Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Three things I've learned about writing from packing

I have had a some thought-time as we've been packing up our offices for the "big move" as I'm semi-affectionately calling it. We have boxes upon boxes of miscellaneous things, random office stuff, and books - lots and lots of books. It's only natural that I'd start thinking about writing in relation to packing, right? Okay, maybe not, but it does make a lot of sense to my over-tired brain.

I got to thinking, as I attempted to fit oddly shaped items into rigid boxes, that writing is kind of like packing.

I thought I'd share three things I've learned about writing from packing...

1) Make sure you have the right box

It doesn't help to pick a box that's too big or too small when you're packing. If it's too big, things will just rumble around in there causing a mess. If it's too small - well, of course you'd hardly be able to fit enough in.

I see this in relation to the plot of a novel. If the plot is "too big" you risk loosing your audience. What I mean by "too big" is that it like eating when you're hungry - you think, "I can eat all that" but about 2/3's of the way through the meal you hit the full mark and can't finish what's on your plate. Your box (that is, your plot) needs to make sense for the size of the story.
  • Plots that are "too big": the novel spans too much time to sustain the core motivation or it undertakes too many different motivations to make sense.
  • Plots that are "too small": the novel isn't fleshed out enough and doesn't have enough motivation to sustain a full-length work.

2) Don't try and fit too much (or too little) into the box

Books are heavy. I mean crazy heavy! If you have a huge box and a lot of books...well, good luck getting that thing into the moving truck.

Plots are the same way. This could mean you hope to fit so much into your book that the actual purpose, the driving and motivating factor, gets overshadowed but a bunch of twists, turns, or subplots that distract rather than add focus or interest.

Ask yourself: Does this plot element fit or take away from the main plot? 

Or, like above in point 1, you don't have enough motivation or enough twits and turns to keep the interest of the reader. The size of your box (your plot outline) will determine what you can realistically fit into it.

3) Make sure it's properly labeled

 Great, you've packed up everything you can and have moved it. Now what?

Without good labels your boxes mean nothing. I have spent several days labeling boxes from several different offices so that they will get to where they need to go on the other side of our move. Sometimes that mean's a room name or the items inside the box, other times that means "fragile" (which we keep saying in an Italian accent like The Christmas Story every time we write it *hehe*).

I'd say the labeling comes in your synopsis and pitch. If your plot is a box and you're telling someone about what's in it, that's your pitch. As writers we need to have our pitches down so they cover the basics of what's in our plot (or our box for this analogy). You may have a great book or even a great idea, but if you can't summarize it quickly, you may not hold anyone's attention for long enough to sell the great idea your book is or can be.

Well, hopefully some of this was informative. I love how life (well, God really) can throw little lessons your way no matter what you're doing!

Which of these points do you struggle with the most as a writer?