By Kari Lavelle
Like many others, I was not very productive during the pandemic. My brain could not easily move to creative endeavors because it was too preoccupied with parenting 24/7 or stressing about COVID.
When I read an article about farmers in Botswana painting eyes on the behinds of their cattle to confuse predators, my tired, worrying brain actually started playing the “what if” game. What if a lioness said to herself, “Is that a butt or a face?” BOOM! A bootylicious idea of a title sparked in my head!
One day, with loads of giggles, I bravely shared my hare-brained idea of BUTT OR FACE? with my pandemic Zoom writing friends. They immediately loved the idea and were very encouraging (as always), but deep inside, I didn’t think it was very marketable and doubted it would turn into a sale. Still, it felt so good to have a project that captured my attention and researching animal derrieres daily was fascinating.
When my agent liked BUTT OR FACE? and sent it off on submission, I had very low expectations. Let’s be real - it has the word “butt” in the title! What editor would connect with this super weird idea? Turns out, Kelly Barrales-Saylor at Sourcebooks did and not only did she want that manuscript, but she thought it had series potential. Our initial Zoom to chat about ideas made my (facial) cheeks hurt from laughing so much.
So, my suggestion to you, my nonfiction friends, is to get weird. The weirdest you’ve ever been. Yep, even weirder than that.
Exercise 1: Think of a manuscript draft you’re stuck on. As you read through it, conceptualize where you can take it further. How can you get weird? It could be funny weird or strange weird but get funky in there!
Exercise 2: Think of three of the weirdest words or nouns you can. Can’t think of anything? How about gobbeldygook, snood or poppycock? Or fungus, bumfuzzle or kerfuffle? Brainstorm a story that uses these concepts as much as you’d like. Then, take the same words and brainstorm a different story. Which one is weirder? If one tickles your fancy, then keep going through the writing process. If not, congrats! You just pushed your brain to deeper depths of oddness!
Exercise 3: Brainstorm strange characters or stories (books, movies, shows, etc.) that you connect with and consider the elements you love about them. i.e. the dysfunctionally charming cast of characters from Schitt's Creek, the witty Matilda from Roald Dahl, or more recently the quirky, clever Wednesday Addams from the show, Wednesday. Are there any of these elements that you can infuse into your own WIPs?
Of course, I realize that getting weird isn’t a great solution for all manuscripts, but it does help us stretch our brains into new creative possibilities. Take risks, have fun - the world needs weirdness!
Meet the Author:
Kari Lavelle is the author of WE MOVE THE WORLD (HarperCollins), the BUTT OR FACE? series (Sourcebooks, 2023) and an unannounced picture book biography. She has always had a love for words: as a kid reading books, as a speech pathologist helping children communicate, and now as a writer creating stories. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, their two children, and doggo, Dobby. Learn more about Kari and her books at karilavelle.com.