Friday, December 20, 2013

Both Brains Required: Getting the Most Out of Left and Right When You Write

I was working on my WIP yesterday and I started falling asleep. I take it as a bad sign when my own manuscript is putting *me* to sleep. The words just weren't flowing. The sentences were awkward. The dialog, not credible. What happened?

Faced with writer's block, or a simple lack of enthusiasm, or whatever you want to call it, I like to go back to the beginning. I start reading through the current draft with the freshest eyes I can muster, imagining myself in the shoes of a reader, picturing the opening scenes of the movie (yes, this does help!) In going back to the beginning, I find I can usually identify the place where I would be getting up for popcorn instead of riveted to the screen. That's the part that needs fixing.

I often find (as I did yesterday) that the issue is a left-brain* one, rather than a right-brain one as I would have expected. It often turns out that the creative juices are flowing just fine, but they don't have the right channel to flow through. This is when it helps to go back and turn on the left brain. Start asking those basic questions again:

  • What would my protagonist really be thinking at this moment? What would her actions be?
  • Would that secondary character react as I currently have him reacting? Or would he be likely to do something else, given what we know about him? 
  • Are we in the right POV for this scene? 
  • Is it even the right time for this scene?

Yesterday, I found that the problem was a plot hole. The sentences were awkward because I had put my characters into a situation that wasn't very strong to begin with. The dialog was not credible because it was out of character for the characters. Once my left brain figured this out, I spent the latter part of my day butchering said scene and then reworking the plot to make more sense. A total left-brain activity.

I find that the creativity tends to follow a strong plot and strong characters. If I'm excited about what's going to happen and who it's going to happen to, I find it easy to write the scene in a captivating way. That's when the right brain gets its time in the spotlight.

*Disclaimer: I'm using left-brain and right-brain in this post in the classic sense: the right-brain being responsible for creativity, and the left-brain for analytical thinking. So please don't go all left-brain on me here and point out that recent studies suggest this is not the case as we previously thought. I know that. It's a metaphor.

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