Friday, September 23, 2011

Playing With Clay

by Scott Rhoades

In a presentation at work this week, a coworker used his experience from when he studied pottery as an analogy for a businessy thing. The analogy worked well. It occurred to me during the presentation that the pottery metaphor applies to writing as well. With apologies to my colleague, and despite my own lack of pottery experience, I'm going to give comparing the three steps of making pottery to writing a try. So cue up some Righteous Brothers and let's get our hands dirty.

1. Center the Foundation

When you throw your clay on the potter's wheel (do I sound like I know what I'm saying?), you need to make sure the foundation of your pot is centered, so your pot is correctly balanced and doesn't get all wobbly and collapse while you're forming it.

This is the planning stage of your novel. Even if you are the kind of writer who prefers to let the story unfold as you write rather than planning ahead, you still need a foundation. At the very least, you should have some knowledge of your main characters and the premise of your story. Without that, your story will wobble and will likely fall apart while you try to spin your tale. Even if it does not collapse completely, your story is probably going to be an asymmetrical mess, something your mom will say she loves if you give it to her, but eventually you'll find it in the back of that cupboard above the refrigerator, the one nobody can reach, and whose contents become a mystery after a few years of collecting dust.

If your foundation is centered and you're aware of the basics of your story, you're ready to get started.

2. Give It Shape

This is where you start turning the wheel and the pot starts to spin. Slowly, your lump of clay begins to take shape. Your hands are constantly busy, getting dirty as you stretch and squeeze and do whatever else you do to shape a pot.

The shape you want doesn't come immediately. You have to use your skill and make constant adjustments, patiently working your story until it takes the form you see in your head.

Once you have your story, it's ready for the kiln. But it's still not finished.

3. Glaze for Success

You have your story. It's shaped nicely, but it's dull and not very beautiful. Your scenes are well constructed, the pacing is about right, but it's missing the shine and color that will make your mom proudly display it prominently in her living room.

This is when you apply the glaze, painting your story so it's colorful and exciting. It might require a few layers of glaze before you have the shine you want, but when you're finished, you have a beautiful work of art. It's well balanced, so it doesn't wobble on the table or shelf and is less likely to fall and break. The shape is perfect. And it's gorgeous, painted just right and shining in the light.

Now you're ready to sell to the highest bidder. And who wouldn't want to pay top dollar for something this wonderful?

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