Monday, 12 September 2016

The Story Maze – by Ruth Hatfield

Recently, at the Saffron Walden Maze Festival, I did a workshop about plotting. Designing it, I thought, I’ve got to bring mazes in, right? Make some kind of impressive analogy about plots and mazes, and that’ll make me sound very clever and as if I know what I’m talking about. I realised quickly why plotting is often taught with the Story Mountain. It’s a good way to show what you’re aiming for (I hate it, but that’s another story). But is it a good place to start from?

In practice, working out my plots is more a process of trial and error. A story maze, if you like – not the kind where you follow a single path that twists and turns all the way, but the kind where it’s very probable that you will wander about, take wrong turnings and almost inevitably become disorientated and lost at some/multiple point/s.

So here it is: The Story Maze, or How I Discover What On Earth My Plot Is:

Enter maze. Potter along for a while, taking a few twists and turns. The weather’s fine, I’ll get there in the end, for sure. Not sure where I’m going, but when I’m in the middle, I’ll look back and understand it all. The whole afternoon is ahead. Begin drawing map as I go along, so that once I’m at the middle I’ll know the way out.

Hit dead end. No problem. There are always a few of these, right? Turn back, pick another way.

Hit another dead end. Turn back again.

Another dead end. Pick another route. Discover myself back at entrance.

Curse. Look at watch. Afternoon passing quickly. Contemplate going for a cup of tea instead. Feel irresistibly drawn back into maze. I have a partially-finished map, after all. What’s to lose?

Retrace previous steps. Get closer to middle this time. Sense it just on the other side of a few hedges. It’s getting closer. Fill in a bit more of map.

Walk around in circles going down the same dead end a few times.

Spot previously unseen break in hedge. Vaguely consider that it might just be a place where the vegetation is a bit thin, but go through it anyway. I can always go back later and fill in the bit that I’ve missed.

Walk a bit more. Hit a dead end. Oh right, yes. It’s a special dead end pocket in the maze, designed to capture people who try breaking through patches of thin vegetation. Map looks at me smugly.

Return to forced-through gap. Contemplate going back through it and doing things properly.

Put map in pocket. Take out machete. Hack hole through hedges to centre of maze.

Get to middle. What a relief. It’s a space surrounded by hedges, with a bench in it. Have a sit down. Phew! Ok, there’s quite a lot of the map that’s blank, but I can draw that on the way out, can’t I? It’ll be much easier to find the way out than the way in, won’t it?

Begin trying to find the way out. Fill in some of the map, backwards. The scale looks a bit wrong, but I can fix that later, maybe by sort of stretching a few lines and squashing some of the others.

It gets dark.

Lie down to sleep. The moon is poetic and silver, but of no use as a navigational aid. Wolves howl at the moon.

Morning comes. Daylight! Hooray!

Except I’m still surrounded by hedges. Daylight means I can see the hedges. The hedges are thick.

Pull out crumpled map. Redraw it onto fresh paper, making sure that the correct bits are well drawn. Leave out the fudgy bits. Use logic to try theoretically drawing in the rest of the maze. Think: if I can breathe myself into the mind of the maze-maker, I will be able to understand how they designed this.

Agonise. Stare at page. Panic. Wonder why I took on this stupid task, and what sort of a devilish deviant designed this stupid maze anyway?

Realise it was me.

Stop. Breathe. Have a good long think.

Tea. I should have had that cup of tea, way back when I inadvertently found my way back to the entrance. That’s what I was thinking about. That’s what I wanted.

This journey is clearly about tea.

It’s simple. The fog in my exhausted mind clears at long last, and I can see the way back to the tea. Sort of. Well enough for now, anyway.

(Yes, ok, I know I’m physically back where I started, but hopefully I’ve been gone long enough for someone to have wheeled the Story Mountain over, and when I finally get out of the maze it’ll be there, waiting for me).


Joan Lennon said...

Oh yes.

Susan Price said...

Oh yes, oh yes.
It's very, very like this. And it never gets any easier, no matter how many mazes you've fought your way through.
I often use that machete to cut new pathways through. And a spade to replant walls in other places.
I am entangled in the twigs and deadfalls of a particuarly tricky maze as I speak, Hope is beginning to fade that there is actually a way through.

Penny Dolan said...

How good to hear of such a journey, Ruth, and the new tall maze as well.

The Saffron Walden maze I remember is the old Turf Maze - a curling, weaving, in-and-out pattern laid out in the grass, which made it simple to step out of the pattern and away from the maze's sometimes mesmeric effect if you'd followed it too closely. Some time ago, on residential writing courses for children at the local YHA, I recall that maze inspiring some interesting poetry and fantasy stories.

Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Ruth - and how true!