May 18, 2015 | Tags:

Ten months ago, I was writing a short story and quite enjoying it. As I started writing the final scene, the character did something that annoyed me greatly.

He solved the problem.

Not only that, he solved it in a way that was ridiculously simple and obvious. So obvious (I suddenly realized) that of course he would have done it at the very start of the story. And then there would have been no story.


Over the next few days, I kinda thought of a way to change the problem. It meant sifting my way through the story, changing the details every time this problem showed up. There were a lot of places like that. And that sort of work seems like work. And my heart was no longer in the story.

So I left the story untouched for ten months.

One night last week, as I fell asleep, I pondered the problem again. When I woke up, I realized something marvelous: There was a ridiculously simple and obvious solution, a simple and obvious way to keep the character’s simple and obvious solution from working.

And all I had to do was change one paragraph and write a few more. Changing one paragraph is hard work, as you well know, but it’s not much work. And writing new paragraphs is no work at all.

As I wrote the new paragraphs, a somewhat mystical thing happened. A silly throwaway object, which I had planted in the second paragraph ten months ago to add a bit of flavoring to the story, suddenly became the key to my problem. Someone in the story notices the object, recognizes my main character, and prevents him from doing the simple and obvious thing.

This somewhat mystical thing happens a lot. I write a silly throwaway thing to add a little flavor. Ron Carlson, in his book Ron Carlson Writes a Story, calls this kind of throwaway thing “inventory.” As Ron promised, these little bits of inventory have a way (somehow, mystically) of becoming really important.

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