Four Freewriting Tools Every Novelist Should Use – Part 2

Before introducing two more freewriting tools, I have a rhetorical question: what’s the most powerful and “viral” gift freewriting can bring to your story?

Here’s my rhetorical answer: depth of character knowledge.

I don’t mean just random lists of character attributes; I mean what what I call nuggets–revelations big and small that round out your character, that give her attributes you probably wouldn’t have “thought” of, that suggest both inner and outer logic.

–Miss Scarlet is susceptible to poison ivy.
–She likes ham
–She’s a New Jersey girl but attended a southern boarding school.

Do we have real character knowledge here? Not yet. Ask yourself: do the items in this list suggest what can, even must, happen as your story moves forward into greater complexity? Are they suggestive of deep motivation? Do they point toward specific complications, plot moves, scenes? Do they reveal theme, transcend randomness?

I wouldn’t say yes to any of those questions. Compare with the following:

–Scarlett has never gotten over being the only “Yankee” girl in her school, a situation that caused her to be ostracized and lonely.

–Her love for ham sandwiches runs afoul of her Orthodox Jewish future in-laws.

–A bad case of poison ivy forces her her to postpone her wedding and she spends a week soaking in lukewarm baths of bicarbonate of soda.

Those are nuggets. Provisional, of course–they may very well be superceded by better nuggets as the story development process moves forward–but we have something to run with.

The following two freewriting tools are perfect for unearthing nuggets when you need them most. Both are targeted (aka “directed”) freewrites–that is, you have a predetermined the subject (your target) you need to explore. Both take a familiar form, the Q & A:

Self-Interrogation
Hold on a minute: isn’t it contradictory, even silly, to ask questions of yourself? Don’t you already know the answers? By definition? All I can say is, no, resoundingly NO.

Yes, the answers are inside you, but not consciously available to you.

They reside in the place beyond your awareness that we call your unconscious. You are not conscious of them, nor of the raw stew of creativity that produces them–not until something opens a gate to that place and allows them to enter consciousness.

Freewriting opens that gate. It gains you access to your most creative thinking. So why not call it “freethinking?” Because, as a mode of thought, it’s inseparable from the act of continuous, nonstop writing. Remember the only rule of freewriting: TO KEEP WRITING. Should you attempt to storm your unconscious directly, leaving out the writing component, you’ll almost surely end up staring slack-jawed into space and wondering why the hell you ever thought you could do this thing.

So when would you need it? Anytime you find yourself short of vital character or plot information without which you can’t move forward.

Example: Let’s say that for plot reasons, Ray, your main character, has to marry a girl named Sissy, the daughter of a Mafia don. You’ve already established that Ray is a good guy, attractive and emotionally honest. He’s working on a novel about the mob, but it doesn’t make sense that he’d marry into such a risky world just for material. You need a better reason. You’ve stared out the window and come up empty. Time to freewrite.

So here’s your target: Why would he marry this girl.

What compells Ray to send himself off a cliff into this perilous marriage Sissy?
It’ll give him inside material to write his Mafia story.

Sure, but that’s all? Don’t tell me that’s the sole reason. What else?
More… Okay, maybe he’s attracted to her. She’s hot.

Okay, he’s a guy, he finds her hot, but marry her? He’s not not impulsive, he might be physically attracted, but where does the serious interest in this girl come from. A reader will need to see that.
Maybe he just drifts into it. Let’s it happen. Serendipity…

Serendipity. Get serious! He’s the main character. He’s got to be active! What’s driving him?
Maybe she reminds him of somebody. His mother? No, forget that. Maybe it’s an un-lived high school fantasy. She reminds him of an old crush–a cheerleader he was infatuated with for two whole years, but she’d never talk to him–

And so on. We’re getting there–but not there yet. Keep it up, keep probing. Show yourself no mercy. Role play the ruthless inquisitor who refuses to put up with vague or non-specific responses. Be nosy, even prurient. When necessary, feel free to probe in places that would make even Barbara Walters tremble. In reality it’s only you who’s asking the questions, only you giving the answers, so there’s no reason to be anything but shameless.

You have only job at this stage and it’s crucial: to generate as many plausibilities as you can

Character Interrogation
A similar process, only now your questions are going right to the source, a character.

Because you’re answering for that character, a little internal role-playing is called for. Should that prove a challenge for you, just do it. Don’t worry if, say, you have trouble with a character voice. This is not about performing a stunning act of mimicry, but about generating information

Situation: Jenn is poised for a climactic scene with her boyfriend, Mark. But something feels murky and vague about the moment. You don’t actually know what Jenn ought to do or why. You have a few arbitrary notions, but none of them feel right.

What to do? Interrogate her:

What do you want from Mark?
I want him to love me, I guess.

Why? Specifically? Do you love him?
I don’t know, I’m not sure. Isn’t it enough to just…want love?

No, not enough. This is a big scene, a major face-off. You need something that’s specific. What would that be?
Okay, well, maybe he’s got somethin of mine.

Hm. Like what?

Like… Okay, I just sold my old car that he oved so much. Maybe he turned around and bought it back for himself. I’d find that very upsetting.

Good. But what do you want?
My car. I want my car back.

See how quickly we found real meat? Now we know what the fight is about, and by virtue of that, we have an inner logic for this very important scene.

Part 1 – Freewriting tools 1 and 2
Stronger than writer’s block!

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