Saturday, August 14, 2010

Getting Myself Out of the Corner

By Keith N Fisher

Did you ever hear the old story of a guy painting a floor with such intensity, he doesn’t notice he painted himself into a corner? He stands up. The door is on the other side of the room. The only window is too far away to reach. He looks at all that wet paint, knowing he will have to walk on it, in order to escape his predicament. Of course, he could wait for the paint to try.

This is a great metaphor that explains what happened to me this week.

I’m told there are two kinds of writers. There are outliners and there are by the seat of your pantsers. I suppose that’s true because many writers are variations of the two. I’ve been known to do both. Usually, I hold the outline in my head. I know the beginning and end. I plot the middle as I go.

Most of the time, I know the specific points I must write and the plot twists I will throw in, but for the most part I write by the seat of my pants letting my characters tell me what they want to do.

Such was the case this week. I started writing a transition chapter. (The chapter that brings the reader from point A to point B and gets them ready for the killer plot to follow). I was in the Zone, high on endorphins, or whatever they are, when my character said something I never intended for him to say.

I know you’ve all been there, and I’ve written about this before. Like the floor painter, I’ve learned if I keep writing, ignoring my escape to follow the new path, then I end up painted into the corner. At that point I must decide whether to rewrite the old parts, or discard the stuff my character wants.

Both choices will leave paint on my shoes and possibly spoil the story. “But,” I tell myself. “The new plot turn is so cool, I wish I’d thought of it before.”

Well, my writing must be improving, because this time I made a mental note and wrote down the alternate plot idea. Then, I started debating. If I had continued to write the plot, I would have gotten to a point of no return, where the agony of extracting any part of it would’ve killed me. It seems I’ve trained myself to stop and analyze which is the better way.

I used to be a true seat of my pantser, and there are some stories I never outline, but I’ve evolved into what I call a counselor style of writing. I sit and let my characters bounce ideas off me and together, we make the story work. There are still times, however, when I end up painting myself into a corner. In those times, I take it to my critique group.

Ultimately, it’s my decision, but its great to get input from someone who isn’t a figment of my imagination.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.


Evelyn Campbell Curtis said...

I like your analogy. I also love the feeling of being in the zone. It is like nothing else is there, just you and this incredible story unfolding! :) That is my favorite feeling!

Thanks for sharing.

Jolene Perry said...

Well said. I think it happens to everyone. I have one project done in two ways. I couldn't decide. I already know which I like better, so that's what I'll use but I had to finish them both first. I guess it's all just good writing practice.

L.T. Elliot said...

That's AWESOME, Keith! If you're going to get painted into a corner, what better way than to get killer plot ideas? Want to share some of that mojo with me?