Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When All Else Fails…

…use duct-tape. It works in real life, and it works in writing. There are, of course, two ways of using duct tape. Sometimes either way is okay, sometimes one way is used inappropriate and you find yourself 10 miles from the nearest settlement and your car has come asunder (or your spaceship, which would be even more annoying).

Duct taping is doubly important now as NaNo is approaching!!!!! (tiny Pratchett craziness)

Two ways of using duct tape:
  1. The duct tape will keep the whole thing together so you can roll into safe harbour
  2. The duct tape will fix it permanently

As in real life, the permanent duct tape fix only works for less important things, or objects that aren’t much used. The temporary patch-up is however very useful so not to lose your stride or when you’re stuck on a bus and don’t have a thesaurus.

Let’s start with “what a hell is duct taping in writing?”

Duct taping is when you do a makeshift solution for a writing problem. For example:

  • a synonym of the word you want to use but can’t remember.
  • a summary/shallow description of how the heroine steers the rampaging truck out of harm’s way instead of the detailed “this is how you do it” description that you want.
  • a simple scene where the Evil Dude reveals his Evil Plans instead of the intricate and complicated one where the reader learns of The Plans by surmising what someone else is doing.
  • writing “went to street X where the snazzy boutique is” instead of going to the library, finding a New York guide book, looking through all streets to find a suitable place and boutique, before actually continuing to write.
  • a dialogue without deeper descriptions and speech-tags.

The most important rule of writing is to write. Duct taping helps you to use the steam while it’s hot (alright, when it’s not hot it’s not steaming, but I have acquired an artistic license to lie and exaggerate).This is especially important when you’re prone to writer’s block, or when you have a limited amount of time or very varied amounts of time on your hands.

I admit, I’m a lazy researcher. Permanent duct taping is my favourite. You often find me rewriting segments and sentences when I can’t remember the word I want. If I don’t know how my character would fix the hole in the spacecraft hull, I erase the hole and create another problem she can fix (which I know how to do). I don’t look up how dresses fit in the 15th century, I describe the dress in a non-revealing way.

If you like research, but have little time to write, I suggest write when you feel for it by using careful duct taping. Then do research and insert the information you want when you can. That way your thoughts will be archived and the cake just lies there, waiting for the frosting.

For some things you don’t have a choice. They can’t – or shouldn’t - be duct taped until the end of Eternity. Major plot points can’t be skimmed over. Character revelations shouldn’t be done in info dumps. Dialogue needs descriptions of character reactions.

Only you can decide what will be a permanent fix. Choose wisely. Time will tell.

But until end of November, DUCT TAPE RULES!


  1. Excellent post! I have a problem with duct tape. I tend to want to grind to a halt, research the best stitch, and carefully graft in whatever details I need at the moment. It kills my writing speed.

    This year, I'm going to keep duct tape in mind and slap it all over my draft. I am going to win Nano!!!!

  2. You should see my nice handwritten pages with circles every other line to mark words that needs to be replaced :D

    I'm glad you liked the post!

    And good luck with NaNo! Let's both win.

  3. I love your duct tape blog! LOL I came here by way of "Don't pet me, I'm writing" blog. I'm looking for a critique partner who is willing to read various genres. And who is willing to be honest yet not cruel.

    What about you?

    I have a couple of beta readers, but I don't get the feedback I need to make the story better. I have one who tries to rewrite whole chapters. (her heart is in right place, so I read what she wrote and try to ascertain what's missing from my prose :) Usually, she wants more romance sooner than my characters are allowed it LOL. Email me if you're interested in sounding me out :)

    PS My last September blog mentions NaNo and Duct tape as well. :D

  4. My first response in any crisis is 'Super-glue' but I agree, Duct tape is superior when it comes to writing. Great post.

  5. Super-glue must be the equivalent of finding a "sure fix" - like adding a prologue with the killer to add tension, or use some sort of ad hoc plot to solve a hole. Right?

    And thanks!