Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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?

Useful Link Round-up

Okay, Squiders, I want to be able to do the idea generation posts in a row, so for today, I’m going to share various links that I’ve been hoarding that other people might find interesting. Monday I’ll have a review/promo for you, and Thursday is, in theory, the first discussion post for the Finnbranch readalong (though I will need to read faster than I am because I forgot when in June I set the discussion for). And then we’ll head back into nonfic territory.

For Readers

Does anyone else just find themselves on random email lists they don’t remember signing up for? That’s the deal with me and BookRiot, which is a website about books, mostly speculative fiction. But I dig their newsletter, so I don’t really mind that it seemingly came out of nowhere.

I normally forget, but it’s never a bad idea to stop by sites like StoryBundle or Humble Bundle and see if you can get a ton of themed books for cheap. Normally they donate the money for a good cause.

For Writers–Writing

I don’t know about you guys, but I am terrible at conlanging and yet, since I write high fantasy, sometimes it is necessary. That’s why I’m super interested in Vulgar, which is a language generator. I haven’t given it a try yet, but you can do a demo on the website, and the full version is only $20.

For people who like to have an idea of story structure before they go into a novel, you might try Michael Hague’s Six Stage Plot Structure. It’s the one Siri and I used for City of Hope and Ruin. You can find a good overview over at Fiction University (which is a useful website if you are not already familiar with it.

For Writers–Learning

If you have enough time to fit in some learning, I recommend checking out sites like SkillShare and Udemy. I’ve taken a few classes (mostly marketing related, but also ones about how to use email lists) and recently signed up for one focused more on traditional publishing. You can buy memberships or classes flat out, but I like that you can see reviews and curriculum before you shell out money. There are probably more websites out there that provide a similar function, but I haven’t tried them.

(I’ve also considered making a course for one or both, but not sure what would be a good topic. If you know something I should go for, let me know!)

For Writers–Publishing

Since I’ve been putting together submission materials for my YA paranormal (all ready now! Just need a healthy dose of getting on with it), I recently wrote a synopsis for it. This blog post proved invaluable and took a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

For Writers–Marketing

Here’s a very interesting post on why it’s a bad thing to encourage your friends and family to buy your book when it first comes out. Good stuff to know. I recently found this blog through Siri and it’s been very interesting (also apparently I have done everything wrong). (Which I kind of knew.)

I also recently found this website called Hometown Reads that connects readers to local authors. I haven’t signed up yet but it looks like a cool idea, and my city is one that they’ve already developed, so woot.

Anyway, I hope you find some of these helpful! And let me know if you’ve found some place cool lately!

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, Final

Here’s the last PPWC wrap-up post, Squiders, so if you haven’t been digging them, you can rest assured that we will definitely talk about something else next week. Maybe we should a readalong. Haven’t done one of those in a while. I’ll poke around and see what we’ve got. Or we’ll start the next nonfic post series, which will be about finding story ideas.

Anyway! Sunday! Last day, which is always a bit sad. It’s really very nice to spend the weekend surrounded by other writers, especially if you are friends with some of them and you don’t get to see them very often otherwise.

Building a Successful Online Critique Group (panel-Travis Heermann, Megan Rutter, David R. Slayton)

I was hoping to learn about the “building” part, but the panel was more about the “successful” part. They did talk briefly about how to find people to form a group with, the most promising of which seems to be the idea of joining the local big writing group (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) which has a whole section just for forming critique groups. Of course, I’m not sure a critique group is what I’m looking for anyway.

How to Add Suspense to Your Writing (Fleur Bradley)

This was the least successful session I went to the entire weekend. It was very basic in level, focusing mostly on story structure (which, frankly, I have had better sessions/read better books on). There was also some focus on plotting, such as how quickly your main plot needs to show up, but very little on suspense aside from “if you do a good job with your structure it will show up automatically.” Ms. Bradley did say she normally teaches this information over a six week workshop, but it did not work well in this format.

Maximize Your Discoverability on Amazon (Jennie Marts)

Ah, my second and last marketing panel for the weekend. Ms. Marts went over the options offered in Amazon Central as well as in your books themselves in terms of metadata, author’s notes, reviews, etc. I picked up a couple of new things, which is impressive at this point. She also talked some about how many books you need to be selling to be at which ranks, and touched on ways to get more reviews. Pretty useful, all told.

And that’s it for the panels. The conference ends after lunch on Sunday. We did have our final keynote speaker, Donald Maass, who tried to counteract the apparently-common post-conference what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-ness by telling us that as long as we had hope we’d be okay.

WE WILL SEE ABOUT THAT.

