Monday, April 30, 2012

LDS Storymakers is This Week!!

by James Duckett

On Thursday morning I'll be driving up to Provo to attend the 2012 LDS Storymakers Conference. I've been blogging, tweeting, and even Facebooking (is that a word?) about it all year. I can't believe it is less than a week away.
I've decided to make the most of it! I'm not holding back at all as I'd hate to utter the phrase, "I wish I had taken advantage of..." after the conference. I'm paying a little extra to stay at the hotel, which will allow me to make trips to the room between classes if I need anything. Last year I basically lived out of my truck and commuted to cheaper living quarters, but that doesn't fulfill all my needs. So when I say I'll be living at the conference, I mean it.

I also paid a little bit to take advantage of extra opportunities. I'll be at the boot camp the day before the conference. I also paid for the Whitney Award Gala. I'm looking forward to the Authors Incognito Mix-n-Mingle. My schedule is FULL, FULL, FULL! I look forward to a good night's sleep Saturday night before I drive back home. I'm going to need it.

There is a lot of information being shared at this conference. Between this and the notes I've taken at LTUE, I should have plenty to share on this blog for months to come.

I look forward to seeing you all there. Please take some time and say hello if you see me. I'm terrible with names and faces, so please don't take it personally if I have to glance at your name badge before I get excited to see you.

Just a heads up: I don't look much like my pictures anymore. I've grown out my hair. So if you see a hippy walking around then it might be me!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

LDS Storymakers

by Donna K. Weaver

Squeee! It's this week, and I can't wait! I attended last year and knew almost no one. It's a very different story for me this year. I'm so grateful for the wonderful people I met and have been able to become friends with. This year I'm attending all master classes though there are plenty of classes I wish I could go to besides them.

I need a clone!

Are you going?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I'm So Excited

By Keith N Fisher

No, I’m not going to sing the song by the Pointer Sisters, and I’m not about to lose control. Still I caught myself packing my rolling backpack and ordered some new business cards. The LDStorymakers writer’s conference is less than a week away.

This year, I robbed my retirement to pay for it, so I plan to enjoy. I’ve attended every one, since the 2006 conference and I’ve never failed to learn something. Each year, the grin on my face lasts for several months and I am renewed.

In my exuberance to get ready, I pulled up the working file of my old business card creation and ran into a brick wall. The program I’d used to make them is on my old computer. When I tried to load it onto my current machine, I found that Windows 7 won’t allow it to run.

Undaunted, I realized I’d dealt with this problem before. When I bought my first Pentium, it came with Windows 98. One of my CAD programs was designed to run through DOS and I had been using it on my 486 DX with Windows 3.1, then 95. As you probably know, Windows originally ran on top of DOS. Windows 98 changed that. I eventually figured out I could run my DOS program straight from the hard drive and not through Windows.

My fix worked in Windows XP too, but apparently, Windows 7 has eliminated that ability. My old software might have to be upgraded. Does that sound like a conspiracy to get more money out of me?

Anyway, all of this reminiscing made me recall some of the things I used to do with computers. There were many cutting edge programs that aren’t relevant anymore. Some of them are smart phone apps now. I started writing on computers using Word Perfect and I can still remember that blue screen.

During my journey through the past, I remembered the time before the personal computer. When writing was done with pen and paper or, on my old Royal, long carriage, manual typewriter. My first manuscript wasn’t a manuscript at all. I’ve mentioned that my writing started with a story about a college girl who gets kidnapped, but my writing actually began with a sci-fi space adventure. It was a cross between Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, with a little Star Wars thrown in.

It was horrible. I chucked it, and got on with my life. Then came the personal computer . . .

These days I can write on my laptop, lying in bed with the covers pulled up. I sometimes fall asleep doing that, but it’s comfortable. Getting back to my business card, I finally took the TIFF into Photo Shop and erased, then retyped. Later, I temporarily resurrected my old computer and made a new card with my picture on it. I printed them both.

