It’s been about six weeks since I received the editorial report on my novel suggesting another rewrite. Six weeks. That’s a long time. Frankly? I’ve been struggling. Oddly, it was easier for me to adopt the idea of changing one of the main characters from a middle-aged man to a 29-year-old woman than it has been for me to make subtler changes. Perhaps because I’ve run up against the limits of my conception for this novel or my ability to see this character in a different way.
One problem, for example, is in making the female character independent, mature and empowered. I’ve had additional feedback from a couple of women about the character and it is consistent with the report: she is too childlike and too dependent on male characters to rescue her. Damn. And there was I thinking I was a feminist.
But, without meaning to dig myself any deeper, I like the character the way she is and can’t picture her in a different way. I understand what I am being told, but there is nothing creatively that then presents itself as an alternative.
When Edward de Bono created brainstorming, it was to try to break people into new ways of thinking. The principles are pretty well known: go for quantity not quality, always say yes, allow associations, encourage wild ideas. In short, just say whatever comes into your mind, don’t censure and keep going.
It has been around long enough for variants to develop. One is called River Jumping. I’ve been teaching it on courses recently and it occurred to me that I might use it. I think there are a number of ways to approach it. But this is how I used to with my current problem:
First, state your problem. In my case, it was how to create an empowered character rather than the slightly childlike/dependent-on-men character that I had before.
Second, generalise the problem. Flatten it. So, being able to create an empowered character.
Third, brainstorm all the people/organisations/etc. who face a similar problem. I came up with a list of 49. Starting with therapists, politicians, dramatists, etc.
Fourth, pick one or two which are quite different to yourself. I picked: stewardess on a crashing plane, Robinson Crusoe, a porcupine and Yahweh.
Fifth, in your head, ask them how they would solve the problem. I did it with all, but I’ll use the stewardess as an example. She came up with lots of ways:
Forget the rest of the world, what will happen and what has happened.
Fix only on your passengers.
Know that their calmness is created by your calmness.
Think, this moment is your best moment.
I liked the middle one particularly. But looking at them again, the last one quite appeals.
Final stage, apply what they say to your problem. Actually, what I did was to write a scene in which the lead female character remembers being six years old and meeting a stewardess, who says, ‘I was once on a crashing plane.’ But beyond this, it gives me an empowering philosophy of my female character, one that I can identify with.
Since then, I’ve used it with other writing problems. The effectiveness may not last. The brain has a way of habituating to even the most innovative practice. But it’s been interesting.