Square Peg, Round Hole

Square Peg, Round Hole

OFTEN writers are told to trust the process, to let the story unfold naturally, and to listen to the characters as they guide us through their journeys. Yet, despite this sage advice, there are moments when we find ourselves grappling with a stubborn plot point or a character arc that just won’t seem to cooperate. It’s akin to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole–frustrating, time-consuming, and ultimately, counterproductive.

In my own writing journey this past week, I encountered instances where I was trying to force a storyline to conform to my initial vision, only to realize that it’s like swimming against the current–exhausting and futile. The truth is, trying to shoehorn a square peg into a round hole not only impedes the creative process but also robs the story of its authenticity and vitality.


I spent several hours this week outlining, scrapping, and re-outlining countless scenarios to coincide with what I had already plotted. In my original outline, I was trying to weave together several existing parables and mythologies to strengthen the base familiarity of my series, a trick in Speculative Fiction to help readers associate with themes or threads within the story so that disbelief is more readily and easily suspended.

Originally, the backstory I had plotted out involved three brothers, loosely paralleled with the Biblical brothers Cain, Abel, and Seth, and interwoven with the Prometheus myth and Garden of Eden—an undertaking, I know. I would get one or two threads to work and the other would fray from the tapestry. At one point, I had the brothers in Israel, by the Sea of Galilee; at another point, I had them in the Greek Isles; and before I finally decided to let the characters talk to me and tell me their story, I was trying to force them to tell the story from Denmark. And none of these backstories worked because they ultimately weren’t meant to.

Now not every writer from Maine needs to base their stories there—and I am leagues away from having Stephen King’s talent—but why not have the story set in Maine. It’s mystical and majickal, a bit treacherous and rugged, with some of America’s oldest histories and oldest tales… I sat back in my chair and decided to bring it home. Literally. And by doing so, I changed the locale of the entire story (from Boston to Downeast Maine) even if only by 360 miles or so. 


ONE of my favorite areas of Maine is its Downeast coastline of sea caves and high cliffs, islands and inlets, all dotted with lighthouses to warn incoming sailors of the dangers of its jagged shores, a literal beacon of light to ward off darkness and disaster.

I decided to move the timeline of my backstory further into the future than the outlines I scrapped; although there’d still be generations between the backstory and the main plotline, putting centuries between them just to fit the original outline that, well, honestly didn’t fit, made no sense at all and only left plotholes and a heck of a lot more research for me to do—research that theoretically would never make it into the story if only with slight references. It started feeling contrived, forced, hammered into a spot it wasn’t meant to go. It started to feel like overbuilding.

As I did the research of migrations to the Downeast area, it all started falling into place. Instead of making my outline fit to a time or place, I first found a place and then the time when it would all fit. While I still had to find the exact size round hole for it to fit, I was no longer working with a square peg.

Eventually, three McKenna brothers were sparked into creation, fitting the world to which they were born versus being born into a world in which they didn’t fit.



SO, why do we persist in this futile endeavor of forcing? Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid to deviate from our meticulously crafted outlines or reluctant to let go of our preconceived notions of how the story should unfold. We cling to the familiar, even when it’s clear that it’s not serving the narrative. But here’s the thing–writing is a fluid, organic process. It’s about being open to inspiration, allowing the story to evolve naturally, and embracing the unexpected twists and turns along the way. And sometimes, that means being willing to abandon the square peg in favor of the round one.

In my experience, some of the most compelling moments in storytelling arise when we let go of our preconceptions and allow the characters to drive the narrative. It’s about relinquishing control and trusting in the creative energy that flows through us, guiding us toward the story’s true essence. So, the next time you find yourself struggling to make a square peg fit into a round hole in your writing, take a step back. Reassess the narrative, listen to your characters, and be open to alternative possibilities. Remember that writing is a journey of discovery, and sometimes, the most profound insights come when we surrender to the flow of creativity.

In the end, it’s not about forcing the story to conform to our expectations but rather about embracing the beauty of serendipity and allowing the narrative to unfold in its own time and in its own way. After all, the round peg may lead us to places we never imagined possible, enriching the story and our writing journey in ways we could never have anticipated.