Originally posted September 26, 2009
Let's talk about some of the little tricks I have found to be a more productive writer. A writer needs the inspiration, and when your Muse is on the rag, there's not a blessed thing you can do except limp along as best as you can. When that happens, it's time to fall back on the time honored tried-and-true remedy: cheat.
There are a number of ways to generate a few lines here and a few lines there, which add up in a hurry, and can even open up whole new perspectives on a chapter. One of these is to go through and make a list of all the issues you still want to write about, be they great or small. Just write them down on a sheet of paper in no particular order, then go hunting for places where they will be effective.
In the case of 'Overland', these ranged from things as minor as 'she wasn't used to people caring about her', which produced a half-dozen lines of dialog - and helped define the budding romance between the hero and heroine - to something as important as 'bad guy prowling the train, does he suspect?' which added a half dozen major scenes, and ratcheted the tension up sharply throughout the book.
Another trick is to go prowling throughout your manuscript looking for any opportunity to add a bit of dialogue. Be especially alert for opportunities to change descriptives or character narration into dialog. Two lines here and five lines there; it's all word count. Dialogue is an excellent way to burn up word count, particularly since each person speaking is on a separate line, and each line, regardless of the actual words, counts as 10 for your progress.
"Does it really?"
"It gives the reader that 'you-are-there' feel, huh?"
"It sure does."
"Does it help 'show-don't-tell', too?"
"You got it."
Aside from bringing the reader into the characters' heads, dialogue is an easy way to explain background things that you want the reader to know.
"As in 'You know, Bob...'?"
"Um, kinda." It is also easy to write, as you can talk the dialogue out as if your characters were conversing, which can generate a lot of words in a hurry.
"Talking to yourself, eh? I'm not surprised."
Descriptives are another excellent way to burn up space. We all try to provide adequate background and scenic setting, but I find that when I go back over my work later, those descriptives that took forever to write will read through in a matter of seconds. So when you are stuck for advancing the plot, go back and add more descriptives. It enriches the work, gives the reader a better image, and fills up space nicely. Don't worry about writing too much; you'd be amazed how fast descriptives read.
A tidbit from 'Overland' to illustrate:
The 'Overland' crawled out of Reno at a snail's pace despite having priority over all other trains. I sat brooding on the berth, absently watching the passing landscape in the dim afternoon light, and wondering what came next. Up ahead, the Sierras towered over us, spread from horizon to horizon in a forbidding, ice covered wall of stone. The sight was intimidating, and I wondered idly what the Donner party must have thought when they stared up at those mountains.
As I watched, the snow plow ahead of us came to a deep cut packed by an avalanche. Its three locomotives dug in, and the plow inched ahead, hurling a white geyser of snow to one side, and clouds of black smoke and soot upward. Our car slammed back and forth as the locomotives slowed to keep from overrunning the plow train, causing the cars to bang together.
Yeah, it doesn't do much for the story line, but it certainly gives one the feel of being on a steam train daring the High Sierras in the dead of winter. It is descriptives that makes for a flavorful story - check any good writer. A good thing is that a descriptive can be as brief as a single sentence. Another nice thing is that you can write descriptives in veg mode.
And speaking of veg mode, enough creative genius for one day.