Saturday, September 09, 2006

Think Ink

Every writer has methods to jumpstart ideas, refine skills and otherwise help get the job done. Mine usually revolve around some sort of word play, random observation or memory game, like these:

1. Setting Details: Go to a model home or place you've never been before, and walk around one of the rooms for five minutes. Step outside and (no peeking) write down what you most remember about that room. Now go back in and see what wasn't memorable, and make a list of those things.

2. Single/Group Character Dynamics: Spend ten minutes alone with a friend, and then later write down what you did and said together. Repeat the exercise with three, four, five or as many friends as you can gather in a room. See if you can describe what your friends were wearing, how you thought they were feeling, and any details that come to mind.

3. Real Life Dialogue: Eavesdrop for fifteen minutes in a public space (don't be obvious about it) and write down exactly what you overhear along with a brief description of the speakers. Go home and write a scene in a completely different setting but using the same speakers and the dialogue you wrote down.

4. Observed Emotion/Profession: Look at any number of strangers you pass during the day and without talking to them or interacting with them in any way, try to guess how they are feeling. Write down what body language, speech and/or facial expressions made you think they were happy, angry, indifferent, etc. Based on their appearance, dress and attitude, try to guess what they do for a living and write down what made you guess that profession.

5. Comparitive Point of View: Ask five friends to tell you what they know or remember about a well-known disaster (i.e. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.) Use the same disaster for all five people and jot down notes or record what they say. Compare each person's recollection and note the similarities and differences between them.

What method(s) have you created or found that help you with some aspect of your writing? Post yours in comments here by midnight EST on Sunday, September 10, 2006. I'll select one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a Think Ink goody bag, which will include The Writer's Book of Matches, unsigned copies of Alison Kent's CI Guide to Writing Erotic Romance and Rosina Lippi's Tied to the Tracks, a copy of Writer's Journal Magazine and a few more surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.


  1. When I feel my image file going stale, I read poetry...T.S Elliott for one, G.G Kay for another...or myths and legends.

  2. Anonymous8:22 AM

    I have a notebook of stuff I find fascinating. When I get stuck, one of my favorite things to do is go through and find a topic totally unrelated to the WIP, research it a bit and see if any new ideas come from it.

  3. Your comment on eavesdropping brought back a fond memory. A writer friend and I were going to write a novel about a suburban housewife turned writer who gets into all kinds of trouble following around this handsome hunk of a stranger she saw in a mall and fell 'in love' with deciding he would be the perfect 'model' for her leading man.

  4. Two things actually. The first is when I'm stuck and need to give myself something else to think about I read nonfiction; not books on writing but perhaps books on creativity, mythology, or psychology. The second is to try to dream about the characters, I think about them when I am first falling asleep or when I'm going back to sleep after feeding the cat (long story) and I can usually work out the scene that I'm stuck on, and I can even remember most of it when I wake up. Ann

  5. Anonymous10:08 AM

    This is off topic but I had to write and say thank you! You posted a job search from PW back a few weeks ago. I sent them a resume and they hired me! So thanks. -- Cindy Harrison

  6. I like to do word clouds. If I'm stuck in a particular story, I might start with a character's name, a theme, any word that's meaningful to the story. Then I brainstorm. Word associations, loose and crazy -- no idea is too crazy. Eventually I find myself naturally moving from single "easy" words to more complex ideas, one idea to the next, until I've got a whole page of stuff. I usually keep these in my story folder for later. I also do these for each of the main characters when I'm building a story, just to get a list of key things I associate with each.

  7. I've done everything on your list. I also open the dictionary, or a book, and the first word I see I will write an exercise around that word. Sometimes, I'll go with that word and then try to write a little ditty in alphabetical order (if it's a dictionary). If I'm stuck on a scene, I'll shape-shift into the character's skin and let the character write out the scene in first-person pov and transpose it later.

