Don't settle!

Don't settle!

A Lesson by Chris

Oftentimes when you write, you stick to your first idea and hold fast. But there's better ones buried if you're willing to find them, so take the time to dig!


I find that when I write I always take the first idea I have and run with it. This is true mostly for short stories, if only because the creative process behind planning a full-length draft of a book is so long and involved that new ideas are bound to come up. Still, most of those book ideas, back in the day, started from one thought that occurred to me.

What I realized somewhere through the second book draft I was writing (and the second that I deemed thoroughly unfit to ever be considered by a real publisher) was that my books always lacked the same intrigue when i started writing them as when I was a few chapters in. New story arcs were budding by then that I'd never considered at the beginning, but that added flavor and depth to an otherwise drab and unoriginal piece of writing.

The problem with short stories was always that there wasn't as much time for new ideas to naturally come during the writing process. Idea might come as I edited later on to make small changes here and there, but rarely did it amount to much more than shifting details. The heart of the story (which oftentimes proves to be the real problem) always stayed alive.

To combat thinking like this, we pursue ideas in improv a slightly different way. Your partner is never thinking the same thing you are, so to have a good scene and be a planner, like me, you need to consider as many story arcs as you can while you're moving. Now, doing that while writing is a whole lot harder, but there is a way to carry it over.

In The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield, a writing exercise called "Elaborating Sentences" is detailed. Whether or not you realize it, you've done this before. It's simply taking a sentence and turning it into something more detailed and more exciting to read.

A slight alteration to this exercise that I use to keep my mind fluid and creative is to read a sentence, then think of what my initial idea is to elaborate on it. Then I strike it from my mind and vow to keep it from my mind as best I can. Then I think of a second and third idea, then strike those too. Ideally, I don't accept idea if it's even in my top five first ideas, because by the time you're straining to think of a sixth way to approach it, the creative energies are really flowing.

If you need a sentence to practice off of, try this one: She didn't recognize the house, even though she'd lived there for five years. (It's a bit longer of a sentence than usual for the exercise, but maybe longer sentences mean your elaboration will be a full-blown story!)

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Added on April 19, 2011
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St. Charles, IL

I'm from St. Charles out west of Chicago, but for school I made the big move to Wisconsin... or as I call it, out north of Chicago. Despite not having a dog or an awesome beard, or a life story that m..