How Writing a Story is like a Fencing Match

Swords on wallUnfortunately, I have never been to a fencing class. I always wanted to go, but there were no clubs where I grew up, and then, since I became an adult, I just never seem to find time. But, thanks to literature and television, I am basically an expert (not even close) at sword fighting and all of its intricacies. Just call me Inigo Montoya.

From observing numerous bouts of fencing on TV and in my head, I have come to liken it to writing, which I seem to do with just about everything else anyway, so it was inevitable. Confused? Me too, but let me explain:

Some of my stories take weeks, some take hours. Some stories take days, and some take years before even being typed out or written down. But it’s not because I am lazy, or haven’t had the desire to write them. It’s not even that I have forgotten about them or set them aside. What’s actually happening is an epic battle between me and whatever I am writing wherein one must become victorious. My stories like to fight me sometimes, and it takes a sharp mind and multiple levels of thought to wrestle them into submission.

The idea and I circle each other slowly, hands loose around our blades, but eyes sharp and muscles tingling. We smile, we bow, we even exchange a civil word or two. Until we realize that there is a hole between what I want to write and what the idea wants to become. We glare at each other, setting our feet and gripping our blades, palms hot with anticipation and breath sharp and eager.

I, brazen as always, see a glimmer of light shining in the plot and lunge, hoping to pierce it and make it my own. The idea slides away lazily—nothing is ever that easy. We dance carefully, whirling around each other, metal blades ringing sweetly. I jab when I think I see an opportunity, but the idea carefully sidesteps away. I take another chance, but the idea parries, and instead jabs, missing me by the tiniest of distances.

We’re angry at each other, this idea and me. Because I want the idea to become something, yet it has a plan of its own. I want to discover a plot and story line, but the idea just rolls and ducks and steps away, seemingly without effort. But ideas, if you keep thinking about them, tire quickly. And writers have more patience with their own minds than anyone else I know.

So, I wear it out. I keep working at it. I lunge and jab and parry and balance until the idea is out of breath. Pushing it and pushing it until its something that I can use. Then I gracelessly shove it in the chest with my forearm and watch it tumble to the ground. I’ve won. It might have taken a year or two or three, but I won. I hold out my hand, steady the idea, and we walk away together, as it leans on me.

This is the way it goes for me most times. I find that to really get the story to be how you want it to be, you have to fight it. You have to mold it and shape it and tame it until it’s something that you can understand. When you get ideas from something as simple as light falling on a flower petal, or that tangible thickness during a thunderstorm, what will make it into a story isn’t always apparent.

Sometimes stories fight to be written, other times they fight to be forgotten. Others, you get halfway through writing and then they want you to completely lose your motivation. You have to keep digging for it, parrying, sidestepping, lunging, and taking chances.

Only then does it become something that you can claim.

Is your process like this at all? If not, what do you do instead?

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10 thoughts on “How Writing a Story is like a Fencing Match

  1. I’m definitely having a fencing match with a short story of mine that I started ten months ago. Every time I think I’ve got it right, I find that there’s something lacking or I just can’t push through it. I wonder if I’ll ever get through it.

  2. I’m not a short story writer; my wip & my physical health DO, indeed, have had many swashbuckling times!! Alas, my wip most times, is in its corner,hurt,wounded,wanting its mommy!

  3. I’m not a short story writer; my wip & my physical health DO, indeed, have had many swashbuckling times!! Alas, my wip most times, is in its corner, hurt, wounded,wanting its mommy!

  4. My process is more the fight Jacob had with the Angel. I struggle with it through the night, tossing and turning, waking up writing some more and just before dawn I get my revelation and type like mad!

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