Now that I have 300 cards, my book will probably come out and I’ll have to make another.

Good luck in your writing---see you next week at the conference. I will be the one with a pocket full of new cards.

Friday, April 27, 2012

And the Winner is...

by G.Parker

Don't you just love how that get's your blood pumping with excitement?  That simple phrase always gets you going, even if there isn't a possibility of winning.  Well, it wasn't as easy as I thought.  We had three participants!!  And unfortunately, several books got more than one vote, but no one came out the clear winner, so we have a tie breaker today.  There are three contestants, and if they list the top 5 books that were listed on the previous posts, they'll be the winner.  What I'm looking for is the books that were mentioned most frequently in the blog.  They are Donna K. Weaver, cspokey and Ariell Larson.  If we get more than one contestant with the correct answers, then everyone will get a candy bar.  If there is just one they get to pick between my book and the candy bar.  ;)  Are we excited yet?

As I'm writing this, I'm thinking of my mother.  Right next to my computer, almost at my elbow, is a vase of lilacs from my mom and dad's home.  Our family home is kind of falling in on itself (long story) and is about to be demolished.  Right now, the many lilac bushes in the back are in full bloom, and I brought home a trunk full the other day.  Now my house smells of lilac, and I'm loving it.  This photo is the vase on the kitchen table, there's one in my front room, one on my desk, and a small one in my bedroom.  It's almost like my mom is in every room they are in.  It's heavenly.

My mom was a reader.  She encouraged all of us to read, and then when grandkids came along, they were encouraged as well.  She had children's books of all sizes and genre, and she was big on poetry.  She had encouraged my siblings and I to read all about Winnie the Pooh long before he was popular.  Many a child sat on her lap as she read to them books like Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Falling Up, by Shell Silverstein; Mother Goose, and others.

One of the questions posed in the contest posts was how old does a book need to be to be considered a classic?  That is a valid question.  It reminds me of the original movie Footloose where the main character says Slaughter House 5 is a classic.  Hm.  I'm not sure I agree with that.  I think my  mom would have said a classic is one that endured the test of time, so to speak, so that would be the older ones.  I didn't take any of those really hard English classes in high school, so I didn't read some of the classics till I was back from my  mission.  That was when I first read The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserable.  I have read many others that were 'younger', but what I consider classic.  Such as Little Women, The Little Princess, Little House on the Prarie and Anne of Green Gables.  I have read these books more than ten times each, and would still read them again.

That's what I feel is the mark of a truly good book -- how often someone wants to read it.  Not just once and then be done with it, but over and over like a treasure.  It's something that someone who is not a reader would understand.  I feel sorry for them, because there's nothing like finding a good book.  It's something you never loose.

Good luck to our three contestants, and see you next week!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rewrite It Alternately

Have you ever wondered "What if this happened in the story instead of that?" For example: What if Harry Potter died at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Neville had to stop Voldemort?

I hate speculating facts. I really do. If I don't have enough data to feel at least 95% confident about an assumption, then I don't want to hear it or think on it. (I speculate and I get mad at myself for those moments.) But when I'm looking at "what if" in the past, I love playing it.

I'm big on finding ways through writers block. Maybe sometimes you just need a break from your current novel or maybe you need to write about these characters still but just not in your story to maybe uncover something you could use.

This method, for me, is called "Rewrite It Alternately". Now, if I'm stuck on my story, but I want to keep writing about these characters, then I'll ask myself, "What if X happened instead?" Sometimes, I can find a character trait that will help me find my way through my block.

For example, your group of five characters met up with a giant monster in chapter 10. One of those characters died. It was tragic. Well, think about what happened if a different character died. How are these characters different from that loss? Maybe even write what happened next with that change and see how it gets you.

Now, let's say you want to kill all your characters with a bomb because the story is just not going anywhere. That's the time to take a break and go do something else. (Been there, done that.) Then I take a different story from wherever I can and say "what if X happened to them? What would have been the result?"

