Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Too Much Coincidence?

If you’re on Pinterest, squiders, you know that it will notify you when someone re-pins one of the pins from your boards. I recently got a notification about this pin, which I had honestly forgotten about.

crrreeepppyyy

Picture seen here

This is one of my own photos that I’ve pinned. It may be the only photo of my own that I’ve pinned. In Sept of 2013, we went on a New England/Canada cruise, and at some point ended up in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I don’t quite remember how we got there–it was part of some shore excursion, maybe something having to do with maple syrup–but we were given an hour or so in which to wander the town.

I found myself drawn to a neat old white and red building on the top of a hill that just screamed that it was haunted. And when we got there, we discovered the cemetery. AND THEN we discovered that said building was a school, and that the hill was called…wait for it…Gallow’s Hill.

Playground/cemetery proximity

I mean, what are the odds? Who looks at a building next to a cemetery on a place called Gallow’s Hill and says, “Ah, yes, here is where I will put my school”? An elementary school, even.

This is a horror story waiting to happen, and I’m so pleased that that person re-pinned this pin because now I remember it, and I remember the pure glee of finding this place, and I remember the potential of this location.

But, seriously, squiders, what are the odds?

(I really love cemeteries and I am aware that’s weird, but gleeeeeeeeee.)

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Nonfiction Poll, Videocast Thoughts, and Other Sundry

Hey, guess what, squiders. I found my paper for the Shards library book talk. It was under my bed. Sigh. Who the heck knows why. (There were also cat hairballs under my bed, alas.) Too late to save me now.

(One would think I would put it someplace where I can find it now, but it’s still on my nightstand. Authors: not always the most organized people. We can follow a character arc to its completion but can’t remember where we put our socks.)

Nonfiction! Let’s start back up. I’ve got two options for the next one instead of giving you the giant list.

I’m good with either though I have already done a lot of work on the outlining one, so if you want to make my life easier… >_>

So, it sounds like people like the videocast idea! I like it too, and I actually have a pretty decent set-up for doing video which I’ve used previously for interviews and whatnot, so it wouldn’t be hard to get going! But logistics, logistics. You have to be consistent. If you were to tune in to said videocast, how often would you want to? Once a month? Twice a month? Once a week? I’m thinking they’ll be relatively short, at least at first, 10-15 minutes.

I’m also pondering tying them into my Patreon. My Patreon is an ongoing adventure in “marketing that I don’t really understand but am fiddling about with” and I know that not consistently producing content for it helps it not at all (the problem of course being that I don’t really know what sort of content people want over there). The videos won’t be limited to Patreon subscribers, but maybe I could release them a day early or something. Who knows? Not me!

I’m attending an online marketing conference this week, which has been interesting. I’m doing the free versus the paid option, so I have the day of to watch the conference videos before they disappear, which has been challenging. Thus far it’s been a good reminder of things, and I have learned a few new things to try. But it–and some networking I’ve done over the past few weeks–have reminded me that hey, there are some points of this marketing/publishing part that I’m good at–good enough to teach other people–and that I’m not as terrible as I sometimes feel like I am. So that’s been really nice.

I’d like to do another book-related thing this month. Which do you guys like better, the readalongs or the library book sale find reviews? I mean, it’s too late to do a readalong for this month, but we could get one rolling for the holiday season (not like the holiday season needs more stuff, but hey).

Found anything cool lately, squiders? Please let me know your thoughts!

A Landsquid-y September

There’s been a distinct lack of landsquid on the blog lately, so here’s a landsquid on a laptop.

 

 

I am very pleased to see the end of September here. It’s been a pretty draining month, aside from Iceland at the very beginning. But it’s almost over! Hooray!

Here’s what’s ahead for October:

  • I’m doing a Christmas concert/play thing. It’s called “Christmas on Broadway” and is a collection of Christmas-related songs from Broadway musicals. I botched my audition again so I don’t need to do anything hard.
  • I’m also taking a drawing class! I’m super excited even though it is not cheap. Hopefully it is fun and I learn neat things.
  • I took a writing break for September to re-evaluate my goals and what I want to be working on, which I think has been beneficial. I’m going to go back to my rewrite, but I’m going to intersperse it with other things so I don’t feel like I’m trapped by it. Plus taking a break on it has made me excited to get back to work on it.
  • Here on the blog, we’ll start sticking in some nonfiction posts, topic to be determined.

That’s the general plan. As always, if you’d like more of a certain blog feature (library book reviews, landsquid stories or drawings, nonfiction post, genre musings) let me know!

Also I watched the first episode of the new Star Trek series, and I have Feelings, so maybe we’ll talk about that as well.

See you in October, squiders!

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?

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?

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?