Shaun Levin

Plotting and Letting Go

In Writing, Writing Exercises on May 6, 2011 at 8:24 pm

How do we learn to follow a story, to follow a trail, to follow a scent? We can map and plan and plot, but we have to learn to let go. To plan. And then let go. Flex. Release. (Real ease.) Flex. Release. And again. Draw a map of all your character’s friends (or your own friends from a specific time in your life). Notice the different types of friends they have. Is there a certain type of friend that might be missing? A friend who gives good advice (even if they don’t listen to it)? A friend who irritates them? A friend who was a lover? A story needs a range of types, a diversity of types, even if they’re just small roles. A cameo is often enough. It’s important to bring the unexpected into your story, the character that even you weren’t planning to put there. Make the story a challenge for yourself, too. Make the story something you don’t quite know how to deal with, don’t quite know how it will pan out. But keep planning. Then releasing yourself into it. Planning, then releasing.

Draw maps of your story. Orient yourself in it, then let go. If you see an alleyway that you fancy, go down it, because once you know the lay of the land around you, you know where you have to come back to, you know in which direction the main thoroughfare is and at some point soon you’ll be back on it. How many of these sidestreets should you follow, and if there’s a flight of stairs going down, leading to something – a bar? A drinking den? a secret something or other – should you follow that? And what if there’s some big fight going on down there, or a late-night jazz jam session? Should you follow that? Follow it and see where it takes you and it might or might not be a dead end, but if the entrance appears to you, it’s your job to follow it and see what happens. You can always get back onto the main thoroughfare. And maybe there’s a stairway going up, too, and you can get onto the roof and see what the world of your story looks like from that perspective. That view might be important to your story.

Write and write and write, then take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Accept guidance or an outsider’s eye, listen to ways of opening up your story. There might be doors and alleyways you haven’t noticed – doors that are often staring at us, a sentence that wants to keep going, an emotion that wants to be explored, a view that wants to be seen in greater details. How do we learn to open those places up, to open the story. It’s about following the story. Often the clues are there before us in the story and we don’t trust ourselves, or are too controlling, too committed to the belief that we must be in command of the story, that the story goes where we tell it to go. Trust your intuition, follow the tangent; often, that’s where the treasure lies. When there’s something you actively don’t want to write about, or resist writing about, that’s the thing that you need to write, maybe not for itself, but for what’s hiding behind it.

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