I'm not gonna go back to Harry Potter. (Overused, in my opinion.) So let's say that Luke died at the end of Empire Strikes Back. Write out how Leia defeats Jabba and then the emperor.

Interesting twist, huh? Well, that's my anti-writers-block idea of the month.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

More Notes From Ephraim

by C LaRene Hall

How to Grid Your Story

Write a Mission Statement that includes the four most important things to accomplish with writing.

Without conflict there is no drama or no story.

Make a grid for the internal as well as the external.

Make sure your characters are different.
Plot what your story is about. There are three acts in making a plot.

Act One should be a set up, confrontation and resolution.

Know the ending. Everything you write will work toward your ending. Have beginning and ending firmly set. In Act 1 your include the main characters, dramatic promise and situation. You spin the direction of your story around two major plot points before climax. The major plot point is at the end of Act 1 and the end of Act 2.

Act Two has confrontation, bulk of action, overcoming all obstacles to fill dramatic need, and the reaction of having it happen. This is working towards climax. Obstacles are keys. Plot point in Act 2 turns story toward resolution.

Act Three has climax, epiphany (the big reveal), denouement, no loose ends, ups and downs, cliff hangers, and should be kept short.

I can't honestly say that all of the above works, because I've never tried it. Will I try it? Maybe. Tell me your thoughts about such a thing. Is this what you do when you write? Does this really work?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Story Structure, parts of the story

by C. Michelle Jefferies

Okay, last week I gave you an introduction to story structure. Today we are going to talk about the parts of the story. I am going to mention a few points like plot point one, mid point, plot point two. We'll go into those next week. All you need to know at this point in time is that those points divide the story into fourths.

Writing a book is alot like baking muffins. You have flour, sugar, eggs, oil, and leavening. leave out one of these things or put them in in the wrong ammounts or at the wrong time and your muffins are ruined. If you follow the recipe you are hopefully making some delicious  muffins or stories.

So the following list are the parts of the story and where they occur. Each part is aproximately 1/4 of the book. They can be longer or storter, but it's generally a good guideline.

Introduction - Beginning to Plot Point 1

   Characters ordinary life, setting established
         (Within the first chapters you need to give the reader a clue as to the conflict and character arc of the rest of the story.  I call this moment the introduction of theme. Others call it the hook.  If the reader doesnt feel a connection to the story or characters in the first pages they will most likely put the book down. )

Reactive Stage - Plot Point 1 to Mid Point

   “What the heck happened?”
          (plot point one is the inciting incident, the moment that makes your character begin to move. The reactive stage is what the MC is doing in reaction to that point of movement. All of your scenes must reflect the reaction, and "not having a clear plan of action yet" part of the story. )

Active Stage - Mid Point to Plot Point 2

   “Not on my watch!” (or "oh no you didn't just point that gun at me." )
         (Mid point is the moment where the MC changes from being the victim of the story to being the hero. The next stage is the active stage where the protagonist, or antagonist is pusing the plot forward to the climax of the story. Your plotting and scenes must reflect that ideal.)

Resolution - Plot Point 2 to End of Book

   Coming home, tie up all ends
          (In a stand alone, all major character arc's, plot problems, and conflict must be wrapped up in a manner satisfactory to the reader. A few loose ends may be left undone to make the reader think, but they must be small and insignigant in regards to the main plot and arc's. In a series, all of the plot, character arc's and conflict that is pertinent to that books arc must be tied up. However, you can leave over series plot, character arc, and conflict open. If a character is leaving the series, their arc must be resolved. If a new character is being introdouced, their arc must be presented. If the antagonistic force in the book is unique to that book, it must be resolved. If the antagonistic arc is series wide it can be left un finished but should be addressed and the stakes and risks should be increased. )

