Breadcrumbs

Sometimes I think my love of carbs is interfering with other areas of my life, and other times I think it can make an apt metaphor for writing. I’ve been talking a lot about breadcrumbs in my fiction writing classes lately, those details we drop into a story as we’re going, not knowing where they’re leading, but aware we might need some direction later on. Maybe not only to return home, but to figure out where we’re going.

The other day I was working on a first draft of a story and left the following crumbs in the first two pages:

1) cottonwoods and elms surrounding a farm
2) a character who can’t eat spicy foods
3) a notepad next to a phone with a phone number written on it
4) a weird aunt that might be psychic
5) a character who sleeps in a nightgown

Are any of these crumbs worth anything? I don’t know, but until I write further, I won’t. I’ve already come back to the notepad next to the phone, and my guess is the landscape is important, if only so I can more fully imagine the scenes taking place there. But the real proof will be in the pudding (maybe I’m just obsessed with food?), when I get stuck and have to go back and carefully read what’s come before, wondering what I’ve put in the map.

Ron Carlson says we need to fully imagine scenes in order to build from them, that “details aren’t the icing on the cake, but the table that the cake stands on.” (Seriously, now I’m talking about cake?)

What breadcrumbs do you leave when you’re starting a story? What draws you back in a way you hadn’t expected?


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