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.

The power of a great stew while waiting for feedback on your novel

Get feedback on your novel.OK! That’s it! You’ve polished your first draft as much as you can and it’s morphed from what once resembled the literary equivalent of roadkill to something someone might actually want to play with. You’re finally ready for feedback on your novel. Not from professionals, but from people who know a good story when they see it and love you enough to tell you the TRUTH.

So you package it up, send it off and celebrate with chocolate cake, getting stoned, chilled or merely mellow. However, once the celebrations are over, your mind has cleared and returns to your novel, you have some choices to make…

ONE: You can pace the room and fret about what the people reading your precious book are thinking. Are they reading it right now? Are they hating it and trying to think of a way to give you bad news?

TWO: You can re-read it yourself and edit it leaving your kind readers with version 2 while you work on version 3.

THREE: You can hang your boots, hat, belt and underpants on a tree and let it stew!

You’ve worked hard, you’ve got the book the best you can at this point. Doing any more work on it is pointless because you’re too close. All you see are the bits you like, not the overall story – warts, old bubblegum and all.

So let it go and let it stew, because when you hand your work over to someone else to review, things happen…

ONE: Your perspective changes. When you get your book back, you’ll see your characters and their stories differently. You’ll notice more.

TWO: Different strengths and weakness in your story will show themselves because you’ll have stopped focusing on the bits you like most.

THREE: You’ll be more objective. Once you’ve had a good break from it, faults in the writing won’t seem so personal. The distance will have allowed you to grow a bit of skin.

Bottom line, hand your book over and ignore it. Walk away, don’t look at it, go on holiday, write short stories, live outside your writing.

Like any great stew, a book looks, tastes and smells better after it’s sat around for a while.

Have fun today
Tina

You’re writing a novel, not making cupcakes!

You're writing a novel! It'll take longer than cupcakes to bake.Do not quit! Don’t you dare stop writing, carving, knitting, filming… just because it seems like nothing is happening. You’re writing a novel, not making cupcakes. You can’t expect a result in 23 minutes.

One of the greatest difficulties we have as human beings is to keep on a course of action even though it seems like nothing is happening. We want results. We want a response from the world. We want recognition and appreciation. We want it NOW! Dammit!!

It goes for everything we do whether we’re on a diet (it might have taken me 44 years to put on all my weight, what’s wrong with me wanting it gone in a month?) or building up a social network (I’m ready to talk now… I demand you listen!) to getting published (my genius is complete. Love me now!)

The truth is, even though you might have finally found your stride, the rest of the word needs time to decide to join you on your walk. If you quit, you’ll never know what’s at the end of the path. So keep going even if you think nothing is happening.

So you’re writing a novel. Feels like you’re in a vacuum. How long do you go on for?

Depends what your motives are.

If you’re doing what you’re doing to make guaranteed money fast, then no results for months and years doesn’t make sense. If you’re creating art, however, where there are no guarantees, then your motives need to be such that it doesn’t matter that you don’t see a result immediately. You’re writing, carving, knitting or filming for the sake of it. If the world never sees it, the fact that you’ve done it and just you and your cat love it, might be enough.

So to go Zen for a moment…

The world is connected in ways we’ll never fully comprehend. For as long as you keep going, the rest of the universe can do it’s thing. If you stop, everything the world has in mind for you will just pass you by because you won’t be ready. So keep going. Know with certainty that even though it seems like nothing is happening, the world is working for you.

When you really want to quit, what can you do?

ONE: Turn to someone who won’t let you. Any time I trot out my drama queen lines: “I can’t do it! Enough! Swoon!!” My husband tells me not to be an idiot and to get back to it.

TWO: Take a complete weekend off your main project, the one you think you’re getting no results from. Instead, do something quicker, easier, shorter. If you’re writing a novel, take a couple of days away from it and write a few short stories instead. If you’re sculpting a herd of life sized elephants, take time out and whittle out a bumble bee. Do something you can finish.

THREE: Take some time to work out what your motives are. What’s driving you? Are you writing your novel to make a lot of money fast? Or are you writing to eventually become the best writer you can be? Be really clear why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’ll help reconcile any frustrations you might be feeling about how long it takes to get the result you want.

Above all, be good to yourself. It’s good practice for being good to others…
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

How to get from the real world to a story idea?

How to go from real world to story ideasfind story ideas in the real worldThe short story is a fiction microcosm. A Petri dish where all the elements of a good read, from story idea to the afterglow you get when it stays with you, are present, but in small pieces.

As part of my own exploration into that Petri dish, I’m reading a lot of short stories by some very good writers, including Joanne Harris’s collection, “A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String.”

