Home > cultural commentary, fiction, humor, Process and technique > How writing a story is similar to building a garden summer house

How writing a story is similar to building a garden summer house

I’ve been away for a few days, visiting friends. This is something I don’t do often enough, really. Even though I took work and my laptop and internet dongle, I never got round to doing much more than checking email and reading a bit of a novel because other stuff was going on, so while I’m notionally behind on where I wanted to be with my writing, I feel recharged and I’ll catch up.

The ‘other stuff’ that was going on largely involved erecting a summer house in my friends’ garden. It went up without much trouble and with people more expert than me doing most of the detailed work.

I helped out, though I’m far better at making joints between ideas than I am at getting bits of wood to butt up together neatly. If the summer house had been made out of concepts laid over a philosophical framework I would have done a really neat job. But that thought stayed with me, and of course making anything – from a garden summer house to a story and indeed almost anything else – will have many similarities.

On this view, writing a story involves:

  • taking delivery of a bunch of pre-made bits and pieces. With a summer house, these are largely factory-made sections and should be all you need (though we added some refinements). With a story, these will be things you’ve gathered from the grab-bag of your own imagination and research. They will include plot elements, character qualities, odd facts (real or invented), situations and locations (real or imaginary), and so on.
  • checking the plans and diagrams to see what you’re supposed to be doing. You do have plans and diagrams for your story, don’t you? Actually I often don’t; or at least, my plans may not bear too much of a relationship to the pieces I have to play with, or describe them with the same level of incoherence that I used to find in the manuals for electronic appliances in the 1970s.
  • making sure you have all the right tools. Drills, bits and screwdrivers for stories. The right character ‘voices’ for dialogue when building a summer house. Or is it the other way round? A lot of the summer house building was carried out with character voices anyway. I often do drill down, conceptually anyway, into locations and plot details to focus on small details. A good supply of coffee and tobacco in either case (I know, they’re bad habits… treat these as optional).
  • actually erecting the structure. Colourful vocabulary, occasional use of swearwords essential for both stories and summer houses. Holding odd bits of wood at awkward angles while your fingers freeze is not mandatory for stories, unless that’s your particular thing.
  • making ‘improvements’ as you go along and then finding these cause more problems you need to solve. Done that. Fortunately in the case of the summer house, there were some extra blocks of wood to ensure the thing was packed correctly, and we could use those. That may not be the case with a story.
  • sitting back, enjoying the result and deciding on decoration and finishing. Stories may not need a coat of paint on them but there are always bits you want to tinker with at a later date. This process can go on until someone wants to publish, and then you have to let go. That won’t be the case with a summer house, which will always be a work in progress.

See? Similar processes. Next time: how writing a story is similar to drug dealing (or something).


  1. March 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    love it, might have to compare one thing to another myself….though both are likely to be of a similar smutty idea lol

    • March 16, 2011 at 7:05 pm

      Now why would that not surprise me??

  2. March 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Yes, what a wonderful way of putting together an idea for a story and building a summerhouse!
    It is thought about, imagined as the final outcome will be..and then put together bit by bit. The story is often changed at the last minute as it is written, as was the same for the summerhouse plan.
    All the bits eventually fit though, and the story is complete, but you always and forever want to change and update it!

  3. March 16, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Hi Sue – thanks for your comment. I did forget a couple of things though. The summerhouse involved a group of us working on it while a story doesn’t (or at least some of those involved might not realise they were involved, e.g. as the basis for characters!). And of course 90% of the work, whether summerhouse or story, lies in the preparation – then the actual writing of the story is the other 90% of the work… Fortunately that wasn’t the case with the summerhouse.

  4. March 16, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    And if you’re stuck for a bit of something to finish it off, rummage in the spare bits box (summerhouse) or notebook of disparate ideas (story). Great analogy!

  5. March 16, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Well Chris….If I’m stuck for a bit of something I usually ask Tony what he thinks, and surprisingly he sometimes does have good ideas! but also my notebook full of bits and pieces has forgotten gems in it.
    I agree with you too John about the preparation, look how long it took us to sort out the ground before we could even think of building the summerhouse. That’s the same with me when I think of a story or poem, but, then again, to contradict myself, I often just write something off the cuff, and it turns out to be a masterpiece..well, to me anyway! You never know when the mood or inspiration takes you, or what will inspire you.

  6. March 17, 2011 at 12:27 am

    What did you say? You’re good at making joints????? As in a dubbie? 🙂

  7. March 17, 2011 at 2:25 am

    Hah! That’s a skill I’ve never claimed, though I occasionally smoke rollups. Maybe I really should do that post on how writing fiction is similar to drug dealing, then… But a while back I promised a recipe for devilled zombie in red herring sauce as well and didn’t do that either. I’ll try to keep both promises in the near future.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: