Writing paths


I wrote myself onto a cliff. It’s something that most writers do when creating a story. A writer’s job is to start down a path, sometimes with a destination in mind, and then veer when the path becomes too well marked. We don’t want to create stories that so obviously follow a straight line that they’re safe and boring. When the reader’s onto the story, when it looks like the book has a definite course it must follow, a writer should consider changing paths.

The problem with jumping off the trail is that some jumps simply get both the writer and reader lost in the woods. Leaving the path doesn’t necessarily mean more mystery—more complexity, intrigue, and adventure. It could mean a dead end, a cliff that leaves a story with no option but to turn back.

I like to think of the story path as a series of paths–all parallel to the same destination–some paths more worn than others. The goal is not so much to wander in the woods, but to vary the scenery, to wander onto one of these parallel paths when the view from one risks becoming too boring, when the footprints of previous hikers become too clear.

My particular cliff came about as I saw my destination approaching too quickly. So I jumped into the woods, said “no” when I should have said “yes,” and found a dead end. The cliff stopped me from writing for a couple days. I even thought about jumping off.

But, I backtracked and found my departure point. I kept to my original path for a few more steps until I found a better place to leave my trail. I’m sure I’m going in the same general direction, but this change of scenery was the right one.

I’ll follow this path for a while and see where it leads. Just ahead of me, I see a bend in the trail. I wonder what’s waiting around the corner. The journey continues this-a-way . . . for now.

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