Imagination from a Challenge

Have you ever been challenged to write a particular story?  I’m not talking about writing to a theme.  I mean a real challenge, where there’s an undercurrent of doubt.  There’s a hint that something can’t be done.  When I have that kind of challenge, I will spend many hours imagining ways to make sure I can do it.  Does this ever happen to you?

For me, I usually end up with more intriguing stories this way.  Because I put something of myself into it–my own heart and soul–and then the story becomes uniquely mine.

Example #1

When I was a cocky youth, working on my first million practice words, I had a conversation with my young nephew who challenged me to write about a tiny, uninhabitable island in the lake at our family home.  Sometimes only the treetops were visible.

I had no idea what that story could possibly be.

I spent many months trying to imagine how I could put a mystery story on that island.  I kept at it because I’d promised that I could.  So I poured pieces of my heart and soul into it.  It became my first published book, The Drowning of Chittenden, by Rebecca Williamson.

Example #2

Many years and several unpublished books later, I was writing stuff about which I knew very little.  By day, I was working out with my daughters in a grueling program in a karate studio, and by night I was writing.  One of my critique partners kept saying she wished I would write about karate.  The implication being that at least I knew something about that, unlike the drek I was writing.  This time, the undercurrent of doubt came from me.  My first draft was a story about a twenty-something, hotshot karate sensation, and while she was interesting, the story was not.  But my critique partner kept up enough pressure that I was determined to make it work.  When I remembered to put my heart and soul into the character, Nell jumped off the page as a middle-aged mom of a teenager, and then my imagination soared.  Now I’m working on the fourth Nell book.

Challenges force us to dig deeper.  Do they make you imagine bigger and brighter stories, too?



10 thoughts on “Imagination from a Challenge”

  1. I felt kind of that way when the Malice anthology call went out. You had to write historical. I’d never written historical. Could I? But my main character was loosely based on my grandmother, and she kept telling me I could. So I dug down and wrote it. We’ll see if the Malice people like it.


  2. What an excellent post. I took a number of courses with Mary Buckham, her most constant comment was, “Dig deeper.” When I finally figured out what she meant, it worked like a charm. Mary, fingers crossed for the Malice anthology. Sounds great.


  3. I submitted to the Malice anthology as well. Nothing came to me easily so I forced myself to sit down and do something. I like it. We’ll see what Malice thinks. (Read Mary’s; it’s really good. I hope she gets in.) Yesterday I was bored to tears with revising Book 2; I’m at the trimming-words stage. So I grabbed a number of my favorite books and typed up a list of first sentences. Then I brain-stormed some first sentences. I wrote 14 until I hit on one I liked and then started pantsing a story from there. Have no idea where it’s going except it’s noir.


  4. Great post, Sue! What cool examples. I agree that challenges force us to dig deeper and be even more creative. And how amazing is it when we finally get a story close to the vision–or challenge–we had in the first place!? Fingers crossed for your Malice stories, Mary and Keenan!!


  5. I’m always up for a challenge and I have more rejection letters than acceptances to prove I’m determined to try anything. And why not? I figure with writing there’s more to learn than loose. I frequently challenge myself with short stories and, whether they end up being selected or not, I amazed when I sit down what shows up when I least expected it. Frequently, I’ve uncovered an interesting scene, plot line or perhaps a character I can later use in one of my other works. Thanks for the post.


  6. What a great exercise, Keenan! Good luck with your story, too. Thanks, Kate. And it is amazing indeed to come even close to our visions! Nancy, that’s a great challenge. Isn’t it fun to see what comes out our fingers after that kind of work?


  7. Oh, dear. Here I am, because of your direct post, about to reveal something about myself that’s not flatttering. Sometimes it’s difficult (at least for me) to discern the difference between someone challanging me and someone trying to manipulate me. A challenge is one thing, manipulation something else entirely. The first I’ll generally respond to, the second, exactly the opposite.


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