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person starting a maze

Our first month of 2020 passed and I am glad it’s over, not for writing reasons, but for life reasons. I shared about “winter blues” and my husband’s sister’s death over the holidays and, two weeks after her burial, we learned of another serious illness in our family. As we help family find the right care, every step of the way is harder than it has to be. After each step I think, How could things get more complicated? Then the universe shows me how. We schedule a biopsy, but then there’s no transportation to the hospital. We request medical records get faxed to other cancer centers to get second and third opinions, but are told that the records are only available by CD and must be picked up in-person. (CD? Computers aren’t even made with CD drives anymore! Oh, and our family is out-of-state, so we would need to hire a courier or drive 12 hours round-trip to do it ourselves.)

In the midst of the stress, I still maintain my creative writing time. #5amwritersclub on Wednesdays, early mornings on weekends, plus a few breakfast poems sporadically through the week. I realized that the question I keep asking as I’m dumbfounded by life–How could things get more complicated?–is exactly the question we need to ask ourselves as we’re writing. If your character is sitting in a coffee shop, how could that get complicated? Do they spill their coffee? See a bug floating in their latte? Are they on a blind date and get stood up? Or maybe their date arrives, but as they learn about each other they discover they’re distant cousins?

How could things get more complicated? is my new writing mantra. Why? It makes me consider the absurd. The absurd is memorable, revealing, and poses situations that characters can react to. Absurdity adds to dramatic tension and keeps your reader engaged. How could things get easier? doesn’t really do that, right? (Although I’d really like life to head in that direction.)

Now that we’re a month into the year, consider your own current writing project. Manuscript prep? Poem? Story? Chapter? Revisions? Ask how things can get more complicated, then ask if you’re answering that question.