In addition to the plot parts of the story there is a notion that your MC can go through character arc traits that describe some of the what and why of the characters progress through out the story.  Below is a list of the character parts as they relate to the plot parts. This list is from the author and book: Carol S. Pearson The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By
    Lacks direction, lives in ordinary world
    Reacting to PP1, moving but no plan
    Reacting to MP, has clear plan, building to PP2
    PP2 and beyond, willing to sacrifice, becomes hero
          One thing to note, the main plot conflict should be resolved right around plot point 2 or the moment when the MC and the plot move from reaction stage, to resolution stage. Don't put the conflict and the character change in the middle of the resolution stage. The reader will most likely be dissatisfied with the end of the book and you dont want that.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Generating Story Ideas #5

by James Duckett

This will be the last in my Generating Story Ideas series. There are many ways to find inspiration for a story or add to the one you are working on. This week I invite you to put yourself in situations where you can be inspired.

Join a Writing/Critique Group

A writing group presents an excellent opportunity for finding inspiration. It is an opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded individuals that you can bounce ideas and writing problems off of.  They can help you find shortcomings in your story. They can get together and help with story structure, character development, and anything your story might need help with.

The trick is to find the right writing group, but what is right for one writer is not right for everybody. I've heard it suggested that it is best to be in writing groups where people write from similar genres. I don't know if that is completely necessary as I have heard of successful critique groups with authors of all sorts of genres. I think it is helpful to have people in the group from the same genre. If you get advise from somebody from a different genre you need to decide if it is applicable to your writing or not. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

In one of my writing groups I have a writer who rights only romance. I once presented a story idea and the first thing she asked was, "But where is the love story?" I retorted, "It's a story about a 14 year old. Does it really need one?" But the more I thought about it the more I liked that idea. I wasn't going to turn my fantasy into a romance, but with her help I can add romantic elements to my storyline.

For me, the most important thing to look for is somebody who knows how to communicate why something is wrong in a story, and even better, how to fix it. It is one thing to have somebody say, "I don't know why but I just didn't like the ending," with no explanation on why the ending didn't work for them. It is something else to have somebody say, "Your ending could use some work because the resolution didn't come by the action or choice of the hero, he or she just happened to be in the right place at the right time and that does not make for a fulfilling wrap-up."

I had one short story where people told me that they thought the beginning was okay, but they weren't in love with it. They could not tell me why they didn't love it, only that they "just didn't." Finally somebody filled me in, "Nothing is happening until about the third page. We get to know the characters but there is no real conflict. Add conflict, let us learn about the characters through their conflict, and the beginning will get better." He then gave several examples on how conflict could be added with something as simple as stumbling over a rock and twisting the MC's foot.

Go to Book Signings

This presents an excellent opportunity to get some face-time with actual authors. Listen to what they have to say. Maybe, hopefully, they say or mention something that strikes a chord with you. I have no personal stories to share, but I'm adding this as a "well, it can't hurt" addition. Plus, if you like the author, you are going to be surrounded by like-minded readers geeking out all over the author and genre. It would be a good time to ask those waiting in line with you what they like about the genre or what they would like to see that hasn't' been done before. It isn't stealing if somebody hands you a great idea on a silver platter.

Keep a Document of Story Ideas

I keep a document of story ideas that I've considered that ended up not working out, usually because I can't find the right character or ending or something else. One day I needed a new idea for a story and decided to hit "the graveyard". And there it was, a story idea that didn't work because I had issues with the setting, and then a new setting idea came to mind that did make the story work. If I hadn't stored it in this document I never would have reflected on the idea again and it would have been eternally lost.

Go to Writing Conferences

In less than two weeks I'll be at LDS Story Makers. Nothing inspired me to write more than attending this conference last year. A couple of weeks ago I attended LTUE. Both of these are outstanding conferences and I wouldn't hesitate recommending them to anybody. Not only are they great for getting the story idea engine pumping, but it is a great way to meet new people with common interests.

Read Blogs

There is no shortage of blogs on the subject of writing. If you feel in a rut go out and read a handful of them.

