Bruce Robert Coffin here, wishing all of you who follow the Maine Crime Writers the very best that March has to offer.
The other day I was typing away on my current work in progress when Robert Frost popped into my head. You know, the poet. Actually, it might be more accurate to say his poem The Road Less Traveled popped into my head. I had come to a point in the novel where I had to make a choice about which way to take the story and Robert’s words rang out as if he were reading them aloud.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I can’t help but wonder if Frost was using his stroll through the yellow woods as a metaphor for writing. After all, writing a novel, regardless of genre, is all about choices. All writers struggle with those key points in a story. Should I take it this way? Or should I tell this scene from the viewpoint of a different character? These decisions can make you crazy, but they are important and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
When writing or plotting a novel the decisions made by the author at each of these crossroads will directly impact how the reader interprets the story, and perhaps whether they end up loving or hating it.
One of my favorite comedy movies about writing is based upon the book Funny Farm written by novelist Jay Cronley. The film is about a big city sportswriter named Andy Farmer who quits his job and goes to live in the country where he will write the great American novel. A cliché, right? —Ask me sometime about the detective sergeant who left after three decades in police work to become a novelist.
There is one hilarious bit in the movie where the furniture movers, hired by the Farmers, are lost and unable to find the town of Redbud. The driver stops in front of a farmhouse, where a man is sitting on the porch counting eggs, and says, “Hey Mac, can you tell me how to get to Redbud?” The farmer responds, “How’d you know my name is Mac?” The driver replies, “I just guessed.” Finally, the farmer ends their brief interaction by saying, “Well, then why don’t you guess your way to Redbud.”
The point of me telling you this is that writing fiction is all about guessing your way to Redbud. In our heads we imagine a great starting point for our stories on this side of the mountain. And maybe on the other side of this formidable barrier, representing our novel, is an exciting and completely satisfying conclusion. How we get there is entirely up to us as writers. We have unlimited options depending upon the pacing or build up we are looking to achieve. We can race up the mountain building momentum for the thrilling ride that will whisk us, and the readers, downhill screaming and grabbing for handholds to what is waiting on the other side. Or we can take a long slow circuitous route with switchbacks savoring every moment of the journey. It’s all about choices.
I hope you enjoyed this peek inside my writerly head. For those of you who consider yourselves strictly readers, you should now have a better understanding of what we writers wrestle with when trying to give you the best story possible. To the rest of you who sit day after day, fingers poised above the keyboard, nose pressed to the screen, trying to figure out how to get over the mountain, I wish you all the best in guessing your way to Redbud.
Until next month, write on!