Archive for the ‘Idea Generation’ Category

Introducing the Master Plot Series

It’s time for our summer series, squiders!

This year, once a week, we’ll be looking at “master plots.” What is a master plot, you might ask?

Well, according to some people, there’s only so many plots in the world, and all stories are variations of these master plots. They’re the archetypes of plots, if you will.

Now, the number varies based on who you talk to (like when we did the character archetypes) and I’m still working on finalizing my list, but over the next few months we’ll talk about each of them, such as what they entail, stories that match that plot, and other sundry.

If you have any thoughts or things you’d like to see, the time to bring it up is NOW, while I’m still finalizing my notes. Otherwise you’re out of luck until I need blog ideas again.

See you next week, squiders!

Being Productive, Yet Not

Good afternoon, squiders. It is snowing YET AGAIN, which is in theory a good thing because I don’t want any more of the state to burn down, but is also annoying because it keeps snowing when I have to go and do things.

Since last week I have done my serial and started poking my anthology story. Only started, because I keep having to do other things. Right now I’m still trolling through my idea files and throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, which shouldn’t take very long except I keep getting interrupted. Alas.

I’m starting to get really anxious about not getting to Book 1 yet. We’re already two months into the year! And February is so short you blink and it’s gone (or lasts forever, depending on pandemic levels). Despite finishing my novella draft and my serial, I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, which is a VICIOUS LIE and brains are horrible.

We’re a week and a half til opening on Pirates of Penzance, and tonight (in the snow) is the time rehearsing on the actual set. I am excited to finally have stairs to go up and down instead of benches representing the stairs which are ALWAYS in the way, but on the other hand I am also freaking out that we open so soon and are only just now getting into our space.

Logically, I know we do this almost every show and that everything is always fine, but right now it doesn’t feel like we’re going to get there. Which, again, happens every time.

Hopefully, after tonight, everything will feel better.

I may take my idea files with me and troll through them, since I’m not on in Act 1. I’ve been reading a book — The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life — but sometimes that means I’m not paying good enough attention to what’s going on.

That’s the secret. Work where and when you can.

Anyway.

Hope you are doing well! I’m surviving the chaos the best I can over here.

WriYe and Inspiration

It’s that time of month! But before we get into the questions from WriYe, I wanted to let you guys know that I have the first past of a serial up over at Turtleduck Press. It’s called Deep and Blue and follows Kaeri, a scientist in an underwater city who finds herself having to deal with a mystery.

Now, onward!

What inspires you?

I mean, anything really. A picture, a song. A weird dream. A line of dialogue on a television show. I find that inspiration can be anywhere, if you’re looking for it, and even sometimes when you’re not.

I would say that finding inspiration isn’t necessarily the problem when it comes to writing.

How do you hold onto that inspiration through less-than-inspiring times?

This is getting ahead of the questions, I suspect, but, for me, inspiration is the spark that starts you thinking about a story. And I do think you can force inspiration, to some extent. That’s part of why I keep several Pinterest boards full of story, character, and setting ideas. Sometimes you’ve got to get a story going, because you’ve promised one to an anthology, or you’ve got a challenge you’re part of, or whatever, so it can be good to have a stash of things to get you started.

When writing is tough, because of emotional or mental states, I find working on shorter pieces is helpful. A novel can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not feeling it, and there’s nothing like getting 15,000 words into something and finding out you hate it. Something short keeps you in practice, can spark something bigger, and isn’t overwhelming.

Is inspiration different than motivation for you?

Yes. Absolutely. Inspiration is the spark of a story, as I mentioned above, and motivation is the drive to actually do something with that inspiration. I think a lot of us have had the experience of thinking up a story or a scene or what have you, and then not being able to actually get it out. How many times have you laid in bed, writing dialogue in your head?

Motivation can be harder to drum up, even if you have a story in place. I think maybe that’s what the above question was really asking. How do you write when it doesn’t feel like you can?

I find baby steps can help if things feel really awful. Okay, so maybe I don’t feel up to writing a whole chapter, but I could outline that chapter. I can write a paragraph, or a scene. Sure, I’m not getting things done as fast as I wanted to, but I am still getting something done.

(This is also why I like stepping it up challenges, where you add a little bit more each day. You either reach a point where you know what you’re currently capable of, or you find out you’re capable of more than expected.)

On to revision talk!

