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Friday Speak Out!: Getting Lost in the Details? Try This Simple Trick

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by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

In the summer of 2017 I began work on what I thought was a short story. It certainly wasn’t going to be a novel. I hadn’t written a novel in two years, and it had been three since my first one debuted.

Part of the problem was I kept getting lost in the details. A book about two boys who run away on a mission to find one’s missing father had me buried in research about volcanism, autism, Catholicism, and the northern Arizona wilderness. Another attempt at a novel, this one a sprawling portal fantasy, produced a notebook’s worth of mythology and worldbuilding but only a chapter of prose.

This time, I thought, I was going to stick with what I did best–something short, something simple.

You probably know where this is going.

The House on Linden Way, a story about a woman who revisits her childhood home and becomes trapped in living memories, grew into a novel. It’s difficult to overstate how relieved I felt at the time, knowing I could still write books. I credit the simplicity of the story, particularly the setting, for my breakthrough.

Because nostalgia is such an important theme in Linden Way, I tapped into memories of my own childhood home; and because Linden Way is also a haunted house story, most of the scenes occur within the house itself. Limiting my setting to a place with which I was intimately familiar–a place where every room, every corner, is lovingly burned into my memory–freed me to focus on what was unfamiliar: the characters, the conflict, and the plot.

The best part of writing fiction is getting to make things up, but “write what you know” can be a useful adage–a gateway to the good stuff. And drawing on real-life places or experiences won’t stifle your creativity; I’ve written four more books since Linden Way, and they all have completely fictionalized settings.

So if you’re stuck, if you find yourself trying over and over to create something wholly from scratch and you’re drowning in the details, choose something familiar. It can be a place, a person, or a memory. Let that be a framework for your story so your imagination can flourish–instead of getting away from you.

* * *
Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the award-winning author of T
he Fourth Wall and The House on Linden Way. Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in Brevity Magazine, Superstition Review, Fractured Lit, The Portland Review, Hunger Mountain, Hospital Drive, Reservoir Road, Literary Mama, Motherwell, and a few other places. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best American Essay, and Best of the Net. All links to Elizabeth's work can be found on her website at elizabethmarianaranjo.com.

The House on Linden Way is now available in print and ebook! Join me in the fall for the blog tour, hosted by Women on Writing.  

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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