Archive for July, 2017

In Other News

Hey, squiders, I appreciate you guys coming along with me while I work on my nonfiction books here on the blog. It’s been really beneficial for me, and I hope it’s been beneficial for you as well! I’m pondering when the best time to work on finishing them up and publishing them will be–maybe October/November, in time for Nano? Or maybe for January, when it’s a new year and people will be committing or recommitting to their writing goals.

Anyway, not important right now.

We’ve done a lot of nonfiction lately (interspersed with some conference flailing), so I thought you guys might appreciate an update on the other things I’ve been working on.

Admittedly, I haven’t been terribly productive. We received a medical diagnosis in May that’s kind of thrown everything off balance (don’t worry, no one’s dying), so some weeks I’m not getting much, if anything, done beyond posting here. So thank you guys for being here, for giving me an excuse to write on a regular basis. It does help to know that I’m at least getting a little bit done.

(Oh! As an aside, both Hidden Worlds and Shards are FREE at Smashwords till the end of the month. Which I realize is, like, three days from now and I probably should have mentioned something sooner.)

I also just opened my yearly To Do list for the first time a few months, and of course I’m behind schedule on most things. Sigh. Oh well. We keep trucking along.

ANYWAY. Here’s where everything else stands:

  • I finalized my submission documents and made a list of agents for my YA paranormal that I finished editing last year. I admit I’m going veeeerrrryyy slowly on the querying, but it is happening. I’m still kind of in a trial and error sort of mode on it (“Is the query letter working?” “Are my pages working?”). I have gotten a partial request, so it’s not going terribly. I also got a rejection within 12 hours on one. So, you know, a range of responses.
  • I am still working on the rewrite of the first book of this high fantasy trilogy. (My husband is currently reading Book 3 and keeps commenting on how good it is, like he’s offended by the quality after reading the first two books, har.) It is still moving slowly, but it IS moving again, hoorah. It’s at just under 60K words right now and I just finished the midpoint, which probably means the book will be longer than my estimated 100K. Every time I rewrite this book it gets longer.
  • I was using the very excellent Fighter’s Block to write because I’d gotten really stuck–not plotwise, not motivation-wise, but I think just being so overwhelmed (see above medical note) that my brain simply could not focus. When I was writing, I was managing 100, maybe 200 words a day. Fighter’s Block helped me get going again over the course of about two weeks. Now that I’m going again, I’m getting in a couple 1000 word+ days a week, plus a few couple hundred word days.
  • LiveJournal going full Russian has kind of put a damper on my serial story. I have been writing it in a prompt community there for years, but I transferred everything over to DreamWidth. The community also “transferred” but in reality it’s stayed put with most people just ghosting. It’s been pretty dead. I didn’t write anything on it for a few months because I wasn’t sure what I was doing. But in the end, I’m almost to the end of the draft, and I’d to get it done, even if I don’t know if I’ll ever revise the story or do anything with it in the end. (The beginning, written seven years ago, is especially terrible.) So I wrote a 500-word section earlier in the month, posted it on DreamWidth, and then linked to it in the LJ community, which seems to be an okay alternative.
  • I have a short story coming out on Turtleduck Press on Aug 1 (entitled “Unwritten”) though I still need to do the final edits on it.
  • Aside from that and the short story in Spirit’s Tincture a month or so ago, I haven’t sold any more shorts, but I did get a revise and resubmit, which is interesting because I didn’t know places did that for shorts. I revised once, realized I made the story way worse, and revised a second time, but it still needs some tweaking and see above re: getting things done. I shall get it done. But it certainly isn’t getting done fast.
  • I have a couple of stories that have been out for over a year. I queried one months ago with no response, so I should probably pull that story from that market and put it back into rotation. The other one I queried in January, got a response (they’d switched emails for submissions and said they’d look to see if the story got overlooked) but never any sort of rejection/acceptance. I queried again a few months ago to crickets. So I should probably pull that one too. Nnnnnrgh.

That’s really about it, aside from some poking at Fractured World stuff and the usual mid-book God-I-wish-I-were-writing-a-new-book thoughts.

