Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Writing a story is like...

Lying awake this morning (in the dark because G was still asleep), sipping a mug of tea and waiting for the house to warm up enough to venture out of bed, my mind toyed idly with the following analogy:Writing a story is like driving a coach and team. The four horses of Plot, Character, Worldbuilding and Quality of Prose all have to pull together to get the story coach to its destination. It's no good having a brilliant plot if the characters are like cardboard and the world doesn't feel solid or consistent. It's no use having the most wonderful prose style if you have nothing to say. Ideally, all those four things will be pulling their weight, though you can probably get along reasonably well if one is weak and the other three will carry the story.You will find there are times where you have to use the whip and force the story on when it doesn't want to go -- though sometimes this can be counter-productive and the horses will balk and refuse to go anywhere. And there are times you can give the horses their head and let them gallop. There are also the times when, having taken what looked like a promising route, you end up with the road petering out into an evil green-scummed swamp and then you have back-track and try a different direction.Over the years I seem to have been working on one or other of those horses to try to get them to go better. For a long time it was Quality of Prose, possibly at the expense of Plot and Worldbuilding. This year I've decided that my sentence level prose is fine and I've been focusing on Plot, or more precisely, Story Structure. It meant working out ways of outlining and planning the overall story that weren't Writing An Outline, because a chapter-by-chapter breakdown that works well for many writers, just kills the desire to write the story for me. But also just starting and writing to explore doesn't work either as I wandered off in too many wrong directions and ended up with characters doing things like choosing the curtains for their new home instead of advancing the damn story.With the current novel, I hope I've finally cracked story structure and got that team working in balance to shift the story coach efficiently to its destination. Which is about as far as I feel I can push this analogy. Not that I've ever driven a coach and team, you understand, though I have driven a single horse and I know how to drive a team in theory. Like a lot of writers, I know how to do far more than I can actually do in practice. *g*I also like the analogy of developing a story as a being like decorating a Christmas tree, but I'll leave that to another post.

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