I’m writing an article on a complex subject. The Newlands and Washoe Projects. (internal link) My account doesn’t move in a straight line, like one done in a chronological order. Instead, to make the story readable, I am having to move in a dog-leg like fashion several times.
The problem is that the Newlands Project has been in court nearly every day of its 100 year existence. The Truckee River, around which the project revolves, has been called the most litigated river in United States history. And legal history is deadly dull. What to do?
When I sensed the article getting too boring to sustain reading, I dropped out to discuss the Project’s infrastructure: dams, canals, power plants and so on. Those are approachable subjects with dates and facts and figures about their construction. I reasoned I could go back to the legal muck after giving readers a break by describing tangible things.
Each structural element, however, is also mired in controversy and I’m finding it difficult to transition back to the main story line. I did a quick block diagram about how the story seems in my head and I’m contemplating another jog or two before I am done.
Two things that are definitely going to help are a timeline and pictures. I’m preparing both. This isn’t fiction, where 400 pages of a Tom Clancy novel go without illustrations. I think it vitally important that pictures support the text and that the text supports the pictures.
The article is hurting my brain. My telephone history articles and my travelogue type pieces for magazines like Rock&Gem (internal link) move in a fairly straight line, from a beginning date or location to an end date or destination. But this piece moves around and there is no bright line from start to finish.
I’ll keep at it. What I’ve discovered in the past is that after I get the bulk of my writing done that structural problems resolve themselves. If I keep pushing, keep exploring, keep writing, I find a path.
Right now I am backtracking and moving sideways and trying to find the trail. From the top of the mountain I’ll see clearly. For now I have to keep building that mountain of words until I gain the peak.
Let me know if you’ve ever been so stymied by a subject that you start diagraming it out.