Friday, October 15, 2010

Proper care of seedling stories

New stories are like baby plants. They're fresh, beautiful, full of potential and incredibly delicate.

Every story starts the same. You (the writer) find a tiny little seed. It could come from anywhere. A song. A tear. A whispered word. A sunset over the water. Wherever it comes from though, this tiny little seed caught your eye and you picked it up.

Like most seeds it lays dormant for a while. It rolls and rattles around in your brain, then one day, it happens. A tiny little sprout pops up. It's your beautiful story. You just know it's going to grow into a beautiful prize winning rose or a mighty oak tree. And of course, being the proud little story growers that we are, the first thing we want to do is tell everyone we know about our new baby.

Unfortunately this can lead to disaster. Other writers know how fragile newly formed stories can be, but most non-writers don't have a clue. They come stomping into our little story garden often wearing the big clown shoes of “constructive criticism”.

"It's ok, but your heroin seems kind of phony to me."


"Shouldn't your plot be more realistic. This seems awfully cheesy."


"Hasn't that already been done before?"

Stomp! Stomp! STOMP!

Before you know it, that beautiful little seed has been trampled. You may be stubborn enough to keep caring for it. Maybe even write a few chapters. But no matter how well you hide them from others, you will always see the scars.

It's not totally the non-writers fault. In most cases, they are really trying to help. But criticism is not what a seedling story needs. It needs love, care and a little bit of privacy before it can shine to the world. If you absolutely NEED to tell someone about your new baby you need to lay down ground rules with them first.

a) No criticism.
None. Not one single word. Even if it's only a missed placed comma. Nothing.

b) Only positive feed back
If they like something and want to tell you, that's fine. As long as it's not something like "This is so wonderful, if you would only..."

c) No suggestions or further ideas.
This may sound strange, but it's easy to lose sight of YOUR ideas in a sea of ideas from others.
Non-writers can find seeds too, they just don't know how/don't want to take care of them or have the dedication to tend to them until they are a fully formed story. Often times theses non-writers will try to get you to take their seeds for them. Don't do it.
If you want to be polite tell them to write down the gist of their idea in a note book, then take that note book and set it aside until you are done with your story. If there idea is any good (sometimes they are, most times not) then you can take it from there.

d) And finally allow yourself to ignore any and all feed back.
If everyone loves this one idea, but you don't, cut it. This is your vision. Your idea. When push comes to shove, it's your butt in the chair. Your fingers on the keyboard. If you don't like it, don't write it.

Now after all that you must think I'm totally against all criticism in any form. Not true. Criticism is handy and healthy when the time is right. When your little tree has blossomed out into a full first draft, you will need to prune it. You need to climb up into those branches with a good sturdy pair of snipers and whip it into shape. At that point it helps to have someone standing back, telling you the best places to cut.

When a story is young, it can't handle that kind of trimming. Many times you don't even know what kind of plant it is yet, let alone the best shape to trim it to. Give it time. Let it simmer. Then type it out and let your love of this story guide you. Don't think about how you will have to edit all of this later. Just get it down on paper. Then, and only then, it will be big enough and sturdy enough to take some trimming (or, in many cases, major trimming).

Don't rush yourself and don't let anyone stomp on your dream.


  1. Great post - and so true :)

    I can't tell people what I'm thinking until I'm well into the first draft. Actually, I'm not great at it even when it's nearly polished up, but if I talk about it before I've really got into the rhythm of the story then it's likely to fall apart. I'll often just start to lose interest. It doesn't really matter what the other person thinks or says - it's just that the act of talking about it seems to make that little seed wither up!

  2. Ooo, yes. I forgot about that part. Talking too much is just as bad. Another hard lesson to learn, especially when you're so excited about something.