cut it out
February 4, 2014 6 Comments
Yeah, three things about this little piece of advice from Joss Whedon.
1. Whedon is an impeccable writer. He consistently delivers compelling stories involving complex, real characters. In other words, if he suggests that something might be helpful when it comes to your own stories, he’s worth listening to.
2. His advice above is painful. Agonizingly so. If you’ve been writing for very long, you’ve either refused to do what he suggests, in which case your writing has suffered for it, or you’ve already experienced the pain of losing that perfect line. That character you really, really liked. That plot twist you wanted so badly to introduce, even though it messed with the continuity of the rest of the story.
If I’ve learned anything in my time writing (and note, I’m not claiming I’ve learned it all. Hardly. But maybe few things…), I’ve learned that the story has a will of its own. At least, my stories do. When I surrender to the story’s will and allow it to tell itself through me, the results are always better than if I dig in my heels and insist that I will not change this or that. I know that sounds kind of weird, the idea of the story speaking through me as if it’s a thing in its own right, but I think it is. My job is to help it onto the page, not jam it into some square-shaped hole I think it should fill when it’s clearly a circle.
3. When we’re stuck, more often then not, we got ourselves stuck. We’ve latched on to something–something we like so much we say stupid things like, “Well, I’m not changing that!” Listen, if the strength of your entire story hinges on a single element, it ain’t all that strong. And if you’re stuck, taking out the piece you’re most in love with may well unstick you.
Worst case scenario, you can always put that piece back in.
So when you find yourself flailing, failing to find words, and brought to an abrupt and uncomfortable halt in your story, try cutting out the thing you like most about it. See what rises up to take its place. More often than not, that act alone will propel the story on, taking it to newer, braver, more interesting places than you could have possibly imagined before.