Unsure? Try a Smorgasbord

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: April 30, 2013
Comments: No Comments

smorgasbordI know what my work-in-progress is about: war and friendship, status, wanting others’ approval, fathers, and family, and growing up… Because it’s about so many things, it’s been just a tad difficult nailing down the core of my story.

One exercise I inadvertently used in searching for my story core is The Smorgasbord. I decided to write a series of short synopses combining my story elements in various ways, to get closer to what my story is ultimately about.

The first synopsis (long) set out the material I already had drafted: my basic story, containing most of the elements above. The next synopses would be short paragraphs. They weren’t going to be anything important, I reassured myself. They would just explore directions. Thus I shoved my inner critic in a closet, slammed the door behind, and spit out my first new direction. I wasn’t sure about it. The Scrivas aren’t going to like this, I thought. It’s too obscure, including data from a country’s history which no one knows anything about. Yet I was just exploring directions, so I kept the draft. I wrote few more “treatments” over the course of some days. Whether I felt inspired or not, I continued playing with the weight, placement, and order of the different elements which are this story.

Something happened as I pressed on. The last couple of synopses felt different. This may be it, I thought! This may be the direction I want to go in as I mix and slant all my story elements: war and friendship, status, wanting others’ approval, fathers and family and growing up…

You may have a writing buddy, a spouse, or a critique group that you so trust that you want their version of your story. You want them to weigh in on the maelstrom roiling around in your head. I ended up sending all seven of my synopses to the Scrivas. What do you know? The Scrivas most liked the version I was most unsure about–and another that combined elements of it with my starting story.

As I mull over my work-in-progress and write it home, I just may include bits from the interim drafts. Some were far-out possibilities and others were written tongue in cheek, but they have promise. I continue to be on a Pixar kick and read David A. Price’s The PixarTouch: The Making of a Company. I learned there how they took story elements discarded from Toy Story to create the sequel, Toy Story 2.

The advantages of a smorgasbord are manifold. Giving yourself options which you’re merely exploring can send your inner critic on a long stroll letting you work in peace. It can give the trusted people in your life, whom you invite to comment on your story, an idea of where you think you’re going with your story. Then their versions of your story can be in step with the story you want to tell. And your setting out a smorgasbord may inspire others to try one too. I don’t know—was I avant garde? Or was there something in the air affecting several of us Scrivas? A month after I offered my smorgasbord synopses to my critique group, Addie and Ruth gave us variations of their works-in-progress for us to react to: Addie, a sampler with four versions of the first chapter of her boy-protagonist novel that she’s re-revising; Ruth, options about how to craft a short work  that will bridge the end of her Oregon Book Award-winning novel Blue Thread with the beginning of The Ninth Day, a sequel to be released this fall.

Call it a sampler or a smorgasbord, but try it. You may like it.

-Sabina I. Rascol

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