5 Steps to Tap “Greatest” Moments to Improve Your Creative Writing

by | Writing | 8 comments

“The wise learn from the experience of others, and the creative know how to make a crumb of experience go a long way.” —Eric Hoffer

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You realize you need strong emotional events for your character’s journey.

Try using greatest, closest, and funniest moments to pump up your story. Here’s how it works:

Step 1 Ask a question at your next social gathering, such as:

  • What situation was the moment you came closest to death?
  • What has been your greatest fear?
  • What was your greatest embarrassment?
  • What was the greatest injustice you suffered?
  • What was your funniest situation?
Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Example: What situation was the moment you came closest to death?

First, the facts:

Response 1: When she was twenty, she hiked a cliff path with her parents. The drop from the path to the boulder-filled creek below was over a hundred feet. She stumbled on a jutting rock and shot out her foot to steady herself on a smooth stone slanting toward the drop. It was wet and slippery. She slid toward the drop. Her mother caught her arm and pulled her back onto the path.

Image courtesy of SweetCrisis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of SweetCrisis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Response 2: On a dark night, a wasp in her car forced her to stop on the side of a deserted road and exit her car. A car pulled up alongside hers, and the lone man asked if her car had broken down. She said it hadn’t. He drove on a ways and then slowly made a U-turn. She jumped in her car, wasp or no wasp, and sped by him.

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 2 Ask the teller to expand on her emotions during the situation.

In telling mode:

Response 1: Desperately trying to get traction, she squealed. Her mother screamed. Afterwards she couldn’t stop shaking. She found it difficult to deal with the realization that her mother, without thinking, risked her own life to save hers.

Response 2: She was terrified the wasp would sting her. The man’s ogling eyes creeped her out. When he drove on, she was relieved. At his U-turn, her heart stopped. Forgetting the wasp, she panicked to escape him.

Step 3 Collect the stories and organize them by subject. I’d file these under Death Defying.

Step 4 Select a situation from your cache when you need a situation for a character.

Step 5 Massage the situation to fit your story. Let’s select Response 1.

Hikers_on_green_fieldsBriefly, in telling mode:

On a team-building weekend, Anne and her colleagues traverse a narrow path along a cliff. Anne precedes Cindy, the ambitious, disliked co-worker. Anne wishes she could pass three people and hike next to Mark, the hunk she and Cindy have their eyes on.

Anne is mentally grumbling about her bad luck, when she trips on a jutting rock. Her left foot zips out to steady herself. She can’t gain traction on the slippery stone slanted toward the boulder-filled creek below. Panicking, she yelps as she slides toward the hundred-foot drop. Cindy grabs her arm and pulls her back onto the path.

Later, still trembling, Anne refuses Mark’s invitation to eat beans together. She’s compelled to understand the woman who risked her life to save hers. She joins Cindy on a log.


    • How to tap yours and others’ “greatest” moments to improve your creative writing.
      click to tweet

    Now you have a situation with real actions. You can add details and show the emotions.

    What situation have you used to enrich a story?

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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  1. delialatham

    Wonderful post, Zoe! I’m so bad about not writing down the interesting things like these that I hear from people. Then, of course, I don’t remember them when I need them. I’ve got to make a more concentrated effort in this area. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      I’m determined to write them up. I think I’ll email them to my sister and then save my sent emails until I can get them organized.

  2. davalynnspencer

    Great suggestions!

  3. jackielayton

    Great post Zoe. Most of my greatest adventures and scary moments have been in the Atlantic Ocean.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Jackie, sounds like you have a cache of stories to work from. I recall one of my own from the Atlantic Ocean. When around 5, I got in over my head and thought I was a goner until my sister grabbed me.

  4. Jane Foard Thompson

    I’ve tapped into my own experiences for emotions that I’m having a hard time portraying in a story. Sometimes, since the details and emotions are a rich resource, it is my experience that creates a whole scene or plot point. I’ve also used my children’s experiences, as I know fairly well how they felt and what they experienced.
    (I’d like to see your examples in “showing mode,” or are you saving those for your own books?)

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Jane, aren’t our stories much improved when we have the courage to dig deep into our emotions from a past experience. (For the sake of my readers, I try to keep my posts under word-count limits. Showing often takes so many more words. I hoped to get the idea across as succinctly as I could.)

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