Note To Self – Stop Thinking So Much!

Got to thinking today about how much time we lose over-thinking things.

We have a bright idea. Then we think of all the alternatives. Then we carefully think through each alternative including the benefits of doing nothing.

In the meantime our original idea has gone from pure energy to a whisper in the mist – full of fear and doubt.

Fear and doubt brings on a sense of urgency, and in our rush to do something, we choose between the two most obvious thoughts: what we’ve always done or nothing.

The hours, days, weeks and years tick on by. And we keep thinking.

Now if we flip things around: Do as much as we currently think, and think as much as we previously did – we might see different results.

Here’s a little haiku:

Whales sing across seas.
Trees weave with the universe.
Only people stop…

To think.

 

 

How to use a story grid to build a solid plot (infographic included)

Story Building and Plotting by Tina KonstantIf your story is any more complicated than The Three Bears, then you might, at some point, get into plotting.

For years I was a “Pantster”, until I was told (in no uncertain terms by a very talented editor) that although I was getting better at character, dialogue, descriptions, show-not-tell… my plot was crap.

So I did a lot of reading and landed on this method of story building and plot development that, if you’re working on a novel, you might find useful.

How to use it?

First, build your grid (see below): Along the top put all the main elements of your story – use any structure you like – the one in this example I used for the current version of FF. Down the left column, list as many characters as you want to include.

Then…

  1. Starting with your lead, fill in the boxes. What happens at every stage of the story?
  2. Do the same for the other characters. For instance… if your lead is in deep conversation with with authorities about the bad guy, what exactly is the bad guy doing at that moment? Sitting in the wings waiting her turn? Noooooo, I’d hope not. Include each characters’ story line, even if not all of it will be included in the book. It will give you great context.
  3. When all the squares are full, look at the grid and identify which squares need to be included to weave your complete story. When you get down to writing, you’ll probably find that each box is a chapter.
  4. Pull all the words out of each box, bind them together and before you know it, you’ll have yourself a pretty decent plot and a synopsis you can submit to agents.

A side note…

You don’t have to complete the boxes in order. You might already know the main bits of your story and who plays them out. So fill those in first, then fill in the blanks.

When you look at every characters’ complete story you’ll be surprised what you find. There’ll be all sorts of connections and motivations that you might not of have noticed before.

Happy plotting
Tina

P.S. I can’t remember where I first found this idea. If someone knows, please let me know. I’ll add the reference and credit to this blog.

 

Writing Retreats: A writer’s place to be

Addo Reach and Hein's Cottage - writer's retreatJust spent a couple of weeks with family in South Africa. My mother’s house, a Bed & Breakfast in a little town called Alicedale, about an hour out of Port Elizabeth, is the kind of place writers dream about when they think about writing retreats. 

The only sound you are likely to hear is the buzz and hum of birds and bees, and random music drifting out of a neighbour’s open door. Peace and seclusion with just enough contact with the outside world to remind you it exists.

It’s in a place like this that you let go of ideas you thought you were wedded to and make new ones that seem somehow braver.

You don’t have to search for a quiet spot in this peaceful place to meditate. All you need to do is sit, and look, and listen to the early morning mist as the sun brushes against it. There’s a sigh in the air at the moment it clears the ground leaving the morning sky blue.

In the beginning, your town and city feet might itch; you’ll find yourself pacing and walking the halls, making tea and noise. Then, on your third day (give or take), things suddenly slow down and you’ll stop watching the clock or the shadows as they shrink and grow then take over for the night.

When you finally accept that nothing is going to happen – there’ll be no noise or chaos, no surprises or mad rushes – then your breathing will slow, your eyes will open and you’ll be able to reach that little bit further into the secret hiding places in your mind where the best version of the writer in you lives.

That’s a place you want to be. It’s the place you want to go to even when the world around you is mad and rushed and crazy. It’s the feeling of slow and still and quiet. It’s the sense of peace that only wide open spaces populated by little more than aloes and elephants can give.

From there, create and write. It’s exactly the place to be.
Hope to meet you there someday soon.
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

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

You’re writing a novel, so why bother with short stories?

A short story or two could be the solution to all your writing issues!Whether you’re in the thick of writing your novel, working hard at starting it, stuck in writer’s block or dreaming about your career as an author, you might find some answers in the unlikely lap of a short story or two.

But why take the time (that you probably don’t have) and effort (that’s dwindled to a puddle) to write a short story when every moment of your day is absorbed by either working on or freaking out over your novel???

In no particular order… 11 ways a short story can make you a better writer

ONE: Short stories are quick to write. If you’re stuck on your novel and need a distraction, pick a character and genre you’d never normally write in and blast a story out. You’ll be surprised how many rusted bolts that loosens up.

