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WRITING EXERCISES: The Valley of Impossibilities

Sable Jak provides a few simple writing exercises to help writers relax and let their writing run free.

Sable Jak is a former actress and dancer and has, like so many other writers, been writing ever since she can remember. She works and writes for Jim French Productions, Inc., is an audio dramatist, a columnist with Absolute Write, has radio mysteries running on Virtually American, and is the author of Writing the Fantasy Film: Heroes and Journeys in Alternate Realities. Follow Sable on Twitter @srjak and check out her site.

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Sometimes getting together with a few friends and exercising the ol' brain can be a lot of fun. For instance, over breakfast not too long ago a friend said that she'd been playing around with a couple of story/script ideas and wanted to escalate her hero's difficulties as he moved through his adventure. She was very serious about what had to be done to get to the end and relayed some of the hero's obstacles she planned to use. However, she wasn't sure what to use first.

Blame it on that first caffeine rush of the day (on an empty stomach, no less) but the other person at breakfast suggested that the hero should experience—upon getting out of bed—something every pet owner truly loves to experience first thing in the morning: stepping barefooted into a warm, squishy deposit (oral or anal) left by said pet.

Yes, we all "ewwwwwed."

WRITING EXERCISES: The Valley of Impossibilities by Sable Jak | Script Magazine

Not to be outdone, and experiencing my first caffeine rush of the day, I suggested that no, it should not be a barefooted discovery, but rather it should be made whilst Hero was rushing to get ready for work and he had just put on his last clean pair of socks. I reasoned (based upon experience) that sticking one's foot into the tub to clean it off was easier to deal with than peeling off a grossly soggy sock.

From there we moved Hero's travails to the street where he discovered the wrecking ball that was to be used on the building across from his apartment has been dropped … you guessed it … on his car, thus making it imperative that he hail a cab so he can make it to work on time … maybe.

But who knew the circus was in town and the parade of the elephants down Main Street would stop traffic completely? For that matter, who could possibly know that a baby elephant would break loose from the parade and head straight for Hero's cab only to be chased by its handler which (of course) just happened to be Hero's ex-wife who'd been trying to get ahold of him because she needed him to fly to Barbados to rescue her sister, the trapeze artist, who (double of course) had run off with the contortionist.

Obviously, we were on a roll (and a fourth cup of coffee) so from that point on Hero's dilemma got bigger and sillier and threatened to end up on some unknown planet caught up in the midst of an old west range war being fought over the right to round up Tribles and send them to a no-kill shelter.

When we parted (I think the waiters were glad to see us go) I went home, sat down at the computer, and realized that the roll we'd been on had opened up some sort of hidden creative energy and I was able to zip through six very good pages on a new work, and none of it was silly.

How did this happen?

Well, I have to admit that yes, caffeine was a help, but part of that wonderful, crazy, creative flow was the result of the camaraderie of three good friends willing to play verbal ping-pong without worrying about any kind of judgment being leveled against the person who went too far. In short, we were willing to relax in front of these friends and just let fly.

Which led me to the following questions:

1. Why are we so judgmental of ourselves that we will not allow ourselves to go too far when it comes to working on a rough draft?

2. Why in the world don't we "let fly" with ourselves?

3. Why do we insist on being our own worst critics and enemies and aren't our own best friends?

Obviously, Question 3 is something that is best left to a psychiatrist or physiologist, and, personally, I don't want to answer Questions 1 and 2. I think the answers are different for each person, and are also very personal.

So what's the point of this article? I want to ask all of you to do yourselves a couple of favors, either alone, or with friends. They are:

1. Let yourselves go the next time you sit in front of your computer, typewriter or pad of paper. Take your hero or heroine and send them into the Valley of Impossibilities. In five pages (or more … or less) place them in an impossible situation in ancient Greece, Atlantis, the New York Stock Exchange or Pewaukee, Wisconsin. If you're working on a drama, put them someplace funny. If you're working on a comedy, make them participate in something deadly serious, or maybe just deadly. And DON'T WORRY ABOUT WHAT SOMEONE MIGHT SAY. After all, this is an exercise. No one has to see it except you, or maybe a close friend if you want to show it to him. Heck, make it a guilty pleasure!

2. If you have a personality picked out for your character, change it. Write about five pages (I'm on a five-page kick this week) of totally different types. Make your hero a nincompoop, make him a genius, make him weak, tough, a child or, better yet, make him a dust mite.

3. Combine 1 and 2. For every impossible situation and location you've come up with for your hero or heroine, pair it with the worst possible match of personality trait.

4. Let it all rip. My first hope is that you'll let yourself grow from letting yourself go and it will affect (in a good way) whatever it is you're working on. My second hope is that, what the heck, you just might come up with a totally new idea that flows hotter and tastier than that first cup of coffee in the morning.

Keep writing. No one else is going to do it for you.

Check out Sable's book,
Writing The Fantasy Film, Heroes and Journeys in Alternate Reality