Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Letting the Story Marinate

I am an analogy fiend. I pretty much think in pictures, and I relate to things by finding similar things I can compare the new thing to in my head. So forgive me if I use a lot of analogies … they work for me.

So anyway, I’m working on a new project, but I really have several WIPs on the table, because of my style of writing. I’m what Mark Twain called a Tank-Filler, meaning that I have to give myself time to let the creative tank fill up sometimes, even in the middle of a project. It’s terribly inconvenient for a deadline. So I try to start working on projects far in advance. Or rather, I marinate them.

If you’ve ever grilled steak, you probably marinated it first. You pull it out of the fridge, put it in a dish, pour the marinade over the meat, cover it with foil, and put it back in the fridge. It may not look like you’ve started cooking yet, and technically you haven’t, but this is an important part of the process.

When I have an idea, I pull it out, ruminate on it, figure out the characters, plot the story, etc. Sometimes I even write 3-5 chapters of the beginning, just to get a feel for the characters and the setting. But this is all prep work. I do all this stuff, and then I put it back for a while in the “fridge.” Because inevitably, I’ll have an even better idea for some key plot point a few days or weeks or even months later, and then I get the click and THEN I can really start. Because once I have the click, I have the voice, and the theme, and the emotional resonance.

I used to just start writing as soon as I had a good idea, and I would just try to muscle through the story whether I knew what I was doing with voice/theme/etc or not. This generally led to me throwing out large chunks of story and starting over. (I still have to do that sometimes, mind you, whether I wait for the story to marinate or not. It isn’t a magic bullet.)

But it’s good (for me, at least) to let the stories marinate awhile too. The best part is that I can do that while writing something else.

Multitasking! *jazz hands*

Do you let stories marinate? Or do you charge into them right away, as soon as you have the idea? What works better for YOU?


  1. I agree with your marinating approach. A good idea is not a complete story...it's about a third of a story at best :) Working out the rest takes time, and you can't force those parts to come to you. Great post!

  2. @ Rachel

    "You can't force those parts to come to you."

    So true. I think that's what a lot of writer's block, at least for me, ends up being. I'm trying to force creativity. I've learned to work on something else instead while waiting to tank up again, and then I'm able to get back to work.

  3. yuppers. i HAVE to marinate. but i must be a weird chef, because sometimes i have to pull my wip off the grill and shove it back into the marinade for a while...

  4. @ Vic

    Haha! Yeah, I've done the same. Sort of a oops-you-aren't-ready-to-cook-yet thing.


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