Donald Maass was also at the conference when I was last there five years ago. My sister and her friend think it’s funny how he picks up a “harem” that follows him around all weekend.

So, that’s PPWC for 2017. Will I be going back in 2018? Probably not. There are things I like about it, and I did a good job choosing panels that were helpful and at the right level for me for the most part (something I was bad at in 2012), but it’s a lot of money for a lot of sitting around, and I’d rather be out doing most of the time. It’s a lot to take in all at once. And it turns out that I am bad at one of the most useful things about conferences–the in-person pitch.

Still, I had a good time, met some neat people, reconnected with some others, and came out of it with some new things to try. I’ll probably go back some day–maybe in another five years, or maybe as a presenter. >_>

Hope this was useful, Squiders! I’ll see you Tuesday for something completely different.

Guest Post: Writing Process with Erin Zarro

Hey, squiders! Happy Tuesday! Let’s take a break from PPWC and hear how Erin Zarro wrote her latest book, Ever Touched. I love hearing about how other authors work, and I hope you do too!

~*~*~*~*~

Writing Ever Touched was interesting because I didn’t use my usual method of pantsing as I did with Fey Touched and most of Grave Touched. Instead, I tried out the “writing from the middle” method by James Scott Bell. In it, you figure out your main “signposts” to write toward: Doorway of No Return, Opening Disturbance, Mirror Moment, Doorway of No Return #2 (Clue/Setback/Discovery), and Transformation.

Ever Touched coverThose seem kind of vague, but really, they are great. You see, I absolutely need some mystery in order to write a book. I’ve been pantsing for years, but that usually led to rewrites after rewrites because I was discovering things as I was going and had to make it all fit together at the end somehow. Grueling work. I’ve also went to the other side of the spectrum, and plotted stuff. And that worked… until I started adding in things because the muse told me to. Sure, overall it made the story richer, but that particular story also ended up in 12 separate pieces. I’m about to embark on a rewrite, and it’s already giving me fits.

So this method works better – and produces a cleaner draft – because I have some of it figured out, and I’ve left the rest as a mystery. And I really enjoyed the process, which is super important when you’re writing 120,000 words on a deadline.

I also added one additional point of view to the usual 3-POV structure of this series. I felt it was important to have a certain character’s viewpoint because she was completely different, with completely different origins as the others. And I wanted her story, too (I may, at some point, write a novella with her as a main character. She intrigues me that much). So I got to see her grow and evolve throughout the book as well.

As for the day-to-day writing, sometimes I didn’t know exactly where to go from where I was. Especially with the climax. I knew there’d be an epic confrontation with the villain and a fight, but the how of it eluded me. It took me several tries to get that right. And I ended up only doing quick written sketches of a few pivotal scenes toward the end because I literally ran out of time. One part was added in final edits because of something my editor said that I agreed with. That was probably the hardest – I wouldn’t have another shot at it before release, so I had to use my judgment as to whether or not it worked. I think it did, and I hope it does for the readers, too.

And then there was the theme song, which refused to show itself until 107,000 words in – that was interesting. It is “The Sound of Silence” as covered by the band Disturbed. It was playing during a very emotional scene between my two main characters and everything kind of clicked. Now, every time I hear that song, I will always think of that scene and those characters.

And finally, Brianna and Cobra’s romance. I knew sometime around Grave Touched that I wanted to put these two enigmatic characters together. They both had very big secrets, and lots to lose. And as I started writing them…they made sense. Every scene built on this beautiful, epic love story I was creating. It worked perfectly. I never had a single doubt about these two. They fit. And they loved each other deeply, and truly, and it was breathtaking to watch unfold.

But it’s tragic, too, due to some things I can’t reveal. Don’t worry, it ends happily. But they have to work hard for it (hell, all my characters have to work for their Happily Ever Afters. I’m a cruel mistress).

I also enjoyed creating the Ascended (no spoilers!) and exploring some of the aspects of who and what they were. That came to me literally in a flash as I was closing up at work. I’m glad I paid attention. It took a bit of writing to figure them out, but once I did…they were awesome. And they came from my brain!

All in all, I am very happy with how Ever Touched came out. It challenged me at times, made me cry at others, and excited me. I really loved writing using the writing from the middle method. My next novel will definitely be written this way, too.

Sometimes you have to break out of the routine, and do something completely different. With Ever Touched, I did that and more.

So I hope you enjoy Ever Touched, Brianna and Cobra, and the Ascended. There are others, but that would be a spoiler. I really loved writing it and think it fits very well within the Fey Touched world.

