Writing Mantras

From Buddhist teachings, mantra means any sacred word or syllable used to focus concentration and symbolize spiritual power. Dictionary.com offers the definition “an often repeated word, formula, or phrase.”

I like mantras when I meditate (usually “peace” or “harmony”), and I also like mantras when I write. There are three writing mantras of particular relevance to me. They are:

Make something happen. Maybe pages of happy people in happy places doing happy things appeal to some readers. I am not one of those. If nothing is happening in a book I’m reading, I put it down and find something else to do. In my writing, if my characters are locked into a lengthy argument or conversation or are just doing nothing, it’s time for a pie to hit someone’s face (literally or figuratively).

Make things worse. Going back to those happy people in happy places doing happy things…well, who cares? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to see how they get their happiness back after being miserable in a lousy place where bad shit happens? I like to see my characters struggle. Maybe it’s a bit evil of me, because I keep making their lot in life worse until rock bottom is reached. (This is also why I have occasional nightmares about my characters coming to life – because if they do, chances are, they are coming to administer a beat down because I make their fictional lives hell.)

What would Hiaasen do? Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite writers because his characters are completely whacked and yet totally plausible. Take Yancy from Bad Monkey – the pot-smoking disgraced detective who assaulted his lover’s husband with a shop vac. Hey, this could happen, right? Anyway, my goal in life is to create Hiaasen-like characters. That’s why I have a sticky note on the desk right above the monitor that says “what would Hiaasen do?”

Do you have a writing mantra? Please share in the comments.


2 thoughts on “Writing Mantras

  1. I’m totally with you on the pie. A few weeks ago, telling my characters, “If you don’t talk about something meaningful in the next three seconds, I’m blowing up your ship” finally got me back on track with the plot.

    • Nice one! I find all the boring spots during my revision process (at least, I hope I do), and that’s when I have to get tough. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said, easy reading is damn hard writing.
      Thanks for stopping by my blog.

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