Monday, May 08, 2006

Writing using the Piñata Method

By Heather Justesen

I work at my local library and this weekend we organized the annual Cinco de Mayo festival. Because of this, I found myself spending most of the day Friday making piñatas for sale, which left me with plenty of time to think. I came to a conclusion.

Writing a story is much like building a piñata.

First you have the balloon. This determines the shape of the piñata—will it be long and thin, round, and what size. The balloon is like the genre you are going to write in. In most cases a person writes the kind of story he or she most like to read. Reading is how we learn the rules of the genre, so it’s vital to good writing. The balloon isn’t the story—it just dictates the shape it is allowed to take.

Then you have the layers of newspaper and paste. This is like the story question or plot idea, it forms the basic ‘bones’ of your story, it is the structure which carries the whole story. Without it, the piñata wouldn’t hold its shape once it’s full of candy.

My piñatas were both round with cones sticking out each side, the cones are side plots that weave into the main story. Without these, the story would be boring, linear and a heck of a lot more simple to write, but certainly less interesting as well.

Then you add the layers of color. This is when you, as the writer, jump into the character’s head and let the reader understand them. It’s the description, both of what the character’s look like, but also their surroundings that give a sense of time and place in the story. It’s the banter of dialogue that tells so much more about what is going on than straight exposition ever could. Without this layer, you can’t keep the reader’s attention because it gives the story a three-dimensional feel.

If you remember to use all the layers, you end up with a great story that captivates. If you skip a step, like not making sure you have enough conflict or you forget the story idea halfway through, the story won’t stand on its own. This is akin to having the piñata burst open before the bat even touches it—anticlimactic.

When the story is all written you let someone critique it, or maybe rewrite it yourself, essentially smashing it to pieces before you put it back together even better than before. Too bad piñata’s don’t go back together looking nicer. Olé!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good comparison. Writing is like building a pinata. I liked your ending as well. Ole!