Stay tuned. There may be more coming. 😉

PPWC Session Wrap-up, Part 2

I always wonder if you can piecemeal PPWC. There’s always notes about what to do if you’re missing a meal (and if you’re at the conference for the whole weekend, why would you? It’s included in the price and the food is really good) which always makes me think maybe you could just come for, say, Saturday, but I don’t know if that’s an actual thing.

(I believe, if you’ve won the writing contest, you can come for just the banquet Saturday night, but I am also unsure about that.)

(I wonder about these things, but not enough to do any actual research.)

Let’s dive into the sessions from Saturday.

(I got up early and worked out before breakfast/conference, and later walked in on my sister talking to my mom on the phone. She was telling Mom about me working out like it was the strangest thing she’d ever seen.)

Eight Weeks to a Novel (Becky Clark)

Like Friday morning, Saturday morning ended up a bit themed, and in this case it was time/project management. This isn’t really an area where I am deficient, but it is a subject I like to talk about and see how other people do things. In this case, Becky spends a week making a massive outline/synopsis (which she sends out to betas to get feedback on plot and whatnot because it’s that complete) and then spends the next several weeks writing and editing. Some neat organizational ideas which I will probably try out.

Agile Project Management for Writers (David R. Slayton)

Ironically, the example he used was also an eight-week novel, which I found hilarious but probably no one else did, because normal people probably didn’t go to two time/project management sessions in a row. This method made my engineering side very happy, but from a basic standpoint was also very similar to other writing management processes I’ve seen before. I enjoyed it. I do need to get in touch with the presenter and ask some questions (mostly about throwaway things on the slides which caught my interest, or something he said, and not about the actual subject matter of the presentation).

Constructing the Great Action Scene (M.H. Boroson)

M.H. Boroson wrote the bestselling historical fantasy novel The Girl with Ghost Eyes, which I have not had the opportunity to read but understand is awesome. This panel was also pretty awesome. We talked about the basics of action scenes (which are not just fights), broke them down into their components, and went through examples so we could see the basics put together. My other favorite panel aside from Stant’s on Friday.

And then we had lunch, which was a massive roast beef sandwich. With a pickle. Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid series) was the keynote speaker.

Query 1-on-1

Sometime between the last time I went to PPWC (2012) and now, they’ve switched from your straight pitch session (where you would memorize a verbal pitch and get to pitch an agent/editor) to the query 1-on-1 format. You bring your query letter, agent/editor reads it and gives you feedback, and may ask for more materials if they’re interested. I met with Mike Braff, who is an acquisitions editor at Del Rey (at the very odd time of 2:24 PM). He asked some questions about the main character and said I should focus more on her character arc and the twist of the story in the query. He also said it wasn’t really his thing, alas, though I kind of suspected that there wouldn’t be enough explosions based on some of his recently edited books (The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown, Sleeping Giants by Slyvain Neuvel) and my sister went to an editor panel earlier and later told me he’s pretty much only looking at scifi right now. So, in retrospect, I probably should have signed up for someone else.

Serious about Series (Kevin Hearne, Gregg Taylor, Carol Berg, Tess Gerritsen, Jennie Marts)

I’ve found that the panel sessions can sometimes be less helpful than the one or two presenter ones, and I think it’s because they’re not really planned out in advance. I mean, I assume, but I don’t know, but from what I understand the moderator has normally come up with questions in advance and then the panel answers them. I mostly learned about various authors’ planning processes, which is interesting, but not necessarily helpful.

Building Better Beginnings (Todd Fahnestock/Chris Mandeville)

This was a good panel! Chris and Todd focused a little bit on what your story needs at the beginning and how long you have to hook a reader/agent/editor, but we spent most of the time going over the beginnings of published books and looking at what worked and what didn’t, and also did an example where we took a bad beginning and made it better.

Dinner Saturday night is the awards banquet, which is supposed to be dressy but I had a wardrobe malfunction (speaking of which, has anyone had a piece of clothing that started smelling after you washed it for the first time?) and so was under-dressed. Tess Gerritsen was the keynote speaker (and I learned that Rizzoli and Iles is a book series, woo) and shared rather a lot of disturbing things, which is why, I guess, that I don’t write thrillers. I mean, she was awesome, but D:

Dessert was not as good as Friday night, alas.

My sister and I hit BarCon now that we’d done our Read & Critiques and Query 1-on-1s and no longer had anything to stress out about, but it turns out that we are actually terrible at networking aside from people we already know. And then I had a crisis of purpose (which, from talking to people since PPWC ended, seems to be common at writers’ conferences) and had to go to bed.

Sunday sometime next week! Also, I will have a guest post for you, probably on Tuesday. It is about ten degrees warmer than it is supposed to be, Squiders, and I think I shall go take a walk.

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.