Thursday, May 23, 2013

Listen (do-wah-do). Do you want to know a secret?

By Gayle Carline
-Mysterious Humor Author

"How do you come up with your ideas?"

Some authors claim to hate that question. I'm merely flummoxed by it because, honestly, where DON'T I come up with ideas? Every bush in my neighborhood could hide a body. Every sharp edge could be used as a weapon. In southern California, we have oleander plants all over the place - hello, Mr. Heart Attack.

The crime's not that hard. It's winding your way through the plot and subplots to get to the finish line that's difficult. This is where writer's block rears its ugly head.

No, not this ugly head.

I don't think I've ever had writer's block, but I often experience writer's dread. It's that feeling of ambiguous yet impeding doom, as I approach my laptop and open the file. I want to reach my word count for the day but I need that word count to contain the right words, the good ones, the brilliant words that will propel the story forward instead of spinning in a verbal hamster wheel.

How does a writer push forward with their story, and make it interesting for the reader? Here are some of my go-to dread-busters:

1. The Soupy Sales approach. For those of you youngsters, Soupy Sales was a comic who had a children's show. It was crazy, zany, and I loved it. The set looked like a kind of house, with a door at the back. At some point, there would either be a knock or a scream or some kind of noise, and Soupy would open the door. There might be a celebrity behind the door, or they'd show a clip of an elephant stampede, or something wacky (once the crew hired a stripper). Much like the rest of the show, it was unexpected.


In my own manuscript, I might have Peri in her office. There's a knock at the door. Who can it be? (No, it's never the elephants.) Usually, someone with information or a clue shows up. Lucky me.

(Down, Fella.)

2. The 15-year-old boy approach. They like car crashes and explosions and heavy gunfire on the screen, like, every ten minutes or more. 

I don't usually blow things up, but I might hit Peri with a golf club or get assaulted by a suspect. This is not gratuitous action, like in Transformers. First of all, getting to the action requires writing the preparation for the scene. Second, mysteries must always be ramping up the stakes for the main character. In any case, I'm now writing through the dread.

(Every time I hit someone in the head in my books, I think of this scene for some reason.)

3. The left-turn-at-Albuquerque approach.

By that, I just mean I think of something surprising for my character to do. I'll warn you, this kind of writing might not appear in the finished story. Sometimes it helps me to loosen up the words and get the plot moving if I just have Peri get drunk and sing karaoke, then have Benny show up and sing a Dino duet with her. It's not a scene I'll use... or maybe I will, eventually. I have to say, it's pretty freakin' funny.

Now you know my secret. Well, this one. I'm still not telling you about the time I... oh, yeah, what do other writers do when writer's dread sets in?


  1. I love your post and your style. When I'm stumped, I exercise, and it always gives a new idea. Since I'm a compulsive exerciser, sometimes my stories get rather complex. :)

  2. I love coming here to learn different methods to think of my crime writing. I have written three such rough drafts and they are still on my laptop waiting for me to do something with them again. Anyway, meandering back on topic here when I wrote secrets, one such story in waiting" my hubby was working which gave me free days alone to write. I would talk through my scenes literally line by line character by character hearing the story as I wrote it. But when I became stumped, I shook my snow globe. As I watched the snow fall it was like ideas were falling just waiting for me to grab one. It was great.

    So talking out my scenes and snow globe shaking are my secrets.

    I need to get back to this kind of writing again.


  3. I'm at that writer's dread place right now. The end is near and I'm pretty sure I'm about to find out I'm not any good at this writing business after all. My first two books were flukes. So I've taken some walks and had some talks and I think I'll just get on that verbal hamster wheel and see if I can't come up with something fixable after all.

  4. I walk and talk, too, it usually clears my block. I never remember to not move my lips when I'm doing this, and as I walk and talk alone, I'm sure all the neighbors think I'm mad.

    1. If you wear a blue-tooth device, Jenny, people will think you're on the phone. ;-)

  5. Interesting and well-timed post, Gayle, because I just went through the Writer's Dreads, which is only a problem if you get stuck, or locked in, when you are in the Writer's Dreadlocks, which is a terrible condition for which there is no shampoo, and you just have to rise head and shoulders above it.

    I have a few other methods I'd like to suggest. I'm not compulsive about exercise, but I do like to walk, so I'll add long walks and talking to myself. Listening to music - getting myself out of my head.

    Speaking of which, another method I call bang-your-head-against-the-wall. It really does feel good when I stop, and my verbal sinuses get cleared.

    I also yell at my characters. They're like unruly children. Then they yell back and tell me I'm an idiot and they need to be here and why the heck isn't she center-stage.

    Sleep is good. And food. Junk food, for the body and mind.

    I try not to be too miserable (more miserable than usual, anyway). I also wallow in other writers' misery (past masters only - I haven't gotten to the stick-your-feet-in-ice-water stage yet, only because I prefer my blueberries blue, not my feet.)

    Perhaps like Peg, I tell myself, this is garbage, I'm writing garbage, and then I do a Huck Finn and declare, "All right, then I'll write garbage." After which I either revise the garbage into diamonds or write something good.

    Steven Pressfield's work on Resistance comes in handy here.

    Hey, Peg, tell the hamster to eat some lettuce. You've got a great book to finish.

    Gayle, I think collecting a bunch of "Unlocking the Dreads" would be fun. The ground rule would be each must have a clever name (like your three) and be a useable key back into the rabbit hole. (Can that be one? Down the Rabbit Hole - change the context, perception or point of view. Do the Caterpillar: Who are you? (ask the character).)

    I wonder, if solutions are genre or style based. Soupy Sales is great for comedy, but in other forms the unexpected from left field might seem to be playing foul. Have to think about that.

    Thanks, Gayle, for thoughts and smiles.

  6. Another entertaining post by Gayle Carline, filled with nuggets of excellent advice! Thanks, Gayle!

  7. I often use the Raymond Chandler approach (or some variation thereof.) He said, "When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand."


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