Sunday, August 11, 2013

Automatic Writing Experiment

Michael Salsbury
The phrase “automatic writing” can have a number of meanings.  In the case of this post, I’m talking about entering a hypnotic trance in which you ask a question of your subconscious and let it answer by writing the answer down on a piece of paper for you.  The theory behind this is that your mind actually has access to more knowledge than you realize, and has sometimes figured out the solution to problems you haven’t consciously solved yet.  There is actually some scientific basis behind this.
In my case, the question I sought to answer was how I can solve a long-standing problem in my writing:  “How can I solve the lack of conflict in my writing?”  For some time now, I’ve realized that I haven’t done a good job challenging my characters and providing them with meaningful problems to overcome.  As a result, much of what I’ve written has been terribly boring… even to me, the writer.

At the end of the trance, my subconscious had written down the following items:
  • Be sadistic. Take joy in the character’s pain.  In other words, even if you love your character, you must be willing and able to throw the nastiest, most challenging obstacles you can in his or her face.  You must take delight in giving them a problem so hard that you’re not even sure you can solve it.
  • Switch roles.  Often, when I’m writing a story I tend to put myself in the point-of-view character’s shoes.  Being in that position, it’s hard to throw obstacles at the character while (in a sense) being that character.  I need to slip out of the character’s head, and into the head of the “sadistic torturer” above.
  • Ask how it can be even worse.  It’s not just enough for the character’s problems to be bad.  You need to figure out how to make them as bad as you can, to challenge them.
  • Theme inspires problems.  For a story idea I’m working on, a theme behind the story is that society can very easily turn on a hero if there’s something to be gained by doing it (e.g., money).  Knowing that theme in advance, I can imagine a bunch of problems this character might have to overcome.
  • What’s his weakness?  In other words, the conflicts a character is faced with should relate directly to some weakness in that character.  Is she afraid of heights?  Make it necessary for her to climb to the top of a tall tree to solve her problem.
I suspect for me the biggest problems are being inside the character’s head while trying to devise problems for him/her, and being afraid of giving a character a challenge so tough that I (the author) can’t figure out a way for him/her to solve it.  Perhaps the solution is to combine all of this while trying to suspend my fear that I’ll create a problem so tough that the character and I won’t be able to overcome it.  I will need to test this theory out.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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