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Saturday, 8 October 2011

Bringing On The Extras

Sometimes, when things are going wrong and life is hurling a new dilemma at me, it is a relief to see a friendly face, even fleetingly. It can make all the difference to the day. It could be a chatty assistant in the supermarket. Or a kind driver who lets me out in front of him during rush-hour, when he's probably in just as much of a hurry as I am. Or, best of all, my eldest daughter's beautiful smile when she comes home from uni for a visit. These people can put life back on track again and make a major difference to the course of the day.

And it's the same with writing short stories. My latest one was veering towards a dead-end. I could see it coming and wanted to turn it round and head in the right direction again. But I didn't know how. I stopped, stared at the brick wall, then stared into space, then paced the room. Nothing came. I couldn't manoeuvre at all without the dead-end sign looming up at me again and again. I racked my brains for solutions. Curled up and went to sleep at the foot of the sign, tossing and turning, my brain still in overdrive.

And then it came. Bring in a new character. Ask for directions, opinions, a sweet smile of sympathy to spur me on. Let him show me the way out. Transfer my dilemma into his capable hands. It works every time.

Now I have this lovely young farmer in a tractor, who has driven into the first paragraph and breathed new life, and a strong waft of cow-pats, into my beleaguered story. He adds weight to both the other main characters in the way that a minor character does so efficiently. He has improved the plot and strengthened the structure. And the twist that seemed rather convoluted is now workable.

So I'm on the highway now and picking up speed again. Let's hope the dead-end stays behind me. It's amazing what a fresh face can do to help you on your way. It's like a fictional hitch-hiker adding a new dimension to your journey.

And, off on another tangent again, it also somehow reminds me of backing singers. I'm sure Frankie Valli would have flopped without his Four Seasons. And Smokey Robinson would have smouldered into ash without his Miracles.


  1. Do you find that such renewed drive/inspiration is triggered by anything in particular, or can occur at one particular time rather than another?

    With my own writing I began to find that new direction and inspiration came to me most often early in the morning. I tend to wake early these days (only to do with my age) and if I lie quietly ideas will come to me very readily. More readily than if, for example, I sit down for 10 minutes of an afternoon and try to "force" them.

    Whatever, I'm glad it worked for you. it sounds as if this story is going to be special.

  2. Many thanks Author Doc. Like you, I find early mornings the very best time for inspiration. I wake up by 5am and my mind is full. I also take breaks for five minutes every hour or so throughout the morning and just wander about. During this time, inspiration always comes. I let my mind rest and turn blank. And there it is, the magic key to the next part of the story. I put all my faith in this, which means I never worry about writers' block. Something is always there and I give it a try. If I don't love it, then I know something else will come later.

    Ideas also occur when I'm driving on my own. I talk to myself about the story so far and then I find I'm saying what will happen next. I talk to myself all the time when I'm alone and always read each draft out loud to discover if it's working.

    My brain does become a little mushy in the afternoons!

  3. It's the other wy round for me. I finally switch off the computer in frustration and go to bed, only to find all sorts of wonderful ideas floating around just as I'm on the verge of sleep.

    Either way, I guess it demonstrates that we have to let go of everything else and just give our minds the chance to wander :-)

  4. Thank you, Sarah. I agree that we have to release the mind and set it free. I have a Dictaphone by the bed to record any thoughts that might come at night. I tried a notepad, but without contact lenses, my writing is impenetrable.

  5. I enjoyed reading about how you turned your story around, Joanna. I love when inspiration, or a new character enters into the mix but I do agree we need to give our minds time to find that inpsiration.

  6. Thank you, Rosemary. It is exciting when a story turns around. But I have had to learn patience. As you say, we must give ourselves time to let the fresh angle appear. I used to rush it too much and can still be guilty of that sometimes. If impatience were a criminal offence, I would be serving a life sentence!

  7. I tried to comment last week, but Blogger wouldn't let me :0( Hoping it likes me today so am trying again.

    It's always great when a story pours fully formed onto the page - but there's nothing as satisfying as keeping at a difficult story and suddenly finding it works.


  8. Hoory, it worked. But my sad face is somewhat disjointed.

  9. Thank you, Suzanne. I'm glad it worked.

    I know what you mean about difficult stories. They niggle away and take up all your thoughts. Then suddenly, there it is, the solution. It really is the most amazing sense of relief. I can't type fast enough to get it all into words when that happens!