Instinct, epiphany, intuition, it’s that ‘aha’ moment we’ve all experienced. Lateral thinking is every writer’s resource where ideas and insights emerge suddenly and without warning. It’s the powerhouse of raw expression behind the mechanics of writing.
For example, I’ve been working through the first draft of a short story whose end market (I hope) will be one of the sci-fi magazines, (short, simple, compensated on a flat rate, pennies per word basis); and the story opens in the year 2060 as my main character begins to move. She is a woman in a tattered green sweater stepping carefully around some rocks, quietly observing the dark, cracked mouth of a storm drain. Her fists clench at the whisper of shifting gravel just beyond the space between the rusted metal bars…
…and that is where I leave her, frozen for the moment as I push away from the keyboard, grab my keys and head for the car. Family demands in 2014 trump the impending danger she is about to face. There are groceries to pick up, a letter to mail and dinner to start, after all. It hasn’t been easy leaving her there, the woman in the green sweater, but ten minutes later her story continues, suddenly, inconveniently, as I negotiate the car across three lanes of traffic.
This time it’s the thing in the dark, sliding through the bars and into the light, bearing a surprise which I hadn’t thought to include before. Precariously I scribble on whatever I can find, pressing it to the wheel of my car. A few scrawled almost incomprehensible words on a torn piece of napkin, in the middle of rush hour traffic – pure gold! And crazy maybe but I know that if I don’t try, that new nugget of plot, scene or character will drift away as elusive as vapour over a hot cup of coffee.
That’s the nature of lateral thinking or right brain activity. It is the system of thought originating in our right anterior temporal lobe connecting distantly related ideas in new combinations, creating new neural pathways in your brain. It’s the ultimate writer’s resource. Collect enough of these sudden flashes of concept, character or conflict, then line them up in a meaningful way and you’ve got yourself a story!
It’s a non linear process of thought too many of us dismiss but in the following words by one the best known contemporary authors of suspense, science fiction and fantasy, it can be a writer’s resource and your pipeline to great writing!
“… good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky; two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
— Stephen King, On Writing.
In my next blog, I will outline interesting ways to boost your lateral thinking.
What was your funniest, most unusual, most baffling lateral moment?
How did you put it to work?