What can writers do to scientifically spark their imagination to solve story and characterization problems?
We’ve all been there before. The writing has gone stale. The words aren’t flowing. The ideas are nowhere to be found. The spark is gone.
Many writers will point their fingers at a shadowy figure called Writer’s Block — a condition or entity that doesn’t exist beyond being lazy, complacent, unfocused, unprepared, uninspired, or analytically paralyzed.
But what scientific steps can writers take to trigger their imagination and get their creative minds churning out those pivotal answers and ideas that their stories and characters need to thrive?
Here we share five simple, effective, and scientifically-proven ways to ignite that creative fire within you so that you can get up and go to work full of ideas, concepts, and answers to the problems you’ve been facing within your stories.
1. Focus on One Concept, Story, or Character Issue at a Time
Most writers feel the need to explore all aspects of their concepts, stories, plots, and characters as they write. No wonder so many writers burn out. No wonder the myth of Writer’s Block seems to haunt so many. While the mind is an amazing thing, it can only do so much at one time. When you focus on a single concept, story, or character element at one time, your brain won’t go into overload.
Let’s say you were the one that wrote the script to Jaws. While developing that iconic opening sequence, you shouldn’t have made the mistake of worrying about the big picture ramifications of the girl being attacked by an unknown predator from the ocean depths. You shouldn’t have been thinking about how this event is going to jump-start the story about a police chief, marine biologist, and old seafarer.
Instead, you should have been focusing on making that single sequence something engaging and terrifying. The rest will fall into place.
When you focus on a single question, problem, or challenge-at-hand, your brain has the immediate capacity to compute multiple scenarios and storytelling elements that can allow you to create the best possible moment within your story that you need to create.
2. Envision Multiple Scenarios, Outcomes, and Choices for Each Story Moment
Writers often settle for the first answer that comes to mind when trying to figure out where the story or character should go. If you truly want to ignite that imaginative fire within to find the best option, you should be envisioning multiple scenarios, outcomes, and choices for that next story or characterization step. This practice triggers your mind to think laterally, using both sides of your brain to find a single solution.
Picture a character running away from a vicious wild animal — they climb a tree to escape its claws and teeth.
What happens next? Maybe your first idea is that the character waits it out until the next morning when the threat loses interest. What if you take it further, though?
What type of animal is it? Can it climb trees? What happens if the tree is full of termites, leaving its stability in question? What if the tree caught fire somehow — and the character is forced to deal with burning alive or fighting off a wild beast?
The left side of your brain will handle the logic, reasoning, meaning, scientific approach, self-criticism, and planning of the options you come up with. The right side of your brain will take care of the emotional aspect, the creative intuition, the imaginative inspiration, and the visualization.
When you challenge your initial answer by running through multiple scenarios, outcomes, and choices, your mind will do most of the work for you, as far as exploring these (and many more) options and later sparking more compelling and engaging ideas.
Don’t settle for that first concept or idea. Challenge your brain, mind, and imagination.
3. When You Start a Writing Project, Begin Reading a New Book
Your intuition may initially tell you that you should be focusing solely on the task at hand. You may be writing a new novel, short story, or screenplay. It is only natural to believe that all of your free mental time should be spent figuring out your concepts, stories, plots, and characters.
A cool trick that you can do to jump-start your imagination is to start reading a new novel.
When you read novels, your imagination is ignited immensely because it’s being asked to conjure visuals for the descriptions within the prose. Visualization is a crucial component to becoming a great writer, for how can you possibly write engaging scene descriptions and prose without being able to first see what you’re trying to describe?
When your brain has the task of interpreting information into visuals — which is what it experiences when you’re reading a new novel — it is even more awakened for the task of interpreting visuals that you conjure into descriptive information that you communicate through scene description and prose.
Yes, reading a novel while you write can also spark additional ideas, concepts, story elements, and characterizations, but it’s also a great trick to help you be able to organize and communicate your story to others.
4. Use Exercise to Release Endorphins and Increase Divergent/Convergent Thinking
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are chemicals that interact with various receptors in your brain. They trigger positive feelings throughout your body. And those endorphins can also affect creativity as well.
A study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience proved that people who exercise regularly do better on tests of creativity than those that don’t.
Researchers concluded that regular exercise appears to be associated with improved divergent and convergent thinking — two components of creative thinking. Divergent Thinking involves thinking of multiple solutions for one problem. Convergent Thinking involves thinking of a single solution for a problem.
Exercise has also proven to reduce stress, ward off anxiety, and boost self-esteem. And, let’s face it, these are often ailments that writers suffer from during their writing process.
So if you’re at a point in your development or writing process where you need to come up with the best possible solutions and concepts, consider getting on an exercise routine, even if it’s just taking a daily thirty-minute walk, jog, or bike ride.
If you’re in the midst of writing and need a quick jolt, run some stairs in your house, lift some weights, do some crunches, some pushups, or whatever it is that you can do to get those endorphins sparking throughout your body and mind.
5. Go to Sleep with Story and Character Questions On Your Mind
Yes, we’re saying that to spark your imagination, you should take a nap or turn in for the night.
Studies have proven that your right brain activity is highly active when you go to sleep. This is the creative side of your brain where your imagination resides. And yes, your left brain activity — albeit to a lesser degree — is active as well when you’re snoozing. Your brain doesn’t shut down or go into Sleep Mode like your laptop. It’s still firing on all cylinders, just in a different, subconscious way.
So when you’re struggling to break story on your screenplay or novel, or you’re having issues with figuring out what should happen next, take a few minutes to dwell on those questions before you lay your head down on that pillow for a power nap or nighttime sleep. Your body gets the rest that it needs, and your imagination shifts into overdrive to problem-solve your stories and characters without the waking duties of your daily life to distract it from the task at hand.
Give these five ways to ignite the necessary sparks of your imagination a chance when you need them most.
- Focus on One Single Concept, Story, or Character Issue at a Time
- Envision Multiple Scenarios, Outcomes, and Choices for Each Story Moment
- When You Start a Writing Project, Begin Reading a New Book
- Use Exercise to Release Endorphins and Increase Divergent/Convergent Thinking
- Go to Sleep with Story and Character Questions On Your Mind
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies