Archive for the ‘Idea Generation’ Category

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?

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?

Musical Interlude

Let’s continue our never-ending attempt to see if I can get YouTube videos to embed here.

You guys know that I think music is an excellent way to help you get tone and mood when writing, and depending on what you’re listening to, can also help inspire scenes, characterization, or even whole plotlines.

I’ve got a ton of work on my hands at the moment, so today I’m going to share five songs that I’ve recently heard on the radio that have caught my interest (not necessarily from a story-telling point of view). Some of you guys may find some inspiration in them. Let me know in the comments if you’ve heard these and what you think of them.

First up: Cheap Thrills by Sia

I like the beat but this one is sadly starting to enter “overplayed” territory ’round these parts. Oh! I also take absolutely no responsibility for the music videos.

Next: Just Like fire by Pink

It’s sad that this song is linked to what I hear is a terrible movie, but alas.

On to: Critical Mistakes by 888

My husband tells me this video is sad though I have not watched it myself. This is a local band, as is the next one, I believe.

Onwards: Your Love Could Start a War by the Unlikely Candidates

This one is the most plotty for me, personally.

And finally: Tell Me Baby by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

I know this is an older song, but for some reason it’s been getting a lot of airtime lately, which reminds me that I like the chorus.

Any good songs you’ve heard lately? Share!

An Endless Font of Inspiration

I think, Squiders, that all creative types, especially writers, sometimes hit a point where they worry that they’ve run out of ideas. That they’ve reached the end of useable ones. That their best work is behind them.

(I admit that I feel this way about this blog sometimes, but here we are, two and a half years later…)

Then, luckily, the feeling passes.

It is, however, always a bit disconcerting to go through. I find it’s best, when the mood hits, to think about where you are, and where you’ve come from. Sure, maybe you’re not getting anything right this second, but how long have you been working on things? The first story I can remember writing, I was 8. It’s been two decades–twenty years–now, and if I haven’t run out of ideas yet, why should I ever?

And if you’re really, truly, not getting anything, look at what you’re doing. Are you reading, experiencing, learning? Inspiration can lurk anywhere, from the latest scientific or archeological find written up in National Geographic to the person you see walking down the street, a haunted look in their eyes. How did they get there? What makes their heart ache? What will the effects on society be because of this new discovery?

Hey, that dream you had last night was kind of funky. Maybe there’s something there. Your friend has posted a photo of a forest on facebook that is so perfect it looks fake. What would live there? What secrets do the trees hide?

The fact is, most creative types are also inquisitive types. So many ideas can come from asking questions, and then making up the answer yourself. What if? What if? What if? And the fact of the matter is, there are always more questions. There are always more answers. Your inspiration is out there, as long as you keep one eye open for it.

(If nothing else, you might try diagramming things you like. This is a free association activity, where you write down things that appeal to you as they come to you. My list includes things like mirrors, hidden portals, old keys, labyrinths, ancient places, overgrown forests, etc. And then you can choose a few and combine them into different story ideas.)

What’s your no-fail source of inspiration, Squiders?

Ideas: Face Off and Hot Set

I know I’ve been talking a lot about television lately, and I apologize. It’s just that I’m spending more time in front of ye olde boob tube these days because of changes in my life and so I think about it more.

Running low on creative ideas? (Never, I know. Hear me out anyway.) SyFy (or, as I like to call it, All Ghosts All the Time) has two shows that run back to back on Tuesday nights: Face Off and Hot Set. These are reality competitions. Face Off is a special effects make-up competition, and Hot Set is a movie-set competition. On both, competitors have three days to meet the goals set by the challenge for the week. On Face Off, people are eliminated each week. Hot Set has new teams each week.

Whoop-dee-doo, Kit, you say. You said something about ideas?

Well, Squiders, you know story ideas can come from anywhere. And you can think of these shows as writing prompts. Much like a sentence or a word can be used to generate ideas, the beginning of each show gives the contestants a creative problem to solve. A make-up or set prompt.

And, Squiders, you can take their prompts and use them for stories just as easily. And it can work for all genres, though, of course, science fiction and fantasy are highly represented.

And the shows are representative of creativity as a whole: the idea that many people, when presented with the same idea, will execute it completely differently. That you are the only one that can tell your story.

