Building author fences

This is going to be a bit of a free writing exercise. It occurs to me that when we write fiction, we are building fences for ourselves.

It occurs to me that with every word we write, we build a fence. To illustrate, let’s start with a title. I’ll pick on myself, and my book Will O’ the Wisp. Readers are going to expect that at some point in the story, it’s going to relate to a Will O’ the Wisp. Nothing is completely fenced in yet, and it could be a metaphorical thing someone is chasing. In my case it involved an actual Will O’ the Wisp.

On page one we will introduce a character. I introduced Patty Hall as a fifteen year old girl. I fenced myself into not making the story all about a man of any age. There can be male characters, and there were.

By the end of the first chapter, we knew Patty wore corrective leg braces, and the story was set in the 1970s.

This means a fence went up technologically. Patty couldn’t listen to an iPod, or use a cellular phone. She’s going to get grief over her leg braces. This can be real or imagined, but it needs to happen.

Every word we write helps fence in our story. We need to remember the fences we’ve already built as we get deeper into the story. If we establish a firm genre, like mystery, we probably can’t abandon that half way through and turn it into science fiction. There might be some ability to move from closely related genres, like mystery and suspense. The fence means it isn’t going to suddenly become a cute romance halfway through act 2.

In a similar fashion, if vampires burn up in the sunlight, they can’t suddenly start running around on a sunny beach.

There are some stories that cross genres, but that gets established early on. Star Wars is both fantasy and science fiction. There was a fence though, it didn’t suddenly become a comedy.

Readers expect certain things. We can surprise them, and hope we do. It still has to happen within the fences we built. This doesn’t prohibit the first zombie from showing up in Act 3. It means you have to build a fence that lets readers know there are zombies before they see one. This is foreshadowing.

I suppose if I want to keep pushing this idea, editing is moving the fences around to better enclose the parcel.

I really don’t know where I’m going with this, but I’ve always thought of writing like building fences. By the time I get to Act 3, I have my story almost completely fenced off. I’m just closing my parcel off in the denouement stage.

I warned you this was free writing. Does this make sense to anyone except me?


Filed under Writing

32 responses to “Building author fences

  1. It makes great sense. I’m a concrete thinker, and I like the visual this gives.

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  2. Yes. I do most of this fencing with dialogue and setting, in that show don’t tell way. I don’t think about it, it just seems easiest. There are details that emerge and if they don’t fit in the fence, I have to decide whether to move the fence or eliminate the new details.

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  3. Makes sense. Basically, every decision we make in terms of setting, background, and character locks us into something. It could be just a broad area of tech or culture, but we have to remain within the boundaries of our story.

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  4. Makes sense to me. I think of my writing as a web – I start spinning on one side,expand the web toward the middle, then start tying things down as I progress to the end (the other side of the web). The strands of the web define the pattern and thus the story. Maybe that’s a bit weird?

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  5. It does make sense to me, except your fence analogy frightens me a little. I see fences as rigid enclosures, and the thought of them against my writing worries me (not that I don’t think it an excellent metaphor for how you work, though). I always think of writing as weaving – each character and event has a thread, and it’s up to me to weave them into a coherent whole, addressing all the loose ends and not getting into a tangle. I like how each of us approaches creativity from our own point of reference – it’s interesting to read the other comments as well. I agree that there needs to be some structure, whether a fence, a web or a piece of tapestry. I think as long as we have the method that works for us, we can proceed.

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    • I may have heard the weaving reference before somewhere. It is also a good analogy. My thought is that every paragraph I set down a rule that must be followed throughout the story. People work differently, but it looks like I got folks thinking.

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  6. To be honest, I never really thought about it before, but we do create rules for our characters as we write, whether through setting, personality or other means. I built a huge fence with my Point Pleasant series in location and also time period (the 1980s) which was kind of a cool one to work in. Like your Wisp, (set in the 70s) I had to rethink what was the norm for the day in everything from cars, food, pop music, fashion and more. A rigid fence, but also a fun one.

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  7. Red Clay and Roses had fences, but the first part of the book was 1992 and Part Two tore them down, it was 1956. It was unconventional, but worked for the story. Naked Alliances has different types of fences, but with your example I can see how I had to work them. It was a challenge with crime to drop the bread crumbs without creating a pastry road.I purposely had to leave holes in the fence that weren’t too obvious.

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  8. Interesting perspective, and yes, it makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It makes perfect sense I call it boundaries, we need them to make our stories believable …. There is comedy in Star Wars though in the 3CPO and R2D2 , the Wookie and that thing with long floppy ears … sorry just had to say!!

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  10. There have to be fences – how else are you going to challenge/motivate your characters? πŸ˜‰
    Ring fences are another deal – some things have to be sacred, even if it means making your vampire ‘shiny’ instead of the sun… πŸ˜›

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are allowed to change things up. Some things just won’t work. Gandalf didn’t show up to rescue Frodo on a Harley. Hair takes time to grow, winter can’t skip spring before summer arrives. Shiny vampires are allowed, but not after one flames out in the sun.


  11. This is a very interesting concept. I think it would be useful to evaluate whether or not the writer has completely fenced in the ground to be covered. I can see sub-fences around plot as well. Nice job.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Absolutely makes sense. Agreed.

    Liked by 1 person

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