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A Better Solution
Yeah. What Lili said."Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch."
~ Lili St. Crow
|Image by Valerie Everett|
What if . . . ?
I make myself push the boundaries. Let myself be ridiculous. Let myself laugh out loud. Or cry. Or both. What if the dog gets run over? What if one of the characters dies? What if the sister my mc is trying to save is already dead? Nothing is off the table. This is not the moment to wear a editor's hat.
The Rule of Twenty
Once of my favorite writing tips ever is the rule of twenty that came from a workshop taught by the brilliant Bruce Coville. He suggested creating a list of twenty options any time we need to make a choice about the story. Why twenty? Because the first things to come to mind will also come to every reader's mind (and the mind of every agent and editor), which means that if we go with that first instinct, there's no reason for anyone to continue reading. To hold a readers' attention, we need to come up with something fresh. So I keep brainstorming until I come up with something that works for the characters but is also a little outlandish, a little twisted. What if I need to kill the dog? I could have it run over, sure. That's the first idea. John Cleese and Charles Crichton kept brainstorming until they decided to have a piano fall on it. (A FISH CALLED WANDA) What if one of the characters in my mc's party has to die? Sure, I could have them cut down in a battle, but Michael Crichton kept going until he had the t-rex eat the lawyer in an outhouse. (JURASSIC PARK) Leah Cypess needed a plot twist, so she made the character her mc was trying to save from Ghostland into a ghost. (NIGHTSPELL).
The three examples I gave feel totally plausible within the worlds of their stories, but they were created by brilliant writers. For me, at times, coming up with even ten things can feel like an impossible task.
Fortunately, there are online tools to help.
Web-based Idea Generators
- The 36 Dramatic Story Situations (+1). A great chart for finding where a story fits and where it is most likely to go.
- The Plot Twist Generator. A generator that literally just gives you a one sentence idea for what might happen.
- The Random Story Generator. A free online tool gives you "an event that gets the story rolling and a secondary conflict to keep you going." Two conflicts in one, plus characters. How cool is that? And with a few tweaks, you can almost use the first conflict as your opening line.
- Generatorland Plot Generator. A rudimentary but fun generator that comes up with very nice pitches.
- Meets Generator. A generator for the TV lovers. And don't knock it, how do you think Suzanne Collins came up with the idea for THE HUNGER GAMES? Yes. X Meets Y.
Sometimes no matter what, I still can't come up with anything. That's the time to look backwards and see if I've done something in my story that wasn't organic to my characters. My subconscious could be telling me I took a wrong turn somewhere. That's when it's time for:
- A map. Here's one from NY Book Editors: Map to Get You Through Writer's Block
- Chocolate. Have your chocolate and call it fruit: Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
- A trusted critique partner. Here's where to find 'em: Constructive Criticism
- A shower. You're on your own. Start by getting out of your writing pajamas. :)
Have any brainstorming tips that help you burn up your keyboard? How's your WIP coming along? What's the most outlandish thing you've ever written?