Posts Tagged ‘storycraft’

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. šŸ˜€

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?

Remembering Theme When Lost

Good afternoon, Squiders! We’ll start our next nonfic topic about coming up with ideas and expanding them into something workable next week. I still need to finish outlining the topic before we get started.

But, while we’re talking about that, I’m setting up a new list for authors who’d like to get writing tips and advice in their inbox. You can join here. I’m still tailoring it, so if you’d like to see specific things, let me know!

Now, onto theme. You guys know I’ve been working on rewriting the first book of a fantasy trilogy. It was going okay, but about a month ago it fell apart again. Part of that was from getting ready for the conference, but it hasn’t gotten better. Admittedly it’s been harder to get writing time the last few weeks (though that should be done now) but even when I could have been potentially writing, I’ve been avoiding it.

(Unless it’s been unrelated, such as working on query letters or whatnot.)

It’s been very disheartening. In fact, this morning, I set a deadline for switching to another project if I can’t get my act together.

But I still dragged myself to a coffee shop with the intent of getting something done. And I opened my draft. And I re-read what I have of the current chapter. And then I thought I might go back and re-read what I have of the draft (about 48K) to try and help give me some idea where I was going, despite my outline and the fact that I did that last week (and it obviously didn’t help).

And then my laptop died (the battery’s shot, so if I accidentally knock the power cord it turns off) so I had a few minutes to stare at thin air while it got its act together, and I decided I should go back and look at my theme for the story.

The theme is something along the lines of “Be true to yourself.” Both of the main characters’ internal conflicts stem from this theme, and their gradual acceptance of it is pivotal to the completion of the plot arc over the three books.

And just by reminding myself what my theme was, I started to get some ideas about where to go.

I think that it’s easy to get lost in the middle of the draft, especially since right now I’m in new territory that hasn’t existed in previous drafts. And sometimes, reminding yourself of the point, of why you’re writing something, can be enough to help you re-center.

So hopefully this will be enough to get me back on track.

(While going back through my notes, however, I also noticed that a major subplot has been somewhat dropped. I mean, it’s still in there, but the pacing is off on it. So I think my first order of business is to go back through what I have and fix the pacing on it, which should make where I am–the midpoint–flow appropriately. Without this subplot, one of the major reversals can’t happen, which is, quite frankly, probably leading to a lot of the issues I’m currently experiencing.)

What helps you when your story feels like it’s running into a brick wall, Squiders?

PPWC Session Wrap-up, Part 1

Good morning, Squiders. I’m back from PPWC, and now that I’ve gotten some sleep, I am vaguely functional again.

I’ve gone to PPWC before, and I’ve done conference write-ups after the fact for all of them, so I thought I’d do something different than just retread the same ground again and talk specifically about the sessions I attended throughout the weekend so those of you who haven’t been to a writers’ conference before can get an idea about the sort of things offered.

The sessions offered this year seemed to be mostly craft or marketing. There were less genre-specific sessions than I’ve seen in the past.

(Disclaimer: What’s offered will vary conference by conference, year by year, presenter by presenter. So you may find that your local conference works slightly differently.)

PPWC has 15 sessions over three days (6 on Friday, 6 on Saturday, 3 on Sunday), plus an optional add-on Thursday session that involves more in-depth workshops (I never get to go to Thursday because alas, responsibilities. Also it is an extra $90). There are also occasionally some extra add-ons within in the conference itself, such as this year’s Write Drunk, Edit Sober program.

So, let’s dive into Friday, shall we?

Unforgettable Characters (Carol Berg)

Friday morning, for some reason, I picked all character craft sessions. Carol Berg is a bestselling fantasy author, and this panel was well-presented and did an excellent job of breaking down what different level of characters need to do and what you, as an author, need to know about said characters. She also tied characterization into plot and talked some about how to actually introduce and use characters from a technical standpoint.

Using Setting to Reveal Character (Laura DiSilverio)

I also considered going to a panel called Finding Your Inner Extrovert about learning to communicate face to face about your book but my sister convinced me this one would be more beneficial. I’m not sure that’s true. Laura DiSilverio is a mystery writer whom I’ve taken mystery-specific classes with at previous PPWCs. Laura broke down the topic into two different subtopics–using setting to reveal things about characters based on their choices for their own environment and to reveal things about characters based on what they notice in an environment. Good information, little bogged down in audience participation (since some people didn’t seem to be following the topic so well).

