When Ruts Happen to Good Stories

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Electronic construction sign that reads "danger: zombie attack"

Construction Sign by underbiteman CC 3.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/underbiteman/2638246638/

Every weekday morning, I take the train downtown. From the downtown station, I used to have a set path I would take to my office. And then road construction attacked. Not construction, so much as a major road overhaul. Streets and bridged stripped to their bare bones and beyond. I peeked through the construction fence one day and there was nothing but a meteor-type hole where the road used to be.

When I exit the train, I have two options for then leaving the station. The way I normally go, Option One, is closed. Since the utter destruction of the roads has been going on for over a month, I’m used to taking Option Two. However, today, when I got off the train I was preoccupied and my feet walked to Option One without me even realizing it.

Auto-pilot, force of habit, rut…call it what you will.

In writing, the line between running gag or theme and rut is a fine one. In Julia, family pictures are important. I use them to convey information, to spark conversation, to trigger memories. I like to think of them as a running theme that ties everything together. And then, over the weekend, I was writing a scene and I couldn’t quite figure out how to impart some detail. It felt wrong, but I threw in a picture. My go to detail-uncoverer, apparently.

I know this needs to change, especially in a scene where it doesn’t make sense. At least I’m aware that part of my writing is on auto-pilot (yay me?). Better now than after I’ve declared draft 103 to be perfect and complete!

I knew that it was wrong because I had to force the description. The words were flowing, so it wasn’t writer’s block. But they were flowing all wrong. When I write a scene, I visualize it and then try to describe what I’m picturing. When I recognized what I was picturing from previous scenes — a kind of scene deja vu — I knew something was wrong.

How I’m going to fix it is a little more difficult. I need to confront why I keep using pictures. Is it as clever as I think it is? It is a lazy way to introduce things? Hopefully figuring that out will lead me down a better path for this scene, if not all of Julia.

Do you have any auto-pilot writing moments?

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