Monday, March 22, 2010

Exaggeration and Limitation

by Chris McGinty

Well, we are now a Communist nation, and strangely when I woke up today the sun was shining and the birds were singing. I doubt this is a coincidence. I’m not sure that’s what I want to talk about though. Mostly this is because I really don’t know what to talk about.

I’ve been scouring the web for random everything. I’ve always had an interest in random things. Much of my own writing has an element of randomness to it. Not what you’re thinking. In fact, in many cases the more rambling and random that my work seems to be the more it was actually planned out.

What I’m talking about is the act of brainstorming. Writing a word, a phrase, a person’s name, or anything at the top of a page and writing any associations you can make from it. You can do this as a general brainstorm, or with a specific project in mind. You can take two unrelated concepts and link them together somehow. There are many of these sort of tools you can use, but I can’t think of all of them right now. Maybe later

Another tool you can use is called limiting, or as I call it formatting. I think one mistake that a writer can make is literally leaving all possibilities open. I used to feel this way myself. I didn’t want to plan out my stories. I wanted to start at the beginning and write through to the end. I’m not a fan of outlines, at least not as you learned to use them in school.

I: Why Outlines Suck
  A: I don’t know, how many ways can I describe tedious
    1. I could get the dictionary definition
    2. I could describe some of my dead end jobs
  B: Really, do I have to keep filling this in?

I read about an author once who would write a novel in about two months, but he would spend ten months outlining. I just can’t even imagine.

What I prefer is to simply write down chapter numbers, usually in a word processor file, and start putting plot points and any other ideas in the chapter I think it will go in. As I write, I’ll move things around if need be.

But limiting works in another way. I have two things I like to do. I don’t always do these things, but they can be useful. The first has to do with limiting. What you do is you make rules about what you can’t do with a work, and you don’t do it. An example could be: I will write a story about World War II, but there can never be mention of guns or a gun on scene. Another example: Every chapter has to contain a reference to something. I don’t know what the something is. If I was using that rule I would know. What this does is it moves your thinking in a different direction than it might normally.

They say that rules are meant to be broken, and I agree. If I’m doing the World War II story, and the alternate thinking has helped me to create a sound, quality story, but I realize at some point that a gun is really necessary in one of the scenes, then I’ll use it. I’m still in charge here. The limiting factor whether it’s chapter length or what point of view a story is told from (well over 90% of the Harry Potter novels are told from the perspective of what Harry knows or see, often requiring back story to be told to Harry in some way) is merely to keep you from meandering too much. If you have to break the rule out of necessity then do it.

The other thing I like to do is what I call take everything to the next level. This can be a dangerous thing if you’re not careful about it. What this means is that your initial idea is probably in a safe zone of some sort. Either you’re following story conventions of almost every movie or book or whatever out there, or you’re simply following the conventions of everything you’ve ever written.

One way to combat this is to ask, what else can I do that will make sense, but take me out of my comfort zone. It’s really hard to explain this one, because it often has to be done early on in the process in order to get the full use from it, but it has to be done after you have the basics in place, and perhaps just as you’re starting to get stale with your ideas. It’s an odd balancing act.

I’m sure this blog is not helpful in anyway. Sorry. What I started out saying is that I’ve been messing with random generators for a few days now, writing out idea after idea and not taking any of them too seriously. At some point I will read through the mess and find what works.

If I have a point here it’s to write down ideas, as many as you can, and sift through them as you go. Some you may never, and probably should never, use. Others may resurface in your thinking at just the right time, and make something that much better. Just don’t allow idea generation to become a crutch. You still have to sit down and write something out eventually. Otherwise, all those great, and not so great ideas, will be wasted.

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