Let Your Characters Talk. No, I know, we like to be hyper-plot-focused like, if it doesn’t fit into the plot, then murder it in the face. But that’s assuming plot is this rigid, inflexible thing, like an obsidian dildo. It’s not. Plot is whatever happens in the story: a sequence of events. This happens. That happens. Then another thing. In the process: characters talk. Characters are everything, and it behooves you to know them. One of the ways you get to know them is: let them have conversations. About anything. Corn chips and abortion! Lip balm and gun rights! Whatever it is, give them a lot of leash. Maybe you’ll cut a lot of it. Maybe you won’t. But ideally, it’ll help you know these characters more intimately by the end. And if you know? Then we get to know, too.

Have A Point, But Don’t Ever Tell Us. Writing a novel is a game of charades — I’m trying to tell you something without ever telling you something. All my work has a point — a central argument or idea. Sometimes I know it going in, sometimes I know it on the second draft, or tenth, or once its on shelves. But I don’t want to tell you what it is. That spoils the fun and ruins the game. Dance around it. Paint the margins, but leave the core thesis of the work blank. Let the reader get there. Let them stumble into it like someone who opens the wrong door and finds themselves wandering into a secret orgy. Let them be wrong about it, too, if they need to be. Fiction isn’t about absolutes. This isn’t paint by numbers. Good storytelling embraces ambiguity and uncertainty. Good writing isn’t a lecture; it’s a debate.

Surprise Yourself, And You Surprise The Reader. This is maybe one of the best ways to get unstuck that I’ve found, in the most general sense: just when you feel like you’re hitting the wall, face mashed against the brick and you don’t know where to turn, it’s time to surprise yourself. If you’ve anticipated what’s coming, then we might, too. That’s not to say you can’t orchestrate holy-goatfucker moments long before you get to them — you can, and should. But sometimes, you paint yourself into a corner and it’s like, do something really unexpected. It’s like, BOOM, SPACE BADGERS, and jaws hit the floor so hard the tile cracks. (This also means it’s vital to be loosey-goosey with your expectations. Nothing in your story — no moment, no character, no event — is final until that book is printed and in people’s hands. Be willing to change course and redraw the map — I love outlining, but just as no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, no outline survives contact with the actual story. Rigidity is the enemy; flexibility is your friend. You know what’s also your friend? Puppies. And whiskey. And ice cream. And a puppy carrying whiskey-flavored ice cream in a little barrel around its neck. *dreams*)

Ten Keywords. Think of ten keywords about the story you’re writing. Or five, I don’t care. They can be anything. Emotions. Plot points. Locations. Write them down. Scribble them on a Post-It note, or keep them open on your screen in a little window, or tattoo them on your head backwards so you can read them in the makeup mirror you keep just to your left. The goal? When you write, glance at them. These are the ideas and elements and motifs you want to keep roughly juggled in the work: not constantly in play, but so that some part of the story always roams and roves back to them. It’s like, LIBERTY / ALBUQUERQUE / WATER RIGHTS / VULTURES / CLASS WARFARE / VAMPIRES / THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE / BROKEN WINDOWS / DONKEY SHOWS / DERELICT SHOPPING MALLS. Peer at these from time to time. They’re meant to form the posts of an invisible fence to keep you and the story hemmed in.

Write Like You Think. This sounds strange, I know, but sometimes the reason writing is so hard for us is that we put all this expectation and distance between us and the words. We want to prettify and make them sound like proper prose — but in that, we’re often hewing to someone else’s idea of what constitutes pretty, proper prose. Hell with that. Connecting with the work more intimately means creating a stronger, more direct conduit between the words on the page and the words inside your head. What’s up here — *taps forehead* — is PURE SNOW. It’s raw, crackling, cuckoo energy. It’s rough, unhewn, and it is decidedly You-Flavored. Pipe that stuff right onto the page. I’m not necessarily talking about straight stream-of-consciousness, here, but I do mean for you to harness the way you think and the way you speak — how you hear language and process it and return it to the world has meaning. It’s the writer’s fingerprint. So press your fingerprint hard onto the page. And if your objection to this is that it’s not pretty, not proper and, ugh, not perfect — well, no duh. First, that’s kinda the point. Second, you have as many drafts as you need to fix it. So, stop putting up roadblocks and expectations between you and the page. BARF BRAIN MATTER RIGHT INTO THE STORY.


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500 Ways To Write Harder: Coming Soon500 Ways To Write Harder aims to deliver a volley of micro-burst idea bombs and advisory missiles straight to your frontal penmonkey cortex. Want to learn more about writing, storytelling, publishing, and living the creative life? This book contains a high-voltage dose of information about outlining, plot twists, writer’s block, antagonists, writing conferences, self-publishing, and more.

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