A riff is an improvised solo—a musician going with the feeling of the moment to create some original music. Some riffs become part of a studio recording. Others live and die on the stage.
A couple years ago I took a workshop with Elizabeth Lyon, and she introduced me to Riff Writing. I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Now Riff Writing is part of my revision process.
Here’s how it works:
Start at a specific spot in your manuscript, maybe a character’s feeling or attitude, or a memory, or a specific setting. Just jump off from that spot and start writing. Dig deep and follow it where it goes, however illogical it may seem. Resist your first impulse to stop.
Instead, keep writing and see what you produce. Maybe a brilliant analogy. Or a cutting phrase as sharp as obsidian.
Yes, you’re going to overwrite, and that’s okay. Later you can go back and decide what’s suitable for the studio.
I highlight my riffs in green. I cut much of what I write, but often end up keeping the last parts, words I wouldn’t have written if I hadn’t done the riff.
Riff Writing has helped me with characterization and scene building. I’ll take a scene that I’d considered finished and let the characters keep interacting. That new material sometimes becomes the bulk of the scene.
I applied Riff Writing to the fifteenth draft of a novel that I twice had thought was finished. I let my characters run with their thoughts and feelings, and pushed scenes that I had thought were imbedded in stone.
Riff Writing helped breathe new life into my story.
Have you ever tried Riff Writing or something similar? How did it work for you? Or if you haven’t, are you willing to give it a try?