Talk to Your Friends

Just talk. If they are not writers they may still surprise you with, "Oh I read once where somebody did this..." or "I saw this in a movie...". But the actual act of talking things through has done wonders at generating ideas or overcoming writing problems. For some reason, I find it more effective than talking to myself in a mirror (yes, I've done that) even if the person you are talking to doesn't say a word.

Relax and Think

Sometimes finding ideas is tough just because you are overcome with stress in life. It doesn't help if life stress is then compounded by can't-write stress. So do something relaxing to get that stress out of you.

Take a hike! I've heard Kevin J. Anderson say that he actually hikes while he "writes" by dictating things into a voice recorder and then transcribing them later. Looking at the creations of the world can often be awe- and story-inspiring.

Maybe you need a little quiet and alone time where you can just think to yourself. I've had a lot of ideas come to mind while showering or flossing. I've never showered for the purpose of finding an idea, but I've taken showers where I thought, "Let's think this story through," while getting in. Granted, it isn't ALWAYS successful, but it has a pretty high success rate.

Just do what works for you to get your stress out and be open to the vibes you need to come up with your story.

Combine Ideas

This was a trick suggested to me by Orson Scott Card. Search through Twitter, hit the bookstore, rummage through Facebook, or watch a little TV. Find two ideas that are unrelated. Now combine them.

As a test, I hit Facebook. One thing that popped up was a photo album of some really bright flowers. The first post on Twitter was somebody saying he was 1/3rd of the way training for a marathon. Now to combine them together...

Okay, not as easy as I thought it would be. How about this: a man has found some flowers that give him endurance. He runs around and through a field with these flowers and he can run seemingly forever. Marathon day comes and he shows up with a bunch of these flowers pinned to his running jersey so he can run without any problems. As he is running the marathon the "evil" marathon runner realizes this weakness of his and start pulling off the flowers as they run.

Okay, maybe not the next Harry Potter. I'm going to cheat and make that your challenge. Leave a comment... what happens next? Or better yet, can you think of another way to combine these together?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Electronic Writing Aids

I'm in the process of learning how to use the Scrivener program I purchased half price after I beat NaNoWriMo last November. The current WIP I'm editing has a bit of a complicated parallel storyline, and it's been giving me fits. I'm hoping Scrivener will help me with that.

That got me thinking about some other programs I've found helpful:
  • autocrit -- this one can be quite the eyeopener for things like overused words
  • Dragon -- this is great if you're good at speaking your writing. I tried it and found my fingers did the talking. However, I wonder if I could do better with this is I left the monitor off so I wouldn't be constantly trying to edit.
These are just three items that might be useful. What program--whether on your computer or online--have you found to be helpful?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"I Shall Never"

By Keith N Fisher

As Writers in the LDS market, we have obligations to write things that will pass through the censors of an LDS publisher. If we don’t, and it’s bad enough, said publisher will likely pass on our manuscript and we will be left unpublished. “Yes, of course,” you say. “That’s a given, but what about the national market?”

I think I can answer that question with a simple, its up to you. I came across a quote attributed to Jack London this week where he said, “I’ve never written a line I’d be ashamed for my young daughters to read, and I shall never write such a line.” Jack had socialist and racist views. He often wrote stories filled with descriptive violence, but he was proud of what he wrote.

As a writer, and a member of the LDS religion, I could amend London’s statement with, I will write nothing that will offend my ecclesiastical leaders. I guess it depends on your own conscience, and how many people know you are LDS, but it’s not about embarrassing the Church. As an LDS Writer, people expect certain things of you. If you don’t measure up, it speaks volumes about your character. Still, it truly is a gray area, subject to many opinions whether you write in the LDS market or not.

This became the subject for discussion one day while I talked with a couple of authors. Each one told similar stories. It seems that no matter how gingerly an author deals with an issue, there will be somebody who is offended by it. For evidence of this, look at the banning of Twilight from Deseret Book. Apparently, many people complained, and it was taken off the shelves. Stephanie Myers is LDS and she wrote the series she felt good about, yet somebody complained.

