Ink Stains, Cookie Cakes, and Digging for Story Gold

Writing Phase Two: Bedtime Medimagining

What puts me to sleep faster than anything?  A notebook, a flashlight, and a ballpoint pen.

There are ink stains on my pillowcases and countless pen caps scattered beneath my bed.

At the end of the day, I’ll concentrate on one chapter – not by writing but by letting my imagination play.  It’s a meditative practice, unstructured and soothing.  I envision a scene’s events like a movie in my brain, and sloppily I jot down whatever I hear or see until I pass out and end up with smears of ink on my forehead.

Medimagining, I call it.  If I don’t know where to start the process, I begin with these prompts:

1. What questions need to be answered?

Story notes from The Best Left Questions

Unanswered questions keep readers turning the pages – even if the book isn’t a mystery.  Some questions are asked and answered within a single chapter.  Others last for the length of a novel.

Everything in a story works for or against its questions.  Even if we know that a story ends happily, and the lovers unite, and the heroes win, it’s the journey – not the outcome – that sustains our interest.

Answering questions too soon kills the suspense.  Not answering them cheats the reader.  My approach is to pose a variety of questions at the start and answer them gradually throughout the narrative.

2. What secrets have not been revealed?

If a character has a secret, make it a BIG one.

I can’t remember where I first read this advice, but it’s 24 karat gold.

Little secrets are like cookie crumbs – tantalizing yet unsatisfying.

BIG secrets are cookie cakes.  They ramp up the tension and raise the risks.

At the nail-biting climax of The Empire Strikes Back (when Luke and Darth Vader square off), imagine if Vader’s secret confession had been:

“Luke, I am your third cousin twice removed.”

Not quite as impactful as what actually happened.

Do all my “medimagining” ideas make it into my novels?

Thankfully, they do not.  One of my favorite creative mottoes is: “My first idea is my worst idea.”  I don’t know who gets the credit for saying that, either.  I do know that it’s true.

So I prefer to drain my brain of ideas (good and bad) as I’m drifting off to sleep.  Hopefully, buried somewhere in all that iron pyrite is storytelling gold.

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About F. E. Greene

F. E. Greene loves coffee, castles, crumpets, and the cat next door almost as much as she loves writing. She is the award-winning author of multiple bestselling series including contemporary romance (Richer in Love), time-travel romance (Love Across Londons), and fantasy adventure (By Eyes Unseen). Her nonfiction series All Things Brighter focuses on writing fiction and poetry. A novelist, songwriter, poet, and photographer, she has taught young journalists and coached creative writers in both scholastic and volunteer settings. Greene's novels blend feel-good romance, mild suspense, a touch of whimsy, and her steadfast affection for all things British.
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