# of pages written: 8
# of times I’ve checked email/facebook: 4
# of days left to write 1st draft: 151
Yesterday I posted the beginning of a story in which a little girl finds an old doll head on the beach and it begins to speak to her. I asked you people to tell me what should happen next, but you haven’t, so I guess I’m going to have to figure it out for myself. I’ve been reading various books on “how to write” (they all give conflicting advice, by the way), and several authors mention that when you are beginning to write a story or novel, you shouldn’t be afraid to throw obstacles and crazy situations at your characters. One essay I read suggested brainstorming the most outrageous things that could happen to your character in the first act and using one of them. But even with this suggestion, I still find myself being too nice to my characters and making easy, safe choices for them.
I should be good at creating bizarre situations. After all, I tend to make absurd choices for myself. Here are a few examples.
(age 18) Hey, Eva, here you are making good grades in a prestigious college. What’s the most absurd choice you could make now?
How about dropping out of school and moving to Los Angeles to try to be an actress?
(age 27) Hey, Eva, here you are about to graduate with your Master’s degree, look for a job, and enter the adult world (finally). What’s the most absurd choice you could make now?
Why don’t I go to a party and let that boy with the crazy eyes who some people say is a former meth-head cut off all of my hair?
Sounds like fun!
(age 30) Hey, Eva, here you are with a good job that has a decent salary and benefits. What’s the most absurd choice you could make now?
What if I quit my job and move to Cape Cod where I know practically no one and work part-time as a bar-trivia host while trying to write a novel?
As you can see, I have, quite easily, made outrageous choices and set myself up with various crazy obstacles. In fact, recently I started thinking that maybe I haven’t given myself enough outrageous challenges. I mean, who wants to read a blog about me taking nature walks and writing? Yawn. I should be doing something really challenging and ridiculous, and writing about that. Here are some ideas I had:
- Use my okcupid account to attempt 50 dates in 50 days with people from the Internet. The problem with this is that there may not be 50 men my age on the Cape. I may have to dip into some less enticing age brackets. But that could make it all the more outrageous.
- Get a job at Hooters. Hey, I need a part-time job anyway.
- Try to contact Debbie from the “Can’t Hug Every Cat” video and get her to come to dinner. (Actually, I’m probably going to go ahead and do this, but maybe I could start contacting all of the people from viral videos and inviting them to come have dinner with me.)
See, I can easily think of ways to make my own life more challenging and crazy. Why can’t I do the same for my characters? I need to stop being so nice to them. I need to really throw them into the deep end of a pool filled with sharks and watch them flounder and scream. Take Bianca, for instance, the girl who finds the doll head. Originally I wrote a cheerful little conversation between her and doll head while the doll’s other body parts wash up on shore. But that’s just a little too easy for everyone. I need to make things absurd and difficult.
Maybe the doll head will try to kill Bianca. Maybe there is a bomb inside the doll head. Maybe the doll head is all a figment of her imagination and she’s delusional from starvation. Maybe a whole lot more doll heads wash up on shore and come to life. Maybe they all start spewing up blood. The more absurd the better!
Of course, absurdity is not all I’m going for in my writing or my life. But maybe you have to brainstorm the absurd ideas, and sometimes go ahead and try them out, because that’s the only way you’re going to find something really original that works. When I was first offered the opportunity to move to Cape Cod, I thought it was absurd, and the idea of focusing all my time on writing was terrifying. But so far it’s turning out to really suit me. Sometimes it’s good to keep your mind open to the absurd. Throw your characters (or yourself) into the shark-infested waters and see what happens. If nothing else, it’ll make a good story.
P.S. The man who was bitten by a shark recently while swimming at a beach here in Cape Cod reports that he’s feeling “quite terrific.” So there you go.