My betas are already starting to send me feedback, which is so so helpful. I do think I’m going to stick to writing the alt. first chapters, so I have them on hand no matter what, but my betas do seem to kind of feel like the disconnect isn’t as bad as I’ve made it out to be. So I guess that’s good!

I also made a master document with all my beta comments from previous beta rounds, which is actually less than I thought. I think maybe I’ve lost some. This is why you should keep track of things, a lesson I may some day learn.

Have a good weekend, squiders! I’ll see you next week.

And What About Cozy Mysteries?

Hey-o, squiders. Sorry for missing Tuesday’s post. I have no excuse except, uh…oh. Oh yeah. I had volunteer commitments. Okay, that’s a pretty good excuse.

So, as I move toward trying my hand at my first cozy mystery during November, I’ve been reading how to write mystery books for fun and profit. I read two, specifically, helpfully titled How to Write Mysteries and How to Write a Mystery respectfully, and am now done with both.

They were middling helpful, especially when talking about plot. A lot of the books were on more universal stuff, like creating characters or writing dialogue, which was less useful. And both contained extremely outdated information on agents and publishing. Good times.

But neither of them really touched on cozies as a subgenre. They both mentioned them, but were obviously confused by the concept. The second book author noted that he only included them because people had asked why he wasn’t. Both dismissed them as “an English sort of mystery” and didn’t have a lot to say.

Which was, of course, not useful for me, planning a cozy mystery. But I also found it interesting. These are older books–the first is from 1989 and the second is from 1995–but cozies are not a new phenomena. Off the top of my head, the Cat Who books by Lilian Jackson Braun are very definitely cozies–and the inspiration for all following cozy series that include animal sidekicks–and the first of those was published in the mid-60s.

(And the Cat Who books also take place in America, and in Chicago for the first few, if I recall correctly. What does an “English sort” of mystery mean? Maybe they’re thinking of Miss Marple, which is probably also a cozy series.)

Now, if I had the time and inclination, perhaps I could pick up a much more modern book on writing mysteries, and I would probably find a larger section on cozies. There seems to be several dozen series going at any point in time, with new ones starting all the time. I was a bit concerned, when I first started thinking about my paranormal cozy series, because I couldn’t find any others, but now I know of at least three other paranormal series, so all is well.

But at this point I’m also running out of learning time and need to get on to the doing phase of things. (Though I may cruise around the Internet and see if there’s any good blog posts or YouTube videos on the subject.) So now I’m on phase 2, which is market research, as I’m calling it.

Market research consists of reading cozies from the last few years and analyzing things like setting, structure, characters, and plot. I’ve got two out from the library. The one I’m currently reading came out in September, and is called Murder Goes to Market. So far I’m enjoying it!

(It’s third person, which is interesting. Most cozies are first person.)

(Also, reading cozies is definitely more fun than reading probably too old books about writing mysteries.)

Still weird, though, how those older books just brushed the subgenre off. There are probably numbers, somewhere, of what subgenres sell the most and how much money they’re making. They do it for books in general, right, so someone probably tracks by genre and specifics. I would think cozies have to be a sizeable chunk of the market, given how many are published (and how quickly you can read one).

Ah well. Onward!

(Favorite cozies, squiders?)

There is Not Enough Time in the World

Earlier in the year, we talked about how there was Too Much Free Stuff. How companies stuck all sorts of things online for us poor quarantined people, and how so many of them seemed like good opportunities, and how hard it was to realize that I was not going to be able to even make a dent in them and should probably stop trying.

I’m really bad at that.

(Right now I have a tab open with a 90-minute marketing course that has probably been open since, uh, June. I should probably just admit I’m never going to get to it.)

(Yeah, I’m going to close it. Freedom!)

(freeeedom)

About a month ago, I got an email from Holly Lisle (one of my favorite writing teachers) about a “How to Find Your Writing Mojo” class, offered for free in a series of five emails.

Writing mojo sounded good. I mean, I’m producing reliably and fairly consistently, but I am well aware that I am wasting a lot of time right now, playing stupid phone games or ditzing around on YouTube, etc. I could be so much more productive.

But yeah.

Also, five emails didn’t sound too bad.

But I still sat on the class for several weeks and only did it last week.

And it was pretty easy! Only took about 15 minutes each day.

I don’t know if I would consider it helping my writing mojo, though. Perhaps Ms. Lisle and I have different opinions of “mojo.”

You see, when I read “writing mojo,” I thought of, you know, improving focus and flow. Being able to sit down and have a more productive writing session.

But mojo in Ms. Lisle’s class refers more to being able to come up with story ideas that speak to you personally. And I suppose that, if you work on something that resonates better, perhaps you’ll find it easier to sit down and get writing.

Which is helpful! And I did get some story ideas that I like very much.

But I tell you what–I’ve so many story ideas, and I already know not all of them will ever get written. There is not enough time in the world.

Got writing mojo tips, squiders? Or ways to focus in general right now?

Berries and Elephants

Information comes from the weirdest places sometimes, doesn’t it?

Holly Lisle, who is one of my favorite writing teachers (and if you’re looking for writing classes, feel free to check hers out in my affiliate link above), has a saying about berries and elephants. I’m going to massacre it here, but the gist is that how much a writer should know about their world is the size of an elephant, but you don’t stick that elephant in the story, oh no. You only put in a berry here, and a berry here, and only what’s applicable to the story at hand.

(I think it was Holly Lisle. My memory is shoddy.)

I’m working on my changeling story again this month, though admittedly not going anywhere fast due to the same issues as last month, as well as, you know, having construction done on my house and not actually being there most of the time. (It is running twice as long as predicted. But soon, hopefully.) And while the story itself is moving okay, I can already tell that the worldbuilding is going to need some streamlining and fleshing out in revision.

Faerie lore is vast and contradictory, so I’m making do the best I can. Also, you know, trying not to have it feel like a generic faerie story. As such, I’m spending more time actively researching during writing, which is not my favorite thing to do. And I’m not sure it’s helping, since the Internet sources I tend to turn up are about the tiny little winged fairies you can attract to your gardens and whatnot and not the Faerie of mythology.

Now, because I’m doing a lot more driving (due to not being as close to my normal haunts as usual) I’ve been catching up on my podcasts, or attempting to, anyway. First I caught up on Limetown, which only has twelve episodes or something like that. One of my creepy mystery ones. I guess they wrote a novel, but I read the excerpt and Lord, it was awful. I couldn’t even get through it. I suspect it’s because the sort of telling you do in a fake investigative podcast doesn’t cross over so well.

(Which is the reason I always listen to the Welcome to Night Vale novels rather than read them. Maybe they’re fine to be read. But they sound like Night Vale episodes, so it makes the most sense to me to just listen to them.)

Then I caught up with Tanis, which I like but which also frustrates me. It’s designed to draw you in, but there are so many plot points that seem important that then just disappear. I’m not sure there’s an actual planned story arc so much as just throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the plot and seeing what sticks. I guess a new season is coming out soon, but it hasn’t yet, so huzzah, I’ll take it while I can.

Night Vale I’m not listening to because I’m most of the way through It Devours! which is their second novel. (Audiobook version, as discussed above.) That seems like it would be confusing.

So the podcast I am listening to while I’m driving about is Myths and Legends. (Sometimes I listen to It Devours! but there’s also a lot of cussing and the small, mobile ones are often with me, so sometimes it’s best to…not.) I like it because it draws on numerous mythologies and also because I like the guy telling the stories. Anyway, the last episode I listened to was the original version of Beauty and the Beast, which, as opposed to being an oral folktale, was a story written in 1740.

Apparently the original is much longer and stranger than the condensed version (which came out in 1756). I’ve been scanning through it because Myths and Legends guy said that there were 20 pages (out of a 100-page story) about Faerie politics.

Said narrator was obviously not into said 20 pages of Faerie politics, but it sounds like it might be a good resource for me. I have found the Faerie politics, but thus far haven’t learned much. But hey! Still have ten pages to go.

I just thought it was funny that potentially-helpful Faerie politics showed up, in all things, in a podcast about the original version of Beauty and the Beast.

I also saw a neat thing on Writer Unboxed about using a setting mindmap to drive potential plot points. Might give that a try too.

How are you, squider? I hope to back in my house by the end of the week at the latest (but then, you know, I have to put the house back together, so it’ll probably be Monday before things are functional again).

Creating a Fantasy Pacific

Heigh ho, squiders, we’re still in the straits of Nano. As of mid-afternoon I’m at a little over 24000 words, so almost halfway, a little ahead of schedule. Not as ahead of schedule as I wanted to be, but eeehhh, not terrible.

(In a perfect world, I write 2K a day, which gets me done about November 25th, and then I don’t have to panic through Thanksgiving. This has happened approximately 3 times out of the many years I’ve done Nano. So.)

