By Laura P. Valtorta
Many writers talk about the character-acts-on-her-own phenomenon, where the author sits down to write about her Main Girl spying on people at the library, but who instead ends up tripping skaters at the ice rink. Why does this happen?
When I’m lucky, two-thirds of my waking life is spent in a fantasy world. To the outside world it may seem like “alone time,” (or just weirdness) but I’m really living in a perfect world with my fantasy friends. These friends all like to watch movies, walk on the beach, discuss books, and get coffee. If we talk about work, it’s interesting. If we live in the same house, we enjoy separate bathrooms and television sets. I love my fantasy friends; they cooperate with me and tolerate me. Sometimes they resemble Viggo Mortensen or Margaret Atwood.
Write those fantasies down, however, and the friends become autonomous. They turn into enemies. It’s never --- what would Jane do next? – but – how can I fit that into the story? Perhaps this is because a story must involve conflict, or it’s not a story. At least that’s what we learned in school. Woman versus man; woman versus nature; geek versus the bitch living inside him.
While my fantasy world is an endless round of breakfast pancakes, cycling, writing, and coffee shops in South Pasadena, my fantasy writing takes place in colder climates, such as Watertown, which is a town still struggling to overcome Urban Destruction from the 1970s. Set characters afloat in South Pasadena, and they become boringly, infinitely happy. Those same characters living in Watertown, New York face struggles and obstacles.
Maybe fantasy is all about place: in my mind, on the street, on the page, or on the big screen. My mind prefers to remain calm and cool. Spewing something forth onto the written page or onto the screen, however, implies that it’s a problem waiting to be solved. What is right and what is wrong for humanity? Problems can only be resolved by free agents: characters possessing knowledge and free will who make big mistakes and bad decisions. They must be able to boogie. Anything other than that spells writer’s block.