So, where do we draw the line? How do we keep readers from judging our work harshly? The short answer is we can’t. Like everything inherent in the Gospel, everyone is on a different track. If we write what we believe is clean, and we feel good about it, we’ve done our job. Our words are bound to affect someone for good. I’ve seen people change their lives for the better, because of something they read in an obscure book.

Good luck with your writing---see you next week.

Friday, April 20, 2012

One More Entry

by G.Parker

So today I polled my children, since there still wasn't much commentary.  I guess next time I hold a contest I'll have to pick a more exciting subject.

My daughter:
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
The High King (the Black Cauldron series)
Fellowship of the Ring - Tolken

I also thought of another book to add to the main list:
Alas Babylon - Pat Frank.

Well, we're definitely going to have a winner.  And it isn't going to be difficult to pick!  Hope you're doing great on your writing goals.  For the month of May we're going to revisit those goals made in January and see how you're doing.

Till next week...keep writing!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quick Post

So, as much as I wish I had time to sit and write a big ol' long post, I don't. Last Friday, my wife gave birth to our 3rd child. And life is just busy.

I actually took the week off from work and hoped that at some point in time I'd be able to get some writing time in. Of course, I have not. But in talking to my wife, we've figured I have some time either today or tomorrow to get some writing done. Yeah, we'll see.

My point is this: if you don't plan time to write, you're not gonna end up writing. And I really didn't plan time to write. But now I have almost completely narrowed down time to write. We'll see if that happens. If so, yay for me!

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Write Here In Ephraim

by C LaRene Hall

I loved the writing conference that was held in Ephraim this past weekend. Those who didn't go missed out on a great day, and I can't believe how great it was and there was no charge to learn the things I did that day.

My Alpha Smart was out of battery power so all I had was my notes by hand. I taught a class and was busy preparing so I didn't attend all the classes, but I finally did take in a couple. The first one was taught by Julie Wright and was called, Nuts & Bolts.

Julie told us to not violate our characters. There has to be a justifiable reason to do something or the reason has to be strong why you deviate from it. Keep them in character.

Dreams should be greater than fears. You want to resist feelings to make things better for your character. Make your characters suffer. Something always has to happen. Throw rocks at your character. Bad things have to happen to them. You need to create emotional conflict.

Start with action. You need a compelling opening.

You are making promises to the reader. You are promising them an emotional experience.

People are not rational. Make sure readers know where characters are emotionally. The emotions are the most important by product of your writing.

Remember that characters think, ponder and have opinions. Internal dialogue is important.

Characters also do stuff and move around. Actions speak louder than words.

Why do I care? If you find you don’t your reader doesn’t either.

In Dialogue take out all the dull parts, and stiff parts. Remember to sometimes slur the speech. Characters also um, er, and stutter.

Dialogue should
1. Move plot forward
2. Reveal character
3. Set tone
4. Alter relationships by either building or tearing down

Make your dialogue count. Info dumps are boring and should not be done during dialogue. Do not use names during dialogue.

For tags you should usually just use said.

Adverbs can get irriating. A strong verb is better than an adverb, and it’s best to use the strong word choice.

Weave conversations naturally with the action, then you won’t need a tag.

Real conversations are more interesting. Make sure characters sound different from each other.

Speech patterns
1. Avoid talking heads
2. Don’t let characters sound the same

Point of View – we each see the world not as it is but as we are.

Your characters need to be unique. Always develop your own voice. Step outside of genre, learn new things. Enhance your own voice. Nothing you write is ever wasted. Practice writing something every day. Write about what resonates to you. Write what you are excited about. Don’t chase trends. Search for your voice.

Words to avoid – are, were, was, knew, saw, and felt. Avoid dead words that take up space. Show don’t tell.

Readers don’t want to be told a story, they want to be in the story.

Setting is a balancing act. It can sometimes distract from the story. Be sure to include senses in your story. Fill in the dead spaces. Sounds are coming from somewhere.


