ABC’s of Fiction Writing: W is for Waxing and Waning

Posted by on Mar 24, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

taIUcyV0_400x400The moon has followed me throughout my life.

When I was a child, I’d sit in the backseat of my parents’ car and watch the moon through my window. I’d imagine the man in the moon following us to be sure we got home safely. And yes, even as a young child, I questioned why there was a man in the moon and not a lady. Sometimes, when I’d awaken after falling asleep in the backseat, the moon would be waiting for me as my father or mother lifted me out. My friend, the moon, was always with me, though I never viewed it as an intruder, always a protector.

As I grew older, I learned more about the moon and its position in the sky – the lunar phases. When the moon is in a crescent phase, that is, not a full or new moon, it can either be waxing or waning. The moon, like many things in life, is a constant flow of phases.

In case you don’t remember your childhood science classes, let me remind you of the differences. A waxing moon illuminates and grows in the sky, inching its way to becoming a full moon. A waning moon shrinks away in the sky, losing some of its illumination until it eventually fades away and the cycle begins again.

I know what you’re probably thinking – how does waxing and waning play a role in fiction writing?

Think of whatever you’re currently working on, maybe it’s a novel or a short story. Shoot, you don’t even need to be thinking about something you’re currently writing. Think about a favorite story you’ve read or the book you haven’t written but would love to.

Now consider how conflict is treated in this story. Does page one start you off in the thick of the action? Is every page you turn more exciting than the next until the story ends? It’s doubtful that any writer can sustain such a steady level of conflict in their writing without tiring their readers (and their characters). Just like the moon, conflict should wax and wane throughout any story, be it a novel or a five-thousand word short story. There needs to be rising and falling action.

Take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as an example. Similar to the moon, the conflict level goes through phases. Romeo and Juliet starts off in the thick of conflict – literally, it opens in a fight scene – and every time conflict is introduced to the plot, the readers can appreciate its heightened level. Why? Because there is also enough exposition, monologues, and description to break up the conflict, making every scene written build upon and strengthen each other.

In fact, waxing and waning plays a larger role Romeo and Juliet than just the conflict level. When discussing this essay with a fellow writer, she reminded me that Romeo’s love also waxes and wanes. Do you remember why Romeo originally goes to the Capulet ball? It’s because he is in love with Rosalind. His love for her wanes quite quickly after he discovers his newfound love for Juliet.

Keep in mind that your character’s desires, just like any human desire, can wax and wane throughout the story. It’s doubtful you want exactly the same thing for your life now as you did in third grade, right? Sometimes interests are formed, grow, reach their peak, and begin to die out, just like a moon’s cycle. Allow the same room for growth in your characters.

The waxing and waning of the moon could also teach us about dialogue in fiction writing, specifically in finding a balance. When I was an early writing student, I was always amazed by the varying levels of mastery my peers had over dialogue. Some seemed to be at a professional level, while others couldn’t grasp the difference between too much or too little conversation between their characters.

There always needs to be a push and pull in your story’s dialogue. Readers want to feel engaged with your character’s conversations, but they also need time to ruminate. While there are many fine examples of stories that break the rule of waxing and waning dialogue, there is a reason why most stories adhere to a mixture of dialogue and exposition. First, writing a story without dialogue can make for an extremely boring account, regardless of what a master of description you may think your narrator is. Second, an entire story written in dialogue is extremely difficult to pull off. If you attempt it, make sure you have the skills and the editorial team to accomplish the feat.

Finally, and most generally, your writing process can and will go through many phases of waxing and waning. Here’s the thing – I’m not one to make over-generalizations about writers. While we all have the similar desires, we aren’t all cut from the same stone. Some writers are consistent wordsmiths and write every single day. Other writers are binge writers who may go months producing quality content and then months writing nothing. I’m sure there are other variations between those two examples as well.

Regardless of what type of writer you are, your career will likely wax and wane. Remember that this is normal, and trust in the process.  If you aren’t producing as you hoped, this doesn’t mean your talent has abandoned you. Does the moon ever desert us? Never. Even if you cannot see the entire moon, it’s still right where it belongs. In the new moon phase, the moon is still present in its place in the sky, you just cannot see it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The same goes for your writing habits and process. If you aren’t progressing in the manner you were hoping, you may just be in a waning phase. Here’s the great news: the next phase that follows is a new moon, opening you up to endless possibilities.

So the next time you sit down to write, consider this – how does waxing and waning play a role in your writing?


Erin Ollila (née Corriveau) is an emotional archaeologist who graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Her writing has been published in Lunch Ticket, Revolution House, Paper Tape, (em): A Review of Text and Image, RedFez, and other awesome literary journals. Her blog, Reinventing Erin, is her outlet for ruminating on the minutiae of everyday life.

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