I’m writing my first draft to a daily word count. Scrivener sets a daily goal based on my larger goal of having 80,000 words by February 1st. If I miss my word count one day, the goal goes up the next day. Keeps me honest. I had a great day on Wednesday. I wrote 4184 words and my goal was 2817. It felt pretty good! So I hit the keyboard on Thursday riding a word count high. Then it went all wrong.

I had to populate Skoghall.

Jess is new to town and she wants to meet people and make friends. She throws a big party. The entire village is invited. It’s her moment to shine. And my fingers stopped tapping away. I stared at the monitor. Then at the dog. Then out the window. Nothing.

I had no idea what the villagers looked like or who they were. I mean, I knew vaguely that they are the people who live in a place like Skoghall. Some are artists. Some are small business owners. Some are country folks who grew up around there. But that wasn’t going cut it. Obviously.


populate Skoghall

Skoghall sits on the Mississippi River


I decided movie people have it easy. You know, extras line up. They bring their own faces. Somebody hands them some clothes to wear. They naturally use body language during the scene. Easy, right? We writers have to imagine and then describe every face, every body, outfit, expression, gait, mannerism….

Suddenly I had to populate Skoghall, not one character at a time, but en masse. I decided to clear my head by taking the dog outside. Bad idea. It only made me cold.

Some people would call this writer’s block. I would call it confronting a challenge. Group scenes are difficult. And I wasn’t putting a bunch of old favorites in a room together, I was starting from scratch. I got around it by writing things like, “She walked past <<<somebody I haven’t created yet>>> on her way to the kitchen.” Whether you call it writer’s block or not, I didn’t make my word count yesterday.

Today was better. Today I shot past my word count again and people were introducing themselves to Jess and to me. It felt good to get to know some of the locals and to push past another hurdle. I’ll have to go back and fix this scene, not just because I used those brackets, but because right now it doesn’t feel like a party. It feels like an empty room pretending to be a party, like my main character is pantomiming a party.

Here’s one of Skoghall’s (newly invented) residents, Carrie Cummings.

“Really? He seems,” Carrie lowered her voice, “like such a loner. Odd for a cafe owner.” She glanced at Mike through tiny oval spectacles. “I mean, we’re in the hospitality industry, too. Imagine doing that if you didn’t like to talk to people?” Carrie, like Jess, had dressed for the party in a swingy blue skirt and ruffled top. Her shoes had a couple inches of heel on them, making her taller than her husband. Her wispy brown hair seemed to float around her pixieish face. When she wasn’t care taking at the Inn, she sewed couture clothing. A number of her pieces were for sale in the gift shop next to the Skoghall Hardware and she had a thriving online store that kept her in bobbins.

In those few sentences, we have a name, a face, a relationship, and a profession. Not a bad start for a girl who gets overwhelmed at parties.

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