Keeping Track of Story Ideas

Good morning, Squiders! Today we’re jumping back into our nonfiction series on story idea generation. I was going to go over where to go looking for ideas, but it occurred to me that perhaps it would be best to talk about how to store your ideas so you can find them again later. What good are ideas if you lose them, right?

It’s a good idea to have some sort of storage system for your ideas. Even if right now you feel like you have a lack of ideas, once you have a storage location, you may be surprised at how many ideas you really have floating around.

NOTE: Some authors refer to their idea storage as their “Little Darlings Cafe,” so you may have heard that terminology before.

Why do I want a storage system?

An idea storage system helps you find ideas when you need them, whether you’re writing to a prompt (whether for practice, or for an anthology or other collaborative work), need something to give your current story more oomph, or just want to try something new. There’s no guarantee that you’ll remember whatever idea later when you need it otherwise.

Additionally, having all your ideas in one place helps you find them later. I don’t know about you, but I tend to jot down ideas wherever I am–in the margins of notebooks, on manuscript pages, on whatever random scrap of paper I have lying around–which can be a pain to find later. (Which notebook was that in? What page was that?) With a central system, you never have to worry about forgetting where you wrote something down.

And a central system doesn’t need to be just for words. In mine, I link to pictures, videos, news articles–whatever is core to the idea.

How do I organize my storage system?

That’s completely up to you. Everyone works a little differently. For example, in my main one, I just have a long, bulleted list of each idea. Some things are short, just a word or a phrase: “Underwater ancient ruins” or “train as portal.” Some things are long, whole plots written down. A lot of things have links attached, and others are copied word for word from the source, whether that’s a phrase I read in a magazine or a post on tumblr.

I also have a secondary system on Pinterest. I like Pinterest for organization because you can set up separate boards really easily. There, I have two general inspiration boards (here and here) as well as boards for individual stories, which I’ve found can really help with tone and atmosphere.

That’s what works for me. You may need to experiment a little to find what works best for you. You may find you need more organization, such as separating ideas for characters from ideas for plots. You may want subsections for different genres or stories. The important thing is that everything is where you can easily find it.

How do I use my storage system?

Again, it somewhat depends on how you have it set up, but basically, when you are in need of an idea, you troll through it and see what works for what you’re currently trying to do. Some ideas will naturally go together, but it is also interesting to combine things that seemingly don’t. You get used to trying different combinations in your head as you go. (“What would happen if I added this in to the story?”)

It helps to have an idea of what you want to write (length, genre) before going in, but even that’s not necessary.

If you’d like some ideas of stories that I’ve put together this way, here’s two:

Band of Turquoise (Turtleduck Press, 2015) – originally commissioned for a fiction website that is no longer active, this story is a combination of their prompt (here) and “Twins where one is dead”

The Night Forest (Turtleduck Press, 2017) – A combination of two pictures from my Pinterest inspiration board (this one and this one)

You may need additional information to round out a story from your saved ideas, but this will give you a good starting place and you should be able to find what else you need either just by letting the story percolate for a bit or by searching for specifics.

You can use your storage system for anything. Need a plot? Check. Need a character? Check. Need a little extra oomph for your worldbuilding? Check.

That’s why it can be helpful to write everything down, whether it’s a plot that’s not quite gelling to a character that doesn’t fit in your current story to just an off-hand phrase you heard on a television show that gave you a bit of a tingle. You never know when something will be useful, and there’s no harm in keeping something around.

Questions about organizing or storing your ideas, Squiders? How do you keep track of your ideas?

The Finnbranch Readalong: Yearwood

Hey hey, Squiders! Only one day late, which, considering how this week has gone, is a freaking miracle.

So, Yearwood, book one of the Finnbranch trilogy. Did you guys read this? It’s so very ’80s fantasy it almost hurts.

We’ve discussed previously how you can see very obvious trends in epic fantasy from the “classic” fantasy of the ’50s and ’60s ala Tolkien to the modern character-driven fantasy of today. The ’80s fall somewhere in the middle, where the characters have begun to be more important than the plot, but generally not to the extent you find today.

