Posts Tagged ‘plot’

The other day I met some folks at the local Starbucks. We’re all part of a group  of college students and young adults run by Jewish Family Services of Columbus which promotes physical, financial, mental, and social health for its members. As often happens when I’m talking with new people, the writing career came up. And you should’ve seen how these folks reacted. They were very impressed, going on about how three published books and four more at various stages of the editing/compilation process* was quite the talent, how they struggled to get five-hundred words together and make that sound good, let alone an entire novel. Basically it all boiled down to “We struggle with this, but you make it look easy.”

And the whole time I’m just sitting there thinking, This is all very flattering, I hope you buy the books, but honestly writing is damn hard!

This came up during a discussion I had with an acquaintance over Facebook last week. He was trying to write a story but was having trouble getting the words down on paper, so he thought he’d pick my brains on the subject. One of the things we discussed was how difficult it is for even the most veteran writers to get words out on paper. You look at that blank page, and you know that you need to get several thousand words–sometimes much, much more–on that paper. Then you realize that you’ll have to go back several times, editing and rewriting, changing passages, changing entire plot lines sometimes.** It’s intimidating, almost like every word is like a soldier in a war that you have to defeat personally. Not very easy.

Okay, this is possibly me being overdramatic, but you get the idea.

Yeah, to some people I make writing look pretty easy. That I’m making those sixty-thousand-plus words just appear on the page with barely any energy spent. But in reality, it’s hard work coming up with the stories, making them compelling and fun and interesting. Creating the characters, making them fully rounded and sympathetic, giving them backstories and a reason for the readers to root for them or at least stay invested in them. Then doing the research, working the final details out, and finally  putting the words down on paper, picking them and putting them in an order that sounds right when read aloud. And even after all that there are probably more words to add, just as many to lose, and maybe twice that amount is going to be reordered or replaced by something else.

Like the title of this post says, it’s a struggle to write. We writers may make it seem easy, or people look at us and assume that to us it’s easy (even when you tell them that it’s bloody difficult work), but it’s as much of a challenge for us as finding a way to sustain life on Mars is for scientists, or making it to the Olympics is for athletes.

And yet still we do it. We come up with the ideas, do the outlines, create the characters. We research, put down the final plot details, and get everything we need done before we actually write. And then, through fears and anxiety and everything else, we face down the blank page, like two boxers in a ring, and we start working. And after all the writing’s done, we do the countless hours and hours of editing, until the story is as good as it’s going to be.

Why do we do this? Maybe we like sharing the stories we create with our readers. Maybe we need to get these stories out of our heads before they drive us crazy. The point is, we engage in that struggle every time we open our notebooks or turn on our computers. And we do what we’ve trained and worked hard for. And it’s never easy. But for many of us, I think we wouldn’t have it any other way.

*More on that in another post.

**I may have to do that with Rose when I do the third draft. Oy!

What an eerie path to take.

Every author has a different metaphor for what it’s like writing a novel or creating a story or even outlining a story. Stephen King said in his memoir On Writing that he approaches writing like an archaeologist uncovers an artifact, finding the top of it sticking out of the dirt and then carefully chipping and dusting away to uncover the rest of it. I guess that means His Royal Creepiness likes to come up with the story as he writes it and doesn’t plan too far ahead, but whether or not he does, he’s almost always brilliant with it.

Another author, I forget who but I’m pretty sure they were Freshly Pressed for writing an article on this, once compared writing to putting together a sandwich. You have a bunch of different ingredients, and it’s up to you as the chef of this particular sandwich to make it into a delicious meal that people will want to savor and discuss for hours to come. Like I said, I can’t remember who this author was, so I can’t tell you whether or not they were brilliant at it, but they certainly can create a compelling metaphor.

And there are plenty of other metaphors that one author could apply to the writing of a novel: mixing an interesting cocktail; building a house; decorating a room; putting together a collage; building a Rube Goldberg device (I love those things!) and then some, on and on, etc. Each author probably has their own metaphor that relates to their own process.

How some people see writing a novel: building one of these.

I thought about this a lot while I was writing the outline for my thesis Rose, especially since during the early stages of writing the outline I had a lot of trouble figuring out where to go with the story after the first chapter or two. And after a lot of thought, a bi of frustration, and finally typing out a sixteen-page outline complete with short character bios, I finally figured it out. To me, writing is like sending my characters down a path in a heavily wooded forest, and letting them find the way to the end.

I think this has a lot to do with the many philosophers, musicians, and others who have said “Life is a road/path/journey”. For me, I’m seeing the path my characters are traveling on as they move through the story, meeting each obstacle, struggling against their own darkness and striving to be better people. And sometimes, this metaphor takes on a much more…I guess literal tone. For example, those of you who’ve read my novel Snake know it takes place in and around New York City (for those of you who haven’t, now you know). In a strange way, I see the path the Snake takes, not just the one in the woods but how he travels from location to location and scene to scene. I see what he does to get from Point A and Victim 1 to Point B and Victim 2, and from there to Point C and Victim 3 and so on and so forth, whether he’s driving a stolen car or walking through a dark neighborhood or using a disguise to figure out what his next move will be. (Right now, someone is reading this post and hears this description of Snake and is either deciding the book’s not for them or they’re strangely intrigued and want to find out more. I hope it’s the latter).

This “path” metaphor gets even more literal in some of my other works. In Video Rage, the sequel to Reborn City which I’ve begun editing, most of the novel is spent on the open road, so those characters of mine aren’t just on a path with many twists and turns in a metaphorical sense. They’re really on that road!

Which to take to get a better story?

Whether in a metaphorical or a literal sense though, writing like my characters are on a road or a path helps me visualize where my characters and the story are going and where I ulitmately want them to go. During the writing of the outline for Rose, there were several paths that the story could have gone on, and in the early parts I couldn’t figure out where to go. Some of those paths I tried, and I ended up not liking the direction the story would’ve gone down if I went down those paths. Thankfully I ended up taking the right path around the third or fourth attempt, and things got a lot easier from there on out. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of the path I took with this story, and the others I’ve written.

What do you think of this metaphor for writing?

What metaphor do you like to use? What are some others that you’ve heard that you agree with?