by C.L. Phillips
Today I helped one of my friends brainstorm a story line for her newest work-in-progress. She's written the first eleven pages. Gripping. Emotional. After reading, I wanted to devour the rest of the book.
The problem? The rest of the book is a twinkle in her mind. Actually that's an exaggeration. The rest of the book doesn't exist. Yet. And the beautiful eleven pages have been in a desk drawer incubating for seven years.
So we tried something new. As a brainstorming exercise, we came up with three different story lines, each of which could start from the same inciting incident, thus using the beautiful eleven pages. Think of it as House Hunters Meets Fiction Writing.
Story A - Long suffering wife, prodded by her empty nest, inspects her life. Discovers husband is having an affair, forces a confrontation with husband, and leaves, freeing herself to discover who she really is.
Story B - Long suffering wife, prodded by her empty nest, inspects her life. Discovers husband is not who she thought he was, and when he's outed by a jealous friend, she sees her husband with all his flaws for the first time as an authentic partner, and together they find a way to be a different kind of family.
Story C - Long suffering wife, prodded by her empty nest, inspects her life. Discover husband has hidden a secret that shatters her image of him. The secret, an illegitimate child, comes into their lives as a pregnant eighteen year old young woman. Together the husband and wife resolve their own battles and come together to make their family whole.
I don't know if you can see how the stories are so very different in these brief descriptions, but as we worked though the process (in about twenty minutes), my friend blew past her plotting roadblocks and envision three distinct and very different novels.
Best of all, each story centered around a hidden mystery, a secret locked away for eighteen years, that changed the very character of the opposing lead character, the husband. We were able to identify more heroic resolutions as we worked through the process.
So, what is the takeaway dear writer/reader?
When sitting down to layout your next novel, take a twenty minute quick walk on the wild side. Take a page from the House Hunters television show on HGTV. Look at three different properties, that is three different story lines. Throw in a couple of wildcards.
As in the television show, my friend was able to throw out one of the options pretty quickly, and was able to focus on the two remaining story lines. They were very different from what she originally considered. The process completely removed her writer's block.
Try it, and let me know how it works for you.