Does writing feel like wading through molasses? What you need is a new point of view. - Jessica Abel

Does writing feel like wading through molasses? What you need is a new point of view.

Carla from La Perdida, seen through a window

Sometimes a thing I want to write feels fully formed in my mind, until just the moment I sit down to write it. And then suddenly it seems to collapse into a black box. Writing it feels like wading through hip-deep molasses. Nothing is clear, nothing comes easy.

Maybe you’ve felt this too: you get through a draft, feeling like you’re forcing it. You just can’t tell if what you’ve written bears any resemblance to what you intended.

Anyone would tell you: you need to gain some perspective on the thing…but how? You don’t always have an editor or writing group handy.

What you need is a new point of view.

small png of a comics window (comics grid)I find it interesting that the comics grid, sans actual comics, looks like a window—a window on stronger writing.

You know the old adage, show, don’t tell?

It’s never more true than when you have to imagine each moment in your story as a drawing. You don’t even have to actually draw anything to make it work.

The Comics Window is a brand-new tool, and it will give you a completely new perspective on your own writing.

This exercise is designed to tear away the layers and give you new clarity on what you’ve really written. You can use this method to streamline and make your work zoom, or you can use it to build a rock-solid skeleton on which to build layers of clear and specific description.

Pacing, rhythm, and time as it works in physical space, montage as a storytelling tool, imagining “camera angles,” all will give you new insight on your work, and give you a kind of second sight on your characters. What kind of advantage can you glean from thinking through a character’s “acting” and body language, and how will that be reflected in the way you write the character’s dialogue, or your description?

Reorganize, pare down, dramatize, and reassess your work.

No drawing is required, but you can certainly draw if the urge strikes you!

Comics asks you to think about non-verbal storytelling, and about physical interaction with space. You can write prose all your life and never have to think about these aspects of story. But once you do, it’s like a third eye opens. Instead of airy, vague notions of how a scene happens, it’s suddenly incredibly concrete. You can almost hear the sound of the character setting down his coffee cup on the table, smell the bakery next door, see the micro-expression of exasperation flit across his girlfriend’s face.


Use the Comics Window to:

  • Make your scenes and characters solid and believable
  • Tear away the layers & give you new clarity on what you’ve written
  • Understand sequence and causality in your work
  • Streamline & make your writing zoom
  • Build a rock-solid skeleton on which to layer clear & specific description.

I taught this activity in an creative writing class at Bryn Mawr College, and here’s some of what students had to say:

“With my story I saw that my climax was too general. I mean, I realized that there were actions and thoughts my protagonist needed to have to make it real or believable.”

“It made me see was I was mentally assuming but didn’t really look closely enough to see.”

“The protagonist was more of an idea or a figure instead of a character with clothes and habitual hand motions and so forth. And I finally saw her face, even though I couldn’t draw it.”

Writing words doesn’t always let you see the steps or the pieces, but sketching the cells did.”

“I used the technique of sketching to revise poem #8. Consequently I added a stanza of ‘setting’ detail (as if it was short fiction) and my workshop group thought the details actually brought the reader into the poem more.”

“I am going to do this for all my writing—making notes, drafting, revising. It’s the best. And maybe try it to understand better when something I’m reading is confusing, a novel or—I don’t know if this would work—a nonfiction book or a text book”