Jeffrey Forker posed this question on LinkedIn, after hearing two friends argue about the mechanics of writing. Apparently one referred to “tightening down the screws” on a story, and the other retorted “bolts”. That really got me thinking about how I write and edit, and whether my own stories are metal or wood.
The Case for Wood: Some stories grow organically. They spring into your mind fully formed and you just have to write fast enough to capture them. Others just sprout and you have to nurture their growth and see where they go. Then there are the stories that come from seasoned timbers. You spot the thread of the story in the grain and carefully follow it. You may chisel out a rough shape at first, but the longer you work on the wood, the more detailed you get. You carve out subplots and lovingly sand and oil them. These stories start long and broad and get whittled down to their essence. You go back to them time and again, adding another incised flourish, or smoothing a rough spot. You revel in how they warm with age, developing that soft glow that says they will be classics.
The Case for Metal: Sometimes you try to create a story by pouring the words into a mold that someone else has created. The hot flow chills and hardens and you can see it is not your design. So you hammer it into a different shape and weld on new pieces. You battle with the story, trying to force it into the shape you want. Plots will be straightforward, but with unexpected angles and occasional sharp points. Whatever you do, it will be strong. How it ages depends on whether you preserve it, like a fly in amber — as a curiosity to be viewed in detachment from the world — or let it rust naturally and enjoy the new designs that flaws create in the patina.
For me, the division of stories into wood or metal has much more to do with the writing than with the reading. It is the author who determines the type. Ironically, one of my most “metal” stories has a plot that centers around woodworking. Another story that is science fiction and has nothing but metal, glass, and plastic in its setting, is very much “wood” in my estimation.
I have places for both metal and wood stories in my writings, what about you?