Saturday, 11 September 2010

Keeping the Story on the Right Track

I met a pilot recently, and he told me that planes don't travel in straight lines. You may think the journey from, say, London to Paris is a direct one, but actually it isn't. The pilot sets the course and they start, but soon the plane is wandering from the true course and the direction has to be corrected. Then it wanders again, and again is corrected. We may think we've travelled in a straight line, but in reality we've zigzagged across the Channel like this:

London /\/\/\/\/\/\ Paris

I thought it was a good metaphor for writing: A series of adjustments and corrections on the way to a finished piece of work.

It does of course help if you know where your final destination is. For a short story I would say it is essential because there isn't the space to make long deviations from the direct line, but a novel can be written without knowing the exact final destination, so long as you know roughly where you're heading.

So, as a writer/pilot, your job is to keep an eye on the final destination as you write, always nudging the story back towards it but being quite relaxed about not actually travelling in a straight line. Sometimes the adjustments and corrections are huge (I speak as one in mourning for 20,000 words just cut), but so long as we get there in the end, who will ever know? Only the pilot.


badas2010 said...

That's a really good analogy - makes sense of doubts and detours - you'll get there in the end.
A bit like a drunk wandering all over the pavement but still arriving at home eventually!

Sarah Duncan said...

I think the drunk on his/her way home is more fun than pilots though.