The second criterion on the judges’ rating sheet for the writing challenge is How creative, unique, and fresh was this entry? How memorable?
In this week’s lesson, I hope to give you some pointers for scoring well on this criterion.
FaithWriters who have been here for a few years may remember a previous lesson that I wrote on this topic. When I wrote that lesson, I was still entering the writing challenge, and I shared a little exercise that I used to do every Thursday, when the new topic was announced.
Let’s say that the topic for the week was Jump
, an example that I’ve used recently in these lessons. I’d take a piece of paper and write Jump
at the top, and then I’d start brainstorming everything I could think of about that word. In fact, before you read on, why don’t you do the same thing—write synonyms, pop culture references, sayings, Bible passages…anything that the word jump
suggests to you. Take about ten minutes, then come back here to see my list.
Here’s what I came up with:
Jump for joy
Synonyms: leap, bound, hop, hurdle
Jack jump over the candlestick
Jump a car when the battery’s dead
Jump (VanHalen song)
Jumping in checkers
Jump to conclusions
John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb
Pigs jumping into sea after Jesus casts out demons
Did your list contain any of the same items? I’d be surprised if it doesn’t, as our brains tend to jump (see what I did there?) to familiar connections first. So…this is what I’d do with that list (and what I recommend you do with yours). Wad it up and throw it away
If your mind went immediately to those words and phrases, so will the minds of many of the other writers. One of the things that makes the challenge judges weariest is reading the umpteenth entry with the same basic idea. Since this is a Christian site, writers are usually drawn to the biblical references—but once the judges have read a dozen entries about the baby leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, the thirteenth and fourteenth entries will no longer seem fresh or original.
Since you want your story to stand out, you’ll want to get rid of all of those ideas that are likely to occur to other writers. Start a new list, and this time work on making unusual connections to the word jump
. Maybe your second list will be something like this:
That guy I knew who avoided upper story windows—not afraid of heights, but afraid he’d jump
Getting jumped in a dark alley—by a girl
Setting a world record for jumping off weird things
World’s worst ski jumper (from a tropical country?)
A Bible story—Zacchaeus jumps from tree, Noah jumps from landed ark, someone jumping overboard to save Jonah before the fish shows up
Get it? This second list takes jump one step farther by introducing something unexpected or unusual into every item.
Sometimes the topics are phrases rather than single words. You may find it harder to be creative on these weeks, since the phrases mean what they mean—unlike jump
, which has several meanings, a phrase like jumping through hoops
only has two meanings: the literal meaning (trained animals doing tricks) and the figurative one (to do several tasks to get to a desired end). Still, you can treat phrases like this in creative ways:
1. Play with character stereotypes. Instead of having an employee jumping through hoops for her boss, have a boss jumping through hoops to please difficult employees. Instead of a child jumping through hoops to please his demanding parents, have the parents jumping through hoops to please an unhappy child, who really only wants his lunchtime sandwiches made without mayonnaise.
2. Play with situational stereotypes. If you’re writing a romance (suitor jumps through hoops to woo a girl), have the girl reject him at the end because he tried too hard. If you’re writing a domestic drama (adult child jumps through hoops to impress snooty father), have the father so distracted by a hangnail that he never notices.
3. If you like writing biblical fiction, think outside the story. If you’re writing about Jacob (who jumped through hoops to marry Rachel, but got Leah instead), write from a unique POV (Jacob’s servant who observes it all), or from before or after the story (Jacob as an old man, Laban during the first seven years).
4. If you choose to write about the literal meaning of the saying, find a way to turn that around, too. The animals jumping through the hoops can be tortoises…it can be an act for an amateur talent show that goes horribly wrong…write it from the POV of one of the exasperated animals.5. I'm adding this a day later, because Vonnie's post just reminded me. Don't go so far out of the box that you end up writing about the opposite of the topic. For example, if the topic was "Ordinary" and you decided to go out of the box and write about a person who was extraordinary in every way--you've really not written on topic at all, no matter how creative it might be.
You might be saying, I’m just not that creative—I can never think of “out of the box” ideas.
Well, there are a few things you can do. If you have a smart phone, there’s an inexpensive app called “Brainstormer” that will give you thousands of ideas for characters, situations, and settings. For example, I just spun the “brainstormer” wheel on my phone and I got rescue of a loved one, war-torn,
. I may not be able to use all three of those in a jump-themed story, but I should be able to work in one or two of them.
If you’re willing to make a bit more of an investment, you could buy this box of ideas
, with hundreds of cards with ideas for characters and situations. This game
is a little bit cheaper, but it still has hundreds of possible combinations of characters, settings, and conflicts. And if you don’t want to spend any money at all, you can find random words right in your own house—open a book to a random page, roll a pair of dice, and choose a word from the indicated sentence to pair with the topic word. Build your entry from that pairing.
In conclusion, do whatever you can to write an entry that will not resemble the other entries. Many writers get so carried away by their eagerness to enter something quickly that they write the first thing that comes to their mind, without considering that many other people may have the same thought about the topic. HOMEWORK:
Imagine that the topic for next week is home
. Do some brainstorming, and then answer these two questions:
1. What would be an approach to the topic that is likely to be thought of by several other people?
2. What would be a creative, fresh, unique, and memorable approach to the topic?
Do you have any questions or comments about this lesson?As always, I encourage you to invite others to these lessons—especially challenge enterers in levels 1 and 2. And if you’re on Facebook, you can join “Faithwriters writing lessons” there—I would love to have you join the discussion. Next week’s topic will be ATMOSPHERE.