On Writing: Fulcrums and Keyholes

Tweet of the Day: Backed into a Corner


According to the Merriam-Webster.com a fulcrum is:


noun \ˈfu̇l-krəm, ˈfəl-\

plural fulcrums or ful·cra


a : prop; specifically : the support about which a lever turns b : one that supplies capability for action
: a part of an animal that serves as a hinge or support

Yes, this is one of those posts that starts with a definition. It is also a post in which I muse philosophically about the inner workings of writing, trying to delve deep into the space between the lines and hoping (against all hope) to come up with something coherent on the other side.

You have been warned. 😉

Well, lets get to it, shall we?

I’ve talked about sliding scales before. From hardening sci-fi to plot vs. character.  A good way to think of these scales is to think of them as a seesaw that goes up or down depending on which side you put the most weight on. But the key to this motion is not so much the force exerted or the weight lifter, but the pivot.

Also known as a fulcrum.

Now let’s shift metaphors for a sec. Take your seesaw and turn it into a line, you know, like the ones your math teacher taught you about in grade school. The points represent values, mostly numbers (integers being the most common, but fractions and decimals can be easily inserted). Now think of the line as your story and each point a pivot, where you as the writer shifts gears. At each point the stakes rise, the pace quickens/slows, humor mixes with terror, etc. Each one is a balancing point on which the story floats, not unlike two riders in a seesaw, hence a fulcrum.

For example, a character may laugh or cry after hearing a piece of news. She may launch an expedition to save a friend or retreat into a log cabin in the woods and wallow in her despair.

With me so far? Good because here it’s where it gets interesting, and by interesting you might throw in weird for good measure.

Each one of those points is also something else?

Take a guess….

Yes, it is a keyhole. And guess what, keyholes work with fulcrums, also known as keys. Because each of these points not only sustain your story, but also open new avenues of exploration.

Key-keyhole-door-new direction.

<Grabs reader by the collar> No, this way, the tour group is going this way. Thank you.

Where was I? Ah yes, turning points. Because this is what these pivots, levers, fulcrums, keyholes and keys are all about. It’s the sum of all those minor and major decisions, whether made on the spot or in a long forgotten (or overwritten) outline, that make up your story. Some are huge and easy to spot, some are so minor that only by a careful use of electron microscope (and maybe the team from the Hadron Supercollider) you could spot the telltale sign of their existence.

Now, don’t panic. I know what your thinking, “My god, my story doesn’t have any fulcrums, or keyholes or….”

It does. You may not have made a conscious choice to put them there, but they exist embedded in the great collection of words you call a story. This is just paradigm, a way to think of your story (or any story for that matter) and how they are put together. They are easier to spot in someone else work, of course, but that doesn’t mean that they do not exist in yours.

Okay so every story has one, big deal!

Big deal indeed. For you see, as you write your story, you come up these points, and they can mean the difference between falling flat or creating a masterpiece.

No pressure, by the way.

Each door opened by a turn of the key can lead you to new characters, character growth, an exciting scene or a surprising revelation.

They can also lead to sidetracks, blind alleys and derailed characters.

That’s the nature of the beast. But knowing that they exist can help with that old bane of  haunts all writers.

Writer’s block.

By finding and exploiting/exploring  these pivots, you can overfly the desert of blankness and restart your story.

It can also help you bridge the gap between one chapter and the next as well as tying one book in a series to the next.

Now go back and re-read that book that is rest at the bottom of the trunk. Time to turn a few keys.


4 comments on “On Writing: Fulcrums and Keyholes

  1. I like keyholes. I like keyholes that are hidden between my characters. One is working on a path with the other only to find that they were not on the same path after all. Then what? Then one becomes a fulcrum to the other and..

    I like that.


  2. Keyholes.

    I love how you put it like that. Next time I’m not sure which way to go, I’m going to imagine keyholes. 🙂


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