Posted in Craft of writing, Writing, Writing exercises

BUILDING TENSION

A WRITING EXERCISE THAT HELPS BUILD TENSION

Open your thesaurus; go to any letter in the alphabet. Pick words from that letter that prompts questions that may help you think about your characters, plot, setting, dialogue, actions, emotions, and especially tension. Then for every word, develop a question that can push you deeper into your story, hopefully building tension in your book, story, or scene.

MY EXAMPLE

I chose the letter “D,” because desire is the beginning of all tension. Your character wants something—whether it is an external goal, like the inheritance, the murderer, or a lover; or an internal motivation, such as confidence, freedom, acceptance, or maybe to be understood by someone. Desire can be dampened, dangerous, delayed, or denied. (Yeah, I’m leaning heavy on alliteration, but just in this one blog.)

See, I’m just playing around with words. Being playful is the heart of the creative process. Also, you can think of it as a working exercise in which you can use random words that will take you to unexpected, and yet productive, powerful places in our writing.

Here are the ones I pulled and the questions I drafted for each. The queries provide me tips, hints, and techniques that in turn give me ways to access new ideas for my novel.

Dilemma:  What kinds of problems can I generate for my protagonist, Fiona?

Discord:  Where can I create relationship issues between characters that make the story more complex and intriguing?

Draw (either stalemate or attraction): How can I bring in mistakes or misunderstandings that generate a stalemate? How can I illustrate the first attraction between characters and then continually enhance that attraction over time?

Denial = What element(s) in Fiona’s life can I deny her to thwart her primary desire, to gain acceptance from others when she’s unconventional?

Dream:  How do I articulate Fiona’s dream or desire through action and dialogue?

Disaster:  What natural disaster is logical and reasonable based on the setting and environment to add depth, complexity, and tension to the story?

Disappointment:  How can I express disappointment through body language in various characters?

Danger:  What dangers might my characters encounter that will force them to know themselves better?

Dire straits:   What situations could I develop within the plot that create emotional tension and make characters have to fight for what they want?

Dogged problems:  What problem(s) won’t go away; and therefore, continue to frustrate and inhibit Fiona in the pursuit of her longing?

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. — E. L. Doctorow

FIND YOUR OWN PROMPTS

Replicate the exercise, or use my example as a launching pad. Plunge in and find the questions you need to answer for your story or scene. It can aid you in writing fiction, your memoir, a story, or a difficult scene.

What kind of success or struggles did you have with this approach? I’d like to hear from you.

 

 

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Posted in Craft of writing, Memoir writing, Writing

A writing exercise for insight into your memoir’s main characters, you

BACKGROUND for the EXERCISE 

“The stranger at the heart of my journey is me—transformed.” — Joseph Dispenza in his book, The Way of the Traveler (p. 97)

Dispenza suggests in his book that the people we meet in our travels can serve as mirrors of ourselves in what we portray to the world. Or these folks, whether strangers or not during our adventures, may contain qualities that we lack and wish we had. For our memoir, this is one way to gain insight that we need to write a more textured and full-bodied story of our life. So try this.

How to conduct the EXERCISE 

Recall memorable folks from your travels. List three or four with names or descriptions, if you don’t know names. Then write characteristics of each. Examples might include; interesting, odd, cavalier, smart, engaging, irritating, or rude–whatever comes to mind. This recall gives us a picture of ourselves objectified in the outside world, or it provides the “something” we wish we could call ours in our inner world. Now can you use these characteristics of yourself clarified as you write your next scene or story from your life and/or travels?

This recall gives us a picture of ourselves objectified in the outside world, or it provides the “something” we wish was ours in our inner world. When you identify what these characteristics are from viewing the characters you encountered, now can you use these clarifications of yourself when you write your next scene or story.

In my memoir, At Home in the World, I encountered a pastor in Hawaii. As a seventeen-year-old girl, I saw him as intelligent, culturally insightful, and eager to share what he knew with me and other summer missionaries that were more than half his age. His tutelage grew out of his caring for others. He cultural take on the world was crafted from his Christian background.

Passage from my book, At Home In the World 

I write about him, “Dr. Shiroma, as a Japanese Christian is an enigma. As a pastor, he is over-educated. He carries his history, culture, and language with him, yet he lives in another country with a history, culture, and language that have been antithetical to his own. Christ’s love has found a way around all that and claims it all.

“… He explains what happened to the Japanese post-WWII, tracks the trials of Hawaiian statehood, and illuminates interracial marriages that created an amalgamated Hawaiian culture. I learn words I may never get to use, like miscegenation and mulatto. …

“At times in my life there is a person that produces little chinks in my thinking, so a glimmer of something new can break through. Dr. Shiroma shares his well-knitted theology with us, as if we were his spiritual and intellectual equals. He uses analogies nimbly. More synapses in my gray matter, more connections in my white matter. The world is deeper and wider with his explanations, my senses more open to what is in the world, and my heart more open to mystery.”

REWRITE

Because I did not have this exercise available to me when writing my memoir, I did not make the most of this encounter with Dr. Shiroma. Here is what I could have done with passage and created a more nuanced memoir. (Maybe I’ll rewrite it.)

“At times in my life there is a person that produces little chinks in my thinking, so a glimmer of something new can break through. Dr. Shiroma shares his well-knitted theology, as if we were his spiritual and intellectual equals. He uses analogies nimbly. The world is deeper and wider with his explanations, my senses more open to what is in the world, and my heart more open to mystery.

“Time spent with Dr. Shiroma opened my eyes to the diversity of the world outside of my small Arkansas town. I felt my heart open to the history of the Japanese in America. I felt the reality of different races intermarrying not as a problem, but a way to minimize our differences. This cultural idea, contrary to traditional views, shaped my future self and view of the world. I left Hawaii with an understanding of myself as a global citizen. Not as a Christian set apart (as some would have wanted it), but a Christian committed to making the world more open and compassionate.”

See how studying a significant person on one of my travels, helped me see myself more deeply? Something I might not have been able to do without insight from the exercise.

Have you tried something similar with simlar or different outcomes? Are you willing to try this and share your results? Let us know.

 

Posted in Craft of writing, journal writing, Travel Writing, Writing, Writing Myths

Writing Myth

Myth Bluster: I cannot write worth a hoot!

This is what we often tell ourselves–what I call myth bluster or misconceptions about our writing. And sometimes others imply it by their lack of interest in our work or a comment that sounds and feels negative to us. We must believe in ourselves and our ability to improve over time. Here is what we need to be thinking instead to bust previous myth bluster.

Myth Busters: If I write, I am a writer. If I don’t write well, I can learn to write better. Work makes wishes come true.  

The truth is it is all a matter of perspective. We can tell ourselves a different story about our ability to write, and then start making progress. So put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Start writing what is on your mind or in your heart.

I’ll be offering some writing prompts in the near future. I hope they will be useful to you.

Here is another myth buster to previous thinking or myth bluster:

Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. 

Comments from anyone?