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What do water filters, air filters have to do with organizing your story?


What do water filters and air filters have to do with the way your organize your writing?

No, that’s not some really strange puzzle or trick question, exactly, but a lesson about writing that I’ve picked up from many weekly trips to Walmart.

Being a worldwide chain of retail stores — and probably the largest retail marketers in the world — their outlets near you are probably very similar to those where we shop. And the single most irritating thing my wife and I have found about shopping at Walmarts in these parts is the way they constantly shift items around on the shelves. Likewise, we get very disturbed with seemingly random or disorganized shelf placement of such similar items as water filters and air filters.

Earlier today we were looking at one of their stores for a replacement filter for an air purifier we run in our bedroom. We felt it was obvious that a section which had air filters for furnaces and filters for dehumidifiers should also have filters for air purifiers.

Nope. We finally found the air purifier filters two aisles away from the furnace air filters, just across from the shelves holding air conditioners. (There’s not much market for air conditioners this time of year around here.)

I grumbled about all that as we continued through the store until my wife (who’s always a step or two ahead of me when it comes to being clever about most things) got tired of my grumbling and explained the principal at work here: Walmart is NOT interested in organizing their products logically or for my convenience. Walmart is very interested in organizing their products in ways that will get me to see products I might not otherwise go past if I always knew exactly where the product I want is located.

Hence, they shuffle stuff around on the shelves. Sure, all the grocery stuff is together, all the men’s clothes are together, all the hardware stuff is together — and so on. But coffee might be on one end of an aisle and coffee cans on the other — until next week when they have swapped aisle ends.

The point of all this when you’re writing? Be creative, not necessarily logical, when you organize your writing. Know what you’re going to write about, what your plot is, and who your characters are. Then let them grow together (or grow apart from each other) in a creative, organic way. A good story for modern readers will almost never progress in strict chronological fashion from beginning to end. There will be flashbacks. There will be detours and dead ends.

Consider writing your stories much as Walmart markets its merchandise. Draw your readers to plot points, scenes, and characters you want them to see, not letting them dictate the story and see only what they want to see.