Back in the ‘70s a good friend of mine was involved in a think tank in Chicago.
They were a group of city planners, architects, engineers and designers from IIT, (Illinois Institute of Technology).
What did they have to “think” about?
They were given complex problems to solve like whether a city, town, building, road, even a river or lake, could or should be built or developed in a particular area.
People came to them from all over the world with not just technical or logistical problems but moral and ethical ones as well.
I was lucky enough to sit in on some of these meetings and I learned an invaluable lesson.
When a problem with a clearly stated goal is posed to a group of diverse minds with no cowards among them, an answer is inevitable.
What do I mean by no cowards among them?
I mean not one of the minds dedicated to solving a problem has an excuse as to why something can’t work. And not one of them gives up.
So think about what it’s like when plotting a novel.
There may come a time when the story looks untenable, the storyline is stalled, the tangents are taking over, and the main character appears to lose all sense of how to achieve the goal he or she set out to achieve in the beginning…
Scrap the story and start another one? Rework the story from a different angle? Change the main character? Add a different goal?
Maybe. Or try the think tank approach. Gather together a group of people, writers included, that have a direct connection to the story you’re writing and the characters you’re writing about.
I can speak from my own experience. I’ve opened my home every Thursday night for the last few years to writers from our local group who find themselves stuck in the middle of writing their stories.
They come over and not knowing who will be dropping in, sit unceremoniously around my dining room table. Over beer, wine and whatever food we decide on, the stories are talked about and the dead ends tend to disappear.
The writers start by expressing a goal for the story and then talking through it until it gets to the block. They listen to feedback and take what helps them see the story from different angles.
The purpose of this think tank approach is to arrive at constructive ways to rework, to edit, to reevaluate and to find a new path for a story that will have no way to go but forward.
Go into these kind of get-togethers with a commitment that the story will work, trust that it is only a matter of asking the question “what if” this happened instead of this?
Asking “what if?” is a tool the participants in the think tank use over and over again to reroute any potential dead end theory; writers can continue using the same device over and over again on their own.
And the part about not giving up?
You know you have a good story because it won’t let you go; the characters are on your mind all the time. But when you get stuck or you’ve strayed off the mark and you’re tempted to abandon all your work it may be time to reach out and get a little help from your friends.
Try talking it out with a group of diverse minds dedicated to finding the goal you need to keep writing toward “The End”.
Keep writing. Find your words.
Christina, for PenPaperWrite
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“If you can write 60 scenes you can write a novel.”