4 Post-Its to Stick Up Over Your Writing Desk

When you sit down to write today, take a moment to scribble these 4 things on 4 post-its. Then stick ’em up over your writing desk.

  1. “What if. . .”

    Write down the “what if?” PREMISE of your novel. Then every time you look up, pondering where to go after a difficult scene, you will be re-oriented on your chosen path, kept within the bounds of the story you intend to tell. Make sure there is not only an initial premise, but also a problem with that initial premise.

    • What if 1950s hair-dryers were the doorways to an almost-identical parallel universe where the truth floats in the air over people’s heads whenever they lie—but everyone arrives there hair-first, so when more than one person arrives at once the truths get mixed up when they collide?

      1950s hairdryers = parallel universe of truth-words collisions
    • What if the world were secretly populated by a super-intelligent race that lives in fire and speaks a fire language that sounds to us just like popping and crackling, and forest fires were the result of psychotic episodes among the powerful politicians of their species? And the plucky members of a backwoods volunteer fire department discover this secret just in time to learn that the fire creatures have decided to wipe out humanity and start over again with a less dangerous species—but the fire chief is in the throes of an identity crisis in which they question the destructive influence of humans upon the earth?

      Fire race apocalypse vs. environmental despair of fire chief
    • What if dogs were secret agents with the ability to solve international crime if they could only be distracted from sniffing each others’ butts all the time? And they were now, decades after Eisenhower first warned Americans to beware the military-industrial complex, finally positioned to reveal the source of evil that has been chiseling away all this time at American political stability—but the evil-doers have concocted a special drug to put into the agents’ food that make their own tails crack-level addictive to sniff?

      Check Fido’s food for weird drugs!
  2. “My protagonist needs. . .”

    Write down the enormous, gut-wrenching, overwhelming NEED in your protagonist that fuels your novel. What has that character devoted their entire life to obtaining—even if unconsciously? (Especially if unconsciously!)

    • Franky and Johnny need to consummate their love for each over the resistance of obstacles they create themselves in order to overcome their own fundamental terror of nihilism.

      F & J need to overcome obstacles re: fear of nihilism
    • Albert Reed McNeedleman needs to prove his mother’s creepily-possessive faith in him by becoming the most financially-successful used-car salesman in the blogosphere.

      Albert needs the most blogosphere used-car sales
    • Peony Surplus needs to reject the values of Buddhism with which she was raised, in particular the belief that destructive impulses must be tempered with humility.

      Peony needs to rebel against Buddhist humility
  3. “My protagonist also needs. . .”

    Write down the CONFLICTING NEED that prevents your protagonist from satisfying their first need. Internal conflict is the heart & soul of fiction. For every need there is an equal and opposite need—this is what makes readers turn pages.

    • Franky and Johnny are really, really, really good at creating obstacles for themselves.

      F & J also need obstacles re: fear of nihilism
    • Albert Reed McNeedleman needs the emotional validation of his secret online identity as the revolutionary covert incest spokesperson, bringing support and healing to thousands of anonymous sufferers.

      Albert also needs his online covert incest exposee
    • Peony Surplus needs to succeed at running her dead parents’ groundbreaking Buddhist think-tank that is the source of income keeping her little sister in the hospital on life-support.

      Peony also needs to save her sister w/Buddhism
  4. “My protagonist’s worst nightmare is. . .”

    Write down the worst thing you could possibly do to this protagonist to bring their two needs into opposition. This is the CLIMAX you are aiming for.

    • Franky and Johnny lose their creative capacity to create obstacles for themselves and must face life together without protection against their terror of nihilism—just as they unwittingly uncover the plot to disable the secret agent dogs who are the world’s only hope of uncovering the secret evil that is bent on global domination.

      F & J’s worst nightmare is: save world vs. succumb to nihilism
    • Albert Reed McNeedleman learns of the dilemma of the backwoods fire chief who is the only person in the world who speaks fire-language, and realizes he is the one person who can help the chief resolve the covert incest issues that his environmental despair masks—just when Albert’s used-car business rockets to the top of a global blogosphere competition to face off against their biggest competitor, in the used-car selling showdown to end all showdowns.

