At this beginning of this week, I was feeling blocked–my inner kickboxer was more interested in reading Beautiful Ruins and figuring out how to make the perfect vegan mashed potatoes. I would try to write and end up larking about, looking at blogs or FB, rereading pithy quotes by Dorothy Parker or wondering if the The Words is going to be terrible.
I had nothing; no story to tell, no character to care about. Finally, I set down a simple challenge and followed where it took me.
The Challenge: Kurt Vonnegut says that every character should want something, even if it is just a glass of water. So I took a character and gave her a simple objective. All she wanted was to get from point A to point B. Then I started throwing up roadblocks, internal and external.
The Result: The story unfolded in a quick and organic way once I got started. All the plot points came about as logical intrusions on her goal, some of them the direct results of her goal. Everything moved forward toward the conclusion with good pace and energy. Once the bones were down, I went back and started added details, fleshing things out, and of course editing.
What I like about the work is that the goal itself is so simple, yet it presented many opportunities for deeper probing. Sometimes as writers we get caught up in the existential questions like the character wants a glass of water because it represents her thirst for parental affection. Sometimes, a character can want a glass of water merely because she is thirsty.
While I wouldn’t rank this story among the best I’ve ever done, it is a nice piece that came together in a short period of time. Such praise cannot be given to another story that I have been working on for a year; I just can’t get it right.
What about you, readers? What challenges do you give yourself to keep on task or to focus the scattered mind?