Monday, December 30, 2019
Think Sheep! (Taking Your Writing Beyond the Expected)
I tore myself away from the window and stepped into the kitchen, where another picture window looked out onto this serene scene and I couldn’t help stealing another glance. When suddenly, a sheep glanced back. It turned its head and looked right at me! And then a ram sauntered past the window. I gasped out loud because these sheep were alive!
“They’re alive!” I shouted, sounding a little like Dr. Frankenstein. My host—and quite a few other people at the party—laughed out loud at me. They’d heard the whole story, that my friend had brought in the sheep to eat the English ivy. But I had not heard about the ivy-eating sheep (well, except for the song where little lambs eat ivy but honestly, I didn’t know that was a real thing, either) so it was completely unexpected for me to see live sheep in a backyard in the middle of a suburban neighborhood in the metro Atlanta area.
Wow. Anyway, I knew then that I would write about sheep for my last 2019 post. Because I don’t remember what we ate that evening or what fancy finery anyone wore but I remember those sheep. I remember that feeling of surprise, that jolt of the unexpected, and that’s what a good idea is all about.
Whether you are scratching your head, trying to come up with your next novel, or you’re pitching an article to a magazine editor, or you’re wondering why your story never wins any contests, you can benefit from a little sheep-thinking. That is, take a look at your idea, what you’re writing about, and ask yourself if anyone—a publisher, an editor, or a reader—is going to be surprised.
I mean, of course, surprised in the right and unexpected way. It’s no good to just throw something wild and crazy into a story to shock a reader. And sometimes, some of the best surprises in a story build tension in a quiet and subtly mesmerizing way. You want the reader to feel an internal gasp, to experience that "I did not see that coming" moment.
And if you’re pitching an idea for an article, sheep-thinking means using a new and unexpected way to explore a somewhat everyday topic.
A new year will be here in just a few days—a new decade, actually!—and now's the time to toss the old and embrace the new. Think sheep, my friends, and make your readers gasp with surprise at the unexpected ram that shows up in your writing!
~Cathy C. Hall wishing you happy writing in 2020!