This was a fun class - things I had heard before, but things I needed to be reminded of. These reminders often help me get back on track. Thanks Julie for a great class.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An intro to Story Structure

By C. Michelle Jefferies

A few weeks ago I started talking about Story Structure. Seeing that is it something I use every day in my writing, I often times assume that everyone has heard about it. I know I am wrong because I talk to writers and I see their faces as I start talking plot points.

I've decided that rather than me talking about some obscure thing, and no one understanding me, I'd give you the basics.

Larry Brooks created Story Structure based off what screen play writers call the three part act.  Although with novel writing, there are four parts, and three major points, and two sub points. Each part has a specific time reason and amount in the story to make it successful.

While there are those out there that say he's full of hot air, I have proof that what he teaches works. I had been writing by the seat of my pants for years; writing, editing, and submitting with no success. No partial or full requests from agents or publishers. I found Story Structure, wrote my book and revised it using what I'd learned, and wrote, edited, and sold my MS in three years.

If you are happy with your current style of writing, wonderful! If you are tired of writers block, lacking character arc's, and sagging middles as well as a ton of other writer maladies, Story Structure may be just what you are looking for.

If you are curious and/or impatient you can find Brook's book Story Arcitecture in a number of places. 

Join me next week as we talk about the parts of a story.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Generating Story Ideas #4

by James Duckett

Generating Story Ideas #1
Generating Story Ideas #2
Generating Story Ideas #3 (Link to come later)

There are many ways to find inspiration for a story or add to the one you are working on. This week I invite you to free-write to find new story ideas.

What is free-writing?

Free-writing is the technique of writing for a set amount of time (5 minutes, 15 minutes, longer?) on anything that comes to mind. It isn't to produce anything usable in writing, but it is a pre-writing tool that helps wake up the writing senses, release writer's block, and find new story ideas. Free-writers are also encouraged to turn off the self-editor. Nobody is going to see this except for the person doing it, so it doesn't need to be publishable material. JUST WRITE!

Why do I love free-writing?

My day job is working on computers and programming. Often, when I get into a bind, I drag somebody into my office and I just start blabbering on about it. Usually that person knows to just sit there, nod, add an occasional "mmmhmmmm" in there like he or she is listening, and I just go through what I've done so far and talk about what I am hung up on.

Almost every time -- in fact I can't think of a time that this has failed -- I find inspiration in my ramblings. I'll suddenly go quiet for a second as something comes to mind and then I get excited and proclaim something akin to, "What if I just combine these two buttons. It would give me the space I need and reduce a step." I then excuse that person and thank them for their help. Most of them usually say, "I didn't do anything." I disagree.

That leads to free-writing. Free-writing is one way of doing this with my writing instead of computer programming. The idea is to just sit down and write whatever comes to mind. Heck, one time I sat down and began with something like, "Nothing is coming to mind, so I'm just going to write about the fact that nothing is coming to mind." See, the self-editor was completely thrown away right there! I then went on to write about why my mind is so preoccupied and about three minutes later I got hit with an epiphany. Suddenly the idea I was looking for came to me and I was able to return to my writing and continue where I left off.

So, if you are looking for an idea, try free-writing. Not only does it get you into a writing mood, it can generate new and exciting ideas for you to incorporate into your writing.

Other forms of free-writing

There are other ways to do this as well. If writing mindlessly for five to thirty minutes doesn't do something for you, you could also try...

Make a mind map

Mind maps are often used by problem solvers to look for solutions. They are also used by creative people to find new ideas. Writing is VERY creative, so it should be a natural fit.

A mind map is a diagramming of notes. You take a central idea (a character, a plot line, a setting, etc.) and you start adding notes.

Maybe you have a character named Bob. So you write bob in the middle of a piece of paper and you circle the name. Then you start making notes on Bob.