Yearwood follows Finn, a teenage boy growing up in an isolated mountain community. His mother is married to the lord, but the lord is not his father, and, indeed, he’s never been given a real name, so his sisters have each made up their own for him. There are no other men in the community aside from his mother’s servant, the lord’s obsession on trying to figure out his father’s name having driven the community into decline.

If that sounds like a convoluted mess, you’re not wrong. The prose here is pretty dense, though it is in first person. Yet Finn is not actively telling his story, but telling it in retrospect, an adult telling the story of when he was young. Yearwood seems to be half of an origin story, with the other half continuing into the second book, Undersea.

Finn’s kind of a hard person to ride along with. He’s egotistical and sometimes cruel in that way that most teenagers get. He’s angry at his mother, who has never shown him any affection, and at his absent, unknown father. Even when he begins to learn how he was begat and who his father is, the anger stays with him.

There’s a weird mix up of mythology here. There are two crows which Finn arguably owns which he gives names meaning Thought and Memory, a clear connection to Odin, who likewise has crows named the same, but that seems to be the only Norse mythology here. The rest feels more Celtic, especially with several references to Dagda and the fact the Finn’s community is called Morrigan. There are also references to Selchie, which is another spelling of selkie, though the mythology doesn’t translate directly here. Still, it seems like the setting is supposed to be its own world rather than a version of our own. Not sure if that was the intention, however.

This is fantasy in the way legends and myths are—nothing is distinctly fantastical, merely accepted as how the world works, whether it’s giant death crows or walking stone kings.

So, tl;dr—this feels like a modern retelling of a legend, with the same sort of story structure and dense language. Yet it was oddly readable despite that. But I can see why more modern readers on Goodreads aren’t terribly fond of it.

Did you read this, squiders? What did you think?

We’ll read Undersea for next month and do a discussion on July 18.

Review: Icarus by David K. Hulegaard

Happy Monday, Squiders! Today I’ve got Icarus by David K. Hulegaard for your potential enjoyment. It’s scifi noir. David will be giving away a $25 gift card during his review tour, entry for which you can find at the bottom of the post.

It’s the winter of 1947 in Ashley Falls, West Virginia, and a teenage girl has gone missing. Local private detective Miller Brinkman takes the case, quickly uncovering a string of bizarre clues. A hidden diary, cryptic riddles, and buried secrets all pique Miller’s interest, but one key detail gives him pause: the girl’s parents haven’t reported her disappearance to the authorities.

As the case deepens, Miller’s investigation begins to poke holes in the idyllic picture of his beloved hometown. No longer certain whether anyone in his community can be trusted, Miller dives headfirst into a desperate search for the truth that extends far beyond the borders of Ashley Falls. He soon discovers that his missing persons case is not an isolated incident, but part of an otherworldly mystery—one that, if confronted, may threaten the very future of humanity.

Excerpt:

Jessie stalled in the doorway, studying the parking lot. She turned her head left to right several times, conducting a sweep of the area.

I plopped a coin on the table and joined her. “Is everything all right?”

“It’s probably nothing.” Jessie adjusted the book bag on her shoulder. “I think my mind’s playing tricks on me. Earlier I thought I saw… Oh, never mind.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. I thought maybe I was being followed on the way here from school.”

“Followed? Did you see someone?”

“Well, I didn’t get a good look or nothing, but I could’ve sworn I saw a man in a black suit behind me. Sort of keeping a distance, you know?” Jessie said. “But when I got here, he was gone.” She covered her eyes. “Gee, it sounds like I’ve read Jane’s journal one too many times, huh?”

I chuckled, though it was more from nerves than humor. “Tell you what, Jessie: how about I walk you home? I’m headed that direction anyway.”

“Oh, that’d be swell. Are you sure it’s no trouble?”

I reached into my coat pocket and felt the familiar shape of my Colt revolver at my side. “Nope. No trouble at all.”

My Review:

I get so waffle-y about these reviews. Anyway, in the end, I think I’d give this one a 3.5/5. I was going to say flat 3, but then I felt bad about being harsh, so there you are.

