Jump Off

(Originally posted Wednesday, August 27th, 2008)

Normally when someone says, “Jump off” in relation to writing, it conveys images of finding a bridge. Portland, as you may know, is a town of bridges. We don’t need anyone yelling jump off, especially not to the approximately 250,000 writers who live here.

Jumping off is a practice that can be especially useful when your creative piece is in its seedling phase. What it means, essentially, is to take a chunk from your existing narrative, regardless of the draft or version that you’re in, and “jump it over” to another piece of paper, Word document, or whatever your chosen format happens to be. Once you’re away from the structure of your existing narrative, you have the opportunity to poke, prod and explore a dynamic scene as a means of working on dialog, setting, description, what have you.

I encourage – and utilize – jump off exercises for a number of reasons. First, it’s good to get out of the story you’re writing, especially if you find yourself focusing on where the narrative is headed and how your dialog, setting or description will take you there. Working within the structure of your narrative can at best confound and distract you, and at worst could discourage you from going forward. No one needs to be discouraged, especially not at the onset.

Jumping onto a new page will bring more light into the room, give your characters, scene, etc. some fresh air and new opportunities. You’re essentially giving them a second life.

In the end, your jumping off exercise will not only help you find the voice or words you’re looking for, but you may discover that, in pulling something out and running in a slightly different direction, you’ve invented another story, or at least a new idea for another story.

Don’t let the form hold you back. If your two main characters have been locked in a bedroom argument for the past three days of writing and there’s no end in sight for you or them, take them out of there, set them on a new page and see what comes. Or throw them off a cliff.