December 1, 2011

Strategies for Writing: Super Vague and Hard to Do

First, Expozine happened in Montreal last weekend. I hope people made it out to see some of the great things people are doing!

Down to “business”. I’d like to talk about stories. Many elements can help create a good story, for example, interesting character development, conflict, intricate plot, or simply an emotional atmosphere. Sometimes you get all of these and more. Other times it’s just one that carries the weight. Then there are the bad stories, but hey, so much is also subjective.

A writer’s ability to be creative can influence all of these elements. Creativity may be a mix of experience and talent. What do you think? Is it more one than the other? Regardless, I think it also benefits from process. For example, everyone knows brainstorming. It’s basic. You can brainstorm at the beginning, but also as you go around specific elements.

I like to bring together random ideas or elements and think, what if…. What I bring together can be concepts or objects. The fun is in playing with these things to see how they can fit together as a piece of a story, or in some cases it can be in seeing what stories may be possible. So you could toy with: bad ideas as a commodity and a merchant; cloning to allow for physical immortality and a secret society; or octopi and human gene splicing…

When I have an idea or a combination of ideas I try to imagine what could happen if I slip the ideas into different situations. I never stop at my first situation. Often even my original ideas change. It’s a rather deliberate pursuit beyond the first idea and situation. The idea and situation become interwoven and changes in one often mean changes in the other. Whatever I have in mind I don’t hold it too tight. The whole process is fluid and things never happen as I plan them… they happen as I write them (… and again when I revise).

Layering is important for me. I start with something simple, but add to it. I’m looking for strangeness. Whether I achieve what I want is always debatable. Especially, because I don’t know what I want until I have it.

What I’ve mentioned here is just a piece of what goes through my head, but even that was hard to put into words. How accurate is it? Honestly, probably, not very. Mostly, because it leaves out the whole thing I do with peanut butter, balloons and parking meters.

Following us on FB helps you know when we’re looking for submissions (which we are doing now!), and when we’re launching. Do that if you want. Thanks for the submissions so far. They’re great. We’re looking forward to the ones yet to come!


  1. Hi Duane, thanks for presenting your work to us!

    I like when you say "I start with something simple, but add to it", I think this is a good way to talk about creativity with younger learners. When I ask my students to write a text without too many instructions, they simply freak out! But Miss...what is it on? What should I write? Will I be evaluated?! And I tell them... "Write, have fun, be creative!!" It is a really big challenge for them, so I think I will use that sentence now... start with something simple and then add!


  2. One of the best things a teacher ever had me do was write weekly. Everyone had to write something at home every week. It was commented on but not graded. If I recall it wasn't required to be a certain number of words. Some wrote poems, some wrote lyrics and I wrote short stories. It is about doing and trying, not the grade.

    You could also have them write in groups. they could use a wiki or google docs. Maybe have them initial what they write. Each could add a sentence. It depends on ability.

    Table top pen and paper RPGs are also something I would recommend. They are great for getting kids to read and write. At least they were for me.

    You may find these links of interest:

    I volunteered here and they do programs in English and French. Worth looking at.