My writing friend in Mexico introduced me months ago to author CM Mayo’s generous web offering: 365 five-minute writing exercises. Somewhere among those exercises is one that suggests writing 100 lines about a story, scene, idea. I don’t remember the exact details of her exercise, but I am completely addicted to the flexibility it has inspired, and I use it all the time.
These days, when I’m diving into a new scene, I begin with 100 lines of free association. These free me of fear and lead me to infinite discoveries, including: dialogue, emotionally evocative sensory details, physical descriptions, various characters’ memories and thoughts, quirks, concerns and connections, and, of course, opportunities for internal and external conflict.
I’ve also used the exercise to play with 100 beginnings. My friend used it last week to experiment with 100 endings. She suggested I take a pivotal scene and write 100 things that could go wrong. I did with great success.
Note: 100 is an arbitrary number; I often end up with somewhere between 30 and 50 lines; or I continue to grow my ongoing list. I believe the goal is to write enough lines so you move beyond the first few dozen ideas and begin to really surprise yourself and your characters.