My favorite writing exercise this year (so far) was during a class called “Fairytales Reimagined.” The premise was just as it sounds; reimagine classic tales, and give them new twists. There were some very creative writers in that group; one rewrote Hansel and Gretel and turned them into incestuous cannibals who turn on each other after making tapa of the evil witch. My favorite “after the happily-ever-after” offering turned Belle into a sulking bride, disenchanted and disgruntled by her husband’s new, princely state, longing for his animalistic appearance and demeanor.
Belle–the furry-loving sub who craves a strong-hand. Paw. A strong paw.
My own effort lacked creativity; I think I turned Sleeping Beauty into a Vampire Queen or some other yawn-inducing trope, awakened from the protective spell and unleashed on an unsuspecting kingdom, blah blah blech..
Yeah…. me, neither.
However stinky my ideas, the exercise reinforced a piece of writing advice I’ve loved, the source of which I cannot remember.
*Caveat-I’ve read so many books, I’m not apt to remember what I learned from whom. Please be aware that ideas tossed about in this blog are not likely my own. Perhaps I’ll make a list of every writing book I own, and folks can sleuth it out by themselves. Until then… onward,
One of the books I read discussed the danger of your characters falling into predictable situations and the story becoming painfully two-dimensional. That author suggested changing it up if something isn’t working; if you love the line, change the context. If you love the situation, change the setting. They gave the example of one of the most famous lines of dialogue in the history of humanity.
“But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?“
-Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2
Spoken by Romeo while gazing up at Juliet’s balcony. Every. Single. Time
But what if Romeo had already climbed the balcony and whispered those words while staring deeply into Juliet’s eyes? That kind of changes the meaning and the tone just a smidge. My high school class saw Othello on stage — it’d been set in Nazi-controlled Europe. If you think Iago is a vicious little monster, try sticking him in an SS uniform. ::shudder:: Almost 35 years later, and I still think of that production.
Steven King writes about a problem he encountered while working on The Stand; he had too many characters and storylines and not enough time and space to make them all converge in a way that made sense. His solution? Blow half of them up with a bomb… or two. Problem solved. Our solutions needn’t be nearly so drastic (unless you want them to be. Admit it — drastic can be incredibly fun to write). But we can still change the story by changing a detail or two.
What if “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” was muttered by a groggy but smiling Robert Duvall as he drifted off to sleep at night? Suddenly Col Kurtz isn’t the only one you need to be concerned about.
What if Renee Zellweger wasn’t moved by Jerry Maguire’s “You complete me” line, and replied with “I know,” invoking both the self-confidence and chutzpah of one Mr. Han Solo? Jerry wouldn’t have time to show her the money; she’d be showing him the door. Truthfully, I’d pay to watch that version.
I’m stuck with my WIP right now; I have one character I have to introduce and another who needs rescued — now throw in the exposition, the situational tension, the story arc, and the individual character arcs that I need to make fit, and I’ve got a recipe for a mess. Nothing is working; it’s either too neat and tidy, or it’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s been no in-between. I’ve been playing the “What If?” game with the troubling chapter, and I think I’ve figured out a way to set the scene, plant the necessary back story, and generate some doubt about the new character while still giving my protag no other choice but to trust her.
Granted, my solution isn’t as fun as turning someone into a horny little cannibal or creating a swarm of BDSM zombies — but it’ll get me out of the corner I’ve written myself into. And if worse comes to worst, I will play the “what if” game until a better idea comes along and rescues me from the long night of writer’s block.
Do you have any tips or tricks for getting yourself past a block or out from a corner? Please share them in the comments — because blowing up half my cast would make me very, very sad.