Can you force story ideas?

Can you force story ideas?Sometimes story ideas seem to blossom out of the ether. One moment your mind is wondering about the to-dos of daily life and the next you have an idea for a story that seems complete from beginning to end. Nice. Sweeeeeeeet! 

But what happens when these ideas just aren’t there and it’s been days and weeks and, like an addict, you feel the need for a bit of flash? What do you do?!! Can you force story ideas? Do you wrestle an idea from your imagination like some premature pimple or do you chill, sit back, relax and wait for it to mature and explode fully formed?

A bit of each, I think.

If your head seems void of story words, you need to feed it, fill it up, then switch on the tap and keep it flowing until all the dregs run out and pure water flows.

From my experience, here are a few things to keep the process flowing and story worlds building.

ONE: READ. Dammit! Just READ! Read fiction. Read flash fiction. Read short stories. Read story magazine. Read novels. Read newspapers (another kind of fiction all together).

TWO: Don’t bother about word count. If you get stuck on a short story that feels like it needs to end but you’re only 500 words in, then end it! The right length for a story is as long as it takes to tell. No more, no less.

THREE: Ask questions about what you see around you. It’ll spark story after story…

Examples:

If you want stories to flow, you need to give them something to feed on, then open the lid, switch on the tap, spill the bucket… whatever metaphor works for you, and write. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 140 character twitter story or a novel. A story is a story, no matter how long it takes to tell.

Be awesome folks.
Tina K.

Know your Genre! I’m serious!

Know your GenreKnowing your genre helps you do everything from build your characters to set your tone. Who knew!!? When I finally looked for my genre, this is what I found! I had no IDEA there were so many. I’m serious! Scroll down the list! Excuse the number of !!!! but I was stunned.

There’s more to knowing and understanding your genre than making it easy for sellers to put your book on the right shelf.

Close to finishing my first novel (YES!!!!! It’s actually real!!), I began to pay more attention to the whole “know your genre” thing. Really only because I had to say where it belonged in the synopsis and cover letter.

So I looked at detective, mystery and thriller and to my surprise, my book didn’t fit any of them completely.

If you enjoy the thriller/detective/mystery genres, you’ll have noticed that although they seem similar, each genre has a very clear definition of what they are, who they appeal to, the type of language they use, the type of characters that make the story and how light or heavy they are as a read.

A thriller, Pelican Brief as an example, is totally different to a detective story like the Rebus books, which in turn is a world away from Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot in the horror genre. People who enjoy a thriller might hate detective stories. Both genres are about finding the truth, but they use different language, different types of characters and are most often on totally different stages: global for thrillers and local for detective (I am generalising now…).

My point being, the genre really does help you know your reader and what they will or won’t accept in your book. The supernatural, for instance, can sneak into a mystery, but it can’t often sneak into a thriller. Do you see what I mean?

Even the language is different. A down and dirty detective story might be written using a kind of language that someone who enjoys political intrigue just won’t get.

The genre determines the tone, language, subject matter, length, ending, EVERYTHING!

So ask a different question… Instead of asking “What genre is my book?” ask instead “What will people who read my book, also enjoy?”

You might be surprised.

When I asked that question, my mind turned to TV instead of books. People who enjoy Pie in the Sky, Rosemary and Thyme, Diagnosis Murder, Murder She Wrote… might just enjoy Feet First, a Boline Creek novel.

Hallelujah!!

Turns out, all those TV series are part of a genre called Cosy (or Cozy if you’re in the US) Mystery.

Never heard of it!

A Cosy Mystery takes place in a small town, the “detective” is most often not the police, death and sex aren’t taken seriously, the focus isn’t on blood and gore and there isn’t a lot of gun-slinging language.

So, take your time on this question. What will people who read your book, also enjoy?

Have a glorious week.
Tina

 

 

Writing Rules!

Writing RulesWhether you’re writing your first novel or your tenth, you still have to deal with writing rules: things the writing world says are so important to the writing process that they have been elevated from “things to be aware of” to “A RULE”.

– Show Don’t Tell
– Avoid Excessive (Or All) Use Of Adverbs
– Don’t Use Passive Voice
– Write What You Know

To mention a few…

These are good and wonderful, and paying attention to them will make you a better writer, but if you tie yourself to rules, you’ll forget the most important and probably the only REAL writing rule there is.

Write What You Love! Write what rocks your socks! Write what wakes you up at night! Write what freaks you out in the dark! Write what makes you want to pee your pants because you’re laughing and crying so hard!!

