01 May 2009

Reverse the Stitching

The other day, I was working on a new story when my husband came into my office and showed me a new pair of sporty gloves he'd just bought. He explained how the manufacturer revolutionized the design of this type of glove by reversing the stitching, so the rough edges and needlework are found on the exterior. This makes the gloves appear pretty unfinished on the outside, but by keeping the interior smooth, the tendency for long-term chafing is reduced (the technology was meant for race car drivers, who compete in endurance events).

This little discussion made me think of my favorite technique to suggest to writers and try with my own work — determining the least likely, most counter-intuitive direction the story might take, and temporarily taking it in that direction. Have a character whose mother is constantly nagging him? What if she were supportive and encouraging? Have a character with an amazing best friend? What if the friend suddenly stopped talking to her, or moved away, or ditched her for a new boyfriend or girlfriend?  Does the guy have no chance of getting the girl? How would he handle it if she actually fell for him? Have a story that rhymes? What if it's told in prose (or at least, a prose poem)?  Or vice versa?

In other words, reverse the stitching.  Turn your story inside out. Flip the script. Don't be afraid to play. You can always return to your original path, but for a little while, take a walk on the road not taken. The very best things happen when we allow ourselves to take risks — both in our lives, and in our work.

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