Bang the Keys
by Jill Dearman
Alpha Books, 2009
238 pages
List price: $16.95; Amazon price: $11.53

[Note: this review first appeared in Alvah’s Books about a year ago.]

I received this book last summer and it was in my ever-growing pile of books until I managed to dig it out this past January. I was in a rut and I thought perhaps Jill Dearman’s Bang the Keys might help me jump start my novel.

Described as “a writing workshop in a book for the concentration-challenged, twenty-first century writer,” Bang the Keys is a four step program based on the word “Bang, ” and each chapter offers a series of exercises to get the writing juices flowing. The first step “B” is for begin, and to begin with your strongest idea. She strongly advocates the use of writing and journals and recommends keeping two–one to keep track of your ideas and thoughts on your current writing project; the other is more of a personal diary. Other chapters in this section include meditating to help with focus, and using writers that you admire as muses.

Step two or “A” is for arrange or arrange your story into concrete shape. It’s in these chapters that Dearman writes about choosing the medium you want to tell your story. Is it a novel, play, screenplay, epic poem. Once you’ve determined the vehicle then it’s onto character development, structure, and what she calls PLOTWICH that include:

  • Premise
  • Links
  • Obstacles
  • Transformation
  • Wants
  • Impediments
  • Conflict
  • Heat

The last chapter in this section is an important one. It’s about making the time to write, setting goals, and avoiding distractions. Dearman offers ideas to help with ongoing interruptions (in my case barking dogs, incessant email checking, and just plain putzing about) and they work as long as you stick with them.

Step three is “N” for nurture or nurture your project with love so others may love it, too. Reaching this point for me has been difficult, and here Dearman provides a game for writers who are on the third or fourth draft of their stories and who have lost their way or vision ( oh, that is so me at the moment). Called the Fishbowl game, Dearman instructs the writer to do a quick and dirty character sketch and then ask pertinent questions about the character. The point of the exercise is that it helps the writer if he’s uninspired, tired, or facing a blank page.  This can also work with plot and you might discover a golden nugget hidden in the answers. Other chapters include exercises that play on your unconscious. Dearman suggests keeping a dream journal and keeping track if your dreams. She also discusses anxiety and how to overcome it.

The last step “G” or finish your project and let it go, so it can exist in the real world. The theme of the first chapter is to do the opposite. This section neatly ties up the loose ends of your project by keeping organized.

Dearman writes in a very breezy enthusiastic manner that some readers might find too peppy. Especially for those of us who are currently struggling with writing projects. However, her exercises are helpful and are worth repeating when lack of inspiration or doubt looms.