Do you ever in your haste to get things done, give in to a bit of mental laziness and not think things through enough? Or do you make a mental note to fix something and then later forget to do it?
Don’t be hasty.
We all want our writing and our stories to be good, the best we can make them. Powerful writing gets noticed even in a flooded marketplace. But I think, too, we can be tempted–or even succumb to the temptation at times–to conclude that what we have written is good enough and to ignore that quiet, nagging voice that says, “you need to check that” or “that’s not quite right” or “is my writing dull here?”
This is important for all writing.
I’m going to use examples below from fiction writing, but of course the need for careful thought applies to nonfiction writing too.
What about first drafts?
Now just in case you want to say to me at this point: “Yeah, but I like to write by my intuition, my heart, and make it up as I go.” If you do want to say that, let me add, “I’m with you. When you’re writing that first draft or plowing through your word-count for the Nano contest, go for it. Burn through it. Absolutely. But, as we’ve all heard, good writing is re-written. So I absolutely also recommend careful and thorough thinking-through after that hot piece of writing has cooled down. Even invite your critical left-brain to go for it big-time.”
So what are my points on thinking things through?
1. Thinking-through is vital for depth in writing.
Careful thought can uncover meaning in your story you didn’t see before, themes, symbols, clever twists. Depth can add value and enjoyment for your reader. You might just come up with insights that take your work from good to great.
2. Thinking-through is vital for plausibility.
Would your character really do that?
Yesterday, I was stuck. I realized that in a key chapter in my novel, I had my protagonist too easily let his 12-year-old daughter, his one and only remaining loved one, go on an obviously dangerous outing. Something no caring parent would do. Yet what happens on that outing is essential to my plot, so I was pushing my luck. I needed to get her on that outing. Then I thought it through and came up with a solution: miscommunication.
Plausibility is super-important whether you’re writing a realistic this-world story or a fantasy with a setting in a strange and alien world. Things still have to make sense to your reader.
3. Does it work all the way through?
Thinking things through is vital to assure that your story or copy works all the way through. Without that careful thought, it’s oh so easy to miss the need for a transition, the need for a brief explanation, or the realization that you have your character acting decidedly out of character–and many other possible problems you need to fix.
And the best thinking-through includes asking the question: how will my reader react to what I have written?
4. Thinking things through also can open you up to the possibilities.
How about those lovely surprises that tie things together at the end? Surprises that readers love, that make your reader say, for example, “Oh, yeah, now I know why he didn’t propose!” Also, taking the time re-read your chapters and do some hard thinking can remind you to follow-up on those hints (plants) you crafted early-on and forgot about after several thousand more words.
Todd Henry in his excellent book The Accidental Creative writes: “Assumptions can be disastrous to our creative process because they limit how we look at problems” (page 72). We can, if we are not careful, let assumptions artificially limit our options (Page 75).. Don’t assume it all works until you have checked it and you’re sure.
Don’t miss choice opportunities that can make your work move vivid, more alive. Or as Jerry Cleaver wrote in his book Immediate Fiction, while emphasizing the need for constant conflict and suspense, “Can you make it worse?”
Dare I add…
Careful thought for important life-decisions can be a good idea too? Most of our decisions offer more than one option, and decisions can be powerful.
Back to writing.
My experience with getting seriously stuck made me realize that I need to go back and think through my novel–at least at every major point in the plot–and not just when I get stuck.
How about you?
Do you ask yourself hard and uncomfortable questions about your story or your copy? What do you do when you get stuck?