Get a free video course on Writing and Mindset Click hereJoin my author mailing list

Randomness and conflict

Advanced techniques for writers

Using problems

This week I’ve been talking about using randomness in your writing. Here’s the first post, and here’s the second, in case you need to catch up. In today’s post, we’ll look at how to use a combination of randomness and conflict (or problems) to spice up your writing, which potentially uses all of the techniques I’ve discussed so far over this mini-series of blog posts.

A ‘conflict’ in a story could be a moment of high drama, a big crisis or a small problem or niggle, something I talk more about in the Small Steps Guide called How to Write a Novel and Get It Published.

Make a list

  1. Come up with a list of problems or difficulties or conflicts a person could face. Be as specific as you can – ‘lost keys down a drain’ rather than simply ‘lost keys’ – and include big and small problems.
  2. Next make the problems specific to one character in your work in progress. So ‘losing a parent’ is a problem but not specific enough. ‘His father dies before he can get to the hospital’ or ‘his father dies before he tells him where he has hidden his will’ are better because they are more specific. (Obviously it helps if you know who your main character is and what he or she wants and needs before you get to this stage.)
  3. Put these in a word jar or spark box, and top it up when you think of more to add.

Choose six problems

Choose six problems to start with. Then do the following:

  1. Number the problems 1 – 6.
  2. Throw dice to determine which problem you will use next.
  3. As soon as you’ve used a problem, think of another one to replace it, so that your jar or box stays stocked up with ideas.

Keeping a list, making a word jar or spark box and topping it up like this means you still have some control over the ideas, and you can make sure they are solid and usable, while also using an element of randomness.

Dinner for a tiger?

‘Gets eaten by a tiger while on holiday’ is a problem but it’s unworkable if:

  • you want the character to continue to exist in mortal form
  • the novel is set somewhere tiger-less
  • and the character has no holiday plans.

In other words, the problems you write down must be feasible in your main character’s world. That’s your creative constraint.

You’ve already used list making to come up with a set of problems, but how do the other techniques we’ve discussed in the other blog posts in this series come into play?

  • You can use a version of cut up technique to create problems: chop up a newspaper and you’re likely to come up with a range of problems to use.
  • Ephemera can help too: what problems could be suggested by a train ticket or a receipt or a note on a scrap of paper, for instance?
  • Of course, you could also create with a more general problem-themed word jar / spark box that isn’t specific to your current work in progress.
  • Freewriting will help you to use ‘what if?’ to explore each problem’s potential.

A quick checklist

Want to use randomness to spice up your writing? Here’s a quick checklist. (Especially useful if you’re stuck.) Think of it as a run down of what we’ve covered in this mini-blog post series.

  • List making and freewriting work well as warm up games and also help to generate source material.
  • Try creating a word jar or spark box and picking out ideas when you need them. A themed jar or box can work even better.
  • Use cut up technique, inspired by William Burroughs, to make your writing ideas truly random.
  • Collect pieces of ephemera and decide on the interesting stories each has to tell.
  • Decide on a creative constraint – or the rules of the game – and then ask ‘what if?’
  • Use lists of problems – and find ways to combine all of the techniques we’ve discussed, such as the ones I’ve suggested in this post.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. If you’d like more tips like these, take a look at the Small Steps Writing Guides.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.