Friday, September 4, 2009

Leaving Breadcrumbs

Everyone needs to make a path through the woods so that they can come out the other side; I know my Hansel and Gretel. Hansel's breadcrumbs weren't the best idea of course, but his thinking was sound. How do writers keep themselves on track...on their particular path through the woods? Here are my breadcrumbs.

Breadcrumb #1: Know your ending.
It's impossible (for me, anyway) to start moving if I don't know where I'm going to end up. I know the ending of my books before I know the beginnings.

Breadcrumb #2: Know who is with you on the journey.
Know your characters, or at least know your main characters. Others may join you for a while, but they have to leave before the end of the journey. If they insist on staying (maybe they have a fail-proof method for getting everyone out of the forest) then they may deserve to stay and someone else may have to leave. Be brutal. There's only so many breadcrumbs.

Breadcrumb #3: Ignore the side paths.
I realize this is easier said than done, but side paths aren't shortcuts, they're just interesting diversions that keep you away from the main path and end up nowhere.

Breadcrumb #4: Make sure you don't throw down the same breadcrumb every time.
This is my way of saying don't forget red herrings or sub-plots.

Breadcrumb #5: Ignore the witch's house.
The witch's house is the greatest problem of all and for this metaphor it's whatever is calling your attention away from the path. It could be self-doubt. It could be fear of an approaching deadline. Just keep going along the path and soon you'll leave the witch's house far behind and reach the other side of the forest. That is the time for candy.

How do you make it through the woods? What are your breadcrumbs?


  1. Very clever post, Elspeth. I love the breadcrumbs analogy. I particularly like number five. Very good advice and too often overlooked in the focusing on technical issues. Nicely done.

    Gonna tweet this baby.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  2. Thanks Galen! I fear I sound more clever than I am.

  3. For me, beginning from the end isn't a necessity. Oftentimes I have no idea how the novel is going to end -- I just let my characters take me there. There is a point when I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I don't have a problem going in dark before it gets light.

  4. This was a great post, Elspeth. As Galen said, "very clever."

    What breadcrumbs do I use...hmmm, you used the best ones. I have a tendency to mix up my breadcrumbs. Large crumbs, little crumbs, moist crumbs (ewww!). These are various scenes that often are written out of order. Then I go back and try to put them together. This method requires a lot of revision. Adding scenes, chucking whole sections...I don't recommend this technique for everyone. It works okay for me, but that may be because I'm nuts.

  5. My big breadcrumb would have to be going with the flow....and continuing writing. No matter what the witch throws at me. :) Let's say....household emergency. A plumbing disaster descends on my house! Call the plumber and continue writing. Otherwise, I won't get 2 words down on paper for the day.

  6. Thank you all! All this praise will make my head so swollen that I won't make it through the forest because I keep bumping into trees!

    Moncia - welcome!

  7. Ignore the witch's house is a biggie. Too easy to get pulled away by the sweet candy and bright colors. If you let it happen, you just end up in the hot seat.

    Straight From Hel


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