On Writing

Switchbacks and Writing

October 5, 2013

When my husband and I joined a tour group to travel through Norway a few years ago, our group was fortunate enough to stay at the beautifully situated Stalheim Hotel. The Stalheim overlooks the Nærøy Valley – and offers a breathtaking view.

Memorable as that view was, the road to the Stalheim was just as memorable. The bus that took us up the mountain to the hotel with its wonderful view is one of the steepest in Northern Europe.

It  features 13 “switchbacks,” or hairpin bends. Here’s a photo of a similar, though less steep, switchback road in Norway:

Kvassdalen Switchback Road - Norway

Kvassdalen Switchback Road – Norway

Working on my current novel sometimes makes me think of the road to the Stalheim.

For me, the equivalent of those switchbacks, in writing, are my planning aids – the one-sheet, the two- or three-page synopsis, the beat sheet, and the outline. I’ve written about these in various previous posts. As I’m writing the first draft of my current novel, I find that having these plot outlines handy keeps me focused on staying true to the overall shape of my story.

As I dive into a story and let my characters come to life in the first draft, I sometimes stop and think: Is this conversation or interaction or conflict – interesting as it is – tied into the larger picture? 

That’s where those planning aids come in in handy; I refer to them. If I find my story is veering off track, I switch it back; I make sure the scene and the characters behave in alignment with story logic. It’s okay to let your characters take on a life of their own, but at some point their thoughts and actions need to get them back on the road to journey’s end.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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