  8. Anonymous12:35 PM

    Cindy wrote: This is off topic but I had to write and say thank you! You posted a job search from PW back a few weeks ago. I sent them a resume and they hired me! So thanks.

    You're very welcome, and good luck with the new job. ;)

  9. Like a lot of other people I'm an eavedropper. I mix that with what I call the what-if game. What if that mom picking up her son after school was a retired hit-woman? What if the gray hair man squeezing the tomatoes was the ex-king of the fairies?
    Remembering that the orthodontist expects to be paid next week and that we're out of milk again usually keeps me from getting stuck in the first place.

  10. Anonymous1:24 PM

    Volunteering at a nursing home has given me so many ideas and the chance to view diffrent personalities. The elderly have so many stories to share including personal experience with historical events. They are free in speaking their minds and don't worry about offending people. Honesty is so refreshing.

  11. Coming up with a random opening line and following it. Also, coming up with a list of titles for a story and writing about it, seeing where it goes (these are both methods suggested by Dean Koontz in How to Write Bestselling Fiction).

  12. Airport people watching/eavesdropping always yields something for the notebook. Also, watching documentaries/old news footage. Sometimes going to Google Images and entering a random word - see what pictures come up and write from there. I used to do the "picture launching" starter with my 7th grade kids years ago.

  13. That goodie bag has me salivating. That's worth duplicating even if I'm not fortunate enough to win. Thanks for offering it.

    Lately, I've been using Simon Haynes' yTimer to get me to do my 10 minutes of writing per day. That's not very earth-shattering. I've also been doing a lot of reading.

    I usually struggle to come up with story ideas, but having to sit with my laptop in Panera (while waiting for a replacement power supply for my primary machine) for a few weeks proved very inspiring. The combination of people, the Web, and the environment brought ideas tumbling out of my head.

  14. To turn the cogs...I

    listen to new age music get those (delta?) waves rolling in the right direction.

    study craft on the web, compuserve - book and writer's forum, romancedivas, blogs of awesome authors. **grin**

    take my characters out of their comfort zone and plop them in some other genre and let them stretch their legs's so cute they always think their dreaming.

    interview them using Holly Lisle's CCC.

    read books on everything...fear, grief, kickboxing, gardening, writing, fiction.

    watch DVDs by amazing storytellers like Joss Whedon and try to analyze how they do what they do.

    give myself a word count and then don't let myself get up from the computer until it's done, even if most of it is shoddy, there's usually one kernal that can be expanded on.

    study different genres to see if there is something I can use for inspiration.


  15. So far nothing has beat interviewing the hero and the heroine. I always get great he said/she said stuff and revelations that I would've never realized otherwise.

  16. People watching works for me, as does working in a stunning National Park. I play the 'what if' game. Better yet, I look at ordinary citizens and place them in unusual situations, or make inanimate objects come to life and think of the interactions with people. Surfing the net in a random pattern and seeing what's out there. Wondering 'who, what, where, why, when and how' works when studying the populace, too. Inspiration is all around, you've just got add your own little 'something' to the scenario to make it interesting.

  17. I people watch as well, but unlike what I'm reading, I do it in the car. I'll go for a drive, and see what I see. If there's a story already bouncing around in my head, I usually find ways to mess with those characters. If there isn't one already, I'll get settings or characters that start a new idea.

    Another thing I do if I want to not be driving, is try to remember dreams. There are very few that I do remember, so the ones I do have are very vivid and have great story potential.

  18. I do a half-hour of longhand journal writing every morning, just writing whatever comes to mind. Often I find myself musing about my WIPs, and because I'm not thinking too hard about what I'm writing, I often end up with all kinds of relevations about my characters or ideas for new plot twists.

  19. I have a playlist of songs that represent certain plot points or character interactions or mood of a particular novel or idea. Whenever I'm stuck, I listen to that music (particularly the dramatic or real ear-catching moments) and see what shakes out. If that doesn't work, I often watch the History Channel or the Discovery Channel. That way, even if I don't get the muse jogged, I at least learn something.