We’re into the middle of the story, which has me feeling a bit flail-y and mostly wishing I’d stuck to my normal outlining method. But we are where we are, and now there will be dinosaurs, because WHY NOT.

Tuesday we talked about the Hope’s Redemption, which is the main setting for the story. To continue the theme, I thought we’d talk about the setting of the setting, or the ocean on which the Hope is voyaging.

While Altruia, which is the continent that everyone calls home, is vaguely the size, shape, and climate of Europe, I’ve decided to go with the Pacific for the inspiration of the ocean, for one main reason:

The Pacific is really big.

Even in a modern boat you’re not getting across that sucker that fast. The Atlantic is piddly. The Indian Ocean is decently big but surrounded by a lot of land, so not ideal for shenanigans. And the Antarctic is cold.

Plus there are other neat features of the Pacific:

  • There is a section of the Pacific near the Galapagos called the Doldrums where the wind just…doesn’t blow and ships used to get stuck there for weeks at a time
  • There are thousands of miles between the west coast of North/South America and any islands
  • Most of those islands are piddly
  • Teutonic plates, so volcanos and seaquakes and fun
  • Big and deep and who knows what lurks within

Now, that, being said, the Pacific doesn’t tend to get some of the worst weather systems that, say, the Atlantic or the Indian Oceans get, but the nice thing about fiction is that you can kind of pick and choose what works for you. And then there’s things like currents and maelstroms and hurricanes, which could be anywhere.

(And rogue waves, and contamination that looks like blood, and waterspouts, and weird magnetic disturbances, and converging weather patterns, and tsunamis…)

Anyway, part of the mythology of this world is that Altruia is home to a giant forest, with trees stretching hundreds of feet into the air (roughly modeled off the Giant Sequoia, though they’re deciduous and sequoias are not) and the humans are from a continent to the west. The remains of a fleet of ships reach the shores of Altruia about 300 years before World’s Edge starts, and no matter how anyone tries, they can’t get back home again (or at least, no one’s ever reported back that they have).

But neither do new people come from the west. So basically, this has to be the worst, most impassable section of water.

And goodness, does that sound fun.

If you are on my email list (or thinking about it), know that I am in the process of overhauling it and it is taking much longer than expected. I’m putting together free shorts at the moment, and then I’ve got to edit all my automations and sign-ups. So bear with me on that!

Happy Thursday, squiders!

WriYe and Character Names

Time’s gotten away from me today, squiders, so we get November’s blog prompt instead of what I had planned, and hopefully we’ll get there next week.

Nano is still going well! I do feel a little wander-y, here, and not sure I like this plotting method I’m trying. We’ll have to see if it solidifies as we get farther into the plot.

But without further ado:

Names: How do you come up with character names? Do you find it hard to come up with the perfect name?

Ah, names.

I am a firm believer that the right name makes the character, and that if you don’t have the right one, they’re not going to turn out how you like. A lot of times if a character doesn’t seem to be properly inhabiting their story, a name change can be the solution.

That being said, my naming conventions are wide and varied. In some cases, like when I’m working with mythology, the characters come with their names and there’s not a lot to be done there (though nicknames are a thing). In others, a character shows up with their name, which is most convenient, because hey, less work for me.

Most of the time I troll about on Behind the Name, which is my favorite naming website, because you can search by meaning. In the case of a main character, I might go through until I have five or so potential names, and then see what feels right. Side characters I tend to match to the main characters (so, for example, in my Nano, I had a few characters end up with Swedish names, so now I troll those first when I need a new name).

Bonus:
What is your favorite character name that you have come up with?

That’s hard. I’m very fond of most of my characters, and by extensions, their names.

Cass, I suppose, is a favorite. I think I’ve got three different characters in different stories with the name. And I’m always pleased when I pick a name and it ends up matching a character’s personality meaning-wise.

And I will admit to be more than a little too pleased with myself whenever I come up with a good nickname. This is probably just me, but I am very fond of nicknames, and I am fond of calling people I like nicknames. So I am also fond of the convention where what you call someone denotes how close you are to them.

I am also fond of short names.

Hm. A favorite name? That’s hard.

I will say that I am quite pleased with the names I have in my Nano, which are a mixture of my favorite tropes (nicknames, related names, personality-matching names). My favorite is probably Eadwine (an Anglo-Saxon form of Edwin, which means “rich friend”).

Anyway! I could talk names forever, and you guys probably don’t need or want the story behind every one. So I shall spare you.

Have a good weekend, squiders!

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.)

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?