If you write what thrills you then it goes without saying that you will Show Not Tell, Kill The Adverbs, Annihilate Passive Voice and Write What You Know.

So read advice on rules, regulations and whatever it takes to be a great writer with caution. There are folk out there who will tell you that if you don’t do XYZ you’ll never make it. CRAP, basically. If all we did was follow the rules then we’d all be doing the writing equivalent of paint by numbers and that’s about as interesting as soggy leaves stuck in the sole of a farmer’s wellie boot.

Write with passion and joy and for the hell of it. Get that right and everything else will fall into place.

You need no other reason and no other rule.

Break plates today!
Tina

Just get it done! Finish your novel already.

Finish Your Novel!When you’ve been working on a number of projects for what seems like years, including trying to finish your novel, you’ll try anything to get traction and move forward. That’s what humans do. Trouble is, we don’t focus on one thing and work it until the end, we try a dozen things at once!

Ever decided that you wanted to lose a bit of weight? Have you ever just stopped eating too much? No, you’ve bought books, gone to therapy, started a bunch of prescribed diets, maybe gone to the gym, fretted about standing on the scales every day at exactly the right time with absolutely nothing on… When all you had to do was burn more than you ate. But when you really want to do something and you can’t seem to get traction, you look for any and all solutions. And in case one doesn’t work, you run two or three or six in parallel.

In the writing world, that means working on non-fiction, short stories, a screenplay, the novel, building a website, going on courses, doing research for everything…

All you really need to do is sit down, chill out a bit, focus on the most important piece of work, get that done AND OUT THERE, and then move onto the next thing.

Now, once you’re in the flow of writing and you have a few projects on the go, then knock your blue spotted socks off and go for it. But when you have too much going on and aren’t finishing anything, don’t do it. Just don’t risk it. Don’t overload yourself.

Most likely, you already have a day job along with a pile of other family commitments, so it makes perfect sense for your mind to shut down when you try to pile half a dozen writing projects into the mix. You probably already have too much going on.

Choose ONE project. Get it finished. Move to the next one.

Now, your natural instinct might be to say that your novel is the most important thing. Stop everything else and focus on that. But it might not be! It might be the half dozen stories that are almost ready for sale. Maybe it’s the Kindle book you published but haven’t pushed.

The mental pressure of unfinished work builds a barrier distracting you from moving on and focusing on the project you do perceive as being most important.

So work out what unfinished work might be stopping you finishing your novel (writing work, not the garden shed clear-out) and sort it.  List everything you need to get done, and then sit down and work on each one until it’s FINISHED and you can cross it off the list.

Philip Roth said: “The road to hell is paved with Works-In-Progress!”

I’m inclined to agree!

Get it done today. Finish something.
Tina

Write a story you love. Not one you think people will like you for.

Write a story you love - more than anything elseWe do enough in this world with the single purpose of making other people happy. It’s how many folk are raised: don’t say anything to upset anyone; don’t make people uncomfortable; give people what they ask for; step out of your way to be nice so folk will like you. So when you write a story, you have all of that upbringing to battle against which means you will most likely create characters who are nice, following plots that don’t rock too many ships, boats or other sailing vessels and use language easy on the ear. Why?

Because you want people to like you.

Here’s the odd thing. Most folk are so damn sick of “being nice” in the real world that one of the reasons they pick up a book is to delve into a world where people do what they want and get away with it. They don’t wait for the police to deal with a noisy neighbour, they burn their garage down. They don’t have a quiet chat with the parents of kids terrorising the streets, they terrorise the kids and teach them a lesson they’ll never forget.

In the books we love, our favourite characters have the courage of their convictions. They say what’s on their minds even if it means the wrath of an entire nation of believers. The books we love most allow us to experience (just for a moment and deep in our imaginations) what it would be like to act with absolute abandon, to survive and to fight. Doesn’t matter what it’s for. Whether for love or for life. We know when we crack the first page of a book we love that our character will win. One way or another. They will be victorious. 

So, why then, when we sit down to write a story, our own piece of fiction, do we play it safe?

Take a moment to look at book trends. There is always a “first of it’s kind” that makes it HUGE. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, Twilight Saga… Then a few months after these book hit the waves, look at what follows. A thousand copycats. A thousand books written by folk who say “ohhhhhh, people like (fill the blank)” and merrily go and write one just like it. Those books, at best, end up average. They might be expertly written – perhaps even better than the author they’re aspiring to. But it’s still an imitation in a shadow.

So instead of writing what you think people will like, write what YOU LOVE. Write a story whose characters make you want to laugh, cry and climb trees. Write plots that tie you in knots, break your heart, sweat, scream and believe.

