The Benefits of Being Painted Into a Corner
As a reader, I love to see how the characters are going to get out of difficult situations. When the odds are stacked against the hero, and escape appears impossible, those are the moments where creativity pays off. The process of going through the adventure, getting stuck, and then emerging victorious, provides great satisfaction. But what about authors that paint themselves into a corner? (Yes, I’m looking right back at myself.)
My own creative process actually requires that I paint myself into corners. What do I mean by that?
Creativity is rearranging the pieces you have into something different. I have learned that the more outlandish or strange-looking the piece, the greater impact it can have creatively. Here is how I lay out a story:
- Determine which character is the hero (who is this story about?)
- Determine the struggle (what is this story about?)
- Make a list of chapter titles (the wackier, the better)
- Create an outline with actions based on the chapter titles describing the scenes
- Start writing (the first draft is always the messiest, but you have to sketch lines to see the final picture)
So how does this paint me into a corner? Some of the chapter titles are pretty far out in this brainstorming and outlining stage. Rarely do these chapter titles make the final cut, but they are essential to creating the setting, the scene conflict, and the character arc. A few titles from my original brainstorming for The Witch Queens drove the direction of the story, even before I knew where the story was going.
- Among the Crimson Peacocks
- What the Flying Fish Knew
- The Destiny of King Oz
- The Twisted Lighthouse
- Arrival of the Wizard
By taking these titles on the page as dots, I had to connect them in a way that created a meaningful picture. The story is better for it.
Picking fights with your stories
On a more recent note, last night, I did some calculations with the passage of time in my stories. I found a conundrum that stumped me good. I thought that this event would require a big hand wave to make it disappear. However, the more I thought on it, the more I came to believe that the story had something else to tell me. This supposed error, as I thought, is actually essential to the larger story arc.
By painting myself into a corner, and discovering an unpleasant fact that cannot be explained away, I had to find a way to make it work. That exercise of creativity makes the story better.
I picked a fight, and I lost — at least for a little while. I had to work and struggle against the cold, hard facts, until I realized that by me losing, and me realizing it, the story actually wins.
Advice to writers
My advice for writers of all stripes is to find ways to paint yourself into a corner. Remove all easy solutions for your characters. Make the story tell you what it wants to say. The resulting creative solution will present itself after you put in the blood, sweat, and tears, and the story will be better for it.