Bringing Characters to Life on the Page (Stant Litore)

I know Stant from MileHiCon, so, hey, it was nice to see a familiar face. This session was excellent. Stant used a series of exercises to help explain how to add emotion into your story without being obvious about it and did a fantastic job of tying emotion to characterization. He had a lot of examples to show how this works. I was so impressed I went and bought his book, Write Characters. This was probably my favorite session of the whole conference.

And then we had lunch! I don’t remember what it was. Oh, salad.

Read and Critique with Carol Berg

So, after lunch, I had my first two pages read and critique, which they had in a room on the second floor. That was a bit harrowing because the elevators were slow and there were a lot of people going places at any point in time, and I hadn’t found the secret staircase yet. My sister and I were up til 2:30 the night before working on our first two pages (I cut out almost 1000 words from the very beginning of chapter one). So there were eight of us, Carol, and the moderator (who was timing how long each person had). In turn, everyone read their two pages out loud while Carol took notes, and then Carol would give us her feedback. She was very good about it–always started with what was good about the sample before going into the issues. (She told me later that the R&Cs make her nervous before it’s hard to think that fast.) I’m not sure, in the end, that it was that useful unless, of course, you’re on your final, polished pages and want to make sure they’re hook-y enough. The guy next to me had an awesome opening that I totally dug, though (and I told him so later, but that’s another time), and Carol was very nice.

(Oh, and she was actually very complimentary about my pages, and complimented my description, which if you guys have been around here for awhile, you know is a weak point of mine, so woot.)

Seducing the Reader: 4 Essential Elements of an Opening (Darynda Jones)

Darynda Jones was one of the keynote speakers, and she actually has 5 essential elements but never got around to changing the title of the class. Also, my Friday panels are very telling about what I’m feeling weak in craftwise lately. Darynda laid out the elements in a way that made sense, and she also provided examples, which I am always for. (I’m a kinetic learner.) She also recommended some writing books, most of which I have heard of before (and one of which I’ve read and own, but it’s probably been a decade since I read it, so maybe I should do so again).

Today’s Marketing for Yesterday’s Author (KL Cooper)

Marketing! I figured I should probably go to some marketing panels, but I think I only hit two all weekend. Ah, well, priorities and whatnot. I think my sister hit more and she doesn’t even have any books out, har har. I probably should have gone to the Putting Clever Twists on Common Tropes panel. A lot of basic marketing info, most of which I already knew, though she did offer specific services to use for some things, so that’s helpful, and she did mention a few things that I’d not heard before and will need to look into.

Friday night was dinner (excellent chicken for me, and chocolate pie for dessert) as well as the costumes, which we wore to dinner and then had a contest for afterwards. My Rainbow Brite costume was well received, though apparently people who were fans of Rainbow Brite still didn’t recognize my sister as the evil princess (her costume was really awesome in the end). Alas. We sat with Carol Berg, who, as I mentioned above, is a lovely person and I like her quite a bit. My table tried to nominate me for the contest but I threw one of my sister’s friends, dressed as Anne of Green Gables, under the bus instead and successfully lured most of the table with me. Oh, and the key note speaker for the meal (we’ll have one for every subsequent meal) was Darynda Jones.

After dinner, which went quite late–9:30 or something?–we went and worked on finalizing our query letters and then ran out to FedEx to print them around 10:30. PPWC has BarCon, which is essentially where everyone hangs out in the bar after dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and “networks,” but we were so tired by the time we got back to the hotel that we just hung out in our room and then crashed.

So, that’s Friday. I hope it’s of interest to you guys! Let me know what you think.

Character Change as a Catalyst for Conflict

A few weeks ago, my sister finally convinced me to join Pottermore and get sorted into a house. Now, I was 14 when I started reading the Harry Potter books, and over the years I have taken aĀ lotĀ of sorting quizzes. The good majority of those came up about 50/50 Gryffindor (due to a sometimes ill-advised tendency to jump to people’s rescue without thinking things through) and Ravenclaw (because I am a giant nerd and love puzzles). Once I got Slytherin, which was a bit thrilling, because I went through a phase where I was really into Slytherin (much like I went through a phase where I was really into the Empire a few years before), but even I had to admit that was probably a fluke.

I was expecting Ravenclaw from Pottermore. I got Hufflepuff.

“Hufflepuff?” I said to my sister, who had sat with me on the phone while I went through the quiz. “I haveĀ neverĀ been a Hufflepuff. Aren’t Hufflepuffs nice? And like other people?”

My sister is also a Hufflepuff, but she is, like, stereotypically Hufflepuff. If she’d taken those gazillion of quizzes back in the day, they all would have said Hufflepuff.

My sister said, “I think most parents are probably Hufflepuff.”

