Strands

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One particularly bothersome aspect of novel writing is what I call a “strand.” A strand is a gadfly. A mosquito that refuses to go away. A bee that occasionally buzzes too close OR it could be that wondrous ray of sun light that illuminates everything then suddenly disappears.

 You are moving along. You have your plot outlined. You have copious notes in another file—very handy. Your characters are well defined. They have names. You have pictures of them. (Something I’ve never done, but I love the idea.) You have a meaningful sub plot. You’ve done the research. You’re writing five hundred words a day. But then, the strands make themselves known to you—often in strange places.

One night you wake up or just before you take that second sip of coffee the next morning or when you’re walking down the pet food aisle at Kroger wondering what snack you wanted to purchase for puppy—the scene comes to mind.

Your protagonist, Suzie, has driven to her ex-husband’s house. His name is Joe. They’ve been divorced for five years, now they’re good friends. Suzie is returning a book. Joe’s dog, Spot, gallops out to meet her. He wags his tail and barks once or twice. A startled redbird flies up into the cedar trees. Suzie goes to the door and knocks. Joe doesn’t come to the door—a young lady does. She is wearing Joe’s pajamas. Pajamas that Suzie recognizes—because she bought them years ago. The girl is slim, pretty. She laughs and flounces away to get “Joey.” Her youthful derriere jiggles as she walks.

This scene in your novel should not include the girlfriend. Or should it? The girlfriend is a strand. She could be there. She keeps cropping up, as it were. Who is she? She keeps getting in the way. Why is that? And later, there’s another strand…the neighbor who…what is it he does? He grins and waves. He has a tattoo on his neck, a lizard or a snake, something. He’s sitting in his car staring at Suzie. What’s that about?

Where are you going with that strand? Should you delete it? It’s not in your plot outline. Neither is the girlfriend. They’re not in the outline—the one you worked on for hours, days, weeks. But the tattooed neighbor shows up again in the novel. What page was that? That damned magazine article said if you have a PLOT OUTLINE this shit wouldn’t happen! So, so, so.

New re-writes don’t always help. They create more strands. Different strands. Like a fishing line that’s hopelessly tangled. You pull and pull and pull but the loopy strands just keep coming, keep getting stuck, creating more strands. It’s all confused. But, they could be important. It could be that ONE strand, if you pull it enough—slowly, cautiously, tease it out, then suddenly, the knot unravels, and everything makes sense.

Outside the window of my study, I see yellow leaves on the sweet gum tree. The sky is blue. Cody, lying by my chair, is asleep on the floor, snoring. The clock on book case is ticking, ticking, ticking. These things are disconnected, and yet, they all make sense. They all belong.

Any and all comments are welcome!

 

23 thoughts on “Strands

  1. daleydowning

    SO understand all of this.

    Strands don’t necessarily have to hit the chopping block immediately. I think it makes sense to ride them out for a little while – some of my best ideas for tying plot holes together started out as strands.

    But if it’s been, say, 50 pages, and the strand still equals “what the hell?”, I’d say just scrap it without guilt or remorse.

    Liked by 4 people

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    1. Paul Post author

      I think so. At some point the decision has to be made to either go with it or send it to the trash can. Now often if it’s something I really like I’ll save it in a “idea” folder. Maybe never look at it again, but hey, who knows?

      Thanks for reading and the wonderful response.

      Liked by 3 people

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      1. Paul Post author

        It really does work and the beauty of it is once you’ve pasted something in to that folder, whether it’s a free-floating idea or a passage you’ve cut from a WIP, you know it’s always there.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul Post author

      Good advice. Usually a hands off approach can work. Simply have patience and at the end of the day–take stock and go from there!