There’s a lot of great things about this book. Miller’s point of view is interesting and he has an excellent amount of sass. The conspiracy at the heart of the story has a lot of cool elements to it. There’s Puckett. (♥ Puckett.) The just-post-WWII era works well for the story and the noir element in it. (That being said, do people do modern day noir? Cuz I wouldn’t mind reading some of that as well. Let me know if you know of any good ones.) The pacing is good, though there are occasional reader asides that don’t always pan out (for example, Miller notes that a reminder that he’s being followed is good, or he’d be dead before Baltimore, but then nothing happens between DC and Baltimore to warrant the note, and I kept expecting something to). The secondary and side characters are well-developed and read like real people.

I really only had two problems with the book. The issue is that they really rubbed me the wrong way.

The first is the prologue. It’s told from the POV of the girl Miller spends the rest of the book trying to find, and the voice is, well, it’s one of the most stereotypical teenage girl voices I’ve ever read. I could barely get through it, and was relieved when we switched into Miller’s point of view and I realized I would never have to read that point of view again. What’s weird, though, is this character is treated with much better handling throughout the rest of the book, and the prologue really doesn’t add anything to the story that doesn’t come out better elsewhere. I just don’t know why it’s there, and it almost stopped me from reading on.

The other is that there is a textbook example of fridging. I won’t tell you who, but I will tell you that I really liked the character, and that it was obvious from the moment she walked onto the page that she was going to be fridged. So I spent a good part of the book going “You’d better not fridge her or I will be so mad,” and then when she was, of course, fridged, I was mad, as expected. I am still mad, because it didn’t really seem to do that much in the great scheme of the plot. Argh! Why!

(For those unfamiliar with the term, “fridging” is where a character is killed off solely to provide motivation for the main character. It can be–and often is–a “cheap” way to create angst. TVTropes has an entire page on the trope.)

So, other than that, I liked the book. If you think you’d like a post-WWII noir with some supernatural elements, you might like it too.

Author Bio:

David K. Hulegaard is an American author and paranormal investigator. His Noble trilogy has garnered comparisons to the works of Philip K. Dick and Stephen King. In 2016, he collaborated with best-selling author Tony Healey on the novel Planet of Ice.

David previously worked at BioWare, a premiere video game development studio known for creating the popular Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises. He now lives in the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend, Washington with his wife Jennie, and their banana-obsessed Welsh Terrier Tobi. In his spare time, he enjoys video games, professional wrestling, and photography.

Links:

( The Official Website of David K. Hulegaard | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon )

David Hulegaard will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

Useful Link Round-up

Okay, Squiders, I want to be able to do the idea generation posts in a row, so for today, I’m going to share various links that I’ve been hoarding that other people might find interesting. Monday I’ll have a review/promo for you, and Thursday is, in theory, the first discussion post for the Finnbranch readalong (though I will need to read faster than I am because I forgot when in June I set the discussion for). And then we’ll head back into nonfic territory.

For Readers

Does anyone else just find themselves on random email lists they don’t remember signing up for? That’s the deal with me and BookRiot, which is a website about books, mostly speculative fiction. But I dig their newsletter, so I don’t really mind that it seemingly came out of nowhere.

I normally forget, but it’s never a bad idea to stop by sites like StoryBundle or Humble Bundle and see if you can get a ton of themed books for cheap. Normally they donate the money for a good cause.

For Writers–Writing

I don’t know about you guys, but I am terrible at conlanging and yet, since I write high fantasy, sometimes it is necessary. That’s why I’m super interested in Vulgar, which is a language generator. I haven’t given it a try yet, but you can do a demo on the website, and the full version is only $20.

For people who like to have an idea of story structure before they go into a novel, you might try Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot Structure. It’s the one Siri and I used for City of Hope and Ruin. You can find a good overview over at Fiction University (which is a useful website if you are not already familiar with it.

For Writers–Learning

If you have enough time to fit in some learning, I recommend checking out sites like SkillShare and Udemy. I’ve taken a few classes (mostly marketing related, but also ones about how to use email lists) and recently signed up for one focused more on traditional publishing. You can buy memberships or classes flat out, but I like that you can see reviews and curriculum before you shell out money. There are probably more websites out there that provide a similar function, but I haven’t tried them.

