Tags: Pixar

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

Permission to Err

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: March 5, 2013
Comments: 2 Comments

limits & infinity, red asymptotesSome weeks ago, I stumbled against these extremely freeing lines in Hugo Lindgren’s New York Times Magazine * article “Be Wrong as Fast as You Can‘:

I recently saw a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar, about the creative process behind his movies. Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them. Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed. “Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another,” Lasseter said. “People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But we don’t give up on the films.” [Emphasis mine]


I think of ScrivaRuth when I read this, though her prose is the opposite of “worst.” When we began critiquing her first novel, Blue Thread **, one of us said that we have to be careful because her prose is so beguiling that it can lull us into overlooking things that need to be addressed. From first draft, Ruth’s writing is extremely polished.


Yet even such good writing is capable of improvement. As I mentioned once, the Scrivas give each other the benison of repeated critiques of works-in-progress. It’s satisfying to see works unfurl into full leafage as we comment, re-read and comment—and as the writer writes, and re-writes. When Ruth submitted a later draft of a section of her second novel, The Ninth Day***, the only word I could find to describe her writing was “masterly.” Even naturally polished writing can improve as one writes, opens oneself to feedback, and goes back to rework things. Ruth’s story is just the most recent example I’ve lived among the Scrivas.


It’s been many calendar pages since I last submitted something for critique. For months, I wanted to wait till a) I’d finished an entire draft of my novel-in-progress, and b) I’d polished it as much as I knew how before submitting it. (Yes, there just may be a touch of perfectionism in my make up.) Now, challenged both by the  paragraph quoted above and by a conversation with the Scrivas as we drove home from a writing retreat, I decided to plunge into the dance again. I submitted part of my novel.


I got most helpful feedback, as I knew I would. There are good things in my manuscript—and lots of work to do. Things to re-think. To re-write. To try in different ways.


I’m going to do it again. And again. It’s alright that my manuscript still has many steps to take to become the wonderful book it wants to be. Lasseter’s and Lindgren’s words give me permission to err. Permission to join in the dance, despite being neither finished nor perfect. Permission knowing that steps will be tottery and awkward starting out, maybe even spinning out of bounds now and then. My paces will become smoother and more polished as I continue, practice my steps, and learn new ones. As I joyfully twirl, turning my ideas into a story as good as it can be; like an asymptote, getting ever closer to the desired ideal. One day, I hope my own novel will be…masterly.


~ ~ ~

*           Cheryl Klein referenced the article ‘Be Wrong as Fast as You Can’ in her blog, Brooklyn Arden. (BTW, Cheryl’s excellent website is now live again.)

**        Blue Thread, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, is currently an Oregon Book Award finalist—check Literary Arts’ OBA page after April 8 to learn if she received the prize we think her book deserves!

***      The Ninth Day, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, will be published by Ooligan Press in fall 2013 (not 2014–thanks for the correction, Ruth).


Sabina I. Rascol


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