Which I’ve been thinking about, because that’s what I do. And I think she’s right. It’s not that I no longer have the qualities that marked me as a Gryffindor, it’s that I have to stop and think about what I do before I do something, to think about how it will affect my family. And it’s not that I’m not still a giant nerd or no longer love puzzles, but when presented with a choice between working on a devilishly hard Sudoku puzzle or having a tea party with the small, mobile ones, the latter tends to win out.

People change. It’s what they do. And characters also change, at least if you want them to remain realistic. There are always thread to who they were, sure, but people are affected by life. Good things, bad things. A character raised out of poverty to a life of luxury is not going to be the same person they were when they were living in a cardboard box. A character who has lost their spouse to cancer is going to be affected by that, one way or another. Characters make choices–choices that force them to reevaluate their priorities, to face the darker parts of themselves (or not to), to pick where they want to go and what they want out of life.

And that, dear Squiders, can be a wonderful catalyst for conflict within a story. It can drive internal conflict. Maybe a character knows they need to do something–for themselves, for their family, for their soul–but can’t bring themselves to separate from a part of their selves that they feel is essential. Maybe their goals are hurting them, but they’re not willing to let go. Or they know what they need to do, the change that needs to be made, but feel like it’s out of their reach.

It can drive interpersonal conflict as well. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “He’s not the man I married.” When people change, it can affect how they interact with the people closest to them. People react to pressure or success in different ways, ways that not be compatible with those of their loved ones. Someone can make a change for the better only to find their old friends trying to pull them back down, or someone can feel that someone else is leaving them behind.

Don’t forget change, Squiders. People response to outside stimulus, good or bad–and characters should too.

I think I’ll skip Thursday, but I should be back to post on Friday, unless I get swallowed by family things. (All state parks have free admission on Friday to try and combat the Black Friday phenomena, and that’s hard to say no to.) If I don’t see you then, have a happy Thanksgiving, American Squiders, and a great weekend, global Squiders.

Oh, and thank you to everyone who’s picked upĀ To Rule the Stars!Ā We’re sticking up pretty decently in our Amazon categories, hooray! The ebook version is still on sale for $.99, and the paperback is now available as well, so pick it up while you can if you haven’t yet!

Depth of Setting

Well, Squiders, I’ve talked about Holly Lisle’s revision class before and how helpful I have found it when putting together my own revision process. I still reference the class often, even though I’m working on my fourth revision since I took it the first time.

There’s one lesson, Lesson 7, that deals with setting. As I mentioned sometime recently, setting is something that I’ve only recently come to appreciate as an author. I normally skip lesson 7. I did it the first time through the process, but found it unhelpful, and so skipped it for the next few novels (which were, coincidentally, Shards and City of Hope and Ruin).

But as you guys know, I’m working on the revision of the first book of a high fantasy trilogy, one I’ve been working on for more than half my life at this point (sheesh). I decided I needed to do lesson 7 for this one because of the complexity of the setting. This first book takes place entirely within a non-human species and their homeland, and it’s been hard work over the years dealing with mythology, customs, geography, history, and all the miscellany that comes with building your own society from scratch.

You see, lesson 7 is about setting, but it’s not about the layout of your world–it’s about how your world works. The customs. The philosophy. The way your magic system works and its limitations. What items are available to your characters and why they’re needed/make sense. The objects that make up your world–the doors, the buildings, the plants, the animals.

And I got to tell you, I put this lesson off for a long time. I reached it at the beginning of September. I read back over the lesson. And then I avoided it for approximately three weeks. The thought of having to go back into the story and pull out what made the world work–or didn’t–was overwhelming.

But I finally got my act together and went into it. And I’m so glad I did. Just by going through how the world was designed to work and how it was presented in the current draft actually helped me work through a ton of worldbuilding issues that I’ve been struggling with forĀ years. I hadn’t expected that at all, especially not with how useless the process was with my YA paranormal.

It just goes to show you, again, that each novel is individual and has its own needs.

Of course, now the next step in the progress is to consolidate everything that’s wrong with the novel (the list is practically novel-length itself) and then put together a plan of action for fixing things (and, to be perfectly honest, rewriting most of the dang thing).

Ever tried something in revision that proved to be way more helpful than you expected? Thoughts on setting/worldbuilding?

Don’t Skimp on Setting

So, I got an email this morning from a semi-local school about doing an author talk to their kids in November, and it first it was like, Hey! Cool! Someone thinks I’m neat! But now that I’ve looked at it closer, it seems to be meant for another author (one who actually writes children’s books and so makes infinitely more sense than me, who writes mostly adult fantasy). So now I’m left to wondering–did they get the wrong email for a parent and/or teacher? Did they BCC a bunch of other authors in case the original one is not available and/or interested? Should I respond? Should I leave it be?

