September 22, 2010

Free Write: cardio for your imagination

In my workshop last week, somebody said they had trouble with plots, as in "How do I make them interesting? What's the magic formula to make a reader interested in a series of events?"

It's never just about plot points, action. What happens externally (the plot) has to mean something to the characters emotionally. There has to be symbiosis between your protagonist and the events you as the author have decided to put them through i.e. you select a certain scenario to reveal X detail about who they are. You apply certain pressures to your players, and they reveal things about their nature via their responses to said stimuli. In a sense, the characters characterize themselves. We as readers watch their behaviors and form opinions about them, why they do what they do, psychological realism, etc.

Today's prompt is about intersection between character and action. Try this:

There's this lady Lisa who feels like she's treading water--has felt this way for a long time, actually--that she's making no progress in her life. She works, sleeps, has a boyfriend she's rather tepid toward, and that's about it. She watches a lot of TV. She's bored and knows it, but has no idea what to do to make her life better.

Then on her way to work, she boards the subway. It's not very crowded. There's a woman in a wedding dress, sobbing. Lisa feels drawn to ask if the woman is okay. They talk. And during this dialogue, in which Lisa is ostensibly consoling the sad bride, she's also learning something about her own life, how to break its relentless ennui, her hopes for the future. What does she learn? How does the bride's story give Lisa strength? How can meeting the bride (a plot point) illuminate something about how Lisa wants to make her life better (characterization)? And will she follow through?

Write the scene on the subway: Lisa and the bride talking, revealing things to each other about their unhappy lives. Let their honesty be startling. Let yourself invade their psyches and reveal their most intimate secrets!

1 page, 2 pages, 4, whatever.  Just have fun and get that imagination kicking!
Happy writing,

P.S. Please repost or forward this to anyone in your life whose imagination might need a gentle nudge out into the light of day...

P.P.S. Literature can teach us empathy. We need empathy. Our world will end without it.

P.P.P.S. There's a jackhammer outside my window. My stomach is growling.