Digging out a Metaphor (Cecilia Peartree)

 One advantage of not having watched a lot of television during the busier spells of my life is that when things became a lot less frantic there were some really good programmes I had never seen at the time when they were first aired. That's my excuse for having viewed all three series of 'Detectorists' several times over the past year. In case anyone reading this hasn't heard of 'Detectorists', I should mention that it's a (very) British comedy series.

So it came about that, whereas I had sometimes been tempted to see my writing process as like that of a sculptor working on a huge lump of marble or some appropriate geological formation, whittling or carving or hammering away until the original source material had become the chosen shape, I realised that it was actually more similar to the way metal detectorists worked. Bear with me while I try to explain my reasoning.

First there is the faint signal from the depths of the earth - or my mind, as the case may be - that there could be something interesting there. Then, probably after several false starts when the interesting thing turns out to be a ring-pull or a crisp packet, I get down on my hands and knees and excavate the thing I've decided is worth uncovering. At this point it might still end up being discarded. Even if it's quite important in its own right, it might not fit with my interests, so I know I won't be able to make a story out of it for some reason. Things that fall into this category might include a story I read in the paper the other day about someone who kept receiving Red Riding-Hood outfits in the post, or the suggestion the people at Co-op funerals made to me about my late husband's fingerprints. Perhaps not everyone would have found the latter quite as disturbing as I did.

If my find does seem to fit into my writing plans and interests, that is the time to scrape off all the mud and look at it more carefully. Is it big enough to write a whole novel round, or perhaps even a short story? Is it unusual enough? I know there are reputed to be only six possible plots, or some number of that sort of scale, but is there something about my find that could make the story unique and memorable?

In any case the find will have to wait on the mantelpiece for a while before it can be used. I don't have a mantelpiece, by the way, so what I really mean by this is that I probably won't write anything down for weeks, maybe months. Even if I do write something down it will be a scrawl in a notebook or possibly on a piece of paper. I won't be starting on a computer document until I know something about the form the story will take. After all, if I'm going to be displaying my work, cleaned up and polished until it gleams in the huge digital museum that is Amazon, I want to make sure of its quality first.

No metal detected here but at least we have a bluebell


Peter Leyland said…
That's a great metaphor Cecila. I loved The Detectorists as did one or two close friends. A good find for you. It made me think (and you may have heard about this) of Jane Austen comparing her writing to working with her fine brush on a 'little bit (not two inches wide) of ivory', another good metaphor. Thanks for the post.
Reb MacRath said…
Well done, Cecilia. Nothing is wasted in the detectoring, is to? The process is rewarding in itself--and what we do discard (for now) sharpens our focus on what counts for this WIP.
Debi said…
A good article but I can't help but wonder about those Little
Red Riding Hood cloaks and the fingerprints. I need to read more newspapers!
Eden Baylee said…
Great metaphor for what's worth keeping as part of my writing, especially now when I'm paying attention to all the new growth in my garden.
For a couple of years now, I've had a "bleeding heart" plant show its leaves but die off before it blooms. I thought I dug it out and discarded it last year, but it managed to come back up.
Until I read your post, I didn't make this connection > I have to decide if I want to dig it up and replant or just discard it. Hmmm...
Thanks for a very thoughtful piece Cecilia!

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