Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Finding Randomness

Ha! I just thought I'd finish the book yesterday. In spite of writing more than 5,000 words and topping my target word count for the finished book, I'm still only at the beginning of the end, story-wise. I've just started the build-up to the Big, Climactic Scene, so I still need to write the Big, Climactic Scene, the Yay, We Did It! interlude, the You Just Thought it Was Over REALLY Big, Climactic Scene and the Aftermath/Consequences, New Normal closing scene (or scenes). Plus, I think I need to go back and add something before the build-up. I am making the executive decision to not try to finish the book this week because I caught myself handwaving yesterday -- just writing something to get to the end in "and then stuff happened" mode instead of writing what needs to be there. I get like that at endings, so impatient just to finish and get it over with that I shortchange the story and end up having to rewrite it. It's worse this week with the time pressure of taxes and getting ready to go out of town. And there's the issue that I keep changing my mind about how the Big, Climactic Scenes should really go.

So, I'm going to do taxes and laundry today, get my hair done tomorrow and maybe do a little housekeeping. Then next week I will write the ending. I may do some brainstorming along the way and let the subconscious do its thing. This book is going to be much longer than it really should be, but that just means that in revisions I can cut everything I don't absolutely love and still end up with a book instead of a pamphlet.

And now for the writing topic of the week (remember, I'm always looking for topics or questions):

I've got a reader question this week about how to add spontaneity to your writing. This is something I struggle with because I'm a very logical, linear person, and logical and linear can be predictable. What you want in fiction is something you don't expect but that still makes sense. You want twists and turns and surprises.

Here are a few things you can try to force your brain to get outside the box:

1) The List of 20 -- this is my fallback when I get stuck, and I should probably use it more for plotting when I'm deciding the basic structure of the book in the first place. When your character reaches a fork in the road and has to make a decision or when you're at a major turning point, make a list of 20 things that can happen. Force yourself to get to 20, even if you're getting silly. These things don't have to happen. They just could happen. Don't even worry about whether these are things your character would ever do. You can fix that later. I've heard people say that you should automatically reject the first ten things you come up with because they will be the first things everyone comes up with, and you don't get surprises until you're farther down in the list, but if you've got a strange brain, you may get some surprises higher in the list.

I also use this to add action to a scene, where I know what the main plot events are but I want to add some layers (and especially for funny scenes).

2) Brainstorm with someone else -- Play that game where you alternate sentences in a story and see where having someone else's input can take you in unexpected directions. Play "what if" and have the other person throw scenarios at you, then see if that sparks anything.

3) Get randomized outside input -- I know of authors who do this with Tarot cards. The card faces have a lot of info on them, and they pick a card and try to come up with a way to apply the information on the card to the story. I play iTunes roulette -- leave it on shuffle with my whole library and try to think about how each song that comes up could apply to my plot. I've come up with some of my favorite plot twists from doing this when what I come up with is really unexpected but works. To make it even less self-selected, listen to the radio and do the same thing. Have Wikipedia give you a random article and see if that sparks anything, or get a random LOL cat or dog.

4) Break out of your comfort zone -- Try reading or watching something you generally don't or that's in a very different genre than what you're writing. If you're writing action/adventure, watch a soap opera. If you're writing science fiction, read or watch a western. You get the idea. You may pick up some ideas for kinds of scenes you might not have considered for your genre, and blending genres, even if you're only borrowing elements, themes or ideas, is a good way to make something feel fresh.

5) Think of three things your main characters would never, ever do. Then think of reasons they might have to do them. If any of those reasons would fit into your plot, then giving your characters reasons to do things they'd never do will not only raise the stakes significantly, but it will mean the characters doing something that should be surprising to readers.

6) Play Opposite Day -- Either think of the opposite of what you think your character would do in the situation or think of the opposite of what you would normally write. Now see if you can think of a way for that to make sense or to force that opposite thing to happen.

7) Skip a step -- Normally, we go from point A to point B to point C. What if point B disappears and your character has to find a way to go straight to point C? Or what if your character gets to point C, but instead of going to point D from there, he finds himself back at point A, and point B is no longer an option? You could try writing the steps of your plot or scene ideas on notecards, then shuffle them or throw them up in the air, then read through them in the new order. Do you make any interesting new connections?

The important thing to remember about all of the above is that they're tricks to adjust your thinking. You're not stuck with using any of these in your book. Some of them, like the opposites, will seldom really work in the book. The point is just to shake things up and get out of any mental ruts you might be in.

Here are a few other things to try for loosening you up and preparing to be creative (you'd do these things before attempting any of the above methods):

1) Move -- there have been actual scientific studies showing that physical activity improves creativity and cognitive ability. In other words, exercise makes you more creative and smarter. Go for a walk, put on some music and dance around the house or work out, and then do your brainstorming.

2) Be a child -- Play! When I worked at a PR firm, when we had brainstorming sessions, we'd cover the conference table with butcher paper, hand out markers and crayons, have small toys on the table and have stuff like Play-doh. There's something about playing and reverting to childhood that lifts the limits we put on our brains. It's very freeing.

3) Be creative in another field -- This is similar to the above. Get out your crayons, markers or paints, sing, play an instrument, dance, bake, garden or whatever else gets your creative juices flowing. Then when you start brainstorming your writing, you may come up with fresher ideas.

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