Monday, March 12, 2012

Frying Up Your Muse

My crit partner called me the other day with a premise for a new story. It begins with her homeless heroine entering a rundown inner city business to escape a pair of thugs/gangbangers. Instead of being chased back out by the crusty shop keep, she’s offered a job on the spot after old crusty gets a gander at her Aunt Fanny’s antique bracelet circling her grimy wrist.
“Okay, what comes next?” I ask.
“That’s all I’ve got,”says my crit partner.
Thus began a brisk brain storming session where I visualize and suggest a variety of
possibilities, backstories, and surface problems that could grow from her
inciting incident. We finish with my friend claiming that I’m a creative whiz
and me knowing the truth: I’m a fraud. A fraud because when it comes to my own
work in progress I routinely freeze up. I play it safe, predictable, boring,
yawn, snore…
Why does it seem so easy to come up with the fresh, exciting ideas for someone else’s project and not at all easy for one’s own? Possibly it’s because we writers are so darn serious when it comes to our own work. Maybe we’re too caught up in the details instead of the big picture. Who knows? Maybe it’s just me, but one thing I do to snap out of my storyline funk is read the newspaper.
I have a file filled with newspaper articles – stupid criminals, unexplained fires, bridge collapses, train collisions, disappearances, rapes, suicides, even DWI stories.
I clip the offbeat and quirky, valiant or tragic, humorous or heartbreaking – anything, everything that snags my attention and (more important) illicit an emotional response. All this goes in a file to be pulled out when I’m stuck story wise or tempted to go the safe, boring route. For fifty cents I have a front row seat at humanity’s theatre and plenty of fodder for my characters. Not a bad deal, yeah?
Now it’s your turn to share. As a reader, what is the craziest news story you’ve ever read or watched? Even better, have you ever experienced something in your own life that you swear would make a bestselling novel or movie?
Now for you writers, do you have a trick, technique, or gimmick you use to help you develop surface problems and plot points? If so, tell us about it!


  1. After deciding on the basic story idea, I write a detailed back story for each of my main characters. From that, I get all kinds of inspiration about story events. I edit it as the story evolves to keep the well full. Plus, I get a bonus, no back story dump in the chapters.

  2. Thanks for stopping in, Joan, and for leaving us such a generous tip! Back story dumps are so, so tempting. Too bad they are also so, so irritating for the reader.

  3. Hmmm... a trick to develop surface problems and plot points. Well, I'm almost a total pantser once I get writing. But Like Joan, I start with figuring out who my characters are. Most of the back story I give them never makes it into the book. It's only for me to get to know them so I can write them. Then I plot out their GMC - goal, motivation and conflict. This is my roadmap so I don't write myself into a corner. But from there I just go and write. The characters lead me to all sorts of places I didn't see coming before I started the book. It's fun. :)

  4. How true, Carolyn. Knowing your characters is key to knowing your story. I'm a plodding plotter, but even so my characters tend to surprise me and get the bit between their teeth. Thanks for your input!

  5. Ha -- nothing in my life would make a watchable movie. We'd have to take incredible creative license :)


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