Conundrum Press

“But if you love that story…”

March 28th, 2014  |  Published in Blog

by Debbie Vance

The Missouri Review has been featuring a great blog series by fiction writer Q Lindsey Barrett: “Writing Beyond Good.”

Each post focuses on a different craft element, with the intent of helping you turn your “good” writing into…well…”beyond good” writing.

Here are links to the first three installments:

Creating Emotional Resonance

Creating Emotional Resonance, The Sequel

The So-What Factor

But the latest post, “Mining for Diamonds,” is my favorite so far. (Hard to beat practical revision tips and 8+ writing prompts.) In it, Barrett talks about using writing prompts and exercises-even the most unrelated and obscure ones-to breathe new life into your stories. She writes, “A few years ago I had an epiphany about how to use writing exercises as a revision tool…. it opened my eyes to the possibility of transforming a nothing piece of writing into something diamond bright.”

For example:

• The Opposite Exercise.  Rescue your prose from yawning predictability by choosing a moment you suspect lacks tension. Whatever your protagonist is doing, have them do the opposite. Have them do the thing that character is least likely to do:

- If your character tends to act out in anger, reverse one of those angry outbursts so the character is dead-calm quiet.

- If your character is handy, always fixing appliances or computers, have them instead break the neighbor’s appliance, have them secretly sabotage a friend’s computer.

- What if your kind, generous character turns cold and calculating in a particular scene? Where would it take your story if your serial killer randomly let an intended victim go free? Explore the ramifications of this unexpected behavior.

Unexpected behavior instantly ratchets the tension, but this exercise is a bit tricky to pull off in memoir. Search through your memories for a moment when your characters (the people included in your memoir) did something unexpected or unpredictable and riff on why to see how that might energize your prose.

It takes a great deal of effort and quite a bit of time to unearth diamonds from the rough, but when you hold a multi-faceted, sparkling, unbreakable bit of prose in your hands-and know you’ve worked your ass off to create it-it’ll all be worth it.


“Within the slog of everyday life lived with someone you love, you can uncover the divine, the lovely, and the meaning in absolutely everything.

So too is it with a story you love. Every story will become as tangled as a late night argument; every story will appear as hopeless and small as a flat tire. But if you love that story you will discover you have the patience to find your way through a tired middle, will have the discipline to discard an unnecessary character. Love is simply not a mistress you can quit. What you call quitting is only a search that will lead you back exactly where you started, where she will be waiting for you to start another story.”

— Bill Kenower


Another bit of writing advice, this time from Glimmer Train:

“Take note of an experience, character, image, or bit of dialogue that engages you so much that you just have to write the story. (It doesn’t matter how you find it—writing exercises, your dreams, internal or external events, whatever. Sometimes I suspect it’s a bit like witching for water or catching a fish.)”

i.e. Write what you love; write what matters to you-it shows.

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