Writing, for me, is a Brain Game. How to get from here to there, efficiently without leaving out the details, practically without over/under explaining, and safely so my reader is buckled in for the ride, while my characters fight for the world they want to live in and for.
Recently, in a wide range of readings, I found myself mired in characters’ thoughts — characters who ponder everything. EVERYTHING. What ifs. Should or shouldn’t. Ranges of Possibilities. Buts. Could or couldn’t. Rehashing. All of these are the antithesis of action which truly defines character. For myself, I have chosen not to overthink, do it or don’t, and thus preserve my sanity. Therefore, for me, mind-melds are difficult, be it in writing, reading, or conversation.
Today, as I walked my dogs, I asked myself whose mind would I like to be in. I’d just finished watching Nice Guys on Netflix, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Ryan is the klutz, and Russell is the tough guy.
Ryan with His Pants Down
Picture this. Ryan is on the toilet, pants down, reading a magazine, and smoking a cigarette. Russell bangs on the door and demands Ryan opens it. Ryan transfers his cigarette to his magazine holding hand, pulls out his gun, and opens the door as he rises from the toilet. So, gun in one hand, cigarette and magazine in the other, struggling to keep his man parts covered, bare skinny legs, and pants on the floor. I want to be in the mind of the guy who said, “Now drop your cigarette into your pants and try to put it out.” Very funny to someone (teenage me) who, while driving, more than once, missed flicking their cigarette out the car window.
Others come to mind — Mel Brooks, the writers for Schitt’s Creek, Steve Martin, and George Carlin. Although not a complete list, it works for now. They all have one thing in common, they chose the road less traveled; thought outside the box; mirrored society in the absurd, and unique brands of humor targeting difficult truths.
Back to the Brain Games of writing and engagement.
Whether a story is real or fictional, it is the writer’s job to pull the reader into the story and have them connect with the characters, live the journey, and end feeling a little bit better, satisfied, smarter, or motivated. Before I imagine a story, I have to figure out what I want to say, a purpose, reason, that it matters. I always start with the ‘thing’ that bothers me most and go on from there. Then, that ‘thing’ becomes one of many threads woven through fictional characters who live in an ultra-normalized world. Their actions and reactions to problems and threats provide the entertainment value. For me, the read is more important than the point.
My next step is a loose main outline of events, followed by how characters react, interact, or affect the events as well as their struggles along the way. All this at the same time as figuring out pacing and plot points.
I Write What I Like to Read
I write the stories I like to read. I’m not one for stories that meander through the countryside, identifying nature’s various forms, or describing postcard images – unless it’s brief and the set-up for a murder or a crime. I’m a problem solver, as are most of my characters. They are engaged, always doing something, whether they are part of the problem or the solution.
To emphasize that, I tend to write in the third person with a limited point of view. Each scene is from one person’s point of view with limited ‘thinking’ time. When characters say what they think, I have found there is more tension and interaction. While scenes of people sitting around thinking, peppered with comments such as “Lunch?” offer comic moments here and there, they don’t move the plot.
In real life, it is often prudent to think before you act or say something you will regret – a definite act of self-preservation. Doing think-then-do in writing tends to be tedious (I think I’ll get up and get a book. He stood and got a book.) I learned in Improv workshops that it’s more fun to just say it and see what happens. In Improv, the training is to accept every statement with a “yes, and…” which takes it to the next level.
- He stood and got a book.
- Yes and…he opened the book to find a note.
- Yes and…the note was from his horrible stepmother.
- Yes and…it said, Horace, you dreadful boy, my money is going to Frederick.
- Yes and…Horace laughed.
- Yes and…Frederick lay dead on the floor.
Doing this with my characters, bouncing information off one another, is satisfying and often surprising.
For me, writing is a brain game. It runs the gamut from difficult and exhausting to fun and energizing. During the process, a part of me is in constant touch with the work — revising, planning, and developing. Not only do I love doing it, but I love it, even more, when my work resonates with readers who enjoy the work as much as I enjoyed creating it – or more.
Read for FREE some of Charles Levin’s short stories:
Nora Delivers the Package
The Permission Slip
10 Life Lessons I Learned from Playing Poker
Missing the Ghost in the Palace Theater
Moon Landing Memories
P.S. My original fast-paced thriller NOT SO DEAD and the Sam Sunborn Series are also available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com
If you like short reads you can really finish, grab a copy of my short story collections: The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories