The plate of peas part of writing

Hi, Gang! Craig with you again, with another way to think about story. I used to talk about this with my children when it came to life choices. They hated it, but hopefully it will resonate better with you guys.

To do this, imagine you have a big old platter of peas–

What’s that? In the back? Olives? Yeah, I suppose. Make them Gummy Bears if you like, but you have a big old pile of them.

Every pea stands for one possibility within your story. When you start out you have one pea for every possibility there is. Now this is perfect for the daydreaming phase of writing, but eventually, you’re going to have to make a few decisions. In this example, it’s all about taking some peas off your plate.

If, for example, you have Katie grooming her horse, you may have already removed science fiction from the table. I’m not saying you have to, but as you delve deeper into Katie’s love for her horse, science fiction is likely out the door.

This is okay, because to write a story you need some focus. If Katie’s father is about to lose the farm, and that’s where your drama is going to come from… submarines are probably off the platter too.

This might seem to be a silly way of thinking about it, but you still have a lot of peas on your platter.

As you start outlining, or writing, things are going to happen. You’re going to make commitments about the story. If Katie lives in Oregon, scrape the peas off the plate for all the other possible locations there are. Writing has a way of focusing your thoughts, and the commitments you make will help bring the story into focus.

If it turns out to be Oregon in the 1800s, the entire industrial revolution gets scraped off your plate.

When I think about Oregon in the 1800s, I think about logging. Suddenly, Katie’s horse becomes a draft horse, and farming might not be the only way to make a living. Maybe Katie can find work hauling logs out of the forest to help her dad save the farm. Only that would require scraping a few peas away. No more thoroughbreds, mustangs, or Shetland ponies.

Repeat this process as you write. Maybe there is no place for a love interest in this tale. Maybe there is, and Katie’s true happiness is with him and his delivery business uses draft horses. Either way, he’s either there or he isn’t. You have to commit and scrape the opposing pea away.

The platter of peas is just a different way of thinking about your stories. It’s a way of focusing, and making positive commitments as you draft the tale. Those commitments have a wonderful way of concentrating your brain power within the rules you’ve set. This is the point where some authors say their characters take over. This is what you want to happen, and it all starts by establishing a few parameters.

There is much more to a good story, but this works during the draft phase. Eventually, you’ll get beta readers, editors, and more to make it into something wonderful.

Make that out of Gummy Bears.




36 thoughts on “The plate of peas part of writing

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  4. LOL. The next time I sit down to write plot points, I’ll think about peas. Your brain must be filled with ideas swimming to the surface. I don’t start with a plate load of peas. I start with an idea and have to work to shell peas to put on my plate. My friends can write page after page with one plot point, but my writing (it must be my ideas, too) is sparse. I always have to add and fill it out. Wish I was swimming in peas like you:)

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  5. I love this analogy, Craig! Of course, I was picturing Coffee Nut M&Ms and eating them as I removed them (no chance of changing my mind that way), but great analogy.

    I can see how it applies to life lessons, too. I just may try that the next time one of my kids meets a fork in the road. (And with my son, it definitely can’t be peas. He’d scrape them all off the plate.)

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  6. That was a thoroughly entertaining way to look at story creation. I’m toying around with that phase right now (thinking ahead to a new series). I keep scraping peas away then adding them back on as the remaining peas sprout domino ideas. I plan on tackling some more story/draft peas over lunch today, so this post was perfect!

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  7. I like the platter-full-of-peas phase of outlining because it’s so full of possibilities, but sometimes it’s overwhelming and when too many ideas pull at me I become frustrated. Narrowing my focus and cutting out some things is satisfying. It’s like digging the story out of a pile of thrash.
    I usually write down my plate of beans in “what if” form, giving myself permission to explore even the silliest ideas, then I try to identify the good and forget about the bad.

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