Another One for the Storytellers: Maps vs. GPS

I'll break form and put my internet yammering up front, for those of you who don't need writerly musings right now:

Although I've been avoiding it because I am bad with names, I finally shared my casting daydreams for Adda and Iridian at My Book, the Movie. I also went wild on Campaign for the American Reader talking about Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys, a book that I frickin' love.

So I had this writing insight over the weekend, because I've been studying what Dan Harmon (creator of the TV shows Community and Rick and Morty, both of which my spouse adores) has to say about story structure. His "Story Circle" is an approachable, practical summary of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth (yeah, you could read The Hero with a Thousand Faces, too). So, classic stuff. But in amongst that story circle business was a great statement from Harmon referring to an outline as a map which can tell you where you are and give you an idea of where to go, but it doesn't provide much detailed information on what to do next.

That's what you need an external reader for. An outline is a map, but readers are your GPS.

I've been experiencing my usual shitty springtime mental health, despite a change in climate and activities from last year. Of course, the novelling stalled. To keep myself writing, I put a short story together. It's not designed for everybody's consumption, but I ran it by a friend and among her comments was "This isn't really where it ends, right??"

It was where I'd stopped writing, and I thought I'd hit all of the map points in the story circle. But once I picked myself off the floor where I'd been staring at a wall in mental self-flagellation over how she hated my story (Her other comments proved that she loved it overall. This what February does to my brain.), I realized that she was correct. I'd stopped writing in the wrong place. Knowing that, I saw exactly where to go to fix it, and which places on the map I needed to spend more time in. Maps are handy, but GPS is much more specific.

It's so important, even for solitary, introverted writers, to find ways out of your own head sometimes. Go outside. Communicate with someone (asynchronously is fine). Read more. And if you can bear it, get somebody else's eyes on what you've written. It doesn't seem like it will help, but it's worth trying, especially if you're having a tough time.

R. E. Stearnswriting