Guest blogger Joan Connor believes random thoughts can benefit your prose.
I keep a writer's journal. When I am writing I open it at random and make myself choose one word to incorporate at that instant. It makes the writing a little less overdetermined.
For example, I was writing an essay about horseback riding lessons with my son, opened my writer's journal and found this snippet a colleague mentioned in a meeting -- we need to cover bird cages at night because they don't think the day is ending; they think the world is ending. (HOWEVER did she know this?) At that point in the essay I had to seek the connection between the horseback riding lesson and the bird lore and it pitched me into unexpected metaphoric discovery.
That's an interesting way to keep your writing fresh and spontaneous.
I like to put my characters at a crossroads where a decision is necessary, and push them in a counter-intuitive direction. For example, the guy who's been a plodding CPA all his life runs away with a hooker. Or the politician on the brink of election as governor betrays his mentor in order to help a homeless illegal immigrant.
However, the counter-intuitive moment must be believable. What has been simmering inside the CPA over the years, to make him recognize the promise within the whore? After a lifetime of compromises and back-room deals, what made the politician take a moral stand, regardless of the consequences?
Surely there's a reason. But can I make it part of the story through "showing, not telling?"