How are you guys doing? Anything new and interesting going on?

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8 Ways to Expand a Story Idea into Something Usable

Good morning, squiders! Back to ideas for today, and then I may leave the rest of the subject for the book and accompanying workbook and move on to something else.

Today we’ll talk about how to take your inkling of an idea, whatever it is, and expand it to the point where you can make a story of it.

In some cases, this is easy. Some people don’t need a lot of information to get going–they can get started with whatever their original idea or inspiration is and find the rest along the way. (These people, in writing terms, are called “pantsers.”) If this is you, hooray!

However, most people need more than just an idea like “people can tell their soulmates by matching birthmarks” to get a story going. They need characters. They need a world. They need a plot.

How do you build those out of your initial idea?

In some cases, you’re lucky. Your inspiration comes with a lot of information, including the basics of plot, character, structure, etc. which can be expanded upon through outlining or brainstorming. Other times you just have your idea, staring you in the face, with nothing else coming.

Fleshing Out Your Story

If you’ve got nothing but an idea and nothing else seems to be coming, you’ve got some things you can do to help.

  1. Go back through your idea file. Sometimes what you need is already written down. If you have a plot but no characters to populate it, you can focus on your character ideas, or if you need a world, you can look specifically at those ideas. Sometimes smooshing two ideas together can bring delicious results.
  2. Identify your core conflict. Each idea will have some aspect that makes it attractive to you. If you can identify what specifically it is, and build off of that for your core conflict (i.e., your main plot problem), you’ll be able to find something that really interests you, and you may find that the rest of the story builds naturally.
  3. Ask yourself questions. This can help you expand your characters, world, plot, etc. What is interesting about this character? What do they want? What can I put in their way to stop them from getting it? What sort of world would allow this to be a problem? What sort of people would live this way?
  4. Look at tropes and conventions. People talk negatively about tropes, but the fact of the matter is that different genres have their own conventions, and readers of those genres expect certain things. Romance readers expect happy endings, mystery readers expect a murder, science fiction readers expect some scientific marvel. If you break your genre’s conventions, you may lose your readers. There’s a lot of leeway in how you can use said conventions, including purposefully breaking or bending them, but it helps to know what your baseline is.
  5. Research. We talked earlier about how your research can generate inspiration. If you’ve hit a dead end, it may help to pick a prospective topic and do some research to see if anything clicks to help you expand your idea.
  6. Outline. The mere act of outlining forces your to expand your story. What happens here? Why is it important? What is your character’s arc? See the outlining posts for more information on outlining and how to do it.
  7. Look at structure. How do you want to tell your story? Is it multiple viewpoints? First person? Third person? Maybe you want two plotlines from different times/places woven together. Sometimes it can help to consider an idea from different angles (“How does this change if I write it first person rather than third person?”) to see what fits it best. And sometimes, once you’ve gotten your structure in place, some of the rest of the logistics (number of characters, chronology, world) fall into place.
  8. Freewrite/brainstorm. Freewriting is an exercise where you just let your fingers wander where they will. This can be a good way to brainstorm ways to go with your initial idea. Other forms of brainstorming, such as talking to a friend or mind mapping can also be beneficial.

And, of course, you can always let an idea percolate in the back of your mind. Think about the idea before you go to bed, while you’re in the shower, or while you’re taking a walk. See if the bits you need will come on their own while you’re doing other things. It may be that, over time, the story provides you everything you need. (Be sure to write everything down as you get it.)

What do you think, squiders? Do you have other methods that have worked for you?

The Finnbranch Readalong: Undersea

Did you read this, squiders? If not, don’t. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more confusing piece of literature in my life.

Continuing on from Yearwood, we follow Finn (or do we?) as he learns more about who he is and what he’s meant to do. There continues to be a mix of Celtic and Norse mythology (Llugh from the first, Sleipnir from the latter–or at least an eight-legged horse). I suspect Finn is modeled off of Odin, since he only has one eye and had the two crows in the last book (and now has an eight-legged horse). Is it supposed to be a direct analogy? Who the heck knows?

