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The Story JarBy workshop alumna and author Jodi Meadows
Workshop alum Jodi Meadows, author of the Newsoul Trilogy (Incarnate, Asunder, Infinate), sees metaphors for writing everywhere:
First, go read this story: http://www.robinsweb.com/inspiration/rocks.html
I'm sure a lot of you have seen this little story before (I think I've seen it a billion times on Facebook), and I like it. It's a nice story. But after a while . . . I started thinking about it as a metaphor for actual stories, too. (Because everything relates to writing.) It works for approaching a manuscript from start to finish, and focusing from big to little.
First, get the rocks into your story jar. The rocks are the big things, like plot, character, setting, and conflict. They don't have to be perfect yet, they just have to be there, and roughly in the right places. Sometimes that takes a little bit of fussing to make them fit correctly. (Knowing your beginning, middle, and end; who the characters are and what motivates them; where everything takes place and the basic rules of that world.)
Your rocks might be your outline, or your first draft, depending on whether you're a plotter or an organic writer (or anywhere on that spectrum!). It's okay. There's no wrong way to do it. Just put your rocks in the jar.
Then, you can pour in some second-draft pebbles: various subplots, ensuring every scene moves the plot forward, making sure you don't have several different scenes all performing the same function. Some of your pebbles might expose themes (I like to imagine those as shiny silver pebbles). Others might dig deeper into your characters (shiny blue). Still more might expose more about the world (shiny green).
Arranging the (shiny) pebbles might take a draft or two--sometimes more! Sometimes this is where we discover the rocks are out of place and we have to dump out the whole story jar. It's okay. You'll get it.
So, moving on to the sand.
The original rocks/jar story says to let sand take care of itself, and that's where my metaphor doesn't so much fall apart -- but it gets complicated.
Because yes, we can pour in the sand of line editing and proofreading, but it's not really taking care of itself. We still have to do a lot of work. That silver theme pebble? Time to layer the sand around it just so to make it truly shine. That epic action scene? Time to go through it word by word to make it clear and snappy. The dialogue? Time to make it realistic and memorable.
Those things do need to fall into place . . . for the reader. You, the writer, need to make it happen.
Moving rocks is hard work. Arranging pebbles is tricky, too (they're slippery). So by the time we get to sand and have to arrange each grain one at a time, a lot of us are pretty tired. Who wants to spend time double-checking every bit of sand in the jar? How tedious is that!?
But this is where you have a chance to truly make your book stand out from the rest. Is your sand just kind of dumped in? Do you even have sand? Take another look at your book and be honest with yourself.
If your sand still needs work, take the time to add it and arrange it so that everything does fall into place . . . for your readers.