Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 27 comments
One of my CPs is a big advocate of experimentation to get through blocks when you're drafting. She says to keep trying things until something works. On its face, this idea sounded like a huge time suck to me. Draft ten versions of the same scene? Ugh.

While thumbing through an old favorite reference to help a different CP, I found a great way to adapt Jenn's advice. In Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, he suggests you "think in film" to improve your plots. In other words, play a scene in your mind as if it were a film. Now imagine you're the director, and your characters are an improv troupe. As you vividly imagine a scene playing, give the characters freedom to improvise. If you don't like what they come up with, rewind and try something else.

In another chapter, Bell mentions "unanticipating" as a way to avoid plot cliches. By this he means going for the unexpected--taking a typical scenario and letting it veer off in a new, interesting direction. Instead of going with the first character reaction that pops into your head (the cliche), you brainstorm five to eight alternate "and then what?" scenarios.

To take Bell's ideas to the next level, I suggest combing "unanticipate" with "think in film" to help you make the most of your drafting hours. Rather than painstakingly write out every possible permutation of your scene, brainstorm some alternate ways to play the emotion, action, motivation, conflict. Jot a few notes, then let each scene alternative play in your mind like a film.

Which version grabs you? Which feels right for your characters? Which opens the most interesting possibilities for your story to move forward? That's your winner.

Run to the keyboard or notebook and get down as much as you can, quickly.

How might these techniques help you draft more effectively? What other tips do you have for avoiding stuckness and cliches?

27 comments:

  1. Great advice. I try to do that sometimes but definitely need to immerse myself in it more!

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  2. I've done the film version quite often and like to think that way. I think that unanticipating idea would really help though. I find myself going the same direction often and don't want to.

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  3. LOVE the idea of unanticipating. I try to do that as much as possible. Thanks for the tip, Laurel! :o) <3

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  4. I love Bell's Plot & Structure! I did the film version before reading the book, but I really like the unanticipating technique combined with the film version like you suggested. Great advice!

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  5. I'm a fan of thinking in film, I do that all the time, but I usually don't think of several alternate ways a scene can go before I decide on one. I usually go with the first thing that comes. If it needs to change i do that in revisions.

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  6. Great post. I've never tried unanticipating, but it does sound like a good method!

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  7. I frequently imagine my scenes as movies, but I hadn't heard of unanticipating before. That sounds like an EXCELLENT idea! I frequently find myself trapped in a state of "but what would this character do?!?!" Good advice!

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  8. Great post. With my rewrite, I thought it film and wish I would have done that the first time around! I'm with Elle though- I usually just go with the first scene that comes to mind and if it needs changed later, so be it.

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  9. Saumya: it can be a great time saver.

    Terri: his "unanticipate" idea is a good one--Bell says our first ideas almost always come from copying: another book, film or TV show. The most original ideas take time to percolate up.

    Leigh: I think Bell is on the money that in any scenario, a character could choose a host of different actions--giving room for the oddball response is where magic can happen.

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  10. Laura: hope it proves helpful. Anything to avoid writing 10 drafts. LOL.

    Elle: perhaps you have better insticts than I do. My early drafts tend to be melodramatic with characters overreacting all over the place. It takes a few reels for them to behave with appropriate levels of emotional intensity.

    GE: good stuff, huh? Bell's book has lots of other gems for plotting.

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  11. JEM: It's too easy to ask yourself "what would this character do?" then start shooting down every idea without testing it. I think pairing "unanticipate" with "reel it" can help cheat the internal critic.

    Kelly: I used this method a fair amount in my rewrite that's querying now. I think it will prove super helpful in drafting as well.

    Angela: Hope it helps you generate lots of great ideas.

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  12. Interesting take. Going to have to try it next I get stuck!

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  13. Think in film is a big one for me! I find that so helpful - I tend to waffle on, if not!

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  14. I have always instinctively seen my novels in movie form (in my head), especially for pacing.

    I hate when I arrive at stuckness. ;)

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  15. I think I have that book - I need to get it out and reread it. I like to come up with lists of 10 possible solutions when I run into plot problems. I force myself to come up with 10 so I go beyond the obvious.

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  16. I think in film a lot. It's one of the ways I 'warm up' to my story :)

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  17. I do this all the time, but it's random. Approaching it methodically, expanding visualizations to include more alternate scenarios, is a great idea. When I'm drafting, it's very difficult for me to spot cliches. So when I go back and begin to revise, the copy is often painful to read. The only tried and true solution I've found for stuckness is just to write, no matter how awful the output.

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  18. Colene: Hope it helps you in your next sticky spot.

    Talli: It's a great tool for preventing the staring at a blank screen problem.

    Lola: The "unanticipate" idea might be great to pair with you inclination to "reel it" when those stuck moments come.

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  19. Susan: I agree--forcing yourself to come up with lots of alternatives will help push past the cliche every time. Great tip.

    Jemi: absolutely! It helps me get words in the notebook so I have more raw material to work from.

    VR: It's true that sometimes you have to go ahead and write the half baked idea anyway. I do like the reel it concept to test ideas my inner critic wants to shoot down in a knee-jerk manner.

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  20. I think going in an unexpected directions helps to surprise the reader and leave cliches wriggling in the dust!

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  21. I like the unanticipate suggestion. I'd never thought of that. I definitely do the "think in film" method. It works great for me. :)

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  22. I like the idea of this, but I must admit I have to be forced into it - if something isn't working, then I start to play around.

    p.s. I thought Bell's book was great too! :)

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  23. What a great tip! I've been doing this with my current wip. It helps tremendously.

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  24. Laura: have fun with it! As Susan F. mentioned above, the more possibilities you challenge yourself to create, the more interesting ideas you'll discover.

    Janet: It's a great time-saver and a good way to test those ideas that seem iffy at first blush.

    Susan: In Bell's book these were revision tips, but I think they're great for drafting too.

    Kathi: That's great. Glad you found it helpful for a breakthrough.

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  25. Excellent advice, which I know would work for me quite well. I think I sort of already do this anyway, work out differently possibilities. I usually talk them over with my husband, choreographing as I go.

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  26. Carol: Hey! Long time no see! The choreographing idea is another one of those acting concepts I sometimes use too. Does your hubby participate when you block scenes like a director? I've always wanted to do that! My hubs isn't a theatrical type unfortunately.

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