Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Outta Philly

A few weeks ago I caught Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (PS – fabulous). Around midnight, after returning my brother to his roost in Center City, I cranked up the GPS, plugged an address in, hoping for the most direct, shortest route out. My mother and I pulled off of Broad Street, took a few turns, and ended up

in the Hood.

While I’m not some naïve Shrimp Harvest Queen out in the big city for the first time, I do tend to bask in the familiarity of suburb-o-zone. Soooo indubitably my anxiety level soared off the charts. The GPS directed me through every shady aspect of downtown Philadelphia as a gazillion thoughts flooded my brain.

Did that guy really just run out in front of my car?

I’m going to get shot.

Ohmygosh, I just ran a red light—with a cop behind me.

And I wondered—Should I have plotted out my journey step-by-step before hand with a roadmap? Or called someone to guide me through a safer route? And why do I rely so much on this piece-of-crap GPS?

The whole experience got me thinking about the paths we take as writers—specifically in writing a novel. I mean, there’s lots of information out there about the writing process, but does there exist one magic formula to story-plotting? Do you outline every minute detail, storyboard only major events, or forge ahead with no direction whatsoever?

For me, I do a little of everything.

In writing my first novel I outlined my adventure, then dove hands-first into the story. Images played through my head like a movie, sometimes so fast I couldn’t peck it into my computer fast enough. When I finished four months later, I revisited my original outline—nothing like I planned yet I still concluded with the same ending. And I liked what I did so much better. Weird.

My next two stories—the ending was never in my head. Cognizant of several major events, I forged ahead, outlined chapters five at a time, not really sure how things would end up—until I got there. A new story I wish to start on in September—the beginning, end, and most of the major events have calcified themselves into that special place I’ve reserved for it in my mind.


Being a math teacher, I strive for that generalized formula that works for ev-ery-thing, but I also know that in teaching students—what works for one, will not produce the same results in the next. Same thing applies to writers. And to our stories. We all have different journeys, various ways to achieve the end result. Sometimes we utilize a specific road map, let our pre-plotted outline transport us the entire way. Sometimes we just close our eyes and allow the mind to wander on its own fantastical voyage.

And sometimes we rely on outside sources—searching for that GPS formula that should carry us to our destination with no troubles whatsoever—many times arriving us unscathed, but sometimes transporting us through rough spots before illuminating the light at the end of the tunnel.

And while there’s no abracadabra road map to writing (and sometimes I wish there was), it is all about the climb (thanks, Miley). Granted I’ve hit the ghetto many times, but I also grew as a writer through any muck my story took me through.

See—the Hood ain’t so bad, yo.

After all, my experience did inspire one funky blog post.

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