It’s hard to talk about this book because I feel like I couldn’t follow it at all. I like to think I have a decent reading comprehension, even when it comes to things like myths which are often obtuse or contradictory, but I spent a lot of this lost. Finn is also apparently both his father Ar Elon and his son Llugh, and he spends a lot of time in this story in Llugh’s flesh. For some reason Llugh will lead an army of sealmen (never referred to as Selchie in this book despite that terminology in the first one) against Finn on land. Why? Because he’s supposed to? Not sure.

There’s also a lot of obtuse references to an alternative, ultimate form of Finn (one character, after Finn tells him he is Ar Elon, Finn, and Llugh, swear allegiance to him, and when Finn asks which name he recognizes, replies, “The one you did not say.”) as well as the fact that Finn knows what’s happening and what must happen. None of that knowledge ever gets passed on to the reader, however, so don’t get excited.

I feel like this book is mostly a convoluted mess of “Look how mysterious I’m being, oooo, look at all these levels of myth, it’s so cool.” I am annoyed at it. I am also annoyed at the plot progression, or seeming lack of it. (SPOILER, if you care.) It goes something like: Finn has killed Ar Elon (which technically he did at the end of the last book), Finn leaves island and goes back to land where he’s apparently gone back in time and is now his father (at least, that was the implication I got) and meets his mother as a young girl, Finn leaves land, Finn finds random island and fights his dead father, he is his dead father and is barred passage, then he’s Llugh and the island gatekeeper takes care of him for a bit and shows him the fathomless hall he’s been building underground on the island forever, Finn leaves island and finds some sealmen to serve him, Finn returns to island with sealmen and finds a whole bunch of other sealmen who recognize him as Llugh and are ready to go to the war against Finn as preordained. Also everyone on the island is dead? And then Finn/Llugh disappears and there’s some allegory about youth and ugh. I am so done.

I’m still trying to remember why I put this book on my Amazon wishlist. It was probably on some list of mythology-based fantasy somewhere and someone made it sound way more awesome than it is.

Part of me wants to give the trilogy up at this point, but from what I understand, the third book, Winterking, undergoes some sort of time jump, and I guess I’m intrigued enough to continue on with this madness. So we’ll discuss Winterking on Aug 24 (this is the longest of the three books, so that should give us a little more time to slog through it).

Did you read this, squiders? What did you think? Help me on what happened because I’m really confused.

Where to Find Story Ideas: Old Stories

First off, squiders, I know that I originally scheduled our discussion of Undersea, the second book in the Finnbranch trilogy, for today, but I’m going to move it to Thursday, both because I’m not quite done with the book (which has almost unequaled levels of unnecessary confusion) and because this is the last post in our where to find story idea series, so it makes more sense to do it first and then move on to other things.

Perhaps one of the best places to scrounge inspiration from can be your own, older stories. Ones that you abandoned, for whatever reasons. Ones that never worked quite right. Ones where you had to cut a character you loved because they didn’t fit into the plot you had envisioned. Ones that you wrote ages ago that don’t necessarily have anything wrong with them except that you were fifteen and still couldn’t consistently spell “probably.”

Let’s face it–it would be nice if every story you started ended with a complete, usable, readable draft, one that required very little editing before it was ready to go out the door to whatever its end goal is, whether it was just for fun to post on your website or intended for publication. But that’s not how stories work. Sometimes you get a near perfect draft, but sometimes you get a draft that, despite you trying fifteen times, cannot find a suitable ending. Sometimes you need to do a full rewrite, pulling subplots and characters and inserting new ones in their place. And sometimes, you’re just not capable of writing a particular story.

All that’s fine. That’s how the creative process works. Some things work better than others. Some things deserve to be stuck in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.

But just because a story never went anywhere, whatever the reason was, doesn’t mean that there weren’t aspects to that story that were good and interesting, and it doesn’t mean you can’t scavenge those aspects and move them to new stories, where they might be the perfect fix for whatever is ailing it.