Before the start of each short story she writes a short paragraph introducing the story and sometimes describes what inspired it. In many cases, the leap from the real world to the story idea is a big one.

I looked at my own short stories and realised that similarly, many of them bear little resemblance to what inspired them in the first place.

As I let that idea stroll around my head I began to see the “intangible something” that fills that gap between the real world and the story idea. After all that strolling and thinking, I also finally accepted that any time I tried to force the leap from “real world” to “story idea” the story just didn’t work. 

Hence the question: How to get from real world to story idea? What happens in the gap between real life and fiction? Where does the story evolve from? What is that spark that forms the bridge between fact and fiction? Where does it come from?

In the quest for a great story idea, the most elusive of all writing tools, inspiration, clearly plays a part. 

So I did some web research into inspiration. Here are a few views from other people:

ONE: I like this one most… From a blog by Ariel Constantinof: How to find inspiration for writing? Don’t: Ariel says you don’t find it, you make it. It’s not some magic that floats into your head. You seek it out and if it doesn’t happen, just start writing anyway. I agree. I do this a lot. Start with a few words and sometimes an image, and it goes from there. The ending, you’ll find, is as much a surprise to you as your audience.

TWO: Write to Done gives 31 ways to find inspiration, from blogs to people watching. The common factor with most of these suggestions is that you get into the world! Why? Because more often than not the conversations we have with ourselves are nonsense. If you’re looking for inspiration, you need to get out of your own head!

THREE: Another approach is taken by Henri Junttila in his article Inspire to Write. Meditation, silence, quietude. Getting out of your own head by going deeper into it 🙂 Very cool.

To be inspired, you need raw material.

Stephen King’s famous comment on reading, I think, sums it up: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

When all that raw material from a thousand different sources stews and simmers in our minds, the ideas, no matter now disparate merge and a story idea blossoms whether we like it or not.

This blooming happens at the most random of times (in the shower, in a hot tub, walking the dogs, washing dishes…) which is why, perhaps, we think there is some magic behind inspiration. The truth is, if you read and think, explore and converse with the world, then inspiration is inevitable. All those small ideas bind together making it possible to make the leap from carpets to cats.

Make magic today folks.
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

LOVE writing? LOVE feedback! 5 ways to get the most out of it

Be brave. Pick a tough editor. The feedback will do your book good!

Feedback from a professional is the lifeblood of great writing. You can spend years on what you think is an absolute marvel but without feedback from people who know what they’re talking about (not your mother, best buddy or 3rd cousin Jethro) you’ll never know if there are gaps in your plot or holes in your characters. All you’ll know – if you put the book to market without feedback – is that people aren’t responding to it. You’ll know that something is wrong, but you won’t know what.

Now of course, sending your novel or short story to a ruthless, picky professional can be damn scary, but if you’re scared to send it out to ONE person to read critically, how do you think you’ll handle putting that same work online or on Amazon for it be shredded – or even worse – ignored by the public!?

You have to grow to LOVE feedback. Seek it out. Find the toughest, meanest, glass-eyed editors and beg them to leave mercy at the door! Don’t ask people who love you for feedback. Your mother will tell you it’s wonderful. Your best buddy will take pity on you and get you drunk. Your 3rd cousin, Jethro will probably ask for a loan.

Go to the professionals. Ask for honest feedback. Then do the following to make sure you can do something with it:

ONE: Let your book go. You have to. Once you hand it over to a professional, you need to detach yourself from it. If you don’t, the feedback you get might feel horribly personal. But when an editor says – your characters are weak and limp. She really is saying YOUR CHARACTERS are weak and limp. Not you. But if you are too entwined with your book, you’ll risk taking feedback personally and it could break you.

TWO: Listen! This is important. Really listen to what a good editor has to say. These people have read, reviewed, studied, considered, edited, re-written hundreds of books and short stories. You have written… what? How many? One? Three? Maybe 10 if you’re on a roll? A professional editor knows their beans. Listen to them.

THREE: Take their recommendations seriously. Don’t just THINK about them. Implement them. What’s the point of great feedback if you’re going to ignore it?

FOUR: Think for yourself. On one hand I say listen and take the editor’s recommendations seriously, but you also need to think for yourself. The very first novel I wrote (never published – still on a shelf) I included every suggestion the editor made. It ended up not sounding like me at all. So listen to everything, then do rewrites based on the feedback, not mindlessly including it.

FIVE: Make sure you give your best work to the editor. Don’t give your book or short story to an editor because you can’t work out what to do next. If your plot or characters are broken, do the work, fix them, then get the editor in. Your name will be on the cover after all.

Bottom line… Grow a thick skin! Feedback is part of the process. Don’t shortcut the process.

Happy growth spurt today!
Tina