      Thanks for reading and sharing.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  2. Sha'Tara

    Strands or strays? Fun topic. How many remember riding to school on a rural school bus? At the beginning you hardly know anybody, then you get to know most people on the bus: they are your story. You get on, they’re comfortable, safe, you ride along with them. But once in a while a house on the route sells, new people move in, a new kid, or new kids get on the bus. They’re not part of your bus routine story, or not yet. These strangers who have no choice but to “insinuate” themselves into your comfortable story, they are your strands. Do you kick them off the bus, or do you integrate them into your bus routine, get to know them, maybe learn new things from their home life, or the homestead they left? A writer is a creator. What’s a creator? Not someone who hears all, sees all, knows all and is omnipotent – let’s leave that for the religious folks. A creator is someone who stands in the cosmic slipstream and “fishes” for items that s/he can weave into a story. A creator knows, of course, that once a story is engaged… it will never end. It may be stopped (as in writing a novel, for example, or it’s been six days and you say in a tired voice, I need a break: the seventh day is mine and I’m pulling back from the slip stream. I may even decide not to write another book, another story. My choice, I’m the creator. You know that in the beginning, it all began with strands and you know of course, that strands attract more strands, i.e., more strays. I write mostly short stories because I am too lazy to build a larger house for strangers who may invite themselves in for a meal, a bed for the night… or try to stay on the farm. If they stay I’ll have to find something for them to do, won’t I? Ah, well, nuff’ said, yes? 🙂

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  3. Paul Post author

    Great reply. Thank you so much. I hadn’t thought of the idea of “strays.” It’s a very interesting concept. I’m also like the idea of a creative continuum. It is fascinating how ideas, strands and strays, move in and out of our lives, even as we float along the stream. Thank you Sha’Tara. Your ideas are always refreshing and most welcome.

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Woebegone but Hopeful

    One day I will stick to a plot outline and the words will flow smoothly.
    So that’s what they are!… ‘Strands’1
    My work is usually a collection of strands; folk and circumstances drift in and out. Some insist in staying around. Major characters have their own ideas how things should go. Yes things do get deleted or re-worked, usually vital parts of the plot because The Strands have decided they must have their say.
    Thanks for identifying them for me.

    Liked by 2 people

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  5. michnavs

    I honestly haven’t written a story myself..over the years i can write instant poetries and feature stories but never a story.. i would always begin very strong then i get lost somewhere..then i would end up not knowing what to do…

    This a great help to my quest for writing my first story..

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Paul Post author

      Your comment has made my morning even nicer! I think the creative process is at times so convoluted, complicated, a tangle of ideas and emotions, but patience, work, and time usually resolves all of those issues. So keep at it! Your poetry is terrific.

      There’s a short poem by African American poet, Robert Haydon, that I have always kept in mind, “For a Young Artist.” The poem is based on a short story by Gabriel Marquez, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” If you can get hold of Hayden’s poem, (it’s included in a slim volume of his poetry, “Angle of Ascent”),I think it would speak to you quite powerfully.

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. Karina Pinella

    Let the strand land where they may for the time being. They’re like little distractions because you might have lost some interest in what you’re writing about. However, since you haven’t finished yet, just continue writing and edit them out or revise them to fit in the story once you’ve completed your writing project. It’s part of the stream of consciousness of writing. Let the strands be and look at them closer after you’ve seen the big picture of your finished story. At that point, it will make sense to you whether they stay or go. Or, they might even spin off to a different story altogether, so save those strands that could be potential gems.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Millie Ho

    I started tucking these strands in different Word docs. Then I do some exploratory writing to see if any of the strands have legs. If not, I delete them or set them aside for other stories. If they look promising, I add them to the story where appropriate. It’s not always so clearcut, though. Most of the time I find myself going back and forth between keeping or removing strands from my WIP novel, but I’ll get better at this the more I write. I might start imposing constraints on my stories. For example, I could tell myself I can only have X number of characters in the story. Constraints sometimes improve creativity.

    Really thought-provoking post, Paul!

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. tomrains

    I’m the type that keeps all my strands – I’m scared of throwing anything away that could inspire me later – just have to make sure the strands don’t turn into irrelevant subplots!

    Like

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  9. robynelliot

    Ah the joys of writing! Cody has the right idea. Speaking of Cody, we could do with some new pics!! A strand is another name for the next book! I share your pain, Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Paul Post author

      I think that’s a good idea! Sorry for being so long in getting back to you. we’re in Japan right now…I’m about to send a post out with pictures. Thanks, as always for the great feed back.

      Like

      Reply

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