(I’ve also considered making a course for one or both, but not sure what would be a good topic. If you know something I should go for, let me know!)

For Writers–Publishing

Since I’ve been putting together submission materials for my YA paranormal (all ready now! Just need a healthy dose of getting on with it), I recently wrote a synopsis for it. This blog post proved invaluable and took a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

For Writers–Marketing

Here’s a very interesting post on why it’s a bad thing to encourage your friends and family to buy your book when it first comes out. Good stuff to know. I recently found this blog through Siri and it’s been very interesting (also apparently I have done everything wrong). (Which I kind of knew.)

I also recently found this website called Hometown Reads that connects readers to local authors. I haven’t signed up yet but it looks like a cool idea, and my city is one that they’ve already developed, so woot.

Anyway, I hope you find some of these helpful! And let me know if you’ve found some place cool lately!

Why Go Looking for Writing Ideas?

First of all, squiders, I apologize for disappearing off the grid. Normally when I go out of town I pre-write and schedule the posts, but we took a spontaneous trip last week and I didn’t have time to get things ready before we left. So then I thought I’d just write them on the trip; surely I’d have some time in the evenings or the mornings to get things done.

Ha. Haha.

Also, one of the small, mobile ones broke her collarbone in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, so that was a thing.

Albuquerque is nice, though.

This week we’re going to start on our next nonfiction subject, which is finding ideas and inspiration when you need them. Before we dive into that, though, I wanted to let you know that I’ve got a story in the new (for people reading this in the future, fourth) issue of Spirit’s Tincture, which is a speculative fiction magazine specializing in poetry and short fiction. You can read it for free online. My story, Mother’s Love, is the last one in the issue. 😀

Anyway, diving into ideas. A lot of creative types seem to think that inspiration and ideas need to be organic, that you need to be walking down the street, minding your own business, and have the idea fall out of the sky into your head in a brilliant rush of creative energy, fully formed and ready to be used.

Ah, if only that worked. And if only it worked on command, when you wanted/needed it to. And if only it was a complete, usable idea every time.

Don’t get me wrong–when it happens, it’s great. And while how much inspiration you need varies on what your creative goals are, the fact of the matter is that if you wait for inspiration to strike from on high, you may find yourself lost and desperate, staring at a blank page with nothing coming.

No creator is an island–everyone is influenced and draws from different sources they have been exposed to, both consciously and subconsciously. If you want to consistently put out new works, if you want to be reliable when someone asks you to contribute to an anthology or a collection, then there may be days when you need to go looking for ideas and inspiration rather than waiting for them to come to you.

The other issue is that you might get an idea, but something is missing. You have a plot, but the main character is a blank. You have a character, but the world is nothing but mist. You have a basic outline, but the story is lacking in complexity. Being able to find things to flesh out your work, to make it better, is an asset in the long run.

Being able to find an idea when necessary can be helpful for more than just a single work at a time–it can also improve your craft overall. Trying out new things can help your writing muscles to stretch and grow. It can help you add new aspects to your work so that not everything sounds the same. It can help you find ways to get around writer’s block and push your boundaries.

The question shouldn’t be “Why should I go looking for writing ideas?” The question is “Why wouldn’t I?”

Once you know how to look, you can find things you can use everywhere. You can train your brain. I get a little chill down my spine every time something catches the “muse’s” interest, something I’ve come to recognize over the years. And by keeping track of your ideas, you should be able to find something you can use, no matter what the situation is.

Heck, I once wrote a murder mystery starring billiard balls at someone’s request.

On Thursday we’ll start looking at places to find ideas as well as ways to organize what you have found so you can use it later.

Questions, Squiders? Anything you’d like to add?

Remembering Theme When Lost

Good afternoon, Squiders! We’ll start our next nonfic topic about coming up with ideas and expanding them into something workable next week. I still need to finish outlining the topic before we get started.

But, while we’re talking about that, I’m setting up a new list for authors who’d like to get writing tips and advice in their inbox. You can join here. I’m still tailoring it, so if you’d like to see specific things, let me know!

