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Finding That Light Bulb Moment in Fiction
by Kathryn Lay

When writing a story or novel, sometimes the most difficult thing is keeping your piece from being average. I’ve been told that a writer must dig deeper and not go with the first and easiest plot idea or ending to a scene or problem. But until a recent accident while working on a novel, I didn’t understand that there are ways to help find those “A HA” moments that surprise you as a writer and will hopefully surprise your reader.

If you want your fiction to rise above the average and get noticed by an editor, try some of these exercises:

1. Write yourself into a corner. Sometimes the best way to write yourself out of a corner is by writing your character or plot into one. Are you having a difficult time with a scene or plot point? Is it keeping you from finishing that story, chapter, or even a whole book? Try writing the scene until you are stuck and there is no obvious place for your story to turn. Think about that scene, see it in your head, see it in your characters head. Don’t stop writing, just write with abandon and with no thought about whether its good or not or whether it’ll work or not. Just see where it leads.

While working on a new book that I was rewriting with an agents suggestions, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with the average-ness of the storyline. I was coming to an important arc in the story where my main character would help the secondary character with a problem, thereby solving his own problem. But I couldn’t figure out why he would do this for this new kid in town. Finally, I just sat down and started writing a scene that hadn’t been in the original plan. I came to a place where I was hitting a dead end. I had no idea what to do next so I walked away and just turned on some music, sat in a rocker and thought. Then, when in my mind I saw my character showing up at his friends house for the first time and a startling “What If?” shouted at me, it nearly knocked me to the floor with excitement. I was shocked at the possibility and suddenly the whole storyline began to fall together in a deeper way.

2. Have your character journal his/her thoughts. One way to find a characters deeper needs is to have your character journal. Not to be included in the story or book, but for you to discover what your characters need or want, to discover their past or their secrets. You may need to spend quite a bit of time doing this before you find that you are really getting into the head and voice of your character, but it may surprise you what you learn that will help your story or send it into a new, and better, direction.

3. Reread your project or do an outline of your problem before going to sleep. Sometimes when finding myself stuck on a storyline or an ending, Ill reread what I’ve written so far just before going to bed. It keeps it in my mind as the last thing before my mind rests and sometimes as the first thing I think about when I wake up. Does it always result in an answer? Not always, but there have been many times when I’ve woken with a new thought on the problem.

Other times I’ve worked on an outline of the plot or the specific problem my character is facing, adding several possible solutions, studying it before I sleep. Why waste the subconscious, sleeping mind on dreams about taking tests in your underwear or dialing the wrong number over and over?

4. Question your characters needs, desires, motives, outer fears and more importantly, their deeper fears that no one else knows or even they wont admit out loud. Try interviewing your character, asking leading questions concerning the story problem. Grill them like a private detective or lead them into discovery like a psychologist.

5. Write your scene from another characters viewpoint to see how they interpret your characters action. Sometimes a scene that is truly necessary to your story just doesn’t want to fall together. Perhaps you can’t decide how your character will react or how they should react. Take that same scene and rewrite it from the viewpoint of a secondary character or even a bystander who might not actually be in the scene for your story. You may come away with a whole new perspective on the event and your character.

6. Write your characters biography when they were younger and before this story in their life begins. When beginning a story, especially a novel, writers often will create a biography or answer a series of questions about their character. Most often it’s a current bio with a few early childhood likes or dislikes thrown in. But if you really want to know your characters motivations when they are 10, write about them at age 6. Or if your character is middle-aged, write a little about their life while in school. Were they popular? Teased? Athletic? Creative? If your character is much older, what do you know about their life as a young father or mother, an employee? What did they do to relax with their family or alone?

Writers block in the middle of a project can be discouraging and frightening. Sometimes you need to walk away from the project to gain perspective on the problem you are having. But other times, facing it head on in new ways can help you find the answers that you and your characters are looking for, answers that will make your heart race as you find new hope and excitement for your story or book.

© Copyright 2006, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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