Writing Tips and Tricks No. 1: Five Things

Tips and Tricks

As a writer, I’m asked a lot: “How do you come up with your ideas?!!” as if it is some arcane and mysterious process that cannot be understood by mere mortals. Well, I guess there is a little of that too, but sometimes I need a little something called PROMPTS.

Most of you are familiar with websites like Trifecta and Indie Ink, and how those prompts work. Most, if not all, of us, took some form of Creative Writing class either in high school or college that gave us the desire and burn to write, as well as giving us the foundations of writing.

But sometimes we need more than just a prompt. Sometimes we get STUCK. Times like these, we need a little help from other places.

I’m going to plug a book by Damon Knight called “Creating Short Fiction.” He was a masterful writer of a lot of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but the things he had to say are important for every writer. I’ve taught about this book in several Creative Writing classes now, and I really want the world of writers to know about this, because it has saved my butt multiple times in the course of my writing life.

In his book, Mr. Knight presents an idea called: “Five Things”. I used this to write my last Indie Ink prompt because frankly, I had problems writing something not medieval. (That’s when you know you’ve spent too much time in one time period….)

You should really read how he describes it in his book, because anything I say won’t do it justice and there are many more topics than what I’m giving here, but this is how it works:

Take your object, or prompt, and then think of five ways you could execute that idea in a short.

Sounds easy, right?

Okay, so here’s my prompt from Sunshine on Indie Ink this week: “You have just robbed a bank and are in the getaway car. What happens next?” So let’s take the obvious responses:

  1. Engine is running. I get away!

Well gee, that hasn’t ever been done before.

  1. Tire has a flat. I get caught.

Could be interesting, but that’s been done a lot as well. Now we start moving into more interesting territory:

  1. I get into the car. I’m betrayed by my partner and shot.

Nice! But still pretty cliché.

  1. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat. I recall my life up until now as I’m dying in the seat, having been shot by an officer.

This one would be the one I would probably have gone with. But now is the real challenge. The fifth response. By now we have moved out of the realm of basic clichés. This is NOT always the case. Sometimes you have to use the 6th or 7th idea. It depends on how cliché of a prompt you’re working with. They get a lot harder to think up as you go. I once tried to get to 10…that was a bad day, and I think eventually it works its way back into clichés again.

If I were Chris Carter or someone on the team of X-files, my answer would be:

  1. I am a police officer, possessed by the ghost of a dead bank robber, returned back for the woman I love and a second attempt at crime. I almost get away but am left to die by my lover, who betrays me.

But that was already a very good episode, and I can’t take that.

Similar story for Dark Knight:

5. I am secretly the Joker, pretending to be a simple thug, and through an ingenious and awesome plan, I’ve systematically killed every other thug that was present so only I would benefit. I get away.

SO, I have to think. It has to be the FIRST thing that comes into my head that is NOT fanfiction!

  1. I didn’t steal anything, I just wanted to see what it would be like. I’m a thrillseeker. The consequences of my actions are only just now hitting me.

Ah-hah! Now we are getting somewhere! I may not use this, but it is definitely a start.

I use Five Things a lot when I get writer’s block. You should try it too, and see what you come up with!

Happy Writing!

JMS

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