Step By Step

When we paid a visit to Rome in July, I snapped this picture of an outdoor stone staircase near the Colloseum.

The wear and tear on those steps, the way the curves seemed to speak of a several hundred years-long process of people walking up and down them and wearing them down, really fascinated me.  If my travel companions hadn’t been tugging gently on my sleeve–“Come on,” they urged.  “We have a ton to see!”–then I probably would have spent the morning taking a million and one snapshots of this set of stairs.

Many images and objects I come across in daily life make me think of writing, and the writing process.  My environment gets me thinking, or, rather, I puzzle at the writing process utilizing an objet du jour–a set of stairs, for example!–as a sort of lense through which I filter my thoughts.

In this case, the steps made me wonder about the stages involved in writing, in the step-by-step process of taking the barest seed of an idea, developing it, first-drafting, marching right through Revision Hell (sometimes more than once!), getting beta and second-reader eyes on it, querying, and if everything goes really well, maybe even finding an agent and getting the durn thing published.  What we all hope for, right?

The staircase becomes a metaphor.  What could be simpler.  But looking at that staircase, another set of thoughts hit me.  As the steps led from the most ancient part of the city to the Colloseum, no doubt they were heavily travelled.  Over the years, countless travellers on their way to Gladiator Games or Chariot Races must have climbed or descended them with nary a thought as to their construction, or with any true understanding of their utility. 

Yet there must have been a certain class of citizen–perhaps the Colloseum workers or the Senatorial runners (whose job it was to run messages back and forth all over the city–the ancient equivalent of e-mail)–who knew those steps better than anyone, who knew every crease in the stones, the measure of every riser, the missing knots and blemishes worn slick by sandal and shoe, who knew the spots to avoid, the safe passage.

After all, they’d been up and down those steps a whole lot more than the average bear, fallen a few times, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off.  They’d successfully traversed those stairs in darkness, sometimes when the rains blew in, or in the newday light of morning when the stones were slick with dew.  Those few had skipped the tricks of the trade and learned the trade instead, a process which granted them a wisdom not shared by their peers. 

Their continued success was built on that wisdom.

As writers, I think we share the same challenge.  The best way up the hill may not be the fastest, or the safest, or the easiest, but it’s up to us to discover what works, to uncover our own set of rules.  As I thought about this, and tarried to marvel at those majestic stone steps, I realized when it comes to writing, my stairway looks a lot like this:

Clearly, I have plenty of work to do.  ๐Ÿ˜€  But I am committed.  I want to keep building, learning, discovering.  Someday, I want my writing process to feel as weatherworn and understood and real as those beautiful Roman steps.

_ _ _ _ _ _

But wait!  The story’s not over yet!  Hours later, over a beer and in a goofier state-of-mind, I wondered what the stairs for different types of fiction would look like.  I mean, would Horror look different from Science Fiction?

After some snooping and hunting around on the intertubes, here’s what I came up with.  Enjoy!

Short Fiction:
Experimental Fiction:

Mystery/Thriller Fiction (DL, I’m looking at you :D):

๏ปฟEpic Fiction:
Historical Fiction:
Science Fiction:
Combat Fiction:
Pantser Fiction:
Plotter Fiction:
Writer’s Block Fiction:
Unfinished Fiction:
Here’s hoping my upcoming NaNoWriMo project–and yours too if you’re doing one–doesn’t end up looking like the last two!  What about you guys?  What would your fiction look like as a set of stairs?  Or any other architectural device for that matter?
Hope you’re having a great hump day, and don’t forget to stay groovy!
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  1. glnroz said:

    I too am facinated by stairways, I try to visualize when and who layed them in place. This was a clevere assortment of ideas and photos laced with story. Oh, my staircase? covered in layers of mossey neglect.. lol

    October 27, 2010
  2. Summer said:

    Oh, I love this! So much! I really like the fantasy stairs. As far as my fiction, it's probably more like one of those aggravating rooms in a fantasy novel where it's a long hallway filled with door after door, and the MC has to open each and every one of them…(in this case, the MC is me, and each door represents yet another idea I probably shouldn't be adding to the plot).

    October 27, 2010
  3. Claire Dawn said:

    I thought I was the only one who said "the average bear."

    The creepiest thing about this post is that my fave stairs are also my fave genres! Fantasy, Romance (as in containing romance, not the jumpyabones type of novel), and Pantser.

    Good luck on nano!

    October 28, 2010
  4. Jon Paul said:

    Glenn–Me too. Every time I walk past a historic building, I always see the architect and his crew standing right there, surveying an empty lot, trying to imagine the concrete edifice in front of me. It's a bit humbling, mostly.

    Summer–I know what you mean. Right now, I do feel a little like that, because I have all these scene snippets in my head for NaNo, but don't have the first clue how they'll fit together. Maybe figuring it out won't be as annoying as it sounds.

    Claire–Strangely enough, I liked "unfinished" best, but that probably because I can be a bit of a fatalist, if the room in the air is just right. Let's hope that isn't an omen of some sort.

    Good luck to you too!

    Thanks gang for paying my paltry place a visit!

    October 28, 2010
  5. Lola Sharp said:

    Oh well done, JP! I love your photo of the worn steps.
    And I love what you came up with for all the different genres.
    (It's fun, but time consuming, finding all the photos, isn't it?)

    I actually LOVE that last 'unfinished' photo. (not unfinished MSs, though.)

    T-minus 4!

    October 28, 2010
  6. Okie said:

    Awesome post. I love the original photo that inspired it as well as the interesting ideas you present. Very cool. :)

    October 28, 2010
  7. I think my fiction would look like a fish ladder – the series of mad-made "steps" that are created in rivers to help the spawning salmon get to their goal, (um,which is to procreate and then die, so I'm not sure what genre that would be, but I digress.) just like the idea that the fish ladders are a little bit of a push for the salmon but that they still have to fight and struggle against an unstoppable stream of water. It is really up to them at the end of the day to get to their goal. – G

    October 29, 2010
  8. Jon Paul said:

    Lola–Time consuming, yes, but searching out all this different photos was a ton of fun!

    T-minus 3!


    Georgina–Wow! That is a great metaphor and image. Kinda makes you appreciate the struggle, and the life/death thing is really tied up there too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    And thanks guys for stopping in!

    October 29, 2010
  9. Okay, absolutely LOVE this post ๐Ÿ˜€ and LOVE LOVE LOVE the staircase pictures….I think I'm going to have to bookmark this :)

    October 29, 2010
  10. Jon Paul said:

    Thanks for stopping by, Michelle. I appreciate the kind words. ๐Ÿ˜€

    November 1, 2010

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