Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Killer Geisha with Knife Fans

Photograph by JackiePix
I took a writing class a few years back and our teacher had us do a weird mind game to get us thinking about our plot threads.  He put a bunch of random situations in a basket and we had to draw two out. Now the situations were not similar in any way.

For instance I got: A boy gets stabbed in an empty lot and The villain's dollar bill was on fire. 

This in and of itself can be a great prompt, but he added a genre to it. So he gave us either fantasy or science fiction or what not. What was great about this type of prompt was that it corralled the action, but left the circumstance wide open.  If you've read any of my blogfest entries in the past, you'll know that I actually used this years later in a novel I finished a few months ago.

He also had us take well known passages from famous books and turn them into sarcastic rants. For instance, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's love poem to Robert; How Do I Love Thee -- you know the one where she counts the ways, is actually quite funny when you put a different spin on it.

Photograph by Klearchos Kapoutsis
One of my favorite things was our "Cool Stuff That Never Happens" notebooks. Its where we write down really strange scenarios that we've seen in movies and read in books.  Things like a dirigible chase or swimming under an iceberg's craggy underbelly.  I have over a hundred such scenes, my personal favorites include running ahead of imploding catacombs and killer Geisha's with knife fans.  That always makes me laugh.

The point was to get you thinking outside of the normal action scenes. How might a car chase look with crappy cars or while running out of gas? What about a villain with an accent so terrible that you can't understand his threats and he ends up pantomiming?  Original ideas can come from simply asking yourself...what if?

I came away from the class feeling like I'd grown creatively because he taught us that thinking outside of the box wasn't really all that hard. If I could do it, then so can you.  Tell me...what kinds of mental exercises do you do to get the creative juices flowing?

Until next time...Go Write!


Zoe C. Courtman said...

I really dug this post - I love it when things manage to create a paradigm shift for me, and the image of a car chase with broken down cars did it! Great post.

Laura Marcella said...

That's an awesome idea! Thinking outside the box is usually what gets me the best ideas and solutions to a plot problem. Great post, and what a fun writing class that must've been!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's a great idea!

Eric W. Trant said...

I daydream, constantly, about scenes this and scenes that. I once answered a chain email from my cousin, which was "What would you take with you if you were stranded on a desert island?" and came up with this answer: "133 kegs. That's one thing."

And I wrote this whole story about it, complete with him -- my cousin -- chasing monkeys we'd dressed in coconuts and skirts and paid to strip-tease us. Whacked that I wrote it sober here at work!

But I love the what-if game. That's the magical question that puts every reader to the page, and every writer to the pen, ain't it.

- Eric

Anonymous said...

The "Cool Stuff That Never Happens" Notebook is a great idea! Wish I had done something like that when I was still teaching. I'm going to email some teacher buddies and suggest it. Thanks!

arlee bird said...

I did something similar for NaNo last year. I took five random newspaper stories and let them inspire the story. I didn't use the exact incidents in the stories, but let the stories inspire settings, characters, and certain plot points.

I like seeing odd devices used like you mentioned. Like in the movie Smoke Signals the character that could only be driven in reverse. It provided humor, but only symbolized some of the themes in the story.

Tossing It Out

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Wonderful post! I'm going to bookmark this and use it with my composition kids. I love the ideas. :-)

Ann Best said...

Thinking outside the box. When a car chase car is running out of gas got me remembering a movie I saw in the early eighties, a French film (I love the French) that has the funniest car chase ever. It was called Dear Inspector, I think. I sure wish I could find it and see it again.

I get the mental juices going listening to nostalgic music that takes me back over my long life. Watching old movies also. Since I'm writing memoirs, this works for me.

What a fun and interesting post! Hope you're having a good week.

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Great reminder to "think outside the box!" Sometimes I watch TV and come up with interesting ideas for my books. Also--family!!! My daughter did something so funny, I had to use it. Also developed a hilarious character around my sis-in-law. BTW she loves it!

Olivia J. Herrell said...

Love this post, Raquel. Only I realized while reading it that I'm way too conventional. (Who'da thunk it from a rebel?) Time to break out of that mold!

Thanks for the jog, that rebel, Olivia

Roland D. Yeomans said...

To think outside the box is how to write a bestseller. Readers want an "Oh, Wow!" experience.

And we give it to them when we give them an odd, novel twist to something familiar.

Like Zoe, I really enjoyed this post, Roland

Hart Johnson said...

This is a great way to mix things up--I love it! I am in an editing stage of a book that could use some of these moments, so THANK YOU!

Linda Glaz said...

You give some interesting thoughts to be put to use in writers' group. Thanks,

Eric W. Trant said...

Hey Raquel, I plugged you on my interview here, as my nemesis.

Just like I said I would!

- Eric

Erin Kane Spock said...

This was inspiring. I think I'll brainstorm some ridiculous stuff and see if I can incorporate it. Then again, in my genre the scenario would be that the heroine let out a stinky burp in the hero's face as he was about to kiss her. lol
When I write and I am truly on a roll and not just forcing myself, the scene unfolds because that's what the characters would do. When I'm outlining, it's more of a dry description of getting from point A to point B.