lee koven Blog, Writing Engineering practices in writing: Rubber ducking

Engineering practices in writing: Rubber ducking

Blog Writing

I’ve had several scenes designated as “to sketch out” for long periods of time. There are some scenes I find very difficult to plot out on my own. Thankfully, I have John around to ask me questions about the scene, see plot holes I missed, and have me place everything that’s on the table, so I can go forward with new ideas. John and I are both software engineers, so the way we probe at, pick at, and try to debug a story is very much from that background.

If a scene is giving me trouble, I explain the scene sketch, sentence by sentence, to somebody without my knowledge of the rest of the book. I figure out a lot of problems and details this way. It’s the same principle as teaching: when you have to go through everything from other perspectives, you have to get to know your material, in this case a story, better. There isn’t always somebody around to go through the material with, though. An engineer in the book The Pragmatic Programmer carried a rubber duck around to explain things to, so the process is often referred to as “rubber ducking” or “rubber duck programming.”

me and some "ducks"
me and some “ducks”

My duck is not actually a rubber duck. It’s a stuffed animal or figurine. I rotate through them so they don’t get bored. I’m mostly a planner, so I rubber duck or talk to John at the scene planning level. I’ve also rubber ducked with the scene already written if I think there’s something missing or there is an issue. Then I go through the existing scene and try to explain why each sentence is there to the duck.

 

Some of the principles of my job carry over to my creative life. Have you found this as well?

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