Waiting for the Plot Twist

Writing through standoffs

When it comes to real life, what do you do when the infantry doesn’t materialize, and no-one’s around to save the day?
By Elizabeth Cutright

What do you do when you’re stuck in a standoff?  When neither party will give in, can you ever move forward, move on…move ahead?  Is a standoff nothing more than the writer’s block of life?

Those who know me even moderately well (or, I must confess, perhaps have only met me once or twice), find out pretty quickly that I am stubborn.

Very stubborn.

Like, probably one the most stubborn people you’ll ever met.

Which is funny, because I work extremely hard at reserving judgment and hearing people out.  I’m always looking for the different perspective or signing up to walk a mile in those other shoes.  As a lawyer, the ability to keep an open mind is crucial – if you don’t allow every possibility to enter into your argument, then how will you ever find the right counterargument to win your case?  You’ve got to know what the other side is bringing to the table, and you’ve got to suss out the ideas and points of view they see as irrefutable precisely so that you can refute them.

As a writer, entertaining various scenarios is key.  If you want your fiction to succeed or your poetry to surprise, you have to be flexible.  You have to leave the door open at least a crack so that new ideas can sneak in.  Creative thinking requires the ability to conjure up every conceivable situation and every possible outcome.

You can never move forward without breaking down a few fences.

Nevertheless, this stubborn thing sticks…I am, remarkably, quite stubborn about being stubborn.  In fact, I’m not all that ashamed – I see it as a point of pride that I stand my ground.

I think in part because my adherence to creative flexibility leaves me vulnerable – to manipulation, to bullying, and to those nefarious ne’er-do-wells I talked about the other day.

Generally, I find a pretty good balance between obstinacy and elasticity.  I go with the flow until that exact moment when I sink my heels in and refuse to budge.  And, honestly, this works for me most of the time.

But those standoffs man…those fucking standoffs!

If this were a plot, I’d conjure up a dues ex machina, some sort of “Hail Mary Pass” to save the day.  Perhaps the cavalry would finally appear, their trumpet blaring across the wasteland.  Maybe the bad guy would monologue long enough to let the hero break free from his bindings.  It could be that all I’m waiting for is that moment when the clouds clear and a blast of sunlight, fierce as a laser beam, flashes brightly on the solution like that map room scene in Raiders of the Lost Arc.

Most likely, I shouldn’t hold my breath.  Seems like, these days, dues ex machinas are in pretty short supply.

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