- Find a box.
- Fill it with clips of text and photographs clipped from magazines and newspapers.
- Give your box a shake. Pull out two or more pieces.
- Lay out on the table and work out the connections.
- Start writing.
We, the readers, have total control over your story. We control when we start to read and when we stop. You cannot force us to do anything. This is our choice.
We want to read stories filled with a sense of continuity and life. We are looking to step into the characters’ skins and to be immersed in new worlds.
Problems grab our attention. The more difficult the problem, the greater the hold the story has over us. The job is to show us how it is done. Hook us, play with us and don’t reel us in till the end.
I write lists in the back of my notebook. Or sometimes on scraps of paper. These ‘sentence starters’ becoming the perfect jumping off point into your writing.
This first sentence starter is called ‘The Time’. The point is to list as many standout moments as possible.
For instance, it could start:
- The time our son was born.
- The time I went to Italy.
- The time I first met my wife.
- The time our neighbour flooded our apartment.
Later on, reading through these lists becomes the perfect place to start writing. What you are looking for is to remember as much detail as possible. Detail is the gold dust of writing that gives your work life.
So begin now, start listing the most interesting moments in your life. Try to write twenty lines. Often the most difficult lines to write are the most interesting ideas to develop.
Anger tells us we don’t like where we have been. It shows us where our boundaries are. It tells us we can no longer get away with the old life and habits. It tells us we are being reborn.
There is always a consequence to anger. It should never be acted out – but acted upon. It is a conscious reaction to being frustrated. It is your story map.
Sometimes it is just easier to start at the end than it is to start at the beginning. Make a list of all the big moments in your stories and ask yourself ‘How did I get here?’
Then ask ‘What happened just before this?’ and then again, ‘Before this?’ and then again ‘Before this?’ and soon you will find yourself back at the beginning, but with no detours or diversions. This is a good way of staying on track without getting distracted.
When writing dialogue, challenge yourself to let your characters speak for themselves, in any way they must.
Find ways to free yourself up. Write their words on paper using different pens for different characters – just as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn used to do – the elegant fountain pen for one character, the chewed Bic for another.
After you’ve given your characters a chance to empty themselves, cut and trim, combine, or pick a line or two that says it all. Often what people really mean is not what they say. Look for that tension. And remember, what people don’t say is often far more powerful than what they do say.
A good place to begin is with the most obvious dialogue. It doesn’t need to be subtle. Write on the nose.
Let your characters go. Then just sit back and watch. It isn’t just what they say. It is also what they do while they talk.
Next, work out what they are hiding. Characters will always hide their true meaning behind their words. Subtext is important.
Learn from the masters. Watch a politician evading questions. Politicians can never be seen to be losing. Someone else is always to blame. They believe themselves to be the masters of deception. As if!