Wednesday, June 10, 2009
The Conspiracy welcomes author Linda M. Faulkner
Coming up with ideas isn’t always easy.
Sure, when you’re in the shower and access to a keyboard is either impossible or deadly, they crop up like weeds in the garden. I’ve also found that some of my best ideas come to me in the middle of a business meeting when I’m paying more attention to the other people attending—along with their idiosyncrasies, than I am to the boring speaker or the topic.
So what do I do when I’ve just finished writing a scene or a chapter, my outline has a big hole in it, and I don’t know what to write next? This happens to me with every book, kids. Always has and probably always will. While I may not be an expert in telling you what to write next, I’m pretty darned experienced in the matter.
Here’s the scoop. I generally start a book with either a detailed back-story for one of the characters or a spectacular plot point. I know the story’s ending…or, okay, I usually have a vague idea how it ends. My outline is pretty detailed up to the mid-point. Then—nothing ‘til the ending. I used to worry about it. Now I don’t. It’s my personal way of allowing my unconscious, and the characters, to finish the story the way it needs to be finished.
Sometimes, though, when I get to a scene, I can’t write it the way I planned because it simply doesn’t work. Or I do write it and it stinks. Here are some things I do:
· Follow Lawrence Block’s advice in Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. He says that the stakes have to keep mounting as you tell a story. He uses a terrific example of a guy fleeing a bear. The bear chases the guy, who climbs a tree to escape. As he’s sighing in relief, the guy notices the bear climbing up behind him. He scrambles out on a branch and the branch breaks and falls into a river. The guy sees another branch and grabs for it. Another big sigh. Only the branch isn’t a branch, it’s an alligator… While your story might not be suited to bears and alligators, dream up some important obstacles and challenges—and keep dreaming them up. Just as your character achieves a feeling of comfort, shake her up!
· Free associate. Gabrielle Lusser Rico’s book, Writing the Natural Way, talks about right-brain/left-brain techniques and the one I love best, and have used successfully for years, she calls “clustering.” Take a piece of paper and jot down your dilemma in the middle of the page. What to write next, for example, and circle it.
Then free associate, writing ideas on the page inside their own circles, and connecting them to previous ideas (or the central idea) with lines. For example, if your hero and heroine have just made love for the first time and have achieved their feeling of comfort (yes, the pun was intended!), you need to shake them up and deliver an obstacle or challenge.
The following might be some ideas about how to shake them up: the dog jumps on the bed, his mother not only arrives unannounced—she doesn’t ring the doorbell and surprises them by walking into the bedroom, the smoke detector goes off because the kitchen caught fire, a machine gun blast rips through the window, etc. You get the picture. Avoid the trite and expected (i.e. the phone ringing, the doorbell ringing, the dog and mother-in-law.) Of course, whatever obstacle/challenge you create should tie into the storyline and move the story forward. I’ve come up with some terrific scene ideas this way. They don’t always fit into the story I’m writing, but if they’re good—I always find a way to use them later.
The kicker about not knowing what to write next is that my mind always tells me when I’m in trouble—and how to get myself out of it. Yours will too—if you listen to it. If I can’t figure out what to write next, I’m probably in a fix: a character is acting out of character, the plot/storyline is stale, or my train [of thought] has simply run out of steam. If I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, chances are the reader won’t know what’s coming next either—unless I do something expected. Which gives me the perfect opportunity not only to shake my characters up, but also to deliver a powerful punch to the reader—emotionally, that is.
What do you do when you need to figure out What Next?
Linda M. Faulkner
For Carolina Conspiracy Blog