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Stephen King makes a great analogy about finding the generated subject or the true storyline of a novel or short story in his book On Writing.
He compares writing to the work of an archaeologist excavating a dinosaur skeleton out of the ground.
He invokes a big mound with underneath it the skeleton of a dinosaur. A priceless fossil. He doesn’t know what kind of dinosaur it is. Could be a pterodactyl or a brontosaurus or a raptor. He has different tools that he can use to excavate: everything from a backhoe to a jackhammer to a shovel or a little chisel or even a light brush.
Along the way, he’ll likely need all of these tools.
He’ll need to really dig hard into some parts and throw away dirt. In other parts he’ll need to be careful–he’ll need to brush away dush and make sure not to move or break up small bone pieces. All of this in service to finding this thing that’s under the surface–his story.
If we combine this concept with Steven Koch’s essay on Revision (from linked book) where he talks about drafting being a process of creating the clay, then we can consider the process of writing a first draft as making our mound of dirt. After that, when it’s all there, it’s time to chip away, excavate, dig and discover to find the truth, the very best version of our story.
I believe that searching for meaning, sense and clarity along the way, writing toward these line by line is both a great way to make the clay in a first draft and the best way to dig into this mound of dirt to find the skeleton.
The other great way to find the skeleton is to use Koch’s tool of The Scenario. More on that in another lesson.