Diamond Jubilee at Romance at Random

"The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." Albert Einstein

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Writing Tree

While driving, I often think of writing-related matters. For some reason last week, I thought of how climbing a tree -- or even the tree itself -- is like writing a book. In the winter trees are bare, branches sticking out like spindly arms without any leaves to clothe them. But I reasoned, are these limbs like the structure we hang our stories on?

But how is writing a novel like climbing a tree -- or the tree itself? Well, a tree grows, as we all know. From a sapling, it starts out fresh and green. As the tree matures, it becomes stronger. Once the tree has developed enough stability to withstand our weight, we can begin the upward climb. Many people don’t make it past the first few limbs, or even the first one, and give up in defeat. For those who persevere, the first few branches might not seem to be that high from the ground. We can climb these sturdy limbs with minimal effort.

But once we go higher, our comfort level drops, and the branches become more delicate. We have to constantly watch for missteps, testing each limb to see if it will hold the weight of our story ideas. One branch may look perfect, but once we’re on it, we can see it’s not the place for us. The limb may be too shaky, or not close enough to other branches to allow easy movement. So we search out another branch that will take us toward our goal--of climbing the tree to the top and back down. Along the way, we have to jump from limb to limb as our plot-points change, sometimes going up a branch, sometimes down two.

Depending on the person and story involved, climbing can be very easy or extremely hard. And just like a cat that gets stuck in the top branches, we can shoot to the top on an idea, only to realize there’s no way to get back down.

Plot twists, conflict, characters -- they can all lead us astray, leaving us stranded in the tree we’ve built for our story. Sometimes, we can gingerly retrace our steps down. Other times, we need to be recused -- whether by a critique partner or by time and objectivity. But with enough patience, we will make it to the top and back down -- in one piece.

Writing is all about the journey. From the inciting incident at the bottom to the conflict at the top, and then back down again. Apparently writing is like a tree -- and climbing that said tree -- to me. What is writing to you?


Stacy said...

I love your analogy of writing like a tree. It is such a good representation and I never consider that. I always thought of writing like traveling. I love to do it and it is always an adventure.

Lisa Kumar said...

Thanks, Stacy! I also consider writing a journey -- one with a map that's not always clear. Sometimes we get lost and have to turn back.

But a journey can lead us anywhere, even up a tree:)

jennajaxon said...

Great analogy, Lisa. Hadn't thought about it quite like that before. I tend to equate writing with directing a play--the 3 or 5 act structure, the scenes, the dialogue. It often feels like I'm directing my characters on a stage I see in my mind. But I get to tell them what to do and say, not a playwright. Huge sense of power!

Lisa Kumar said...

Jenna, either had I until last week! Like Stacy above, I'd equated writing with a journey -- and still do.

Directing a play is also a good analogy for writing! It's a great sense of power. Wonderful, isn't it?

Kary said...

I knew a guy in school who was a painter. He had this oil painting of a brilliantly colored hot air baloon floating over beautiful green fields in a blue sky. I noticed that the paint that made up the hot air baloon stood out demensionally agaist the rest of the picture. He told me that once a month he repainted the baloon so that he had a different picture each time. His hope was that at the end of his life he would still be painting a new pattern and that eventually the baloon would be a perfect three-demensional piece on the canvas. That's how writing is - We paint the basic picture and maybe the details change but it's the layer upon layer that brings demension to our stories and enjoyment to our lives as we create it.

Lisa Kumar said...

Great personal story, Kary! Layers are what brings a story to life, no doubt about that--just like layers of a painting. A new analogy for writing. My grandfather was a painter in the latter years of his life, so now when I think of him, I'll always remember him 'showing' a story:)

Janice said...

Very good. I like your metaphor.


Lisa Kumar said...

Thanks, Janice!