I sat down to write. Pen in hand, blank paper before me. The idea was clear: girl loves unconscious boy and discovers a way to reach him. I had spent weeks brainstorming, tweaking ideas and dissecting my characters. Before I placed my pen to the paper, I realized something. I had it all wrong. In two seconds, weeks of work stepped aside for an even better idea. The story isn’t about the girl at all. It is about the brother’s pain and eventual repentance from his self-destructive lifestyle. The unconscious boy and the girl are in the background, just a side effect of a common tragic event. But, the brother’s story is the story.
I could not have reached this “aha!” moment without holding my ideas loosely.
If you’ve been following me this summer, you will know that I’m taking on the 90 Day Novel Challenge. I’m using Alan Watt’s book, The 90 Day Novel, as my guide. He talks about the importance of holding ideas loosely and, to be honest, I had never thought about doing that. Whatever sprang to mind was the story, however weak it may have been.
But,when we hold our ideas loosely, we give ourselves permission to play. If we think that Meg loves Jim, fine. However, it may arise later on that Meg is only pretending to love Jim. Or maybe Meg doesn’t love Jim at all. Maybe Meg isn’t even in our story. Or maybe Meg is a scary sea monster and Jim is her newest prey. Maybe Jim is an escaped con and Meg wrote to him once in prison by mistake, but she is all he knows on the “outside”, so he’s on a journey to find her…
How loose are your ideas?
Would you let Jim serve time? Would you give Meg a shark’s tail and send her after Jim? Would you be willing to abandon them completely and focus on someone else?
I challenge you to hold your ideas loosely. If you are afraid to toy with a work in progress, perhaps play with your next short work. Evaluate every piece of your story and then turn it upside down. Question everything. Is your protagonist’s mother really his mother, or was he secretly kidnapped or adopted or switched at birth? What if he is a special species of alien from planet Nurmanni and he actually “became” from a giant clam shell somewhere off the shore of Wakanumah?
Asking questions allows for these imaginative alternatives to the story. Say you discover that your protagonist may be an alien. Maybe you don’t want to write about aliens, though. Okay, that’s fine. Take a step back. If he isn’t human and he isn’t alien – what is he? Or maybe you want him to be human. Fine. Change his genetics. Do what you need to do to write the story begging for life within you. In the meantime, question everything, and hold each answer loosely.