Because that’s what people really want.

Break the rules today!
Tina

 

 

Death in fiction! If your writing has a high body count, you’ll love this!

Death in fiction: Read this if your writing has a high body count.If your story lines tend towards a high body count, here’s a book you’ll really enjoy! It’s called “Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roach and is a wonderful resource for anyone who dallies with death in fiction!

It covers (among other things…) what plastic surgeons practice on, the life cycle of a dead body (maggots included), human decay in all its gory (not a typo) and the story bodies tell.

For instance, did you know:

ONE:  When a head is cut off so plastic surgeons can practice their crafts on it, the decapitation takes place directly below the chin. Why? So someone else can make use of the neck.

TWO: Nineteenth-century operating theatres had more to do with instruction than saving lives and were done without any anaethesia. The first time ether was used was 1846.

THREE: Some medical training schools use anesthetized dogs to practice tracheal intubations and catheterisations.

FOUR: There is a facility situated on a Knoxville hillside that is dedicated to the study of human decay. If you get to visit it, you’ll find bodies stretched out on the lawn in various state of dress, covered in everything from plastic to concrete, left in the shade, left in the sun… all to determine how different conditions impact decay.

FIVE: The bit of us that maggots love most is fat.

SIX: As a body decays, it dissolves into the ground. By analyzing chemicals in soil investigators will be able to tell if the body has been moved or if it decayed there.

SEVEN: Dogs trained to locate human remains can pinpoint body parts at the bottom of a lake from the fats and gasses that float up as the flesh rots.

So if people die in your books and you’re interested in what happens to them in the minutes, hours, months and years after their last breath, then get this book and have a read.

It’s excellently written, hugely entertaining (despite the subject matter) and full of some very awesome content.

Enjoy! And watch out for buses…
Tina

Do you feel at home in your story world?

You and your story worldExactly how at home do you feel in your story world?

No matter how real or fantastic it is, your story world needs to feel like a place you’ve known your whole life. You are the kid on the block who’s explored the gutters at two in the morning because you can’t sleep. In your world, you’re the one who knows every ally and shortcut. You know the parts of the city, town, forest, planet, building or ocean that your characters haven’t even heard of. You are the god of this world. You create the storms and bring out the sun. You know how the characters’ actions will change their environment. You know whether the seeds they plant will flourish or die. You know every brick, stone and sewer pipe.

When you know your story world that well, you know, as you write, what story will work there and which one won’t.

You will know that the story you are building there won’t work any where else. It belongs in that world. The one you created.

So if something in your novel or short story isn’t working, maybe it isn’t the characters or the plot. Look instead to the world they inhabit. Is the world fully formed? When you close your eyes and explore it, is it clear or foggy? Do the locals let you in? Or when you walk the streets are they empty with the doors barred? What do your characters do when you walk into the bar? When you’re not writing, but just exploring the place, what do you see? Who do you talk to? Who talks back?

Your characters inhabit your world, but they will only come out to play when you are willing to do your world justice.

Do you get what I mean? If it’s a little off-weird, I apologise. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe I just need to invite you into my world so you know what I mean.

Get your boots on then…
Tina

For character development on steroids, put your character through a personality test!

Dig deep into your character's mindNever entered my mind to do this! I like it! Seriously, try it out… Put your characters through a personality test.

Below is a list of a few of the free personality tests you’ll find online. You can pay for a really thorough test, but for a quick and dirty one, these work fine.

I tried out the MBTI test (MMDI and Jung) because I know a bit about that already. When I read the results I was stunned at how clearly my main character stood out. I was also able to see why some scenes didn’t work. It just gives you a totally different insight into your story world.

Now, you might think that you know your characters really well, and you probably do. But take a moment to think about your best friend or even yourself. If you’ve ever taken one of these test, or read one your friend has taken, you’ll know that there are insights into your inner world that make you go “Oohhhhhh, that’s right… never thought of it that way, but that’s true!”

Character development personality tests…

Here are the tests – there are dozens more if you dig around. The first link (Similar Minds) has a whole list you can explore. Some of them a bit odd, I grant you:

– Similar Minds: This one has a whole bunch of different test on one page. I haven’t explored them all yet.
– MMDI: Very similar to Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I’ve tried this one. You can pay for the full report.
– Jung test: This is also an MBTI test. It doesn’t give you as much information as MMDI but you can take the test, get the 4 letters you need (you’ll know them when you see them), then pick up a book on MBTI and read up on it.

Happy digging around your head today!
Tina