Improv says you have to “commit 100%.”
One of my rules of comedy is that you should, “take it as far as it will go. All the way up to the edge . . . and then push.”
And as I’ve told members of my critique group (please excuse the PG language), “Don’t do anything half-assed. It should be full-assed or nothing!”
I honestly mean that.
What I’m talking about is extreme writing—and it’s the only way you should write.
I think if you look at any successful book, you’ll see the author didn’t hold back, didn’t do things by half. Whatever the author was doing, the author did it all the way. You might like it. You might hate it. But either way, you have to respect that whatever the writer’s vision was, that writer went for it.
Take Harry Potter as an example. That book isn’t just about a boy with magical powers who waves a wand and recites spells. There’s a whole magical world around him that’s rich with detail. Hogwarts has a history. Letters are delivered by owls. Food comes alive. Trees can attack you. Staircases move. Paintings talk. Ghosts roam the halls. J.K. Rowling didn’t do things by half. She took it all the way up to the edge and then pushed.
Or Gilbert Garfinkle from Why My Love Life Sucks (The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer,book one). I didn’t set out to write a series about just any geek; I set out to write a book the ultimate geek. Gilbert isn’t just a hacker; he’s the ultimate hacker. He’s not just a nerd fighter; he’s the ultimate nerd fighter. He’s not just a fan of Star Trek; he’s a fan of pretty much every form of geek or nerd culture. And I wasn’t going to give him a little problem. I gave him the ultimate teenage geek’s ultimate nightmare: getting stuck with a gorgeous vampire girl who wants to be his platonic BFF, literally forever!
Now that’s extreme writing.
You don’t have to write fantasy, science fiction or comedy for your writing to be extreme. You can commit 100% to writing a quiet book, too. Just don’t set out to make a quiet book with a few exciting scenes, or an exciting book with a few quiet scenes. Whatever choice you make, stick with it! Commit to it! Don’t waffle. Unless, of course, you’re all about waffling, in which case, I want to see you waffle like an IHOP! I want to see you waffle like no one has ever waffled before! I want you to be the King or Queen of Waffles!
Like many people, The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies. I love it because the hero, Andy Dufresne, isn’t just ordinary—he is extremely ordinary. He isn’t just boring—he is extremely boring. He’s an accountant, for goodness sakes! His hobbies include playing chess and reading. How boring (in the eyes of most people, not a book addict like me) can you get? His favorite music is opera. Opera! Andy is as ordinary as a piece of coal, but here’s the thing about coal: under a great deal of pressure, a piece of coal can turn into a diamond. And that for me is the beauty of this movie. Andy Dufresne succeeds—not despite being extremely ordinary and boring—but because of it.
It honestly doesn’t matter what you’re writing about. As long as you make it extreme, your story will be more compelling for it.