As writers, we often draw our inspiration from a wide range of sources. Sometimes, those sources may be unlikely or counterintuitive. But the trick, I think, is to keep an open mind, and to stay receptive to inspiration from ANY source. Maybe that inspiration comes from Shakespeare. Maybe it comes from Margaret Atwood. Or maybe it comes from Hugh Grant. Stay with me on this, even if you’re not a fan of the floppy-haired actor.
On a recent Friday night, after a particularly stressful week that left me emotionally exhausted – and, I’ll admit, wondering what’s it all about, Alfie? – I suggested to my ESO (Extremely Significant Other) that we end our evening on a lighter note by watching (okay, re-watching) a nice breezy romantic comedy. After searching through my DVD shelves, which include a rom-com collection large enough to put the continued possession of my Man Card at considerable risk, we agreed on Notting Hill. Hey, don’t judge. You’ve got yoga and wine, or maybe scotch and cigars; I’ve got Hugh Grant.
The movie, a 20-year old rom-com classic that we were watching for the umpteenth time, served its purpose both dependably and admirably – in my case, lifting my spirits considerably; in her case, lulling her to sleep. All in all, a win across the board. But I took an added bonus from the viewing experience: I got inspired. Hence, this post.
Looking for opportunities to think bigger
Like many (if not all) of my fellow WU readers and contributors, I am always trying to raise my game as a writer. I tend to take a targeted approach to this, identifying weaknesses in my current writing style as well as opportunities to expand and improve said style.
Of late, one of my primary goals has been to amp up the emotional range in my writing. My stories historically have been fairly small in scale, and that smallness can extend into the emotional range that those stories explore. Sure, my characters find themselves happy or sad, or successful or threatened, but the range of those highs and lows is usually fairly conservative. I think this is a reflection of the conflict-averse path I often pursue in my own life, where I use my worrywart skills to avoid conflict rather than attack it head-on. Possibly a useful technique in real life, but it can result in muted fiction that fails to hit the extreme highs and lows that readers clearly crave.
I’m aware of this limitation in my writing, and that most of the conventional teaching on writing more powerful stories urges us to dig deeper, giving our characters bigger problems with higher stakes. In a reflective post I wrote last summer, I summarized this thinking with the self-imposed mantra to “go big or go home.” Our own Donald Maass is a strong advocate of this approach, and on a monthly basis he offers new ways for us to expand the emotional range and impact of our stories. (Thanks, Don!)
Bottom line: I’m now striving to think bigger when creating the conflict in my stories. But that made the inspiration I drew from Notting Hill more surprising, because just how high are the stakes in most romantic comedies? [Read more…]