Friday, June 17, 2011

VCFA Blog Initiative: What Happens Next? Inch Forward in the Dark, by Sion Dayson

The TeachingAuthors are proud to be part of the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) Summer Blog Initiative. We're especially pleased to be the first blog to feature these inspiring and practical posts by students and graduates of the MFA programs because four of the TeachingAuthors (Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford, Carmela Martino, Mary Ann Rodman, and me, JoAnn Early Macken) hold MFAs from Vermont College. On Monday, our series began with Jodi Paloni's entry, "The Point of Point of View."  In Wednesday's guest post, "Decide vs. Discover," Cynthia Newberry Martin shared a technique for letting the characters tell you what happens next in your story. Today, Sion Dayson gives us another method for moving forward.

What Happens Next? Inch Forward in the Dark, by Sion Dayson

Working on my first novel, I sometimes felt like I was stumbling through a large, strange house without the benefit of light. Maybe a storm cut the power or faulty wiring flipped the switch. Whatever the reason, I was in the midst of a blackout, trying to draw a blueprint of a place I had never been.

My advisor Ellen Lesser had a simple suggestion for combating the panic of not knowing where I was heading in my writing: inch forward in the dark.

The directive resonated.

I connected it to my idea of the foreign house. Everything was already there to be discovered; I just couldn’t see it yet. So I’d run my hands along the walls, stretch my arms out in front of me, take tiny steps. I inched forward in the dark. I learned there was a chair in the middle of the room, a desk with knick-knacks in the corner. What was this? Perhaps family portraits on the mantle?

After awhile I found a light switch. Suddenly an entire room was visible. It looked different than what I’d pictured, yet it was also so clear. Of course, this is the kitchen, I might say. Utensils on the drying rack, chipped plates, a leaking sink I’d heard when the lights were out--though I’d been unsure of its source.

But the hallway remained dark. The bedroom, the den. So I just kept mapping the house (the story) until every lamp was lit. Warm light seeped from each window. Slowly, I started making myself at home.

Sion Dayson will graduate in July 2011 with an MFA in Fiction Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, a National Book Foundation anthology, and the volume "Strangers in Paris," among other venues. She is currently working on her first novel. If you have any questions about her post or the MFA program at Vermont College, you can contact Sion directly at Feel free to visit her blog paris (im)perfect for information on her writing journey and other adventures in the City of Light.


Andrea Mack said...

I often find the best way to know what is going to happen next in my novel is to just start writing a little bit. Then it gradually emerges.

Sion Dayson said...

Hi Andrea. Thanks for commenting! That's exactly what that advice encouraged me to do. Instead of feeling like I had to know what would happen already, I learned that just starting to write and allowing myself to see what happened was the way to go. Some writers work with an outline or already have a plot in mind. Not me! It was very liberating to think of this notion of inching forward in the darkness because it made me feel it was ok not to know what lay ahead...but to keep moving slowly but surely forward. As you say, the path gradually emerges.

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

Thank you, Sion. What a great comparison. I discovered inching during NaNoWriMo. I had to move forward even though I didn't have the vaguest idea of what "forward" looked like until I got there. But when I did get there, it was the most amazing feeling. My fellow Pen and Inkers and I are looking forward to our time hosting VCFA

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

I tend to outline, but then I get bored because I already know where I'm going. So I throw away the outline (actually I lose it on my desk, which is not hard at all to do), and then I'm inching my way through the dark just like you are. Writing is more fun that way. The biggest thrill is finding the box where the dynamite is kept.

artistsroad said...

Great post, Sion!

What I like about this approach is that it allows for serendipity while also accepting the idea that you've already manifested what you're going to find. That's a lot less scary than entering a dark void, and thus a lot easier to undertake when writing.


Sion Dayson said...

Thanks everyone, for such great comments!

@Pen and Ink Blog - Exactly! I have no idea what "forward" looks like, either, but just have to keep moving. It's fantastic when it starts coming together! I'll look forward to reading what my fellow VCFAers have to say on your blog!

@Lyn - Hilarious. I loved your line about finding the box with the dynamite. Yes! I mean, ka-pow!

@Patrick - What a great way of putting it. That *is* how it feels: serendipitous and yet like it's been there the whole time for the finding.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for all your comments, everyone, especially you, Sion.