Monday, March 31, 2008

Playing When We Write

How often do you play when you’re writing? How often do you let yourself remember the sheer joy of playing make believe as a child—and then extend it to your writing?

Last week I suggested playing “what if” with our lives. If you’re a writer, you know it’s an invaluable tool when planning a book. How often, though, do we put limits on how far we will push “what if”--especially if someone has reacted negatively and said: You can’t do that in a _________ book?

We need to be aware, of course, of reader expectations. And it’s useful—if we can—to fit what we’re writing into what editors are looking for. At the same time, some of the most memorable books have been those that broke the rules.

So the question becomes: How do we balance what expectations are with the vision we have for our own work?

My personal bias is to let there be no limits IN THE FIRST DRAFT of our project. Let our imaginations have full rein and see where the story goes. Then we can step back and look at whether or not what we have will work and what changes we might want and need to make.

I know there are some brilliant authors out there whose first draft is essentially ready to go to an editor. For most of us though, we’re going to be making revisions anyway. Why not see where our imagination takes us? If you are one of those writers who writes an essentially single draft book, then at least in the planning stage, before you start to write, let your imagination soar. You might think of things that will enrich your story immensely.

The key in taking such risks, I believe, is understanding the TRUE reader expectations—and finding a way to meet them. This isn’t necessarily just the stated conventions of the genre. It’s also about the EMOTIONAL payoff the reader wants to get from the book.

The other key is knowing what matters most to YOU about what you’re writing. Perhaps tweaking how you use certain elements will allow your story to fit the market a little better.

There are risks to writing outside the box but how will we discover the possible rewards if we don’t try?