No one should worry about thinking outside the box.
Because THINKING is the box!
Worry about that, instead.
As fiction writers, we needn’t worry personally about the existential angst that “thinking is the box!” might stir up. But we should concern ourselves with how “thinking” relates to the journeys of our characters. And it goes like this:
If we really love our protagonist, we won’t ease up on him/her until they’ve utterly finished with thinking. From opening gambit to the story’s major crisis—thinking reigns supreme.
Thinking reigns supreme
The hero’s goal, her motivation, strategies and actions through the beginning and middle of a story, it’s all a function of thinking. It takes the hero a long way, but (in a good story) never all the way.
Thinking takes our POV character from Page One to the brink of the story heart, but thinking should never be allowed to move her through the heart to the story’s resolution.
This is a basic principle I work with, and it helps me break down the story into two parts.
A super-simple overview
Story One portrays the character operating within his thinking box. It’s a magnificent box of powerful biases and beliefs which, when spent—when emptied utterly—opens the protagonist to “seeing.”
Is that simple, or what?
I have a habit of devolving into a rant at this point, because, although obvious to me, many story experts don’t grasp the significance of seeing vs. thinking. And yet the difference may explain nothing less than why we’re so addicted to fiction.
We yearn to see truth for ourselves
There comes a time in every struggle—if we’ve fought hard enough and failed—when we lose faith in ourselves. The hero grows tired of the sound of her own voice, and weary of the lies she’s forced to tell herself to sustain belief in her strategies. She rejects herself, her thoughts—the whole freaking box!
This is the moment of truth.
But truth is not served by a fictional character digging once again into her bag of tricks to come up with a last ditch solution. It’s just more box! It’s often called “thinking outside the box,” but as we know now, thinking IS the box!
Audiences get their money’s worth when the hero escapes the box for the freedom of no-thought (a few milliseconds will do) and the “seeing” that is the miraculous consequence. If you want to call that a religious experience, go ahead, please. Because it is powerful enough to give the reader a blast of authenticity. And that’s what’s addictive.
I’m designing a writing course for local writers here on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. I aim to present a few keys to writing a killer first draft. “Thinking is the box!” is one such key.
Not to overload the writer with rules, these basic principles and overviews will encourage the writer to write the most reckless-but-considered first draft possible.
And you — what are your guiding principles? When you set out, what are those big “story” thoughts without which you would never leave home?
Let me know in the “Comments” below.