Wendy Wunder is the author of The Probability of Miracles, which you can start for a limited time on Figment! This story follows the sardonic Cam Cooper, who maintains her killer wit despite spending the past seven years in and out of hospitals. The book is also, no lie, super mega crazy awesome. Wendy gives us some of the most eccentric writing advice we’ve ever recieved:
Hello Figsters! I’m Wendy Wunder, the author of The Probability of Miracles. It feels a little disingenuous for me to write about writing because I usually just fly by the seat of my pants. Which is not good advice. At all. That’s bad advice. Because when I do fly by the seat of my pants (first tip: don’t use old timey clichés, especially twice in one paragraph), I usually end up writing myself into a corner (which is another bad cliché).
Because I don’t have a plan, and I just let my characters live and play themselves out on the page, they sometimes wander into some boring, static places. Or they seem to walk into a metaphorical rubber room and I can’t imagine what should happen next. Or I can imagine what should happen next, but I can’t seem to transition them to that place. I wish I could tell you how to avoid writing yourself into such corners, because that would save us all a lot of time, but since I can’t, I’ll tell you what I do to get out of them. In the process of creating The Probability of Miracles, I weaved, bobbed, hyperspaced, and talked my way out of more than a few writing conundrums. Here’s how . . .
Weave. I once read a critical piece on Native American literature that compared the creation of stories to weaving a basket. And that has really stuck with me. When I get blocked, I often make a list of the elements or “threads” that I’m working with in the story, and then try to imagine a logical event that would tie them all together. When I was writing The Probability of Miracles, there was a moment when I found myself stuck: a character had just died, and I didn’t know how to propel the plot forward after that huge event. But I had some elements I knew I wanted to tie together. I wanted Cam to receive some kind of “miracle mail”—a posthumous communication from the deceased character—but I didn’t know what exactly it should be. So I made a list of the threads I wanted to tie together, and after I did I literally wrote “OMG” in my notebook—I’d send Cam a letter from Make a Wish! It would act as a funny posthumous gesture and propel the plot forward at the same time.
Bob. This is a tip from old friend who said to me, “If you’re stuck, make your characters go somewhere.” In fiction—as opposed to writing for the stage, for example—you have the freedom to move your characters around the universe. Use it. Sometimes when I was stuck in The Probability of Miracles, I’d take Cam on a trip: on a zip line to a party on an island, to the vet with her canary, to a Fourth of July parade. Moving your character around provides new fodder for actions that will arise naturally just from putting everyone in a new location. Characters are people. Just like you, they need a change of scenery every once in a while.
Hyperspace. Have any of you ever played “Asteroids” on an Atari system? For those of you who haven’t, “Hyperspace” is a button you push so your rocket disappears from one location and just pops up in another. Miraculously. To avoid being hit by asteroids. Sometimes in fiction, you can get hung up in trying to get your character from one place to another. Describing a character’s every movement—he puts down his plastic flamingo, puts on his backpack, finds his car keys, walks to his car, starts the engine, drives slowly through six stop signs, puts on his blinker, takes a right past the Stop and Shop—Oy. You get my point. All of that can be avoided if you hyperspace and just start your next sentence, maybe after a line break: “At home . . .”
Talk your way out of it. If worse comes to worst and you can’t find a specific action to move your characters forward, make them talk! This is actually my favorite thing to do. I love imagining the cadences of my characters’ speech and I love illuminating their relationships by making them talk to one another. As Cam’s Nana would say, “We don’t have those kinds of bugs in Hoboken.” Which is apropos of nothing, but one of my favorite lines from The Probability of Miracles.
Good Luck! And Get Writing!