Now, onto theme. You guys know I’ve been working on rewriting the first book of a fantasy trilogy. It was going okay, but about a month ago it fell apart again. Part of that was from getting ready for the conference, but it hasn’t gotten better. Admittedly it’s been harder to get writing time the last few weeks (though that should be done now) but even when I could have been potentially writing, I’ve been avoiding it.

(Unless it’s been unrelated, such as working on query letters or whatnot.)

It’s been very disheartening. In fact, this morning, I set a deadline for switching to another project if I can’t get my act together.

But I still dragged myself to a coffee shop with the intent of getting something done. And I opened my draft. And I re-read what I have of the current chapter. And then I thought I might go back and re-read what I have of the draft (about 48K) to try and help give me some idea where I was going, despite my outline and the fact that I did that last week (and it obviously didn’t help).

And then my laptop died (the battery’s shot, so if I accidentally knock the power cord it turns off) so I had a few minutes to stare at thin air while it got its act together, and I decided I should go back and look at my theme for the story.

The theme is something along the lines of “Be true to yourself.” Both of the main characters’ internal conflicts stem from this theme, and their gradual acceptance of it is pivotal to the completion of the plot arc over the three books.

And just by reminding myself what my theme was, I started to get some ideas about where to go.

I think that it’s easy to get lost in the middle of the draft, especially since right now I’m in new territory that hasn’t existed in previous drafts. And sometimes, reminding yourself of the point, of why you’re writing something, can be enough to help you re-center.

So hopefully this will be enough to get me back on track.

(While going back through my notes, however, I also noticed that a major subplot has been somewhat dropped. I mean, it’s still in there, but the pacing is off on it. So I think my first order of business is to go back through what I have and fix the pacing on it, which should make where I am–the midpoint–flow appropriately. Without this subplot, one of the major reversals can’t happen, which is, quite frankly, probably leading to a lot of the issues I’m currently experiencing.)

What helps you when your story feels like it’s running into a brick wall, Squiders?

Reading Through the Ages

Evening, Squiders.

I don’t know about your library, but if it’s anything like mine, it has displays throughout of books to entice you to take home more than you can manage. One of these, right in front of the check-out machines, is the “Staff Picks” table, which is evil and alluring and full of interesting things I might not pick up otherwise. I have found many wonderful things on the Staff Picks table.

The current one is called Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection, and, true to its name, is a collection of mysteries of the Sherlock Holmes sort of genre (including a Holmes story, The Blue Carbuncle, which I have previously read) ranging from 1845 (The Purloined Letter, Edgar Allen Poe) to 1904 (The Clue of the Silver Spoon, Robert Barr). (I’m currently in 1895.)

Lovely book, so far, except for one story that was so sexist that I immediately had to go on to the next one to rinse my palate.

(Actually, in general, the stories are pretty liberal on the gender equality issue, in some cases having their detective be female or the person who actually solves the case being a woman. Kudos, writers of another time. Actually, many of the writers included are women hiding behind pen names or initials, though some are out in the open.)

(Anyway.)

(As another aside, several stories seem to be parts of series, not unlike Sherlock Holmes, with reoccurring detective characters. I read an article the other day that was talking about a single person being chose to represent the whole, and this seems to fall into that. Of course there were other detective series–Sir Arthur couldn’t keep the whole thing running on his own–but you never hear about them.)

(ANYWAY.)

Some time ago a writer friend of mine made a comment about how you shouldn’t read any books that hadn’t been published in the last five years. I mean, the comment has merit–being up to date with what’s selling can help you target yourself for publication–but I don’t like it.

Part of that may be that I dislike the idea of writing to market, as unrealistic as that opinion may be. But the other part of it is that I enjoy older stories and, I would argue, looking at the differences in conventions between different eras has made me a more informed reader and writer.

Plus I like Victorian detective stories. You don’t see a lot like them in today’s markets, which seems to trend more toward thrillers or procedurals.

What do you think, Squiders? Is it worth it to read any book that sounds interesting, no matter when it was published? Is there some merit to only reading things that are new?