As an example, let’s take my first novel, Hidden Worlds. I’d had two characters I’d been playing around with forever, named Cass and Nick, but I could not get their story to gel. I knew their relationship to each other (Nick had died, and Cass was willing to do anything, literally anything, to get him back) but I couldn’t ever seem to get anything more out of my story planning. So when I needed a story to add into the main plot of Hidden Worlds, I took Cass and Nick and added them in, and the rest, as they say, is history. Hidden Worlds wouldn’t be the story it is without them.

(Ironically, three or four years after Hidden Worlds was published, Cass and Nick’s story did finally come together through the simple action of me moving it into a world that already existed in another of my novel drafts, which is actually another good example of using bits from other stories to get your new one to work.)

Maybe you had a subplot about faeries that didn’t work in your paranormal romance but fits perfectly into your new MG fantasy. Maybe that spiky female friend that didn’t work as a sidekick would be a great main character. Maybe that neat worldbuilding that you couldn’t figure out how to smoosh into your science fiction action adventure would be perfect for the short story you’re writing for that anthology.

These aspects already interested you once; in the right place, at the right time, they could be exactly what you need.

There’s also something to be said about connecting your stories together. If a reader is a fan of one of your books, you might be able to pull them into another novel or short story if you can play up on their interconnectivity. This doesn’t have to be a straight series, but can be a spin-off where a minor character in the first book is a major one in the new one, or can simply take place in the same world, or can follow the same events in another place from another point of view. The possibilities are wide and varied, and you can do whatever feels best to you.

Anything to add, squiders? Ever find the perfect fix in a shelved story yourself?

Where to Find Story Ideas: Travel

The world is a fascinating place, Squiders. Every bit of it has its own traditions, its own stories. This can include everything from the urban legends of your hometown to the intricate mythologies to a country halfway around the globe. By traveling, you gain exposure to new places, new ideas, new legends, new experiences.

I’ve gone dog sledding in Alaska, climbed a mountain temple in Japan, camped in the ruins of an Incan city in Peru, hiked through a German forest to a castle that hasn’t ever been captured in its 800-year history, stumbled through the catacombs of “Hamlet’s Castle,” touched the stones at Stonehenge.

Travel can be one of the best ways to open your mind to new ideas to use for stories. It allows you to see and experience new things that you can then apply. You can see how other people live, what other cultures believe. You can go new places and see how they work.

This isn’t just true when visiting other countries, though that might be the most extreme example. You can learn things by visiting the historical and cultural landmarks in your area, by going a few major towns over and seeing what remains the same and what changes. And even going out into nature can be beneficial in the same manner. In fact, many authors routinely hike in order to gain inspiration, and some even compose their stories out in the wild.

WARNING: Unfortunately, we can’t really talk about using traveling for ideas without also discussing the idea of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is a sensitive topic, and many people have strong feelings on different sides of the issue. At its core, cultural appropriation is whenever someone takes elements from another culture and claims them as their own. It is mostly applied to a majority (white people) taking elements from minority cultures, which can be done in a superficial or disrespectful manner, with the original meanings being lost or distorted.

This can be a bit of a gray area for fiction writers, who routinely portray people who are not like themselves in places they are not from, doing things they have never done. It is probably best to use specific things, such as legends and mythology, as inspiration rather than trying to stay close to the original. And remember to treat your sources of inspiration with respect, rather than using them for shock value.

Still, outside of the topic of learning about other cultures and their stories, there’s the simple fact that by traveling, by trying new things, you add to your own experiences, which you can then use to give better life to your stories. A person who has never ridden a horse has a harder time explaining the gait under their character’s saddle, doesn’t quite understand the way your body aches when you climb off. Someone who has never stood on a beach doesn’t know how the breeze blows your hair around or how bright and clear the sky gets.

Yes, you can pick up quite a bit from other media–television, movies, books–but there’s no guarantee that you’re not picking up stereotypes which, in some cases, may be incorrect or misleading. And there’s something to be said to being able to put a more personal spin on things, to separate it from the same ol’ same ol’ everyone sees everywhere else.

