On Writing: Spackle

Sunday, November 20

A lot of us are feeling woefully behind on our word counts right now and doing anything we can to move forward. One of my the things I rely on in these sorts of situtations is the literary equivalent of spackle.

Spackle, you might ask? You mean like that weird, white plastery stuff that you use to cover holes in the wall?

Yes. That is exactly what I mean.

Spackle when writing is just what it sounds like: a flimsy lick and a promise to get back to a spot and create something better. Stronger. Heftier. When I am in the zone and the story is unfolding before me, if I take too long in trying to capture the words, they’ll disappear before I can get them down. For me, always, the race is to get the story down while I’m in the heated flush of that writing zone. I can linger and dally over language all I want later, once the bones of the story are firmly in place.

Or, conversely, if I am having a hard time getting the words to flow, or flow in a jumbled, out-of-order sort of way, I use spackle to fill in the blanks so I can at least maintain my forward momentum. Sadly, this is the situation I find myself in this month.

Spackle often shows up as a set of brackets [like this] when I know I need a better word or simile but I don’t want to stop the writerly flow and search right then.

Something in his face made me [uneasy].
His eyes hardened like [sharp flat stones].

Sometimes though, spackle can be an entire action.

[Heroine and hero escape stronghold and make their way to safety. Will need to learn something on the road that will be critical to final solution/climax.]

As you can see, that’s no mere phrase or word choice, but an entire plot point that needs to be worked out.

The thing is, with rough drafts I know I will need a series of scenes in there. Some of them are showing up, right on cue, and others aren’t. But I still need a placeholder in this new draft I’m building, something to help me capture the pacing and the rhythm of the scenes. In that case, I spackle entire scenes, which go something like this:

[They arrive at court. Hero leaves her to talk politics with duchess’s advisors. She pretends she’s bored and wanders away. Uses this as excuse to eavesdrop on other’s conversations. Learns Count Z has returned, sees Lord X and Lady Y in tete a tete, wonders what they’re up to. Protects one of the serving maids against an overbearing baron, accidentally runs into the French ambassador, then herofinds her and invites her to dance.]

In that bit I list all the things from the various plot threads I’m juggling that I know have to happen then, in that scene. It also helps me capture in really broad strokes what the scene will encompass, while also giving my subconscious time to figure out more of the details and the nuance and even what the scene will actually be about. (Because clearly, from looking at that list, I do not have a clue. Yet.)

Oftentimes, I’ll figure out major epiphanies for that scene in subsequent scenes—scenes I never would have written if I’d let myself get totally stuck and stymied in one spot and not allowed myself to use spackle.

So if you aren’t currently using spackle, you might see if there’s a place for it in your writer’s toolbox. Because honestly? Sometimes a lick and a promise and a healthy dollop of spackle is what finally gets us to the end of this first, rough draft.

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