Part 1 in the series, “Writing Jumpstarts I Learned Accidentally at Writers Conferences”
If you teach at as many writers conferences as I do, you learn a few things by osmosis. In this series, I’ll share some examples with you. The first one has to do with using both hemispheres of our brain to boost creativity.
Back when Tom Clark was editor of Writer’s Digest, he and I were on the faculty of a writers conference at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. The conference director had created an elaborate murder mystery as entertainment for the faculty and registrants, and she had divided us into two-person investigative units.
Tom and I were teamed as a kind of Joe-and-Frank-Dragnet partnership. Since Tom had a more extensive background in investigative journalism, we weren’t so much of a good cop/bad cop team as a good cop/dumb cop team. But I tried to hold my own.
Tom and I looked at the scene of the crime. We questioned the witnesses and the officers who were first on the scene (all played by staff personnel of the retreat center). We then questioned the next of kin, the hired help, and the victim’s coworkers. In only half an hour, Tom and I had discerned who the killer was, and why and how she had committed the murder. Most of the other teams either gave up after a couple of hours or they came to the wrong conclusions.
Interestingly enough, that game led me to an epiphany. When I thought back to how Tom and I had cracked the case, it dawned on me that we had come at it from different perspectives, but we had combined our unique insights. Tom kept hammering home pragmatic questions about details: “Where was the body found? Who were the victim’s known enemies? What sort of poison was used to kill the victim?” I, on the other hand, kept in mind that this was a game. Thus, I kept pondering such things as, “If I wanted to surprise the participants completely, how would I add a twist to what is going on here?” and “If I were writing this as a mystery, which of these so-called clues would I insert as red herrings or blind alleys or false leads?”
I think this was much like right-brain and left-brain activity. As writers, we need to be dreamers and speculators and what-if imagineers, but then we must anchor our fantasies with realistic circumstances, logical proceedings, and believable characters. (Not just the facts, ma’am, but certainly some of the facts.)
Next week, “Imagining Dialogue”
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, is director of the professional writing department at Taylor University in Upland, IN. His latest book is Jesus in the 9 to 5 (AMG Publishers). © 2014 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.