This is the seventh in a series of micro craft essays exploring the finer points of writing fiction. Check back each week for a new Craft Capsule.
A friend of mine, a poet, was trying to figure out what bothered him about a draft of my poem. “A poem should be like a wall,” he told me. “You build it brick by brick.” He pointed out that, in his opinion, key bricks were missing.
I didn’t share his vision, but I admired that he had one. I’ve come to value developing a metaphorical model for your genre. A model can help you identify your goals, name your struggles, and proceed toward success.
Perhaps you follow the lead of “stanza,” the Italian word for “room.” You come to think of each poem as a house. How do the rooms differ in function, size, and occupancy? Where does your central drama take place? What comprises your roof?
Perhaps you come to think of your essay as a harp. Each researched fact glimmers, an available string in a golden frame. But you can’t play them all at once. Only in choosing which notes to highlight, and how to sequence them, can you create music.
Personally, I always think of memoir as an egg. I’m protective of the inspiring memory, smooth and undisturbed in its surface. But I have to be prepared to break the egg. I have to make the idea messy before I can make a satisfying meal.
Perhaps your novel is a shark. Perhaps your villanelle is a waltz. Perhaps your short story is a baseball game. Don’t adopt my metaphors. Find one of your own.
Sandra Beasley is the author of three poetry collections, including Count the Waves (Norton, 2015), and a memoir. Her website is SandraBeasley.com.