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Silly me … When I began my transition from journalism to fiction writing, I likened it to doubling the family recipe when houseguests were coming to dinner. Following the, “do the same thing, only bigger,” principle, I approached a 300-page novel as I would a 1200-word feature article.
Turns out (and as other writers reading this might expect), while a few essential components remained the same (catchy intro, body of relevant info and a circle back to the beginning with a strong wrap-up), a short article is clearly not a novel; nor are nonfiction articles sci-fi/fantasy thrillers.
I then moved onto the way its “supposed” to be done. I outlined settings, my characters, my plotline and sub-plotlines. I began a style sheet to make sure my characters’ dialogues were consistent and that the reader got the “great reveal” several chapters before the characters did. These are all wonderful, time-tested tools, and I would never try to diminish their value. But for me – it wasn’t working. I was still trying to do what I’ve done for the past decade as a professional writer. I’d edit as I’d go along, I’d craft a story linearly, and my subjects would behave just as we’d expect.
I’d about given up entirely were it not for the fact that my characters were developed just enough as to wake me up in the middle of the night with random scenes floating through my head … And there began the Grand Experiment. My story began to flow again within days of succumbing to my characters’ nagging. Here’s what works for me (feel free to take what you can use; discard the rest):
The Grand Experiment: Three Steps for Writing Out of Bounds
Try Your Own Grand Experiment
Feel like an experiment? I understand that what works for me may not be for everyone. However, I always ask people to consider an idea before dismissing it. Below is an activity for trying your own Grand Experiment …
Step 1: Pick a random scene – somewhere in the middle of your story – and begin writing from there. If you don’t have a story, use a writing prompt (many are available online). Do not edit as you go. If you need to, write over, under, or around an error. For example, if you started off in a blue room and you’ve decided later that a red room is much better, have the walls change color or make the characters dispute the color of the walls.
Step 2: Introduce a character, object or event – and then have them do something unpredictable. I just gave you one example. The walls of this scene are changing color – why? After fifteen minutes or so, stop.
Step 3: Go do something else. Put this experiment away. If the scene is a good one, you may be able to revisit it, working it into a future story. If this method worked, then repeat the process for other projects.
Bonus Exercise: Can you apply this method to other areas of your life – beyond writing? Where in your life can you randomly try something new, random, or unpredictable?
"If you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done." ~Thomas Jefferson (Or … someone else. No one is really sure.)