Monday, July 05, 2010


I am moving right along on this major rewrite/revision thing that I’m doing right now and one of the things I find I am using a LOT is the literary equivalent of spackle.

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.

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.

[Nate and Greasle find out figure out a way to catch the basilisk and not get poisoned in the process.]

As you can see, that’s no mere phrase or word choice, but an entire plot point that needs to be worked out. But again, if the big pieces of the story are flowing or the voice is really working or I've got a firm grip on the ending, I don’t let myself grope and flail when there are perfectly good words trying to bubble out.

This weekend, entire scenes and chunks of acts are falling away as I trim and shape this manuscript. I know I will need new 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 Francois finds 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.


Becky Levine said...

Brackets are very possibly my favorite keys on the computer! As in "dinner scene, with conflict about a, b, & c!].

Love the new blog look, btw. Very light & fresh.

Robin L said...

Ha! A fellow spackler. Just one of many reasons I like you so much, Becky! And thanks for the feedback on the blog design. You're the first to say anything so I was beginning to wonder if my aesthetic ability (such as it is) had abandoned me and the new design was truly hideous. :-)

Katy Cooper said...

I'm sorry I didn't say something about the new look sooner--I love it!

And I've just learned about the utility of spackle. Well, kind of: I just wrote two scenes that are placeholders. But I'm doing much better about not letting myself get hung up.

This is a really good reminder...

Lori Erickson said...

I've been following your blog for a while now--came here via Shrinking Violets. I nod in agreement a lot when I read your entries, but today I just had to chime in with a thank you. I spackle, too, and it seems to work for me. But sometimes my inner perfectionist tries to say "you're doing it wrong!" IP was being very loud today, so this was perfect timing to shut her up for a while. ;) I can now go back to leaving a trail of brackets behind me in peace.

Jinnyd said...

Hurray for spackling! I'd never heard of a term for it before, so hurray for new words, also!

Robin L said...

No worries, Katy! I'm just being a Nervous Nellie. And I'm so glad the blog post reinforced a lesson you were learning!

Hi Lori! So glad you found your way over here and have been finding affirmation in my ramblings. :-) And I'm ALWAYS happy to help squelch that Inner Perfectionist!

Katy Cooper said...

"But sometimes my inner perfectionist tries to say "you're doing it wrong!" "

Lori, as much as I wouldn't wish struggling with an inner perfectionist on anyone, I'm so grateful to hear I'm not the only one who hears, "You're doing it wrong!" Because of course I think there's something wrong with me if I struggle with that :) .