Friday, March 26, 2010

What Banagrams Can Teach Us About Writing

Okay, we've heard me say before that I like Bananagrams. Turns out, I wasn't kidding. And, to prove my love, as all great knights and story heroes must, I'm writing a blog post about what that game can teach us about writing. (Okay, so, it's not as heroic as slaying a dragon, or even a gila monster, but it's what I've got.)

Get something big up front. That way you've got something to build on.
Imagine trying to build an entire board of words from Cat. It's hard. You've got limited things to build from and not a wide variety of letters to use in your building words. Not ideal. A similar principle applies to ideas. While I'd never claim a full-fledged idea cannot spring from a single line of dialogue or the flicker of an imagine in ones mind, I wouldn't advise a person with only one line of dialogue to sit down and start banging away on the keyboard. They won't know what to do once they've run out of initial steam, and they'll probably give up. The idea should be kicked around and thought about until it's more fleshed out, bigger. Then, it will be something you can build on.

Build on what you've got. Don't scrap the entire board just to place one tricky letter.
When you're staring at a Q and thinking, 'Aaahh! I have no vowels free and nowhere to put this, I don't know what to do!' you might be struck with a sudden urge to take a lot of things apart to find a place for it. 'I can put the other stuff together again in a different way. It'll totally work.' It can work. But it's also going to take a lot of time and effort, and it might not even work. Alternatively, when in a whole, the appropriate response is not to dig to China. It's to use the shovel to put footholds in the wall. It's easier to make smaller changes and solve one problem then rebuild the entire thing and possibly make more. Simpler solutions are often available if we look, and they're good options.

Resist the urge to dump. It often makes more problems than it fixes.
Some friends of mine, whenever they hit a rough letter, dump it. That means they put it back in the Pile From Whence Words Come, and draw three more letters. This can be helpful when faced with a really tricky letter, like a z or an x. But for an ordinary letter, like a r, this often creates more problems than the one it solves. It adds to the list of things you have to deal with, and like destroying the whole board to manage a hinky letter, you run the risk of taking on a lot of nonsense you don't know what to do with. In writing, it you get lost in a scene, the solution is not to spin all sorts of meaningless stuff you'll have to cut later. If you've got a plot hole, don't pull nonsense from nowhere to fix it. Go with what you've already built in the story. There's probably an answer there. Think. Focus. Then type. This isn't a timed event. It doesn't have to all happen this instant.

Don't be afraid to take apart what you've already made.
(This is the part where I end with the one that's not like the others.) Okay, from what I've already said about not destroying everything, I don't mean that what you've already done is set in stone. It's not. Shuffling can occur. Editing will occur. Things can change. And they can certainly change to accommodate an issue you've only just noticed. I just meant you don't always have to change everything. If you see a small change that can be made to one scene (a letter you can pull from a long word without creating a problem over there) and use that to solve you problem that you're having now (and use it to create a great word that gets rid of your icky letter), you shouldn't be afraid to go for it. Place things now, solve the problems now, and don't think you can't possibly change them later to manage the problems as you go.

Summation: Nothing's set in stone. You've probably got lot's of great foundation already laid. Don't scrap the entire thing to solve one problem in one part. Just use what you've got to make your fix. (There's probably an architecture metaphor to be had here, but that's for another day.)


  1. I am intriqued. I've never played before but I am a huge Scrabble fan (worst day for me as a writer -- discovering Scrabble online. Yeah. Procrastination central). Your points all apply to that too. And I like the analogy.

  2. I agree - great analogy! I've never played but I might now after reading this post.

    Have a great weekend!

  3. Great analogy! I've wanted to scrap the whole thing many times.

  4. Great post! I've never played that before, but I love your point about making sure you don't need to start completely over. I had a rough time with my novel at one point, and spent about a month deciding if I should rewrite it or not. I finally decided to scrap it all and rewrite - but it was because too many things were wrong. I'm glad I did that, but for the most part, I won't do that again!

  5. I'll admit I'm not even sure what it is! I don't even know how to play Scrabble.

  6. This is new to me, but I am also a scrabble fan so might check it out. It's always fun to make our work into games .. why not? :)

  7. Jenna -- Scrabble is awesome. I know some folks who play online. They tell me it's addicting.

    Talli -- Well, I'm slowly converting the world to playing. **maniacal laugh** Have a great weekend, as well.

    Susan -- Well, I try. I'm familiar with the urge to scrap everything, but I always like to try and find the good stuff to salvage.

    Glamis -- Thanks. Starting over is hard. I hope your rewrites are going well.

    Tamara -- Bananagrams and Scrabble are addicting word games played with tiles. Lots of fun.

    Tess -- You're right, why not. It's fun.