Writing Life: It’s Okay to Take the Stairs

I have a beef with elevators.  Ever since I got stuck in one with my AFJROTC group in a museum in Washington, DC, my relationship with elevators has been love/hate.  On the one hand, you can get to the 15th floor with your legs in tact, without sweat stains, and without your lungs begging you never to put them through that again.  On the other… I got stuck in an elevator.  I don’t think I can be any more clear on that.  Elevators are mechanical, they lurch, and whirr, and when you step off of them, you have this weird, weak-legged feeling.

You’re thinking:  “This is a writing blog, Kit, what’s your point?”

My point is: It’s okay to take the stairs.  The scenic route, the back roads, the winding paths that take you away from the mechanical “gets-you-from-a-to-b” elevators and freeways of writing.

In an elevator, it takes you from the ground floor, to the fifteenth floor.  It doesn’t matter how you’re getting there.  You don’t question what might be on the floors in between…. but those floors between the ground and fifteenth floor are a necessary part of the building’s structure.  They house the elevator shaft that pulls you “from a-to-b.”

There's your destination... don't you care what's between here and there? What if there's a floor housing zombies? Or unicorns?

In your story, the journey is half the fun.  Each leg of your character’s journey should be essential to the plot, like each floor is essential to the building.  The stairs let you peek through doors, explore different floors, give your character the strength and personal growth to be ready for whatever the fifteenth floor holds.  Would you deny him the experience by sticking him in an elevator, passing all kinds of fun things the other floors may contain?  MAYBE HIS DEAD WIFE IS ON THE FIFTH FLOOR!  He’d want to know that, right?  Poor guy.  He really loved her, now he’ll never know, and never grow through his grief.

Let him wonder what's around the next bend... Also, the climb will be great for his thighs.

I got a little off track, I think.  What I’m trying to say is, taking your character from A-to-B is great.  You want him to get there, but not without the trials and tribulations of pulling himself up a long flight of stairs.  Stairs give him doors, which give him choices, which lead to growth, and that growth will give him the means of defeating his greatest obstacle: whatever lies on the fifteenth floor.

So, to recap:

  • Trials and tribulations are important.
  • Sticking your hero on the fifteenth floor from the first will only get him killed.
  • Reading about a character who hasn’t had the time or pain to grow and overcome is a character too boring to invest time in.
  • Stairs are good for the thighs.

Are you pro-stairs or pro-elevator?  What’s your favorite part of your protagonist’s journey?

Flickr photo: Elevator Buttons © iseethelight

Flickr photo: Stairs © Caucas

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13 Comments

Filed under Writing Life

13 responses to “Writing Life: It’s Okay to Take the Stairs

  1. Unabridged Girl

    Absolutely fabulous post! Seriously! Witty and wonderful and happy!

  2. Wow, Kit. This was fantastic! What a great metaphor for getting through a story – really, I mean, this is just brilliant, and I love it. I know it’s also going to be on my mind whenever I write now, because it’s so true.

    It’s funny, because one of the characters in my WiP and I just went through a sort of getting-stuck-in-the-elevator experience together. I had something planned out for her, but I just got stuck on the way, and I realized that it didn’t make any sense to have her going from point A to point B so damn quickly. It defied all rules of logic, of character, of anything really. She kept telling me to take the stairs, and I didn’t listen. Once we got back to the ground floor, though, she gave me a big smile, an “I told you so,” and began to skip up the stairs. I’m pretty sure we don’t even need to climb to the 15th floor – what we need is somewhere lower and closer, but it took me a while to realize it.

    • D’aw. Thank you. ^_^ <3 The good thing is that you realized that your character was stuck in an elevator. The worst is when you write the whole thing, then go back and think "augh, there was nothing leading up to that." Rewrites in that sense are grueling. x_x Congrats on realizing it early. <3

  3. Great post Kit. A clever reminder that readers connect with characters who struggle, fail and overcome. I am pro-stairs, the kind with big landings between floors so your character has a chance to catch his or her breath before the next big climb. :) Although, I am with you on the elevators, they creep me out. Sometimes I expect that after the ‘whoosh’ of getting to my floor, I wonder if I might have travelled through an alternate universe or something.

  4. “Stairs give him doors, which give him choices, which lead to growth, and that growth will give him the means of defeating his greatest obstacle” – this almost sounds like the Jedi warning against the dark side. Especially considering taking stairs can lead to suffering : /

    • In this sense, the stairs are symbolic of the path to suffering. The path to suffering, in fiction, ultimately leads to growth. (Or, it’s supposed to, at least.) So, if I managed to sound Jedi, that’s awesome. And also bad, because I’m promoting the path to the dark side, it seems. XD

  5. Erin M

    Love this post, Kit! =]

    I wish I could think of plot in terms of stairs and floors and landings. It would probably help me, because it sounds like it makes a lot of sense. My plots tend to meander horizontally, though. When I have plots at all, that is. XD

    I got stuck in an elevator once during a fire alarm at a hotel. Not a nice experience. To this day, I get nervous in elevators.

    PS, I want to live in that building with those old stairs, in the picture!

    • Oddly, I got the idea when I was in a hotel last month and opted to take the stairs. I’m horrendously out of shape, and thought “Just because the elevator is there, doesn’t mean I have to use it.” I can’t begin to tell you where that clicked with writing, but somewhere on the way up, it hit me.

      Also, the building that housed those stairs, I think, was an old Turkish prison. Which, I’m sure, would convert to a home in amazing, ridiculous, and terrifying ways. XD

      • Erin M

        HAHAHAHA. Brilliant. I’m going to end up living in an old Turkish prison when I grow up. >_<

        ^_^

  6. Pro-stairs! When I thought I was getting fat (which I still kind of do but now I’ve discovered Yoga) I used to just run up and down the stairs in my house (when no one was home of course). But then I got hungry and the point was moot.

    I have love/hate with any method of getting to a higher floor. Sometimes I get stuck on stairs and I just want to FREAKING BE ON THE 15TH FLOOR ALREADY and other times when I take the elevator to get there I realize I’ve missed crucial elements on the 8th floor. Damn it. But for the most part, I pick stairs b/c a bigger book is always more fun than a smaller one.

    But I actually really do love riding the elevator in the Bank of America Building in Manhattan b/c it goes so fast and your ears literally pop. Mad cool.

    • I’ve been meaning to look into Yoga! I have motivation issues, though. The worst part of cardio is the fact you get hungry right after. I don’t want to eat fruit after working out. I want something gross, like a turkey leg or a cheeseburger. XD

      See, when writing this, I was tempted to get into the perks of elevators, but it would have interfered with my point. Lol. I like the glass elevators that let you see everything. At least then if I get stuck, someone can see me panicking like a crazy person. =P

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