During my writing group meeting last night, we discussed a problem one of our members is having. Her writing, while good, is never POP/ZAP/POW. Every time she sends stuff out to editors they tell her no thank you, and that her stories never seem to go anywhere or are lacking something.
That helps a lot…if my story doesn’t go anywhere then why are my characters moving around and making decisions? Lacking something…that’s even better…my story is lacking SOMETHING. What? A comma? A main character? The kitchen sink?!?!
So we were talking about her writing, trying to ferret out what these editors meant, because we had the SAME responses to her work. It was always missing that spark, that special something that really made the work stand up and say, ‘look at me!’
Well, huzzah! We think we figured it out. (Thank goodness!)
Jen, the fearless leader, said that this member wasn’t spontaneous enough…that every plot she writes is a forgone conclusion, every story she crafts had a definite ending and she is taking us there come hell or high water. This member, while a good writer, is so bent on giving us the ending she has in mind she telegraphs it through the whole story, we never have a moment of doubt as to what is going to happen because her characters never have a moment of doubt as to what they are there to accomplish! It is amazing what that sort of invulnerability on the part of the characters will do to a plot, even in situations that have a certain amount of tension inherent the audience feels little or none when they should be on the edge of their seats. (I’m put in mind of the Aeon Flux movie.)
So, having figured out the problem…we needed to figure out a solution. We came up with some great exercises which I wanted to share for those of you out there that are having trouble with spontaneity:
1) Take random ideas put them in a bag and at predetermined times pull out an idea and write on it for 15 minutes.
2) Take random words, put them in a bag, at predetermined times pull out a predetermined number of words and make them into an idea to write on for 15 minutes. (This could be a REAL challenge, and I am tempted to try it myself…oh and NO MULLUGIANS!)
3) Put all your characters from all your stories into a bag, pull out two slips and make them talk to one another. The Victorian superhero talks to the space junkie…the futuristic vampire talks to the cult leader.
4) And finally, re-write your stories with the exact opposite ending. (The demon keeps his job in hell and hates it. The social worker decides the exploitation of special needs kids is a necessary evil. The unicorn decides the dark side is where all the fun is.)
These weren’t the only ideas we had, but some of the more exotic. We had the full compliment of standards as well:
1) Free write for 15 minutes. Do not plan before you sit down, just sit down and write.
2) Take two characters out of your story and write dialogue for them, only dialogue no descriptions nothing. Just make them talk to one another.
3) Write every scene into a box. Put your characters into a situation you think they cannot get out of, only once they are stuck are you allowed to try to get them out.
4) Above all, avoid the outline!!!! If you have spontaneity problems, outlines will only compound your issues.
Ok kids, enough writing tips from me…get out there and write something totally unexpected and make us love it. That is your friendly challenge for the day.