Posts Tagged ‘story ideas’

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?

Dream Structure

I don’t know if we’ve talked about this before, Squiders, but I dream in stories. It’s very odd.

(The main plotline for Shards came directly from a dream, actually.)

Not all the time, certainly, but quite often, especially if I’m aware that I’m dreaming. As such, a lot of times I am not directly involved in the events of my dreams myself, but function more as an outside observer, like I’m watching a movie. And if I am lucid dreaming, I can change plotlines to make more “sense” (as much as anything makes sense in a dream).

(Have you ever had those dreams, where you’re stuck on a problem, and you spend your whole night dreaming about a solution for said problem, and then when you wake up you discover that your brilliant solution makes no sense in the real world? That drives me crazy.)

Sunday night, however, my dreams threw in another twist.

They gave me a prologue before the dream’s main plot began.

I mean–what. Just…what the heck, brain.

I mean, I have no idea how dreams work, but it seems extremely optimistic to think that my brain had the entire dream planned out enough where it could put together an accurate prologue–and it did end up working. Though I don’t know how much of that may have been because the dream changed to reference the prologue.

(To be perfectly honest, I could have done without this dream and its storyline altogether, because it was creepy and I didn’t need to spend all night on that, thank you.)

Does anyone else dream in stories? If so, have you ever adapted a dream!story into something real (a novel, short story, game, drawing)?

The Evolution of an Idea

Anthologies are always interesting. First you’ve got to come up with a theme for the overall anthology, and then you’ve got to come up with a story that fits for it.

When we started brainstorming for Seasons Eternal, we had a bit of a hard time coming up with a theme idea. We’d done winter-themed for last year’s Winter’s Night, so we didn’t want to repeat that, but we weren’t sure where to go. Did we want to pick a genre? And not just something like, say, steampunk, because everyone else does that sort of thing. Steampunk with strong heroines! Steampunk with strong heroines who happen to be airship pirates!

It was actually my husband who came up with the premise that would become Seasons Eternal, the world where the seasons had stopped. I think it appealed to us because it would be a shared world, so our stories could be more interconnected than just four people trying to tell stories that may or may not be anything like each other.

So, theme picked, we assigned seasons. The way scheduling worked out, I was assigned spring a little later than everyone else, and, hence, got to work after everyone else, so I went into my story having a sense of what everyone else was doing in theirs.

At first, I was stumped. I don’t know if any of you live on the west coast, but that’s pretty much how I picture an eternal spring. It never really gets cold or hot, there’s not a lot of inclement weather you need to worry about, and you can grow things year-round. Let’s face it–if the seasons were going to stop, Spring would be the one you’d want to get stuck in. (In fact, my biggest complaint about the weather when we lived in California was that there were no seasons and it made it hard to mark the passage of time in my head.)

(Californians will tell you that there are two seasons: wet and dry. To that I say: Bah!)

(Oh man, candy cane and cocoa taste terrible together.)

As Siri says, stories are about people. And unlike a summer where the heat never ends, or a winter where the snow never stops, Spring doesn’t really bring any hardship to the people. In fact, they probably felt like they’d been blessed, where everyone else had been cursed. Like they had been deserving, like they had been…justified.

And they wouldn’t want to share their good fortune.

I don’t think I can say more without giving the story away. Seasons Eternal: Stories of a World Frozen in Time is available through Turtleduck Press at your favorite e-retailer. (Just a reminder that proceeds from sales goes to UNICEF to make children’s holidays more joyful and bright!)

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.

An Appreciation of Haunted Collector

As you know, Squiders, I appreciate the odd ghost hunting show. Which is why I like Haunted Collector, because it does something different.

In the past, there’s been two types of ghost show: one where we recreate “true” experiences, and one where we explore supposedly haunted locations. Haunted Collector acknowledges that aside from places being haunted, objects can also be haunted. (Also: people can be haunted. But that’s a different thing altogether.)

So, if you’re unfamiliar with the show, the team goes into a location and attempts to locate an object that might be haunted. I think they must ask the owner to identify objects of suspicion before hand: things that entered the building right before the haunting started or escalated, things that are extremely old, things that they found left in the house by previous owners (as the leader, John, says, there’s often a reason things are left behind).

After they identify potential objects, they do a baseline sweep (during the day! Hallelujah!) to see if anything is giving off an EMF field or if they get any EVPs near a particular object (or one that was not previously identified), and then they return at night with the full ghost-hunting set-up to see if they can pinpoint activity to something specific.

What’s kind of neat is sometimes, when it’s not one of the suspected objects, sometimes they’ll follow the clues to find something else, like something buried in the basement, or something in a vent, or on the grounds outside.

I find it to be great story fodder because, let’s face it, this isn’t something people worry about usually. When you find something cool or old, would you think twice about picking it up and taking it home with you? If you find a locket buried beneath a tree, would you worry that its original owner never found peace? Probably not. And that opens a lot of doors.

Following the White Rabbit

Let’s say you’re walking along, minding your own business, when BAM a story idea waylays you.  It’s interesting, it’s fun, it has all the information you need to sit down and get going.

Let us also assume that you are in a place where you can pick up a new project.

The problem?  It’s not your genre.  Or it’s not your age range.  Or it’s a new style, an unfamiliar POV, an uncomfortable narrator.  Something about it doesn’t fit in your writing niche.

What would you do?  (Or what have you done in the past?)  Do you let the story idea move on, looking for its next victim?  Or do you give it a try anyway, knowing that you have no experience in this area and may never write another book like it in your life?  Do you have limits (i.e. is something out of character okay for a short story, but not for a novel)?

(On a related note, anyone have any good examples of fantasy novels for 6-9 year olds?)