Monday Motivation: A few dumb (but very useful) writing tricks

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

A guy called Scott Myers runs a very nifty blog on writing for the big screen. He calls it Go Into The Story, and every day he posts advice about screenwriting, interviews with screen writers, links to recently produced movies, analyses of striking movie scenes, and so on.

It’s an intriguing blog, and an inexhaustible source of good ideas not only for screenwriters, but for writers of all stamps.

Recently he posted a blog he called: Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work. I scrolled through them and realized that, for the most part, they consist of advice that I’ve touched on over the years. But it struck me that a compilation of these (not so) “dumb tricks” would be a useful reminder for all of us. So here’s a paraphrased and slightly shorted version of Myers’ list.

A page a day. Struck by the enormous challenge of writing (let’s say) a novel which might amount in the end to 300 or 400 pages, we fall back exhausted before we’ve even begun. It’s too much. Life’s too short. But actually, just a page a day – or you could think of it in another way, just 500 or 750 words a day – and you’ll find yourself hitting that daunting target sooner than you’d thought possible. Do the maths.

Don’t finish the scene (or the chapter, or the sentence). At the end of your writing day, stop before you complete a well-planned scene, or chapter or even, a sentence. When you start again the next day, you’ll pick up the unfinished thought with ease, and avoid that sometimes debilitating half hour of easing your way back into your narrative.

If a scene feels flat, create an argument between your characters. Conflict, remember, is the lifeblood of drama. So take Myers’ advice: “(T)he next time you’ve got a flat scene, especially one with a lot of exposition, try creating an argument between the characters. Give them something to shout about.”

If you’re stuck, try a little “free writing”. Open a fresh page, set all thoughts of your story aside, and write, write, write without pausing for a moment to think or rethink (or overthink) the words pouring from your brain, down your arm/s and through your fingers. Keep it up for a good few minutes. Then pause, take a deep breath and scan the drivel you’ve written… Something, I can almost guarantee, will pop out at you: an idea, a phrase, a line of possible dialogue; that’ll help unlock the scene you’re struggling with.

Nothing you’ve written is working – so give it up and go for a walk. Or a run. Or a swim. Or a cup of coffee at the coffee shop. Or a shower. Or take in a movie. But do something different to purge your brain of that sense of defeat. Give yourself a treat, if you like. Or a little gentle punishment – like a cold shower. Here’s how Myers words this advice: “Go for a walk… Sprint up the sidewalk…Do some jumping jacks… Dance to loud music… Shadow box… Rip off your clothes and race around screaming in circles in your office.” But he adds, in parentheses:
“(This last piece of advice is most effective if you work alone).”

Highlight your verbs in colour. Verbs are the engines of your prose. Weak verbs cause that engine to run in bottom gear, stuttering and coughing. Strong verbs rev things up, get your narrative moving along. So highlight all the verbs on a few pages of your manuscript and judge for yourself whether they’re soft (he walked, he moved, he looked… etc) or active (he accelerated, he sidled, he gaped).

Engage your right brain. Set aside your narrative and grab a heap of magazines. Cut images from each, of anything that appeals to you for reasons of logic, or association, or, quite simply, randomly. Then make a collage. The point of this? Well, it might give you some ideas to work with – but this is a case of the journey being the point, and not the destination. Because what this exercise will do, says Scott Myers, is “engage your right brain”; the collage’ll be “a direct download from the more chaotic and impressionistic aspect of your creativity.”

Read your text aloud. This is old advice, frequently given, but none the less important for all that. Reading what you’ve written aloud will tell you what works and what doesn’t; what is repetitive, and what is fresh; where your pacing needs adjustment; and much much more.

Eight “dumb” tricks for bright writers. Try them.

Happy writing,

Richard

Read Jo-Anne’s latest blog: ‘Writing Secrets: Long conversations can be boring – in life and writing

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