Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tools for Brainstorming - Part II (redux)

[Because of the Great Blogger debacle of 2011, I lost my original Part II post along with the comments. So Here is my attempt at recreating the genius I had committed to pixels - Editor]
I've decided to break this segment out into three parts. Why? Because this is my blog, and I can do whatever I want. How you like them apples?

Too heavy handed? Okay fine. How's this: I have so much information, such an avalanche of insight to share, that the only appropriate move is to give each technique their due time.

Or, something like that...

Method II - Sit on the Couch

This method came to me after I read the great James Scott Bell's "The Art of War for Writers." In it, he describes the Voice Journal, which is a great way "get to know" your character. You write in first person, and lay out the character's attitude, way of talking, answering questions that pop up. This is a steam of consciousness type of journaling.

I've used this method often, but I have a bit of a spin on it for the purpose of breaking through when I hit a rough patch.

When I'm revising, I will sometimes hit a spot that just doesn't feel right. Why did my main character (MC) do that? Why would he say that? Does it sound believable? Hundreds of questions come to me.

Think of yourself as the psychologist with a finely tuned truth detector that in the course of a conversation can pick up plausibility, believability and reasonability. You, the therapist, are asking the MC questions. You want to see why he did what he did? What was his "motivation" for acting that way, behaving that way, and saying the things he said.

As a consumer of entertainment -- be it books, TV, or movies -- I don't like it when others insult my intelligence. Picture this scene:

The Hero and Heroine love each other. But they have not expressed their true feelings, yet. The Heroine misunderstands the situation. The Hero should explain and resolve the misunderstanding. Simple. Just say it. JUST SAY IT. But he doesn't. The result is that they break up. Then that silly misunderstanding spirals into more challenges. And approximately 150 pages or so later, they realize they made a mistake. Sorry saps! 

Are you kidding me? If you've watched Telenovelas (Spanish/Mexican soap operas) you see this all.the.stinkin'.time. Please! What do you take me for?!

What? Oh, do I watch telenovelas? Em... well, you see... sometimes... umm, it's my wife, not me. It's her, I tell you!

Back to the couch. I imagine the MC trying to justify his decisions. It needs to make sense to me. I don't want to insult the reader. I don't my MC to insult me either. I need to make it plausible and realistic. In other words, would real people behave that way? As my reader you need to stay on my roller coaster, otherwise I risk losing you.

So when I find a scene that doesn't seem right, I sit my character on the couch and ask questions. I write fast and furious. In first person, with all the attitude that is appropriate for the character. He may even reveal things that are part of his unwritten back story. In other words, he tells me "why" his experiences and perceptions of the world have caused him to behave the way he has.

In practice, I usually find that my main character can not justify the questionable behavior but in this stream-of-consciousness writing, my character reveals new things that I can layer into the scene.

I find that my characters, when given the opportunity to tell me who they really are, I find a goldmine of information. I find more material than I could have imagined.

To those of you who write in earnest: has it happened that as you write a scene, your character does something completely unexpected? You pause and think about this behavior. You consider changing it. You tell your character, "That's not what I wanted you to do!" But if you're wise, you honor your character and let him show you what's really happening.

Sometimes the best way to have a breakthrough is by getting out of the way. Your job is to tell your character's story. Not your interpretation of the story.

So far we've discussed how to get focused (Part I) and how to let your characters speak up (Part II). In Part III, I will introduce a great tools -- the mind map.

Fight the good fight!

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