Saturday, 2 April 2011

Contacting the Alter Ego?

There is lots of advice available about developing plot and themes for stories but one of the best tips I have come across was to write down thoughts as they occur, in the form of a kind of conversation. 
At the very beginning of my novel “The Afterlife of Darkmares” I had a string of rather vague concepts but no coherent plan. So, after germinal ideas about the plague, mother love and sudden death in childhood, I decided to try out the technique that I first learnt about in David Morrell’s Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing. He recommends writing as you think through plot ideas, rather than thinking first then writing an outline. He maintains this allows a writer to have a conversation about the story without the risk of the best notions ending in the air because the ideas materialise as the writer writes and thoughts occur. The person the writer talks to is, of course, the alter ego. David Morrell says this technique, “encourages you (the writer) to delve below the surfaces of a conventional outline so that a richer book has the potential to be written.”
The question ‘why?’ seems to be the most helpful (although all the ‘W’ questions are used e.g. where, who, what, when) as it makes you think about why you want to write this particular story and why you think the plot/theme is important.  It also clearly helps with making the characters fully rounded and properly motivated.
This kind of writing is also a form of psychoanalysis and helps when the ideas just won’t move forward. I tried it and found it to be a wonderfully liberating exercise and make no apologies for the introspective nature of the discourse. My ‘Conversations’  document shows my thought processes developing the story ideas, and together with a premise, helps keep me on course when moving towards some kind of outline.   It is also extremely useful if, like me, you sometimes go off course and need to get your thoughts back into the main thrust of the story. It provides a sort of road map. Subplots can be woven in and kept in check a bit easier too.

For more information or to read an excerpt of the book visit 


  1. Hello Patricia

    good to make your acquaintance. I found you through Liz Fenwick's blog.

    yes, I've heard about this why? question and how it can expand what you're writing. Great post.

    warm wishes

  2. This is a good idea--I think I'll try it as I map out my next story.

  3. I've actually done that method before, but I haven't done the asking myself "Why" part. That is a very interesting idea!