I have never literally painted myself into a corner, although last summer I nearly stained myself into one while refinishing our deck. Figuratively, on the other hand, I have painted myself into a corner more than once. When my wife Julie and I bought our first home in 1996, when I was 25, the very adult burden of mortgage payments soon made me feel painted into a financial corner in that I sensed a near future of towering stacks of bills along with cribs full of babies (which we wanted) plus their costs (which we could do without).
The upshot of this pressure cooker situation is that I wanted to keep my home and family but shrug off my job in sales that was making me feel more trapped than the mortgage, the bills and the babies in the offing. Fifteen years later, after following a circuitous route through retail sales, copywriting, screenwriting, a home-based business, at-home fathering and now teaching, I’d say I made the right career decision. Yet the fact remains that painting one’s self into a corner means creating sticky situations that must somehow be gotten out of – often by paying a steep price.
In writing, sticky situations are inevitable. Writing a novel, a process requiring thousands, maybe millions of decisions – regarding word choice, sentence structure, plot, theme, character development and so on – is too complicated to allow for anything approximating perfection. If you whittle away at a story for more than a chapter or two, you will increasingly find yourself going the wrong way down one way streets, screaming toward dead ends and paddling your canoe into throttling, swampy byways – to mix a handful of metaphors for your supercilious reading pleasure.
Most writers with any experience maintain an uneasy intimacy with these dangers. It makes us skittish, gun shy. Every time we start a story or come to a crossroads in plotting, we second guess where a story or character choice might eventually lead us.
Please, ye gods of story, have mercy on me! Save me from painting myself into a story corner! Continue reading