Taking a break from writing always proves to be a good thing, despite feeling guilty for doing so—that’s a subject I’ve written about on here a few times now. However, that isn’t the topic of this post. Instead, my unintended time away from the blog gave me time to mull over a few other bits of writing advice that, despite having already talked about on here and on my bookstagram, bears repeating. One is abstract and the other is more practical. Both are principles I keep coming back to regardless of what stage of writing I’m in, or how much I think I’ve learned the lesson. There’s always more to learn.
1. Don’t think in terms of characters vs. plot
An earlier post titled “The False Dichotomy of Plot vs. Character” covered this idea in more detail, which I recommend reading for a better understanding of why I stopped thinking of stories in this way. All story elements are intricately connected. An uneven relationship between plot vs. characters in your story is a sign that something is lacking and incomplete—often in the area you think is actually strong. If you plot is lackluster, then you don’t really know your characters (or perhaps your story world or theme) as well as you should. If your characters are flat, that means your plot (and theme, for that matter) is going to suffer even if it’s technically sound.
To reuse one of my analogies, characters are nouns and plots are verbs. You have to have both working together in a way that’s meaningful and comprehensible to have the main structure of a sentence. Pitting these two story elements against each other in the way we speak about them separately impedes the process of finding the proper symbiosis between the two. Ditching the dichotomy gets rid of one hurdle in an already complex and difficult process.
2. If something isn’t working, go back
Writing, like thinking, has a flow of ideas. The more you learn to conceptualize ideas in your head and then communicate those ideas clearly through words, the easier it becomes to immerse yourself in the process and continue it with few, if any, interruptions. A big part of mastering communication (and I mean mastering as a life-long process) is learning how to aim so you can hit the target you want. To continue that metaphor, your mental muscles have to get used to how to load the arrow, how tightly to pull back the bow, how to judge the distance between you and the target, how to move your fingers to allow a clean release. Any failure to hit the bullseye can be traced back to some miscalculation at the beginning—a movement that was too quick or too slow, or forgetting to account for the direction of the wind, or maybe even using the wrong equipment for the distance.
What does any of that have to do with writing? Whenever I come to a scene or chapter that just will not work, there’s always an issue with the scene before it, or the scene before that one, or the opening of the chapter—or a chapter or two I wrote earlier. If I set up a scene correctly, everything that needs to happen follows naturally. If I re-evaluate the events leading up to the trouble spot and then change them to better “aim” at what I need that part of the story to hit, then the ease returns and I’m able to continue on with the story. Sometimes finding the solution is easy, or sometimes it takes weeks to sort out the issue. Regardless, if you’re stuck, reevaluate what you’ve already done and see if you miscalculated. In those cases, backtracking is necessary to move forward again.
Alright, your turn: what writing advice do you think is important enough to bear repeating?