Anyway, give them a look if you get a chance. I watched an episode of Face Off last season because I had nothing better to do, and now I’m addicted.

Play/Musical Logic

My husband and I are rather avid theater-goers. We have a season subscription at the local major theater complex for the big musicals that come through, and we supplement that by going to various local theaters’ (and occasionally high schools’) productions when they’re putting on something that looks interesting.

We’re going to three shows this weekend. Last night we saw George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House (very good, and very funny in parts), tomorrow is Fahrenheit 451 (how could we resist, right?), and Sunday is I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which is part of the subscription. (We get a couple of random non-musicals in with our musicals. Not sure why.)

After the play last night, my husband and I were discussing things, and while it’s not particularly true of Heartbreak House, which is one of those plays where people mostly sit around and talk and are amazingly witty (like Lion in Winter, say) and nothing much of note happens, I’ve noticed that a lot of plays – especially musicals – have a very strange sense of logic that prevails.

I suspect it’s because they have such a short time to tell their story, and so they have to make weird leaps in order to get through the plot in the time allotted (usually denoted by how long an audience is willing to sit still).

In some ways, it’s a form of Fridge Logic (warning: TVTropes link). Fridge Logic is where, while something is happening, it seems perfectly reasonable, but when you think about it later, you realize that it doesn’t actually make any sense.

Some examples: Maria forgiving Tony immediately for killing her brother in West Side Story, the entirety of the plot of Phantom of the Opera, the ending of every farce every written. (And oh, how I love farces.)

People fall in love at the drop of the hat, with nothing in common and without even knowing each other. Villains, previously unstoppable, are brought down by something relatively simple and sometimes contrived. A single song can change a character’s entire way of thinking.

Yes, on some level I think it is necessary. You can’t put the necessary background in that you could in a novel or a TV series. And you can be distracted a lot by clever staging, a fun dance number, or beautiful costumes.

Still, next time you go to see something in the theater – look at the plot afterwards. I bet you’d find at least one place where, when you think about it, something just doesn’t flow right.

Reliquaries and Ramblings

Sometimes it’s interesting what hoops you have to go through in order to get internet. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m losing, and it may be very late when this finally gets posted.

(Yep, losing. Apparently this particular university requires you to obtain a guest ID from a professor or someone else otherwise affiliated. That’s so not going to happen.)

Anyway, I apologize but apparently this is Kit is Extremely Random Week. I’d draw you some sort of picture, but I’m mobile and even I won’t subject you to something I whip out in Paint.

Actually here:


It’s a mouse. Who knew that all those years making tiny ASCII pictures in random AOL chatrooms would be good for something?

Well, you can make Star Trek commbadges too: =/\= . DS9 and later era. If you weren’t aware that I am a giant nerd, well, NOW YOU KNOW.

It almost doesn’t seem worth it to write about what I was planning to write about now. I could spend this entire entry complaining about unnecessarily secure networks and making strange text pictures. =^,,^=

But I wanted to talk to you about how creepy reliquaries are. What’s a reliquary? It is a bit of someone, usually a saint, or maybe some of their hair or clothes, but usually some bit of bone, that someone else has stuck into some sort of fancy holder to keep forever.

And then they are put into churches or chapels or other places of worship, and people come from all over to pray to said saint for whatever it is that that saint is known for.

They look like this.

I’d heard of them, but it wasn’t until my husband and I were in Germany not too long ago and they were everywhere that I realized how disturbing they are. Tiny bits of dead people, on display, solely for the purpose of worship.

I had kind of forgotten they existed, but I was reading an article in National Geographic earlier about the apostles and of course they came up. And I thought I would alert you to their existence if you were unaware, because as creepy as they are, they’re kind of neat too. Occasionally, the Church will have reliquaries tested to see if they’re real. And guess what? A lot of time they are the right gender, age, come from the right time period, and come from the right geographic area.

(Sometimes they are fake. Sometimes they are not even human at all.)

And I get to wondering about the power these random bits have. And what if some of the power is actually based in the reliquary, and not in people’s beliefs, and what would happen if what you thought was a bit of saint was actually a bit of something a lot more sinister?

Think about that for awhile, Squiders.

(Dun dun dun…)