You might want to write goals for Bob. So write the word "goals" nearby and circle that, and connect the two words with a line. Then start adding goals near that word and connect them to that word. Maybe he wants to join the circus. He also wants to become romantically involved with the girl at the donut shop. He also wants to please his disapproving father who thinks he can't do anything right.

How about friends and acquaintances. You can then add the word "friends" on the other side of Bob and you can write down his co-worker. And his other friend that works at another donut shop in competition with his to-be girlfriend. Maybe even the shoe-shine guy he goes to every week and gets sage advise on what he should do with his life.

Looks for connections from there. How is this for fun? The shoe-shine guy convinces Bob to stop being a loser and to ask out the donut girl. He gets his minute of confidence and does it. He goes to pick her up and meet her family and it turns out her dad is the shoe-shine guy. The shoe-shine guy knows what a loser Bob is despite the confident front he had put on when asking out the donut girl.

Hilarity ensues?

Solo Brain Storming

If mind maps aren't for you, try just brain storming. Give yourself a solo brain storming session. Go somewhere alone where you can just think up ideas. My tool of choice is a nice, large white board where I can jot down ideas and easily remove something that isn't working if I need to.

Some people would probably be okay with a pen and paper. Heck, some might even do just fine sitting and meditating. Do what works best for you, but do it with the purpose and mind-set of brain storming for ideas.

Write fan-fiction

This isn't going to be something that is publishable so you can do this to have some fun and maybe generate some ideas. So go with the "write what you know" process and write some fan-fiction.

In a lot of books I write I often get engrossed by sub-characters. I will often ask, "Whatever became of xxxx?" or "How did xxxxxx get to be how he or she is?" The author usually can't write it because he is focused on their main character. However, you can!

Use their universe. Use their characters. Use their setting. See, most of the work is already done for you. Now just write. And when you are done, if you have something that is worth sharing, maybe it is time that you make a real story out of it. Maybe you can add it to your current story.

Or maybe you can change it as an original story of your own. Change the setting, tweak the magic system, improve the characters, and keep the core of your new story. If you change things enough, you could end up having something completely original on your hands that nobody would have a clue was borrowed and inspired by something you've read.

Or just disregard it and consider it a fun escape into your writing to help remove the writing cob-webs.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gender Specific Language

 The American Heritage Book of English Usage says :
As a general rule, it is good to remember that you should only refer to a person by category when it is relevant or necessary to the discussion at hand. That is, you should ordinarily view people as individuals and not mention their racial, ethnic, or other status, unless it is important to your larger purpose in communicating.
There are simple ways to replace gender specific language with gender neutral language (many of these are becoming widely used):
  • chairman … chair
  • manned … staffed
  • fireman … firefighter
  • policeman … police officer
  • stewardess … flight attendant
  • mailman … mail carrier
Perhaps one of the biggest issues for writers is clarity. Since gender specific language might jar some readers out of the reading flow, we want to be careful.

Some ways that people try to get around it is to use words like they or their to replace he or she. Anybody see the potential grammar problem?

It's when the writer doesn't continue the change to make everything match.

For example, this is gender specific:

If a patient is late in arriving, he must pay a late fee.

Try using one of these gender neutral sentences instead:

Any patient who is late in enrolling must pay an additional fee.

Patients who are late in arriving must pay an additional fee.

If a patient is late in arriving, he or she must pay an additional fee.


If a patient is late in arriving, they must pay an additional fee.

The problem with the last one is patient is singular but they is plural. The writer didn't continue the change to make everything match. It's like adorable Dobby's disharmonized socks.


It's easy to fix by changing patient to patients.

There are some obvious areas where writers shouldn't be guided by this modern trend. The language in historical fiction should represent the culture at the time the book is set.

SciFi and Fantasy writers can pretty much do anything they want, since they're world building anyway. Right? I love it when SciFi or Fantasy authors cleverly create words, expletives, etc. that are a reflection of their worlds/cultures.

Can you think of any other genres that can ignore this particular grammar rule? Do you have ways that you're politically correct when you write to avoid "jarring" your readers?