      Albert’s worst nightmare is: save world vs. most used cars sold
    • Peony Surplus is given responsibility for deciding whether to sell the think-tank to her parents’ mortal enemies, who plan to turn it into a Tea Party marketing franchise, and get out for good, knowing she is putting a finite cap on the duration of her little sister’s life just as she takes a turn for the better, or to lead a seven-month meditation fundraiser in which she must lead meditation upon the Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, and Three Marks, as well as all 31 planes of existence, in order to give the think-tank a new boost in popularity—just when she is shot through a hair-dryer into the truth-telling parallel universe and collides with the Dalai Lama.

      Peony’s worst nightmare is: rebellion vs. truth—plus now her hair is all tangled up with the Dalai Lama’s. . .oh, wait. That’s not a problem. He’s bald!

And when you’ve got your post-its up, be sure you know the 6 Ways to Shoot Yourself in the Foot.

22 thoughts on “4 Post-Its to Stick Up Over Your Writing Desk

  1. Thanks for this post, Victoria. They’re all things I’ve heard before in some way, but they’re phrased differently and have made me think. Sometimes, that’s the jump start your brain needs. ;D

  2. My dear, what are you on? Can I have some? Nifty, as usual, and exemplary reincorporation with the hairdryers.

  3. What if? What if? What if? Of course ask it all the time…

  4. Paul says:

    Nice focusing questions and statements! Love the conflicting needs. Thank you 🙂

  5. Nate Wilson says:

    Wow, it’s like you’ve been reading my novel! Although, it’s Reed Albert, not Albert Reed, and in my parallel universe the Dalai Lama has hair.

    Excellent advice, by the way. Though I’ll condense all four onto one post-it so I waste less paper, and I’ll tack it to my bulletin board so it won’t fall down in a week when the stickum gives out and fall into the clutches of my beautiful but ruthless secret agent dog.

  6. Victoria says:

    My god, you people live weird lives! 🙂

    Oh, wait—that’s just Nate.

  7. Victoria says:

    Yes, Victoria, the whole idea is to jog the brain into a fresh and unexpected place. Therein lies your creativity!

  8. Victoria says:

    Frosty, ‘What if?’ is the reason readers read. And the more you ask it about every single aspect of your novel, the deeper you’ll get into the underlying fabric of the story you want to tell.

  9. Victoria says:

    You’re very welcome, Paul. Internal conflict is the basis of all character, and great internal conflict is where you find all great characters. Readers want to know how to reconcile the dreadful paradoxes of living—most importantly, the dreadful paradoxes of just being themselves.

  10. Victoria says:

    Dirty white candy, Roz. Me & my hairdryer are on dirty white candy.

  11. Great post! I love these tips–these are sure to come in handy!!!! 😀

  12. Elaine says:

    Thanks for this useful post. It was a little strange, in parts, but only enough to make me do some of the thinking for myself 😉
    Did a little compounding , I now have three post-its on my noticeboard 🙂

  13. Keep taking the candy, Victoria.

  14. Victoria says:


  15. Brenda Kezar says:

    Thanks for sharing a great post! It’s great to have a reminder of #3; too often, I write the conflict as coming from an external source, and that makes #4 difficult. When reaching the main need is blocked by the protag himself and his conflicting need, it makes the climax happen much more organically. And makes for much more interesting story!

  16. This was an absolutely brilliant post. The crux of the suggestion is more than valid, and easy for us to implement! The examples used to illustrate the concepts were, wacky, outrageous and descripe a nether world that we all want, no need, to read more about!

    Thank you Victoria

  17. Messy Sue says:

    Thanks Victoria, this is both informative and fun.. my kind of blog! I train dogs and write about them too. I think you might be on to something!

  18. Rebecca T says:

    I think I need to print this out and plaster it to my wall. Great consolidation of the main things I need to have in place. Now to go apply them!

  19. Rebecca T says:

    All right, I know I already commented on here a while ago, but I keep coming back to this post – I’m beginning revisions on a novel and this is SO helping me establish the threads that were missing from the first VERY rough draft. Thank you so much! (Your book is going on my birthday list)

  20. Keep taking the candy, Victoria.

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