The Fear of Writing

For the longest time I’ve felt as if writing was a paradoxical ability, and in some sense, it is. The process could be rather easy, or maybe it’s rather difficult; everyone can do it, but not just anyone can do it. It’s as easy as putting pen to paper they say, or fingers to keys? Writing is all of these things, all at once. Less and more, everything and none- all at the same time. So with such a daunting encapsulation of writing, it doesn’t strike me as surprising when many an author, screenwriter, poet, songwriter, etc. come face to face with the iniquitous and viscous “writer’s block.” Not to worry though! Beyond this meandering maze of malicious writing I hope to ease the cosmism associated with the never ending boundaries of the human imagination. Specifically the human imagination when comprising a good story.

My Trick

Here, I will be discussing my one trick- and how this trick almost always allows me to create a good story. So, get out those pens, and get ready to type away at those keys, because this essay is all about: “The Callback”

The Story Catalyst

“I have the ‘thing’ worked out. The trick or the surprise or the pivotal fact. Then I just start somewhere and let the story work itself out”- Lee Child.

Now as blasphemous as this may sound, I don’t read much- if any- of Child’s work. However, he does seem to be on to something with that quote. Typically, the idea of a story, and the subsequent events, grow naturally from one singular source; that source catalyzing the events or the rules of that desired narrative. Now, while this may seem like hallmark traits of one ‘Captain Obvious’, it’s often overlooked in favor of countless other cogs turning that machine. (Please forgive my manic and inconsistent metaphors). Ultimately it’s easy to get lost in the nitty gritty of a story. Everything can feel a bit overwhelming, especially at the genesis of a concept; you feel as if there’s just so much you have to keep track of, jumping from one element to another that you then eventually succumb to a feeling of superfluousness less than half way through. With that being said, the key skill Child is providing us with, the trick we all should have worked out, is something that I propose we recontextualize by embedding that one ‘thing’ in the first act of our stories. 

Working Itself Out

In addition to just having the story “work itself out’, consider honing your concept in on the first act of your timeline; by positioning your key element early on, the term “work itself out” takes on a whole new meaning by naturally extending events, rules and character growth with a forward momentum that’s both confident and believable. I’m speaking in screenwriting terms of course, but by ‘first act’ I broadly mean the beginning of any and all things. Start off with one key notion- a character trait or flaw, a throw away line, an event or action- whatever it might be, write and invest into that key notion; this one ‘thing’ should function as the bow that ties most, if not all, things together by the end. Flush out that notion and develop it until it feels as natural as the way a river flows downwards. 

The Placement

Once you’re satisfied with it, place it at the very beginning in addition to all of your other story elements- and for an added bit of challenge, try painting it as irrelevant. It also goes without saying to pair this with your traditional, or unorthodox, process of writing a cohesive narrative. Now yet again, this may sound like the M.O. of the one and only ‘Captain Obvious’- but that’s just it. As natural born storytellers we tend to recognize and retain good narratives that utilize this tactic; they stick their landing partially because of their payoff.

The Key Notion Sets The Mold

It feels unique, it feels rather special and it’s a nice genuine reward to your audience for paying attention to your narrative. They engage further into your story because you just proved as a writer that you respect them and treat them intelligently. Now, I’m not saying every good story takes advantage of this, but by implementing one key notion at the beginning – as a writer- you naturally build the rules of the world, sequences of events and psychology of the characters without it feeling contrived. You’ve planted those traits, flaws, events and throw away lines in the “first act” and your story is stronger for it.

The Building Blocks

Looking at the building blocks of story structure, it’s easy to follow a formulaic path, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so. But pairing that with the tool of seeding your call back at the start of your narrative helps. Mostly with focusing in on who your characters are, what your world is, and where it’s going. It’s essentially giving yourself an in universe rule that transcends beyond the page, actors, editors and to your audience. 

This Will Not Solve Everything

Writing your story will always be challenging; the hurdles, the blocks, the sleepless nights- these are all additional baggage that accompany the craft of storytelling. It’s almost impossible to get everything on the first, fourth, or eighth try. Even at the time of this writing, I had meant to send this draft over to my editor (Hi, Chris.) But I couldn’t out of fear that it wasn’t finished, and I will probably never feel it is finished. Though that’s writing and its subsequent exploration. It’s everything on the page and nothing on the page, it’s less and more all at once. Writing is paradoxical, and rather easy, or maybe it’s rather difficult. 

Either Way,

Keep in mind that as long as you carry one trick from catalyst to conclusion, everyone can do it, but not just anyone.