What do you think, squiders? Have you used your travels as an inspiration? Do you find a certain type of trip or place tends to whet your creative whistle more than others?

Where to Find Story Ideas: Music

First of all, squiders, I want to let you know about this site called Fighter’s Block. Along with sites like Write or Die or Written Kitten, it adds in a little twist to offer some motivation for writing. In this case, you get an adventurer to go up against a monster with HP equal to your current word count goal. As you write, the monster takes damage. If you don’t write, the monster damages you. Not sure what happens if you lose all your HP, but it’s been a fun boost this past week, and if it sounds like it might help you, go for it!

Moving along with our idea generation series, today we’re going to talk about music as inspiration.

Music can inspire in a number different ways, but it works differently for different people. Whether inspiration hits is always individual to the creator–something that gives one person shivers down their spine could do nothing for someone else. But music tends to be even more so, because some people find it too distracting to use in their creative process. Some people can only listen to instrumental music, whereas others require complete silence.

(Me? I’m listening to Adam Lambert’s Never Close Our Eyes as I type this, so I’m good with whatever.)

Music has a lot of different aspects that can be used for inspiration, however. Even instrumental music can be used to help establish tone and mood. I’ve found it useful to listen to appropriate instrumental music when I need a specific mood for a story, which is essential for some genres.

Some aspects of music that can be used for inspiration:

  • Melody/musicality
  • Lyrics
  • Attitude

Melody/musicality

As we mentioned above, the feel or tone of music can help provide you with the inspiration for the mood of your story. This can be very broad. Music has a lot of emotion to it, and you can manipulate it to be what you need. I find this works best for short stories, which tend to have a consistent tone throughout due to their length, but I’ve also had specific songs that have inspired scenes in novels. If you’re writing a sad scene, you can listen to music that says “sadness” to you. If you’d like a heavy, Gothic feel to your story, there’s music for that as well. In fact, if you know the tone or mood you’re going for, you can just go to YouTube and type “sad songs” or “mad songs” or whatever into the search bar, and someone’s probably made a video for it.

Lyrics

Lyrics are perhaps the most versatile way to use music as inspiration. A single line from a song can spark a scene, a character, a relationship. Whole songs can inspire plots or premises. A lot of them have a storytelling aspect to them that translates well for inspiration.

NOTE: Some genres may be more useful than others depending on what you’re working on and what genres you tend to write. I listen to a lot of symphonic metal, which I find very helpful for my main genre of high fantasy. If you’re not having any luck with what you typically listen to, you might try something else that may be more appropriate. I tend to switch music when working in different genres.

Attitude

Sometimes a song matches the exact attitude of a story or a character even if the tone or the lyrics aren’t the best fit. These can be helpful because they can help you round out ideas and get a better feel for what you’re going for.

An example of this: This song (For Your Entertainment, Adam Lambert) matches the attitude for one of the characters from Shards even though the music genre/lyrics aren’t exactly appropriate.

If you find a song that works for you in whatever manner, write it down somewhere. You can always make playlists on services that offer that option, but these are controlled by third parties, and sometimes songs become unavailable or services go out of business, and you lose what you’ve put together. It doesn’t hurt to have a list of songs/artists somewhere. If you keep a story organization/planning document, this can be a good place to keep track of what songs you’re using for inspiration (and for what aspect of the story the song goes with, whether it’s character, plot, a specific scene, etc.). If the inspiration is unrelated to a current story, you can also make note of the song in your idea file, with a link to the song on YouTube if applicable.

Related: Music Videos

Music videos add an additional layer into potential inspiration by adding a visual aspect to go along with the musical aspects. There’s a trend now to add a story into the music video, even if the song itself doesn’t have much of a story aspect. (See Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood video as an example of this.) I’ve found that, if you like the song in general, you may find the music video may also do something for you inspiration-wise.

Music is highly variable and how it inspires you may be completely different from how it inspires me or the next writer over. Feel free to experiment and find out what works best for you.

Leaving anything out, squiders? What song has given you some inspiration?

