I was reading a pretty decent mystery the other night when I came upon a completely dead page. In the book, a retired cop was being provisionally brought back onto the force to help solve a crime very similar to one that happened back when he was active. Up to this point, the book was all mood and character, but at this point it changed--it turned into a book about logistics. The scene in question consisted of the cop's former colleague reintroducing him to the rest of the investigation division, and explaining what he'd be doing. It was all information we already knew. But it would have been odd not to have a scene like this, and to merely summarize the scene in a few lines would have thrown off the rhythm of the book.
So what was the real solution to this problem? Answer: there wasn't one. The scene actually ruined the book for me, and I didn't finish it. It was absorbing enough, but the writer had taken a turn for the conventional and mundane, and there was no turning back.
Is it possible to write a mystery novel without scenes like this? Yes, it is. It's possible to write any kind of novel without scenes like this. But it's a challenge. I've faced this very dilemma many times--I come to a point where I have to impart vital information, and there's no way to do it that doesn't bore me. In the past, I used to just slog on when I came to these junctures, figuring there was nothing else I could do.
But increasingly I have been trying another tack--going back and finding where I went wrong. The path that led me to the dead page usually forked off from the main path just a few pages back. But sometimes it's a few chapters back. At least once it was eight months back, when I got the idea for the novel, and framed it in my mind in a certain flawed way. I was never able to get past page 50 or so of that one. Yet another novel with a flawed conception never even made it to the first sentence. I only wasted half a year of cogitation and note-taking.
You can write a book that's packed with logistics--thriller writers do it all the time. But the skills required to make such a book interesting are highly specialized, and I don't have them. For me, the dead page is most easily avoided by basing the structure of the book on character, voice, and mood. This expands my choices, and defines the narrative by something other than logistics. The problem with this, of course, is staying interesting to the reader. But the books I write, by definition, have a more limited readship than a mystery or thriller might. I have to find readers who are willing to go along with my plans.
The dead page, more broadly speaking, is the result of a lack of confidence, and a lack of engagement with the imagination. This is something all of us have to endure at some point or other. But during those times when obsessive attention to one's strangest desires is possible, dead pages are few and far between.
Who in the hell has time to pay obsessive attention to their strangest desires, though? This is why there are fewer writers than we'd like, and fewer books than we'd like from the writers we have.