Working With a Harness

As crime fiction writers, imagination plays a huge role in finding our story. You know the one. The story that will keep readers up at night and leave them wanting more when they finish that last page. The story whose characters ride along with our reader for days after they’ve moved on, like ghosts of friends they want to stay in touch with.


The trick becomes to take what’s in that special Imagination Place in our heads (for me it’s a movie room) and transfer the images to words that make sense. Words that flow a lot better than that dream you had the other night.


And then, it gets tough. Unless you write fantasy you’re going to have to set your imagination aside and do some investigation into reality. While I thoroughly enjoy doing research (it’s sucked me in more than once), it can be a real trick to keep the magic in the story and make it factually correct.


When our project drags, there can be a lot of reasons (a character is acting in a way they never would, we’re repeating things the reader already knows, we’re including a scene that goes nowhere, blah blah blah), but I think one reason might also be that we’ve allowed fact to ride all over imagination. The harness has been put on and the reins pulled tight. Instead of the great imaginer, we’ve become the workhorse, plodding along through something that once made us want to leap.


So, what to do? If we’ve checked our characters and our scenes and everything seems good, we need to take a good hard look at our harness and imagine what it would take to soften it. Make it work with us for a change rather than the other way around. Come at it from a different angle. Shake things up. Turn them upside down. Then put the pieces back together in a unique and surprising way.


As a writer, what’s your Imagination Place? Do you have a way to get back to it if facts begin to bog you down?


As a reader, have you read books where you can identify the exact spot the imagination left and humdrum reality took over? Or on the other hand, a place where the author had something happen completely out of left field and should have been a little more true to reality?


It’s all better with friends.




Author: Peg Brantley

With the intent to lend her stories credibility, Peg is a graduate of the Aurora Citizens’ Police Academy, attended the Writers’ Police Academy conference, has interviewed crime scene investigators, FBI agents, human trafficking experts, obtained her Concealed Carry Permit, studied diverse topics from arson dogs to Santeria, and hunted down real life locations that show up in her stories.

9 thoughts on “Working With a Harness”

  1. Imagination Place. What a wonderful concept. In Fort Myers there’s a place called the Imaginarium. I’ve never been, but I love imagining what I would find there.

    My Imagination Place is — hum, how to describe it? Visual and visceral. It’s Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. I can even feel that twirly sensation in my stomach and then, my story takes place. When I’m stuck, my protag is always looking at two roads, sometimes she’ll peek down one, maybe even travel it a little way, then return and travel down the other a bit before she decides which way to go.


  2. My Imagination Place (love that term). I’m a nature girl. So if I go down to the Laurel Highlands (where the stories are set), I can recharge and see the story. Unfortunately, that’s over an hour drive, so I often have to settle for looking at the wildlife in my backyard from my deck.


  3. My Imagination Place (!!!) is anywhere far away from the place I’m writing about. So if I get harnessed, I can come back to the reality of the page with fresh eyes.


  4. Great post! As a reader, I’ve become particularly sensitive to the info dump and I don’t go back to those writers who indulge in them over and over again. I find if I let the MS rest a bit and come back for another round of edits, it’s easy to see what isn’t working. The first question is: is that piece needed to advance the story. If not, I cut it out. If so, then maybe it should go somewhere else, be sprinkled about, come from another POV or be shorter.


  5. Great post, Peg! I’m reminded of that picture of an iceberg a lot of us writers are probably familiar with: the one where just the tip top of research makes it into our stories, but below the surface there’s so much more content that isn’t seen. The other thing this makes me think of, since you mentioned fantasy novels, is that even though we may write contemporary fiction, we still write in a world of our own creation; not everything needs to be 100% realistic as long as it’s true to our MC’s world.


  6. My front porch is the place. I sit (or more likely lie) on the loveseat out there and see the scene in my head. There’s something about getting away from the screen and keyboard–it’s a different type of creating.


  7. My imagination place — I need one of those! Right now it is any where I can find where no one is yelling “MOM!” Low standards born of necessity.


  8. Kate, Imaginarium. I love that! If I get to Fort Myers, I’m going. While you’re falling down the rabbit hole, your protag is carefully considering her options. Love it!

    Mary, I would never leave your deck.

    Sue, I wish I knew ahead of time when I was gonna need fresh eyes. Or find a way to snap them on with every scene.

    Keenan, I hate those info dumps too. “Looky what I know!” Sheesh. Like you, I let a manuscript sit for a bit so I can try and get a little distance before I begin the editing process.

    Kate, good points!

    Sheila, can I come lie on your front porch?

    Oh Sam, I hear ya. My bet is you’re getting very good at diving into short-term imagination zones. *wink*

    Yeah, Sheila, how was the party?


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