I've long advocated writing a sentence about what you intend to achieve the next day as a way to catapult yourself into productive writing. For revision, this is straightforward. Something like "review next three scenes for conflict/emotion" works. But composition requires a sentence that provides guidance on what to write. The sentence has to be strong enough to engage your imagination so you subconscious works overnight.
While teaching this week, I got pushed by a student to say more. I pulled a paragraph from a previous HTWF post:
The origin of my one-sentence prep is nineteenth century novels. I talked about this in a different context on my How To Write Fast Blog:
Make sure something happens - Sounds simple, right? For scenes with little dialogue, this tends to occur naturally, but it is amazing how often dialogue does not move a story forward. And this is especially true if your characters are clever and charming. I do two things as a test. First, I title the scene. This forces me to think about it holistically as opposed to as a series of exchanges. Next, I add a subtitle that begins, "In which..." Anyone who has read a lot of older novels is familiar with these subtitles. "In which our heroine Beatrice steals Alexandra's locket." Beware of subtitles where a character "finds out" something or "insults" another character. Ask what finding out leads to. If she finds out her best friend has betrayed her, is she forced to flee Coventry? Ask about the results of that insult. Does Harold challenge Christopher to a duel at dawn?
Then I added this:
So... your sentence indicates something happens. Yes, active verbs are a must. A sense of conflict can be helpful. Mostly, I look for a sentence I respond to viscerally. Even better, I like a sentence that piques an emotion and makes me want to get writing right away. (That doesn't always happen.)
When I'm really stuck, I make the sentence the answer to a question like one of these:
- What has to happen
- Who am I leaving out
- What's the worst thing that can happen?
- What's my villain's next move?
- How will he/she break his/her heart?
On bad days, I may need to write 3-4 answers before it's time to give up.
I hope this helps.