Play a Little
JOHN TRUBY, IN HIS BOOK The Anatomy of Story, defines a story in this way: “A speaker tells a listener what someone did to get what he wanted and why.” But I what I really love is what Truby writes just after that: “The storyteller is first and foremost someone who plays.”
Let’s face it: the beginning is the fun part. Dreaming up characters and what they do and what life does to them, and the consequences thereof, and how they are changed afterward. However, writing all this down in narrative form can sometimes begin to take the fun out of it. Your job is to find characters and a story that will engage you, the writer, for a very long time —for as long as it takes to write your book.
This doesn’t mean that you will always be jumping at the bit to write the next scene. Unfortunately, there will probably be many times when you feel stuck, when you don’t like what you’ve written, or when the end seems so far off and so unseeable that you want to give up on the whole thing. But if you start out with characters and a story that matter to you, which you love to think about, and which have the potential to surprise you, then you will be able to work your way through the discouraging times. And when you do, you’ll be rewarded with new sparks of interest and excitement.
Never let go of your sense of play, even when you’re on your third or fourth or fifth draft and you think you’ve got the plotline and the character development down pat. The sense of play is what keeps our work fresh. I think exercises and writing prompts can be good vehicles to allow ourselves to play, so I try to start every day with a writing prompt, even when I’m knee-deep in revisions.
If nothing else, a writing prompt helps me move into the writing zone—there’s no pressure; I may not use it; it’s just for fun. I can forget the breakfast dishes I ought to do and the phone call I ought to make (there are so many good reasons not to sit down to write). No need to check email first. No need to look at the headlines. Just write. Play for ten minutes. Find a prompt (I put one up every day on twitter, search for #10minprompt), and write for ten minutes without stopping. Then you can get back to work.
Writing Prompt: I could see him through the window, and I wondered …