Kat: Juggling Act

This has been a week of many lessons for me, not the least of which is that writing a good story is a lot like juggling.  Both require the manipulation of objects like balls (or words) to convey the artist’s vision to others. Most importantly, both require keeping at least three balls in the air at once.

When I began writing, I sat at my keyboard and let the brilliant (ahem) ideas roll off my fingertips without a care in the world. I didn’t so much juggle balls as throw them at the wall to see what looked pretty stuck up there (not much).  In the good old days, I was clueless about what may be the writing equivalent of the three-ball cascade. Escalating conflict (red ball) dials up the tension in the reader and moves the story forward in a way that makes the reader care about the protagonist, turning points (yellow ball) ends one act and begins another turning the story in a whole new direction, and directly connecting scenes or sequence of events (green ball)  transforms the story from a bunch of unrelated things that happen into a seamless, interdependent whole.

I know I’m missing a bunch of balls here (sounds sort of naughty) like structure (which some might consider the blue ball—aka strangled creativity), or determining character arc, which for me may be the ball that finally brings the whole mess down on my head with balls flying out in every direction.

Juggling what I consider to be the vital three (red, green, yellow) is all I can handle right now, but the good news is, I’m finally starting to keep those three in the air. Consequently my story vision is actually beginning to take shape on the page. In the not-to-distance future, I’ll start thinking about what comes next: how my characters will change as the story progresses, the tone and feeling I want my story to invoke, and devising a satisfying slam-bang finish. Still, the trick will be to add these new balls while simultaneously keeping the first three moving.

What story elements are you having difficulty juggling right now?

3 thoughts on “Kat: Juggling Act

  1. This is exactly my problem, too. I concentrate on two or three things, and absolutely everything else goes to hell. When I wrote my first draft, my main concerns were 1) words on the page, 2) keep the story moving, moving, 3) don’t do anything too dumb or outrageous. The first two are definitely good things to think about for a first draft. And a second draft. And all the other drafts. But when I went to add characterization, coherent setting and escalating plot lines, I lost some of my movement, and I definitely started to write more slowly.

    I guess it goes back to one of your older posts, Kat — we can layer, layer, layer the different craft techniques in. (-: But, unfortunately, it’s not a static oil painting — I think your new ball analogy is very apt. We have to learn to juggle three balls, then five, then eight, until we’ve got the whole story.

    That said, I’ve read (and been pleased) by stories where only three balls were in the air, and a lot of broken plastic bits were at the writer’s feet. Maybe it’s not absolutely necessary to keep all the balls in the air Right Now. It’s a goal, and learning to juggle more is all part of the process of writing.

    • I think you’re right, Micki. Six months ago, it was hard for me to imagine getting the first three right, and sometimes I still have trouble with those, but knowing the others exist and how they can add depth to my story is a start. Fingers crossed that in another 6 months we’ll all be wondering what we found so difficult…

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