Hi! It’s been a while since I posted on Between the Lines–life has been extraordinarily busy for me these last couple of months and I haven’t had time to blog.
However, this new post is brought to you by JT Pledger, a novelist, screenwriter, and copywriter. We connected in the Between the Lines Writer’s Nook, and I’m thrilled to have him as a guest blogger. Enjoy!
You have a book to write, a story to tell. Maybe it has slowed. Perhaps your Words per Minute have dwindled to a few Hen Pecks per Hour. You are covered in a fluorescent tan. Your clothes reek of spilled coffee and stale cigarettes. You forgot to feed Fluffy, and the kids are crying.
You’re a writer.
And you’re stuck. The story is there, but something is just… missing.
You aren’t doing anything or going through anything that hasn’t happened to thousands of people before you (and will happen to thousands after you).
We are going to make your book better. Excuse your introvert tendencies, throw some kibble in a bowl, hand the kids to the spouse, get your shoes on and leave the laptop behind. We are going outside!
Going outside, as a writer, can be a scary thing. We are introverts by nature. Staying in is a vacation. Whenever we are asked to close our eyes and picture our perfect spot, there will always be a window to look —out— of. I am going to share 5 reasons going outside once in a while is actually going to help your book:
1. Go Outside
There are obvious health benefits to going outdoors. The sunshine provides vitamin D (wear sunscreen!) and clearing your lungs with fresh air is far better than inhaling recirculated cooled air from your AC. For the writer though, it is a chance to stop squinting at your screen and clear your head. While out for your walk, or shopping, or playing on the slide at the local park before the kids get out of school, you will be thinking about your book. Being away from it though has a serious benefit:
You can’t write it down. When you get ideas or that momentary Ah-Ha! moment, you must force your brain to hold on to it until you can get back to the keyboard. Doing so will increase the likelihood that you will hold on to the really good ideas and scrap the rest.
Further, you will then begin to think about the new idea and how it will work: in essence plotting your next words without ever having to type them. This means when you return to work you will have a fresh idea and the ability to put it on paper. You can tend to that slide burn on your lower back later.
2. Find Raw Idea Inspiration
If you happen to be stuck at the beginning of a project, going outside is the perfect way to come up with ideas. Stephen King got the idea for From a Buick Eight by asking himself “what if” he fell down the ledge at the gas station and his car was left there at the pump.
You can get inspiration from anything. However, staring at your off-white walls and an over-sized poster of Atlantic City isn’t going to bring anything new to the table. The right answer to your “what-if” will come easier if you are outside witnessing daily life and asking yourself what-if about everything you see.
3. View Locations
One of the most valuable tools a writer has is the ability to turn words into paint brushes. Making the reader not just read the words but feel them, see the described items as if they were real. To do this, you have to know what you are talking about. Anyone can say the lamppost was broken. Until you actually see it though, you will forget to mention the way the wood was splintered, or the bulb swayed, as if clinging to life by a thread.
If you are writing about a town, it is important to see that town (or at least see YOUR town as that town). Sure you can get on a search engine maps page and get street names and building addresses, but until you go outside, you forget the variety of life that walks those streets.
View the locations, notice the little things, take mental notes, then come back and tell your readers all about it.
4. People Watch
Without a doubt, the single most essential element of a novel are the characters within. As a writer, your job is to not only create fake people but find a way to give them life; an identity; clothing and traits that make them unique. You want the reader to fall in love with (or loathe) your characters and feel for them in ways otherwise unimaginable.
The best way to do this is to observe real life people and notice all the little things that you can use. The old woman walking down the sidewalk only has one sock on—pulled up to her knee—and it is a vibrant neon green. Or the little boy sitting in a pile of dirt with mud coated tears because he can’t find his shoe.
Notice all the details: peoples clothing style, mode of transportation, the way they walk, where their hands are, facial expressions…. The list goes on forever. These are real people and their unique traits can be mixed and matched to make your own unique character. Take notes, then get home and write that masterpiece full of individuals, each with their own panache.
(Side note: Don’t be creepy, or a stalker. Thanks). Overhearing people’s conversations can only be done by going outside. Shopping centers are great, people are too preoccupied to notice the weird and oddly dressed fellow leaning on the magazine rack taking notes. As such, they will say anything.
I don’t suggest trying to take dictation on every word of every conversation. Instead, keep your ears perked for phrases or words that make your writer’s brain start moving.
For example: In a local store recently, I was on the book rack aisle. Just on the other side were two old ladies (I do mean old. At least in their late 80s. They were chatting back and forth about what, if any, books they should get. Merideth walked away, while the other stayed behind and shouted: “Hey, Merideth, here is one called “Brain Games: Improving Your Memory With Fun” Should we get it?” To which Merideth (who was standing about a foot away from me at this point) shouted back over her shoulder: “Why? We will never remember to read it.”
Or this little gem snippet overheard from two aisles away at the grocery store: “Oh yeah? Well, I used to live in a school bus.”
Not only can you get golden snippets like those, but hearing people converse is magical. They don’t speak like they are on a stage or auditioning for a part. They talk like human beings. Your characters need to talk like them, too. Listen for stutters, words mispronounced, slang terms, and how people use the words they know.
Head outside. Take in the day. Listen and observe continuously. You will feel refreshed, excited and hopefully have a funny anecdote or two to incorporate into your project. You will get none of those by sitting around staring at your computer screen. You need to go outside.
|JT Pledger is a novelist, screenwriter and copywriter. When he isn’t sitting at the keyboard he is in the garden with his pet Hermann’s Tortoise, Simon, or enjoying the day with his fiancée. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or seek his copywriting services through his website.