Leaving a Jagged Edge

Hi Folks,

I first heard the term “jagged edge” (as applicable to writing) used by SF author CJ Cherryh at Eastern NMU in Portales NM. She was talking about writers’ block and how to conquer it. (This technique works well when writing any genre of fiction, not only SF.)

If you’re still at the stage where the blank page is intimidating, or if you “get stuck” when you come back to your WIP after time away (whether a night or a week or whatever), read on.

By the way, you can find CJ Cherryh’s blog at http://www.cherryh.com/WaveWithoutAShore/. There are some good gems there if you browse. Just remember different writers write differently, and your way is fine.

First, a note on writer’s block itself. I’ve said for ages, there is no such thing. A sure cure? If you sit down at a blank page (screen or paper) and draw a blank, start writing about the writer’s block. Soon enough you’ll be writing whatever’s on your mind in the way of a poem or story or essay. It works. Try it.

But what about that jagged edge?

As I mentioned above, Ms. Cherryh mentioned this in response to a question from the audience about writer’s block. (No, I wasn’t the questioner.) The question was along the lines of, “Wull, what about when you come back to the WIP the next day (or whenever) and yer stuck?”

She responded (paraphrased), “I don’t have that problem. I always leave a jagged edge. Basically, that means I put the character in the shower. When I get back, I have to write him or her out of the shower. By the time I get that done, I’m back into the flow of the story.”

See? That’s what I mean when I use the term “gem.”

At the time, I had enjoyed considerable success as a poet. But I had never written a novel. (Yep, too scared of eating a whole elephant at once.) And I had written only a handful of short stories.

Many writers (I was one of them) believe a “good stopping point” is the end of a scene or chapter.

It isn’t.

Usually, that’s exactly why they get stuck. When they come back to the WIP, they’re facing a blank page.

The jagged-edge, put-the-guy-in-the-shower technique easily remains among the most profoundly valuable lessons I’ve ever learned about writing.

Since then, I’ve actually written scenes in which the character LITERALLY went into the shower or bath. And I did so with the specific intention of having to “write him out” of the shower or bath upon my return. And it worked.

“I still use the jagged edge.”

Nowadays (and long before I started writing novels), I still use the jagged edge.

But now a good stopping point is when one character has asked a question of another. When I get back, the other character has to answer the question, take action, whatever.

Or a broad wooden beam cracks overhead and the character looks up, eyes wide in antiticpation of the ceiling/roof caving in.

Or a sudden massive roaring jerks the character from a sound sleep and he sits bolt upright to see a wall of water rushing his way. Or a hungry-looking lion peering at him from a tree limb overhead. Or. Or. Or.

You get the idea.

Note 1: If you’re a regular subscriber to my Daily Journal over at HEStanbrough.com, you can skip the topic part this evening. It’s the same.

Note 2: There is a distinct possibility that very soon I will move my Daily Journal over here to replace the Pro Writers posts. Watch for it.

Until next time, keep reading and writing,


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