Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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!

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Looking at the Next Month

Good morning, squiders! The next month is crazy busy around here, so I thought I’d give you a heads up on what to expect here at the blog during that time (from now until approximately mid-September).

  • I’d like to do at least one Library Book Sale Find. We haven’t done one since March and I still have a whole shelf full (plus I bought a new one at a library book sale I stumbled over a few weeks ago with some truly “epic” cover art. Ah, early ’90s).
  • We’ve got the final readalong for the Finnbranch Trilogy (Winterking) on August 24. I should probably get on that though I am still a little grumpy from Undersea.
  • I’m going to do a short series on awesome scifi/fantasy tropes, such as alternative universes and time travel. I’ll do one a week there, so other stuff will be interspersed so we don’t overload on the concept.
  • I may also start poking at the next nonfiction topic, which will either be outlining or common writing problems, so if you have a preference (or if you have topics related to either you’d like to see discussed) please let me know!

As always, if you’d like me to cover something specific, please feel free to contact me. I’m pretty open to whatever!

In other news, I’m going to be speaking at a local author showcase on August 20. I did one for Shards some time ago but heck if I remember how exactly I set it up. I’m hoping to be able to find my notes from the last time so I can see what I talked about/timing, but that may be wishful thinking. Also, I believe I get less time than the last time as well. Has anyone done a talk/reading lately and have advice to give?

I’ve also been working with MileHiCon for this year’s convention. I’m dropping the table in the Author’s Row after last year’s disappointments and instead focusing on doing panels, which should help both from a visibility and a networking standpoint. MileHiCon also offers co-op tables, where you can sell books/sign for a specific time as opposed to manning a table the entire weekend, so I’m also looking at doing that.

Everything else continues a pace. How are you all?

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: Pictures

Continuing on with our story idea theme, Squiders, today we’ll be discussing pictures. There is a reason that they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

image of sunlit door

Pictures can and often are a great way to find story ideas at any point in the process. You can use them for basically anything, from helping you flesh out the way a character or world works, to figuring out the tone or mood of a scene, to adding in a plot element you hadn’t previously thought about.

Pictures can work in two ways: enhancing what you already have, or adding in new things.

Sometimes you have a basic idea of something, like, for example, you know your story is set in a forest.  A forest is a pretty basic setting, and you may feel that as long as you have trees and flowers and your standard forest-type creatures (deer, bears, squirrels) you’re good to go.

However, there’s a big difference between this:

and this:

There’s a ton of different types of forests out there, and knowing what kind you’re using, using pictures to help you get a better idea of what you’re working, can make a world of difference in your prose.

Many authors keep story-specific inspiration boards to help them use images to enhance their stories. They often include settings, characters, objects–or maybe just abstract images that remind them of a plot point or a theme.

(You can see the boards for Shards and City of Hope and Ruin here.)

Pictures can also be helpful for adding in new elements or starting a new story. We talked about adding images to your story idea files previously, but you can also go through your file and see if any of the images you saved can fit into your current story if something is missing.

(For example, I used this image to help me flesh out one of the characters from a 2014 short story, A Bargain Beyond.)

If you can’t find anything you’ve already saved that works, you can always go looking. If you have a general idea what you’re looking for, you can also do a search on Google, Pinterest, deviantArt, or flickr. Otherwise, websites like Pinterest and deviantArt, if you’ve set up an account with them, will give you a “feed” of images, based on what’s popular and what you’ve previously shown an interest in, and sometimes scrolling through there can give you some useful images.

Got anything to add, Squiders? Your favorite use for images in writing or your favorite place to find them?

Where to Find Ideas: Story Prompts

Today, Squiders, we’re going to jump into places to look for inspiration, either for specific purposes, to build up your story idea file(s), or just to troll around and see if anything catches your fancy.

And what better place to start than a whole category whose sole purpose is to get those creative juices running?

Story prompts are just that…prompts to get you writing a story. These are normally short, text-based prompts that offer a situation, an idea, a character, a first line to start from, a quote, etc.

Some examples off the top of my head:

  • Write a scene where someone learns something about their best friend that they’ve never known.
  • “Oh no,” she said. “They don’t come until the train arrives.”
  • Write a scene about dancing.

As you can see there’s a bit of a range in how they’re presented, so some will work better for you than others. Personally, I prefer ones that provide a bit of a story premise (like the one in the image, which I have pinned to my Writing Prompts Pinterest board).

So where can you find story/writing prompts? Literally everywhere.

Just googling “writing prompts” will net you tons of results, including ones for sites like Writer’s Digest. There are also several tumblrs, blogs, Pinterest boards, instagrams, insert social media of choice dedicated to writing prompts, so if you find one you like, you can follow it or favorite or whatever option is available on said media of choice. This can be helpful to make it easy to find again when you need it.

Additionally, feel free to copy prompts that strike your fancy over into however you’re storing your story ideas, whether it’s a Word file or a Google doc or Scrivener or whatever you’ve chosen. As we talked about last time, it’s good to have everything in one place. So, personally, I would recommend only copying over the ones that you’re sure you want to write, because due to the sheer volume of writing prompts out there, you can quickly overload yourself.

Writing prompts can be a good way to get started if you’re looking for a new story. They’re not terribly helpful for fleshing out one you already have, or for helping you fix holes in a story you’re currently writing. That’s not an absolute thing–nothing ever is–but if you’re looking for something to supplement an idea you’re already working on, elsewhere might be more effective.

(In the interest of full disclosure, part of the first scene of my novel Shards did come from a writing prompt activity.)

Writing prompts can also be useful if you want to get some practice in. I’ve seen authors set themselves a goal of writing a “drabble” a day (a drabble is technically a 100-word scene, but many people use the term for any short, informal type of writing) off of a series of prompts, just to make sure they’re getting some writing in regularly and practicing their craft. If you’re drabbling characters from a book or series of yours, this can sometimes be helpful for toying with fixes for problems you’re having in the larger story, or can provide inspiration for scenes or plot.

What are your favorite kinds of writing prompts, Squiders? Favorite places to find them? Favorite use that I’ve left out?

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?