Where to Find Story Ideas: Research

Good afternoon, squiders. Today, in our search for inspiration, we’re going to talk about research.

This is exactly what it sounds like–you need to know something (or know more about something) for a story, and so you research it. This can happen at any stage of the process, from when you’re still in the outlining/planning/expanding premise phase to writing the draft to revision.

Personally, I like research at the very beginning, when you’re still considering what sort of story you’re going to write.

If you do your research before you get going, not only do you allow yourself the opportunity to make sure you understand the world you’re creating, so that it feels alive and real from the first page, but you may find some neat things that you can tie into your characterization or your plot. Some research may be integral to the very essence of your story, and if you don’t look first, you’ll miss it.

This varies from story to story. Sometimes you come into a story with a good idea of the story you want to tell, and you only need details to make sure you’re not going to sound like an idiot. Sometimes you have a vague idea, something like “I’d like to write about death spirits” or “alternatives to werewolves in modern day” or “would it be possible to hide an advanced civilization in Central Park.”

Your research can directly shape your story with the latter type. With my novel Shards, for example, I went into my research with “immortals that aren’t vampires” and the research that followed gave me my characters, their personalities, my plot, and a lot of important mythology that’s woven throughout.

With another story that I’ve yet to write, my research has given me two distinct paths to take: death magic or dark magic, both of which are awesome. As I flesh out the story more, I’ll be able to decide which set of research will be more beneficial for the story I want to tell.

Now, you can use research for other story aspects as well. If your story is set in a real place, you’d better be sure you have the details right for it. I have some authors I refuse to read because they can’t take the time to pick up the map and make sure they’ve stuck things in the right place, and there’s nothing more distracting than reading a book where every time something setting-related comes up it throws you out of the story.

(Also: check weather patterns and so forth so you’re not making it rain constantly in a desert environment, etc.)

Same thing for dealing with real cultures, communities, etc. No matter how obscure you think something is, someone who knows about it probably will read your book, and if you get it wrong, they’ll be annoyed.

NOTE: Just because you’ve done your research on a place doesn’t mean you need to hammer that in. It can be off-putting to read things like “She continued down Park Boulevard and turned right on Harrison Avenue, passing Jefferson and Washington before arriving at the CVS at the corner of Harrison and 15th right next to the Bennigan’s.”

Research can be time consuming, and you do run the risk of over-researching, where it’s taking up all of your creative time and you end up with more material than you need or could ever possibly use. (This can be okay if said research can be applied to multiple stories.) It can be helpful to periodically look at the information you’ve acquired to see if you have what you need or to see if you need to focus on a specific subject to round things out.

It also helps to organize your research so you get something useful out of it.

WARNING: Research is like a spice when it comes to actual story drafting. You just need a pinch of it here or there to give your story added depth and realism (even in a fantasy or science fiction world). Just because you know all the polite rules of etiquette for a particular time period doesn’t mean your readers want to read that. Authors can sometimes get caught up in a subject and want to show off their knowledge of it, but this is almost always detrimental to the story you’re trying to tell. Remember: just a pinch, just enough for some subtle seasoning.

As for where to do your research, libraries can be your best friends. They have nonfiction material on any subject you could ever want, usually in multiple formats (for example, I find videos helpful when doing place research because it gives you a sense of the life of the place) for whatever suits your fancy. The Internet is another good place to look, especially if you’re looking mostly for inspiration and are less concerned with how accurate the information is. Interviews with people are also a great source, for when you have a character that has a career you know nothing about or has life experience outside of your own. There are also specific writing resources to help you present things accurately, and most writing forums have a place where you can ask questions and get answers from people who know better than you on a subject.

For organizing, I find it helps to have a specific document for each story. General research that can be useful in the future can go into your idea file, but if you’re doing research for a particular story, having it all in one place rather than mixed in with your other ideas and research makes a huge difference. I usually make a big long list of useful tidbits and then periodically free write some connections between the information to get an idea of how the information can be used.

What do you think, squiders? Anything to add? Favorite place to do research? Best example of how research has helped you with a story?