Thoughts on Writing from Lisa Mangum
Lisa Mangum is an author and editor extraordinaire. She worked for five years at Waldenbooks while she attended the University of Utah, graduating with honors with a degree in English. An avid reader of all genres, Lisa has worked in the publishing industry since 1997. She is the author of THE HOURGLASS DOOR trilogy. She will be teaching one of our afternoon workshops: So You Want to Write a Book? Planning, Plotting, & Practice Tips for the Beginner Writer
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Thoughts on writing from Lisa Mangum:
I’ve been a big fan of the Lego video games since the first one came out. My husband and I have played almost all of them: Lego Star Wars (all 6 episodes), Lego Batman, and Lego Indiana Jones (1 and 2). (Don’t worry, I have Lego Harry Potter on my list too.) They are my kind of video game—heavy on the puzzles, light and fun, and better when played with a friend. The other night, Tracy and I finishing playing Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues, and I got to thinking about the lessons I learned from Indy and his whip and how I can apply them to writing.
1. Good games take teamwork.
Tracy is a big gamer—has been his whole life. And while I don’t play a lot of video games, I love watching him play. When I’m watching, sometimes I can see something he has missed while he’s knee-deep in the action. I often help figure out the puzzles. I can help him remember the way of mazes, or which character he should go talk to next.
Writing can take teamwork, too. My writing group helps me see what I have missed. They help me figure out solutions to tricky scenes. They point me in the right direction when I feel I’m lost in a maze of words. Even though the actual process of writing is individual, I know I can’t do it alone.
2. Sometimes you have to solve one puzzle in order to solve the next one.
I love puzzling games. I love figuring out how to get past obstacle A in order to get item B which will help me conquer obstacle C. And sometimes puzzles take two people. Switches that have to be pulled in unison, or two buttons that require two people to stand on them to activate a door.
It’s the same way with really good stories. Characters need to face multiple obstacles before achieving their goal. And sometimes what they are doing right doesn’t seem like it’ll help the overall goal, but it has to be done. They have to put out the fire to get the shovel to dig up the switch that will lower the ramp that leads to the treasure chest. I wonder sometimes: Have I given my characters enough puzzles to solve? Maybe they could use a few more . . .
3. Some characters have specialized talents.
Everybody in the Lego games has a specific talent. Some characters can use guns (from pistols to bazookas), some characters carry books and can decipher ancient languages, some characters can jump higher or run faster than others, some wield wrenches and can fix things. (Indy, of course, has the best whip skills in the whole game.)
It makes me look at my characters—do they all have a special talent? What are they good at? Have I given them a chance to jump higher than someone else, or take aim with a pistol, or uncoil their whip in the story? If not, why not? They have talents and skills for a reason—I should celebrate their uniqueness and give them a chance to shine. After all, Indy without his whip would just be some guy in a hat.
4. Practice makes perfect.
I’m a bad driver in video games. I tend to hit the gas and never look back. Brakes are for losers. And while it’s a lot of fun to careen wildly around the screen, sometimes you need to drive with precision and care to complete a puzzle. I never get those right the first time. But I try hard. And I practice. And sometimes, eventually, I get it right. (Other times, I just make Tracy do it.)
Sometimes writing is hard. It takes practice to get a scene just right. And sometimes I have to start over and try again. And again. And again. But eventually the scene starts to take shape and I end up with something worth keeping. So when I feel like I’m stuck in a writing rut, I try to hit the gas and never look back.
5. When in doubt, blow stuff up.
In the game, you have to collect 30 bricks (10 red, 10 blue, 10 green) per level and each set of bricks unlocks a special talent you can buy: Score x2; Fast Build; Invincibility (to name just a few). Those bricks are hidden all along the board and it can take persistence, patience, and sometimes just plain dumb luck to find them all. And when all else fails, shoot whatever you can with a bazooka and hope for the best.
Writing takes persistence, patience, and sometimes a hint of luck to find your voice, develop your characters, or pace your plot. And when all else fails—when writer’s block rears its ugly head and you don’t know what to do—blow stuff up. Put your characters in a new situation. Make them suffer. Throw in an unexpected arrival. Kill someone off. Pull the rug out from underneath the story and see what is left standing. You might be surprised at the treasure you’ll find.