turn to description. This might be a result of my background in poetry, but is definitely a symptom of my belief that description can be just as effective a hook for the reader and/or a mover of plot and/or an exploration of character as anything else.
In this section of KINGDOMS OF GOOD AND EVIL, I was dancing the latter.
I’m not even sure Castle Hest is called Castle Hest. I know it’s name is Hest, at least that’s how the others refer to it, but when I first called it a castle to Linden, she smiled, and said, Yes, that’s Castle Hest. I still think that she was having a little joke at my expense.
To be honest, Castle Hest doesn’t look much like a castle. Not one of those storybook castles you find on the covers of fantasy novels or along the Rhine in Germany and, in fact, it more resembles a city than anything else. And not a city so much as the skyline of a city.
When the hills cleared away and Castle Hest was fully in view, I was first struck by its size. It looked as big as the mountain that backed the Precinct of the Dead, but it couldn’t be that big. Surely, if it was, we would have seen Castle Hest over the intervening hills.
But I think all this confusion of size comes from the building being a manmade structure, and the impossibility of believing something so big could be the result of human hands. The castle is so large it rests on the landscape like a system of caves carved out by water over eons or a rock shaped into the profile of a man’s face by centuries of wind-driven grit. The castle is so old that the land has grown up around its borders, the walls seamlessly fading into rock and earth.
The castle dominates the plain on which it sits. Around it are other precincts, also visible from this distance, but they appear as grass along the edge of a monument, unnoticed unless you’re stepping on it.
As we walked closer, I could see that the castle I thought consisted of a collection of separate buildings was in fact one single building that stretched for miles. The hills we’d just skirted continued straight inland until they rounded back behind Castle Hest. In the distance, the hills were a dark line that headed back to the ocean to seal off the valley we were entering.
“Ah, yes, it is impressive, isn’t it.” Linden sounded as though she were reciting a script from a guided tour. She was immune to whatever in this view affected me, but she didn’t hurry me along. She waited patiently at my side.
For the first few moments we watched, the castle was still in sunlight. The rain hadn’t yet reached it, but we were looking through the rain. Slowly, the view grew fuzzier, a clear television pictures slowly succumbing to static.
“It’s wonderful,” I said. I didn’t want to move just yet. “Who built it?”
Linden laughed, her laugh like the song of a mockingbird.