Some minds kick out fresh ideas like machines. Some struggle for one thing new, but when it comes, it’s magic.
When I dream up something that excites me, I’m always away from my computer, usually in my car. And I usually forget what it was.
I tell myself to carry a pen and paper everywhere, or a recorder, or a cell phone to text myself.
But none of that works in a car.
So I collect my second best stuff in Google Docs and use it in new stories or any time I’m stuck.
I’m naturally disorganized, but I’ve spent my whole life fighting it, so now some things look pretty decent. On the outside.
So I’m trying to use an outline now.
I’ll organize a plot, but my characters don’t seem to like having their freedom taken away. They’ll follow my suggestions for a while, but always veer, usually way off track.
When I let them go too far, the story’s conflict dies because they don’t like fights. They want to chat about ideas.
Letting them go free improves their personalities. But I have to grab them by the ears and yank them back into the fray or it’s all too boring to read.
Having my second best ideas on hand opens many possibilities that wouldn’t occur to me if I didn’t have them.
Walking generates good things, too.
I read a book on writing years ago in which the famous fiction author said that her best ideas came when she was out walking slowly in the fresh air. She had walked too fast for years, thinking it was the exercise that she needed. But it wasn’t until she began walking slowly that new ideas flowed.
Slowing down is magic.
I know an amazing pianist with the fastest fingers I’ve seen. She teaches students to “play it in slow,” when they practice. This builds the neural connections faster and better than anything else. Playing slowly, pushing each key to the bottom with perfect technique, burns it in so you play with excellent technique up to speed. Not only do you play better, you play faster.
A lightening-fast jazz guitarist told me, “The slower you practice scales, the faster you’ll become.”
I’m always forgetting to deliberately put irony into my story, but it adds a lot. And it’s a big factor in life…
For instance, “less is more” seems to be a fundamental principle of copy-editing: Fewer words carry more power per square inch.
And “slow is fast” when you’re searching for plots, settings and characters. You’ll save time and gain quality if you slowly consider all the options before you write a word.
“Boring is exciting” when you’re creating scenes: If I write quickly through a scene, thinking only about plot and dialogue, slapping a wall here and a door there, it’s not a boring process for me, but it doesn’t cast the spell that excites readers.
Some writers easily bring objects into clarity with few words. I work at this because the less you have to say to describe something, the more clearly the reader will see it. Another irony, I guess: “Briefer descriptions bring sharper imagery.”
This irony sometimes makes me select objects based largely on how efficiently I can describe them.
I walk the scene and list things that add to the mood. Then sort of rank them as to how efficiently I can describe them.
A brick fireplace, for instance, brings a clear image. Mundane, but pow, two words and there it is.
A golden statue of a duck-billed platypus drinking a martini may fit your story, but what’s the value to work ratio? (The emotional value of the image weighed against the work of reading its description.)
Value is complex and subjective. But a valuable image may be able to foreshadow or make back-story feel organic. If so, maybe the platypus is worth the extra words.
An unavoidable story culmination may be more satisfying than a novel, unexpected one. Too much surprise can ruin the surprise. No one writing a mystery novel would introduce the killer a paragraph before the crime is solved.
If the final scenes don’t flow from the buildup, the reader has to work to suspend disbelief. If there’s too much complexity at the end, the work of comprehension crowds out the emotion.
When I write, I latch on to things that ultimately can’t be explained. Their novelty seduces me. I tell myself I can explain this batch of critters later, I’m keeping them, they’re so bizarre!
When later rolls around, I wish I’d stuck to the sanity of plot. I struggle at scenarios to explain the inexplicable. A rank waste of time.
Perhaps the irony is that a single somewhat unlikely object is more interesting than a room-full of shocking impossibilities.
And a simple explanation is better than an ingenious contrivance.
M. Talmage Moorehead