Archive for March 18th, 2013

March 18, 2013

For the best stories, dig deep


One of my favorite games in life is trying to find life lessons in the world around me. They’re everywhere.

I’ve learned from writing about the Bakken area of North Dakota that there’s oil, and then there’s oil–which, when I apply it to my writing life, really means there’s writing, and then there’s really great, can’t-put-it-down, can’t-wait-to-read-it-writing. For me, this includes both fiction and nonfiction.

It takes a lot of work to get Bakken oil out of the ground. The wells are deep. They’re drilled vertically to about two miles from the surface, and then they’re turned and drilled laterally for up to another two miles or so before the formation is fractured.

To me, that’s what good writing is like. You have to dig deep–way beyond the surface of the story. You have to go beyond the normal depths, twist with the story, dig sideways and up and down within the story’s formation and plot even if it hurts. You dig deep.

Then, when you know your story and your place in it and where everything seems to fit best, you crack it open.

In a horizontal well, the hydraulic fracturing process opens up tiny cracks in the rock that allows the oil trapped there to move into the well bore.

When you’re writing, this is like taking an even deeper look at your scenes, your dialogue, your action sequences, and your characterization. You crack them open, ask yourself what details are missing, what’s simply too much, what else will add to the story–and then, you let the story flow like oil into a well bore.

One of the really great things about Bakken oil is how little refining it needs compared to oil from other formations around the country. I suppose if you do it right, if you really know your story, crack it open and let it flow, the refining process for editing and rewrites could be simplified, too.

Most likely I’m reading too much into this. I do that sometimes–but I can’t help thinking that the best things I’ve written personally have been pieces where I’ve known the story inside and out, even when not all of the details appear in the finished product. This is something I’ve learned gradually over the past few years, and it’s not something I have a great handle on yet,even though it makes complete sense to me. It’s something to work on.

Romance author Carrie Spencer recently posted on Word Play on a similar topic. I loved her ideas. She wrote about how, in her first book, she chose the plot and characters and went with the first careers, settings, etc. that occurred to her. Since then, she’s discovered that plots and characters become more unique, more interesting if writers don’t use the first idea that pops up. She recommends taking an option further down the list and working with that. She wrote:

You can play this game with all parts of your story. Use it to turn your setting from blah to ta-da. Turn your hero from a boring man in a beautiful suit to someone who has pizzazz and personality. Take your heroine from a beautiful woman who owns a hotel to one who has multiple secrets about her past and is on the edge of disaster.

It also reminded me of something Rachel Aaron wrote in 2,000 to 10,000: How to write faster, write better and write more of what you love. As a way to up her writing productivity, she began detailed plotting lists of what she meant to write before she began her writing sessions, with terrific results. Sounds like cracking a story open, to me! I appreciate people who write about these kinds of experiences and allow me to learn from them.

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