Saturday, June 25, 2011

Full Spectrum Story

Whenever I'm away from home I carry my camera in my purse, just in case I see something I want to shoot (in the good way.) Experience has taught me that you never know when something interesting is going to cross your path.

This unretouched shot here is one I took while I was sitting in a diner have breakfast with my guy and our kid. I looked up at a shiny glass surface, but instead of seeing my own face I saw this. Now, while there are (cough) always rainbows in my heart, generally I don't see them in mirrored objects. I was seeing it because I was sitting in just the right place at precisely the correct moment; the sun and certain properties of light did the rest (and if you want to know what I was looking at, keep reading.)

The image made me think of writing, naturally, because of course everything is about writing. Story is like the reverse of refracting light, in that the creation of it begins with a wide spectrum of elements -- characters, plot, dialogue, action, setting, time period -- which through the prism of the writer's storytelling hopefully all blend back together into a single, dazzling read.

It would be nice to play God with a novel and only have to say "Let there be light," but as any writer will tell you there's a lot more work involved in it for us. I'd say the most difficult part of making this happen for the writer is being too close to see beyond the spectrum of elements. Occupational hazard, I think; we have to be so detail-oriented when we're working that we can be blinded by the dispersion. This juggling act we do often results in an uneven execution that affects the whole story.

Fortunately we have the editing phase, when hopefully we can back off enough to see all the elements, not just what we were so zeroed in on at the time of creation.

Every book you write has its own set of challenges. With the one I just finished I was fully immersed in four of the characters: my two protagonists and two central secondary characters. This quartet had strong, distinct personalities, and the story issues they had to deal with were so interwoven even one misstep could have turned into a big ball of tangled plot yarn. An added problem was with one who decided to give me nothing but grief whenever she was on the page; at one point I was so frustrated I actually killed her to shut her up. Which of course I went back and rewrote as soon as I cooled off enough to do the daily edit.

My daily edits are what really prevented the book from being all character and no story, and also saved me from having to do a massive rewrite or a total manuscript toss-out. I knew I was focusing too much on the characters, so at the end of each day I made myself stop obsessing about them and take a hard look at the other elements in the scene. In the beginning of the book I saw that I was rushing through or skipping things that needed to be there so I could get the characters on the page and transcribe all this great dialogue in my head. By the middle of the book, I was remembering this while I was writing new material, and correcting myself in the process of getting the story down. The last half of the book went much smoother, and what I produced was much more balanced and needed far fewer rewrites.

Every writer has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and unless you're a cookie cutter writer every story will bring these together in different ways. Your challenge is to find the correct combination of elements and focus that produces that single dazzling result.

I found this wallpaper while I was hunting for spectrum images, and I think I'm going to put it into my desktop background file for when I start my next novel. Seeing this every morning will be an excellent reminder to mind the details, but also keep my eye on the full spectrum of the story.

Spectrum Colors image via 3D Wallpapers


  1. Wow! I want that on my desktop, too, especially as a reminder of what you've discussed. i am revising my third novel right now, and I was so caught up with characters in the first one that I completely neglected plot--and now I am tossing out 2/3 of the book! Ugh!

    Beautiful wallpaper.

  2. Thanks for the link to the wallpaper! And for the insightful post, will help me as I begin yet another revision.

  3. Is the wallpaper at the bottom of this post free use? Where did you get it?

    Thank you!

    1. The link directly below the image is where I found it, Katie. I believe it's free for personal use, but it's best to check the current terms at the web site.


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