Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Seeding the Writer's Garden

May 1st is when I start to plant my garden, so it’s natural to think about seeds. (Okay, maybe it’s only a theoretical garden, but every year I have big plans.) This spring I’ve been thinking about another kind of seed too, the ones we plant as writers. 

I really hate it when a writer tells me something I already know, something I’ve figured out on my own from reading the story. One of the jobs of the writer is to be constantly seeding the manuscript with truths about the protagonist, so that when the reader gets to a big reveal, a crisis, or a climax, and the protagonist reacts in a certain way, the reader says, of course, she wouldn’t have acted differently.

Now I’m not talking about predictability. In real life people surprise us all the time. We think, I didn’t see that coming. And I really like surprises. But even in the unpredictable response, there should be a seed of truth we recognize. I started thinking about this when Sci-Fi guy said, “You would rather show than tell.  That's where a preceding event comes into play.  You establish her humanity early, then all she needs to do is make that decision and we get it.” In my case, the protag drops a stone rather than throwing it at a really bad guy. I didn’t want a sentence to follow that stone drop. I wanted the reader to think, of course that’s what she’d do and I know why.
And that’s where seeding comes in. If we seed enough clues, early in the story, we can harvest them at critical moments without having to explain a character’s response, without having to tell. But that implies we know our characters well enough to know how they will respond in crucial moments. We don’t want to plant seeds of peppery arugula when we really want butter lettuce to sprout. It also implies we trust our readers to be smart and get it. We writers often forget just how smart our readers are.

So my take away is that even from the very first chapter I need to start sowing seeds. I need to know what some of the crises will be and how I want my protag to respond when she gets there. I need to make sure I’m always planting.

1 comment:

Sechin Tower said...

I often think of it in exactly the same way.

I know that some writers just start at the beginning and keep writing until the end, but that's not me. I never really know the beginning until I've written the whole thing through, kind of the same way a gardener needs to plan out what's going to grow where before they plant.