I’ll admit, that’s a strange post title for a site called Writer UN-Boxed. But stick with me. In certain circumstances, you may want to write inside a box.
By that, I do not mean a box of expectations, as in slavishly following storytelling “rules”. Strict adherence to genre rules, for instance, might seem to please genre fans, but actually only results in cookie cutter novels. Universal story templates such as the Hero’s Journey or three-act structure are meant to inspire but, treated too rigidly, can also constrain. Really, any kind of imitation results only in routine novels.
To be effective, fiction must to some degree be original. Thinking outside the box is helpful, no question. That said, I sometimes meet writers who are overwhelmed by their choices. They have a buffet of possible projects and a plethora of intentions. They agonize over what to write and swim in a sea of directions in which to take their stories.
For such writers, there are too many possibilities. They are paralyzed, unable to choose. They have fallen prey to a phenomenon that social scientists call maximization. It’s a kind of fear: the fear that there are better options. Examining every last possibility might seem to be a virtue, a smart sifting, but while agonizers do tend to make better decisions they also are less satisfied with what they ultimately select. They are haunted by the possibilities still lingering. What if they missed out on a better choice?
(If you’re interested in the science behind the common sense, you can find it here.)
In daily life, the solution to drowning in possibilities lies in determining what is the minimum positive outcome of a given decision. More simply, instead of wondering what would be perfect, instead decide what would be good enough? [Read more…]