Seeking inspiration? Here are fun and weird hacks for writers.
1. Read advice columns to find ideas for creating conflict in novels. The problems people pose to columnists are rife with family drama, misunderstandings among friends, marriage issues, and romantic entanglements. Even columns about etiquette offer an array of tenuous situations. When you locate some columnists online, you may encounter a paywall if you’re not a subscriber to the publication. However, many offer free teasers that can spark ideas. Remember, you’re looking for ideas, not advice. Consider checking out the following columns. As a reader, I’m most familiar with the first four, but the rest look useful as well:
- Carolyn Hax
- Ask Amy
- Miss Manners
- Dear Abby
- Miss Conduct
- Ask Polly
- Social Qs
- Urban Diplomat
2. To hone descriptions, watch people. When standing in line for any reason, glance at what people wear. What does their choice of clothing say? What statements are they making with hairstyles? Can you discern someone’s age and income level by their mode of dress? Do you think the handbag they carry is genuine or a knockoff? After considering the people you’ve seen, write descriptions about them, give them a first and last name, and see how they come to life on the page.
3. To write dialogue, listen in public. What is the melody of each voice? When do people speak more rapidly than usual? More formally? In the vernacular? What accents can you discern?
4. To write dialogue, listen in private. With friends and family, you must focus on the content of their speech. You are already accustomed to their cadences, so try to listen with new ears. Watch their expressions and movements as if you’re seeing them for the first time. What you learn may help you write characters who are close in relationship.
5. To observe, watch old videos. We’ve been going through old family videos. In watching and listening to our younger selves, I’ve discerned new details about how we used to be. If I were to write a portrait of our family based on those videos, we would look different than if I were to write about us today, not only because the videos were recorded in the past, but because I am now noticing particulars I didn’t see then.
What are your favorite tips?
I have watched my darling bride
with descriptive writerly intent,
and new nickname I did decide:
Shazaam! The Golden Elephant.
It did put me in quite a spot,
but it is dynamic tension,
referencing much that she is not
while gaining readers’ rapt attention
by making her a noble beast,
with attributes to stir the soul
(but trunk-like nose? not in the least)
but she strides with pachyderm-y roll,
and though she is quite far from large,
no sane man will stare down her charge.
This is enlightening. Thank you!
Thank you. My husband has worried about me studying people show much. I am legitimized!
Linda Riggs Mayfield
A few years ago while traveling by train, I was charmed by the man who sold the goods in the snack car. After making my purchase, instead of returning to my seat in my car, I slid into a booth, got out a notebook, and evesdropped on the courtly raconteur in starched whites, with his chocolate brown, shiny bald head, as he engaged each customer. By the time we reached Chicago, I had jotted down the basics of a short story from the interactions I witnessed. Rich, fascinating morning!
Kristen Joy Wilks
These are such fabulous ideas!!! I love the thought of watching old videos to find a new look at those you know and advice column drama!
A calm look at things or people in a specific list that grows over time
can be normal or useful to some people or just interesting.
Maybe nothing. Maybe. And maybe someday be BAM.
I get a smile today again looking at the time stamp.
When do people write a reply?
And the little mystery–? What time zone is that?
And just when I figure that out that it has to be Pacific time
I decide it may not be.
So did you start noticing the time stamp,
or have you in the past noticed,
or even more interesting did you go back just now to check?
My time at the moment of finishing this reply is almost 7:30 pm.
I thought this was fun. We are all a little silly.
All a little silly, all about different things, yet silly still.
Fun defined. It’s OK.
I love this! Great advice, Tamela! I’ll have to pay closer attention.
These are such helpful ideas, Tamela. Thank you! One of my favorite practices for writing fresh, realistic dialogue is to eavesdrop on conversations in public places. While for the average person eavesdropping may be considered bad manners, for the writer it is an occupational necessity. LOL! 🙂