by Barbara Florio Graham
This is the second in a series of five articles about how you can increase your creativity to achieve your goals. The aim of this series is to help you sharpen descriptions, refine settings and characters, expand a basic plot or focus on the primary elements of a plot that has become unwieldy, develop better imagery and word choices, and develop clever promotional ideas to help your book stand out from the others.
Please read these in order, beginning with the introduction. I will deal with a different concept in each article.
These articles are not structured the same as the online course I teach. Do consider taking the tutorial, which is customized for you, with specific comments on assignments. I offer it on a flexible schedule, to suit your busy life. Go to my website to see the full description and testimonials.
In this article, I focus on plot and characters.
The first principle of tapping your innate creativity is to stretch your imagination. Writers often think they’re doing that if they take their characters and ask “What if?” That’s a good start, but you need to go much further than that.
Writing is a left-brain activity. We have learned since childhood to think logically, to learn things in sequence, to follow “the proper order,” and to put things away “where they belong.” We’re scolded if our room is a mess, our desk is untidy or we forgot to brush our hair.
School reinforces this, having us write on lined paper, use proper grammar, check our spelling, ensure that every paragraph has a topic sentence and every story a clear plot and a logical conclusion.
Many writers prepare a full outline of the plot before they begin. None of this is wrong, but if you need to inject an ingenious plot twist, to develop a quirky character, or to stand out from all the ordinary stories out there, you need some special techniques.
It’s important to know how to engage your right brain when you need creative ideas. The right brain doesn’t arrive at a premise in a sensible fashion; it jumps to conclusions. It fills in visual elements, emotion, and sensory impressions that give the story zest.
In order to invoke the right brain, you have to stretch your mental muscles.
Imagine the outrageous. Instead of asking, “What if?” ask “Why not?”
Change direction. Change the context, the premise, the setting, the vocabulary. What would happen if this character looked different? What if she lapsed occasionally into poor grammar instead of speaking properly? What implications would that have?
What if he sounded more like a college professor than a waiter, if he were dressed impeccably except for one telling detail?
Overcome predictability by changing just one element in your story. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Put your characters into a different setting. Change the outcome of a crucial scene.
Great writing combines observation, experience, and imagination. The mundane story calls on the first two, but often lacks the third.
The brain likes to organize information in patterns. Music can help with that. Many famous writers need music in the background in order to write, but it should be instrumental music, because music with words activates your left-brain and prevents you from creating your own dialogue.
Music can also help you find the rhythm of your characters’ speech, which keeps characters from all sounding alike. Test this by making sure the reader will know who is speaking without using any “he said” or “she replied” phrases.
Use visual aids to create your characters. Have you tried drawing them? Try paging through magazines to find a detail you can use: a hairstyle, a hand gesture, a stance, a smile.
The conscious mind is slow because conscious thought takes effort, but the unconscious mind delivers results effortlessly and instantaneously. Our short-term working memory has limited scope and fast turnover. Use that to your advantage. Let your mind wander and keep a pen in your hand to capture any fleeting thoughts.
Take notes on unlined paper and avoid using a pencil, because it encourages you to erase and edit as you write. You need to keep your inner editor from censoring any ideas or images.
One method that works when you’re generating new ideas is to use a half-dozen colored markers, picking up different ones to write whatever springs to mind, at different angles anywhere on the blank paper in front of you.
After you allow your mind to wander and you have captured dozens of fragmented thoughts, examine the results and see if there are any possible connections. I can promise you’re going to find several things you can use.
Expand on each new possibility. Stretch or shrink it, solidify or liquidate, bend or twist, transform in some way.
Allow yourself to be surprised.
Barbara Florio Graham is an award-winning author, publishing consultant, and marketing strategist. Her popular workshop on creativity has won accolades from participants all over the world, and is now taught as an online tutorial. See the wealth of free information on her website: SimonTeakettle.com.