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Monday, June 18, 2012

Backbone of a Book

I spent a very "writerly" day today.

I went early to a writing group, then out to Santee for a school visit, then home to write a few pages on a new book.

Very writerly, indeed.

And, like a writer, there was something that one of my critique group members said that I could not get out of my brain.  We were talking about outlining (which I do NOT do, in most cases).  She had just attended a marvelous UCSD extension writing course during which she worked on her memoir.  She came out with a Plan for her book, plan with a capital "P."

"Now I feel like I know the story's spine.  I can feel its backbone," she said.

And I knew exactly how she felt, even though I have never created a plot map or a beat sheet.  I understand what it is to know the spine of a tale before you ever start a word. Now for me, sometimes I relate the spine to a different object--for Trinket, I visualized a necklace with seven charms--lovely each on their own, but when connected together, they create something really beautiful.  In Feathers, Songs and Curses (which I finished not too long ago), I could see two different trees, growing together into one. The two tales had to intertwine to create the spine.  For these books, once I could see this "backbone", I could begin.

A backbone is different from a blue print, I think.  A spine is central to the story, and holds the rest of it together, but is not as detailed as a blue print--not by any means.

Don't get me wrong, though.  I start many a story as an invertebrate, floppy and spineless, no backbone at all--because I don't quite know what it is. Yet.  Is it a picture book?  Is it an easy reader?  Is there enough story for a chapterbook?  Or is it  poem, for no one else but me to read?  I end up "writing around the writing" before I truly type the first words, just to figure that out.

But once a story has a spine, then I can begin for real.

On a different note, I am close to being able to reveal Trinket's trailer.  Yay!  And I'll be at ALA on Friday (and hopefully Saturday).  If you are there to, let me know.  I'd love to meet up!



Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Writerly days are so good for the soul.
What a great conceptual aid you've come upon in 'backbone' and 'spine.' I've heard people talk of foundation but I think spine is better because it's flexible, moveable but still supportive.
Now, you've got my brain full of images of strong backbones or floppy, spineless puddles of blather. Sorry. I'm in a darkish mood, methinks.
I didn't sign up for ALA. :(

Julie Dao said...

I love the concept of a book having a backbone. I like to think of it as a foundation as well, holding the house or castle up. Have fun at ALA!!!

Catherine Denton said...

I love all the imagery you use in describing this. It makes more sense when I "see" it. Cannot WAIT to see the Trinket trailer!
Catherine Denton

Laura Pauling said...

I love learning how other writer's operate. I've tried to pantz before and it doesn't work for me at all. I flop around like a fish on dry land and eventually run out of air and die. :) Or the manuscript does!

Corey Schwartz said...

Love this post. Amazing to me that you can still come up with interesting things to post about after all these years of blogging. I can't seem to come up with ANYTHING these days!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I've never heard of coming up with the spine first. That's kind of a cool concept. It's amazing how many different ways there are to plan a story.

Sarah Allen said...

This is such a cool way to think about things. And I think I know what you mean, I have to get the sense or purpose of the story before I feel ready to start.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Christina Lee said...

This is so cool--and you just made me realize that I can visualize things, too! Have great fun at ALA!

Elana Johnson said...

Yes, the story needs a spine. Sometimes, that spine needs to be straightened if things go wrong. The best part is, it's only words and a few can make everything right again.

So wish I was going to be at ALA! Hope you have fun!