One Easy Way to Take an Unexceptional Scene in a New Direction

“First attempts are usually not the best. There’s a reason the “test” pancake is usually a throwaway, and upgraded cellphone models are rolled out roughly every four days.” —Leigh Anne Jasheway “Improv/e Your Writing” Writer’s Digest November/December 2013

image by Gartenredakteurin
image by Gartenredakteurin

I wanted to try one of Leigh Anne Jasheway’s 10 games from her article, “Improv/e Your Writing” (Writer’s Digest November/December 2013). Jasheway calls the game I played, “New Choice.” It’s to help when we’re “going down a literary dead end.”

image by wilhei
image by wilhei

How I understood the play:

  1. Collect two dice and a few pages from a writing project.
  2. Roll the dice.
  3. Count sentences from the beginning to the one represented by the sum of the dice.
  4. Make a new choice for that sentence that:
    • changes the wording and content,
    • takes the story in a new direction, and
    • relates to the plot thus far.
  5. Write 12 sentences that explore the new direction.
  6. Repeat from step 3, starting from the first rewritten sentence.
  7. Play for an hour.

My selection is from an old rejected manuscript. I rolled a 7.

Jonathan thumbed to the first hymn listed in the bulletin and stuck his bulletin in the hymnal to hold the place1 Movement to his left startled him, and he looked up. 2 Laura, followed by Cecil, sidled down his row and sat next to him. 3 The sleeve of her yellow jacket brushed the sleeve of his sports coat. 4 She smelled like fresh-cut citrus. 5

Well, well. 6 Laura Midkiff had decided to befriend him after all, and she didn’t take her commitment lightly. 7 He, and most likely everyone else in the congregation, stared at her. 8 She donned a serene expression and gave her father in the pulpit her attention. Her father struggled to contain a grin. 9

A hand patted Jonathan’s shoulder. 10 He turned and greeted his foreman, Gene Pasternak, and his wife and two sons. 11 Mrs. Withers, his first and fourth grade teacher, settled in the pew in front of him, and Mrs. Mackey, his den mother, winked at him and joined her. 12

image by MaLyKa
image by MaLyKa

Here’s the result of steps 1-5— my 12 replacement sentences starting at line 7:

How thoughtful of Laura Midkiff to sit beside him in church.1 No doubt, the woman was up to something.2 Town gossip pegged her as the citizens’ choice to run against Dad for mayor.3 Perhaps her show of friendship helped to that end.4 Display how noble she was to rub sleeves with an ex con.5 And no surprise she’d enlisted slow-witted Cecil.6 He added political correctness points to her glory.7

Was he coming down too hard on Laura?8

Even if her gesture was sincere, he didn’t want her pity.9 He needed her help.10 And that didn’t mean rallying the congregation to his side.11 Laura Midkiff was the only person who had the contacts he needed to prove he was innocent of manslaughter.12

I hope the new version adds tension. At this early stage in the story, warm fuzzies were a mistake.

Try This Fun Game to Redirect a Mediocre Scene. Click to tweet.

What are your thoughts on playing Jasheway’s game?

How to Be More Versatile at Brainstorming

“Accept the challenges so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.” —George S. Patton

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sometimes our brainstorming technique gets stale, and we need a fresh method to brainstorm a project. In a past post, I showed how to use a simplified form of mind mapping. If you haven’t used mind mapping see How to Plan an Engaging Activity in Less Than 10 Minutes. If you’re already familiar with mind mapping, here’s another brainstorming technique I call the Challenge Method.

The Challenge Method is based on a simple game I’ve played over the years.

SquiggleSomeone draws a curvy line and challenges me to make something recognizable from the squiggle. The challenge and the crude drawing spark my interest. I study it and see the craggy nose of a fisherman. But wait. It also resembles the weathered head of a tortoise. I rotate the scrawl, and the possibilities churn. Inspired, I complete the drawing of an anthill with masses of ants streaming in and out of it. I’ve triumphed.

***

4 Steps to the Challenge Method of Brainstorming 

Step 1: Receive the spark.

Step 2: Accept the challenge.

Step 3: Explore the possibilities.

Step 4: Build the product.

octagon
Four of the six windowed sides.

Examples best describe the 4 steps.

Example 1: After my husband and I bought a hill overlooking a valley and the mountains in Southwestern Virginia, I perused thousands of floor plans online. Thousands. None were adequate to see our 270-degree view.

Finally, John said, “Get me a piece of graph paper.” He constructed an octagon on the paper and challenged us to design the rest of the house, extending it from two of the octagon’s adjacent sides. We explored many configurations, even after we turned our plan over to a draftsman. Today, we live in our dream home, enjoying our spectacular 270-degree view from our octagonal great room.

 

Bride and Groom, Just Married, Driving Away in CarExample 2: A hypothetical pastor sat in a restaurant booth next to two newlyweds. He overheard the young man say, “You are my morning star. I wake up early to watch you rise. I can’t wait to be with you all day.” The husband’s words wowed the pastor. He challenged himself to use this sentiment in a sermon. A sermon on anticipation? A sermon on adoring love?

But wait. Jesus is called the Morning Star in the Bible in Revelation 22:16. The pastor writes his sermon. He shares the story of the newlyweds and equates it to loving Jesus so much we rise early to read His words in the Bible and spend the day with Him.

Example 3: I enjoy thinking up hooks for the first line of possible stories. Here’s one: With the many interruptions to her already loaded schedule, when would she find the time to kill Rita?

Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unlike many of my first lines, this one piqued my interest. I challenged myself to create a story starting with this line. It, indeed, kindled several ideas. Christian Fiction Online Magazine published my short story that the Challenge-Method generated. No plot spoilers here. You can read my story free at Plotting Murder.

Stay alert for the sparks all around you. They’re often unlikely items. Years ago, the target sign on a popular department store caught my eye. I wrote a short story about a father who discovers his troubled son with a bulls-eye taped over his heart and fears he’s contemplating suicide. So, keep your creative feelers twitching in every direction.

What trigger challenged you to the possibilities of a successful project?

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