A World of Speculation

Here’s something I learned from Jurgen Wolff, writing coach and author of various books on motivation, goal setting, and writing. He’s also an NLP practitioner, and this little exercise is a way to bring to conscious knowledge a fuller picture of a fictional character or situation.

Get comfortable somewhere where you won’t be disturbed, which could include a city bus, park bench, airport. It’s not dangerous or embarrassing or anything, but you might look like you’re dozing, and if you want to work on your book, you won’t necessarily want to have a conversation right then.

Then close your eyes, or leave them open, and relax your extremities. Focus on your hands, feet, arms, legs, and tell the muscles to relax.

Now, think about your character’s house. There’s nobody home, and you’ve been given permission to go and browse through and explore as much as you want. You’ll be looking for an object of importance to the character that will tell you something about that character.

As you walk in the front door, look around, observe the furniture, wall hangings, state of order or messiness. Go from room to room through the dwelling, seeing what you see, considering what noises you might hear, smells you might smell. Find the object. It could be a book or a photograph or anything. When you’ve examined the object, put it back where you found it and leave.

There are a million variations. It could be the character’s cubicle at work, his car, her dorm room, her garden. What you see will tell you about these people in places where your conscious mind might be inclined to force something foreign onto them and move on, causing the characters to be shallow or unconvincing.

My husband and I were camping in a yurt at an Oregon state park last summer and I noted that there was WiFi. I thought it would be a great place to write, and as we walked around the park I surveyed the writing space of an imaginary writer using a yurt for a writing vacation. I saw books spread out on the coffee table, coffee mug, computer, printer, stack of manuscript pages. When I turned over the pages, I found a novel in progress about an eastern Oregon cowgirl who went to medical school at the University of Chicago. Sounds like an interesting story. Somebody ought to write it.

With practice it gets easier to find that state of waking dream where fictional people walk and act and make choices that surprise even their creators.