And if I was just accidentally emailed, what are the odds that it be by someone local looking for someone of my profession?

Questions, questions.

In other news, Turtleduck Press will again be taking up residence in the Author’s Row at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado at the end of October. I shall be about for most/all of the weekend if you are a Coloradoan or close to Colorado and want books/sigs/landsquid, etc. In addition, TDP’s newest anthology, featuring space princesses (eeeeee), will be out on Nov 1, so we’ll probably have something special for that at the con. Or I’ll at least draw you a space princess if you bring something for me to draw on.

Right, now that that’s done with, let’s talk about setting. Poor setting. I think it gets glossed over and forgotten by a lot of authors. I certainly used to be that way. What did it really matter where a story took place? Stick it in a generic school or forest or cruise boat and get on with the action and the mystery and the suspense, right?

Luckily, I’ve learned better, though I will admit it took me longer than it should have. At first glance, setting seems like a backdrop. Just a stage for your story to take place on. I’d like to think that was me just being young and inexperienced, unaware of how different people could be fromĀ  me and how people lived differently throughout the world.

Your setting does three important things:

  • It creates your characters
  • It creates your world
  • It creates your plot

First off, characters. Characters are characters, right? What does setting have to do with them? Well, where your character grows up affects them as a person. Someone living in a crowded, rundown tenement is going to have different experiences and a different viewpoint than someone who was born on a spaceship and has never been planetside, than someone who grew up in a comfortable house in the countryside. People–and characters–are created by their environment, and your setting sets up a lot of a character’s background and, hence, their characterization.

World is probably obvious. Your setting is part of your worldbuilding, along with language, customs, economy, geography, etc. But a society that lives high in the mountains and has to mine water from clouds is going to need different worldbuilding than a culture that lives in a bubble under the sea. Not only that, a well-thought out setting will have things unique to it, things that directly inform culture and society, and your world will seem richer and deeper when those things are pulled into your story.

Plot! The great thing about setting is that sometimes it can pull in plot and subplot elements. Going back to the well-thought out setting mentioned above, the setting itself can provide inspiration for conflict, and not just the “Dear God, we’ve got to get over this mountain to the valley beyond where the only remaining magical healing plants grow,” though that’s certainly something to do with it. But if you’ve determined a resource is short, different groups of people could fight over it. Or your character needs something, but it’s only located in their enemy’s territory. Or your character is very tall yet all the doorways in your setting are very short, because the people who lived there memories ago only came up to your character’s chest.

I’ve heard it said that your setting is almost another character, a living, breathing entity that grows and changes.

So don’t skimp on your setting. It’s what makes your world real, what gives your story life.

Thoughts on setting, Squiders? What do you think I should do about the school email?

Have We Gone Too Far?

Have you ever had a scene that is in such bad shape that it just makes you want to flail incoherently?

Editing Notes

Yeah, me too.

But, in other news (I totally wrote “noises,” which I credit to my in-laws watching a football game in my general vicinity), we did fantasy conventions and subgenres at storycraft this week, which I was greatly looking forward to, since fantasy is my general cup of tea.

(For the curious, our list of conventions for fantasy includes: 1) includes some fantastical element–which can include setting in some cases where magic or something obviously fantastical is otherwise missing, and 2) isn’t some other genre, which, frankly, is a terrible definition but hey, it tends to be true.)

Unlike horror and scifi, however, we discovered that most of the lists of fantasy subgenres included something around 50 different subgenres. Which is a ridiculous amount of subgenres. An unnecessary amount of subgenres.

As one of the other writers noted when we got to “futuristic fantasy”–now they’re just being greedy.

On one hand, subgenres can be helpful. Fantasy is a large, broad, diverse genre–and someone who reads Tim Lebbon or George R. R. Martin may not like Robin McKinley, and vice versa. Subgenres can help a reader tell if they’re likely to enjoy a book.

But there does seem to be a limit to the usefulness. How deep do most readers–or writers–get when they’re looking at subgenre? Major subgenres like paranormal romance, dark fantasy, or urban fantasy are clear and imply certain themes and tone.

But the smaller or more obscure subgenres–do we need to go that far? Do we need to break everything down to the smallest common denominator and make yet another subgenre forĀ it?

What do you think, Squiders? Is it worth it to break everything down as far as it can be broken down? Or is the whole thing ridiculous?