He did a masterful job of taping off the project area and carefully applying the dark turquoise grout. Gently removing the taped plastic from the edge of his working area he moved on to the next section, content with the first finished block of tiles.
And that’s when he saw it.
Either the grout was too runny and seeped under the taped edge, or the edge of the tape picked up the colored mud and smeared the painted wall as the protective drape pulled away.
Oh, no! He’d spent hours sanding and painting that wall. Not just one coat, like a developer or construction crew would apply. A thick coat of primer topped by two rich coats of the subtle sunshine-on-white paint that now boasted a smear of blue-green. Now he must sand, prime and repaint an entire section of the wall.
And guess what? You’re that handyman who’s spent hours taping the surrounding walls and countertops before beginning a tiling project. Up close and personal with that wall, squinting at each tiny channel between the miniature tiles, you fill them with a sure hand. You select a delicate hand-sized float to move the grout around, sliding it gently, diagonally across the field of glass tile, pressing minute amounts of fill into spaces as slender as the lead point of a pencil. A cheerful whistle escapes your lips as you clean the film of grout from the surface of shining tiles. Finally you remove the protective covering around the project and heave a sigh of pleasure for a job well-done.
Only then do you realize you’ve created a mess on or in your previous work. Your freshly painted wall is marred, but you didn’t see it happening until it was too late to save yourself more labor.
It’s like writing a story without checking where we are and where we’re heading. When we write so fiercely that we don’t pay attention to the premises we laid out for our story. We’re so in the flow of the words that we fail to realize they’re leading us off in a direction we never intended to travel. And once we reach the end of our writing frenzy, and look behind us, we realize we’ve created a gaping hole in our plot. Which we now have to go back and fix. Or start again from the beginning with the new plot.
It’s a real temptation, when the words are flowing like warm syrup, to just keep going without regard to the next building block of your story. We’d rather waltz right past the crisis we created for the main character and follow this new character who appeared, demanding our attention. Before we know it, Main Character Guy is lost in the dangerous situation in which we abandoned him, never to see resolution of his story line. New Character Guy has hijacked our story of redemption and twisted it into a thriller with no connection to our synopsis.
Hard as it is at times, we must stay aware of the direction our story is travelling. While it may be exciting to just keep on writing and see where our characters lead us, editors want to see the story that inspired their interest. Journey too far from that concept and we lose their interest and trust.
So, like our handyman, we have to pause at each main intersection in our story structure and make sure we’re not destroying the work we’ve accomplished. Take a look back at the crisis into which you just dumped your character, a glance forward to the revelation or resolution you detailed in your synopsis or outline. When you’re certain you can keep heading forward without a critical change to the core of the story, set off on your writing journey once more.
Write and analyze. Write and analyze. That mantra will lead to “Write and Publish.”
Have you ever reached the end of a manuscript only to discover you hadn’t written the story you promised your agent or editor? How do you keep track of the scope and direction of your story? Share your ideas in the comments.