TWO: Short stories are an amazing way to develop a character. If yours are feeling a little two dimensional, pick an era in their lives (outwith the timeline of your novel) and write a short story about that. It will give you incredible insight into their back story and might reveal a few things about them that you didn’t know.

THREE: If getting your stuff out there seems terrifying, write a dozen short stories (at least) then send them ALL out for sale. Not competition. SALE. You’ll soon feel comfortable sending your work out, writing cover letters, finding the right publications and feeling OK if they say no. Why? Because if they do come back unaccepted, you tweak it and send it out again!

FOUR: Short stories are perfect for developing and experimenting with story worlds. Write a short story titled “A day in the life of a lizard in my story world”. You’ll be surprised what you find out. Most of the time you view your world from character head height. What happens on the street? What do things look like from the ground up? What does your world look like from a totally different angle? If your main characters are very rich, write a short story about someone in your world who is very poor.

FIVE: Use short stories to fix your writing challenges. If you have a problem with good dialogue, write short stories packed with it. If narrative is an issue, write one with narrative only. Whatever your writing weakness, use short stories to work it. Once you’re done, send a few into competitions that offer a review. Get feedback from professionals, rewrite based on the feedback, then send it out for SALE!

SIX: If you can’t think of anything to write, then write a short story that starts with your name. Don’t plan. Don’t think. Just free flow. It won’t take much time and it’ll get things going.

SEVEN: Practice your editing skills. A novel is a mammoth thing to edit. More often than not it takes way longer than we expect, and certainly longer than we’d like! Get better at it. Write short stories, edit them well, then send them out into the world.

EIGHT: When you send your novel out, you’re at the mercy of other people’s schedules. If all you’re doing is waiting to hear back about ONE piece of work, you’re likely to crash and burn when/if you get a no. But if you always have multiple bits of work in the market, getting a no won’t have that much impact on your soul. You’ll have a bunch of other pieces of work out there. So rework what came back, and send it out again.

NINE: They’re fun! There isn’t a huge investment of time. You can write flash fiction if you like. A mere 500 words. When things are getting too serious, look around the space you’re in, pick 3 words and write a story that incorporates them. Make is as crazy and ridiculous as you can. Make yourself laugh! Then, if you like it, edit it and send it out to WORK!

TEN: Short stories allow you to build a great portfolio. One day, when you have a bunch of stories you love, you can gather them all together and publish a compilation. Never a word wasted.

ELEVEN: One of a writer’s fears it the notion of spending years on something that doesn’t go anywhere. A short story will give you a reprieve from that. Spend an hour or two writing it (1500-2000 words) then a week or so to edit and stew, then send it out. Use this little tool to beat your writing fears whether they stem from the quality of your work to judgement of it. Sod it. Put it out there anyway. What’s the worst that can happen? Oh… say it ain’t so… you might actually get really good at it and get result. RESULTS!

There are 11 reasons to write short stories. Any more? Let me know…

Happy writing today!
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

How to build an IRRESISTIBLE story world

Build an irrisistable story world

Why bother with your story world? What’s the big deal?

I was 13 when I decided to be a storyteller. It happened the day I sat in a hot school hall with 800 other kids and listened to a live story teller tell Herman Charles Bosman stories. One guy dressed in baggy blue dungarees sat on a rocking chair on our school stage and hypnotised 800 kids on a warm, blue-sky South African summer day. I WANT TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT! I said to my 13-year-old self and she agreed.

Now, I didn’t necessarily want to don blue dungarees and travel around the globe telling Bosman stories, but I did want to be able to transport people from where they were into where I wanted them to be. I wanted to learn how to make the story world so sharp and real that people would phone up to book a long weekend in the local hotel or call our best restaurant to book a table for 12.

We’ve all read books that do that. Books that draw us so tightly into the mind of the characters that we could get hit by a bus and not notice. It’s powerful.

Articles from people who’ve thought about this a great deal

ONE: 7 Deadly Sins of World Building by Charlie Jane Anders: In short – DETAIL. This particular article discusses the mistakes writers make when they don’t go into enough detail on everything from the history or the world to daily functions.

TWO: Article by Holly Lisle: How much of the world do I build? Holly starts off saying you should build only what you need and imply the rest, and ends by saying you shouldn’t beat yourself up about the details of your world. She has a point. It’s easy to get caught up in building up every detail and point of history of your world instead of just sitting down and writing and working it out as you go. Despite different approaches, Holly and Charlie Jane Anders have DETAIL in common.

THREE: Creating Story World by Melinda Evaul: In this article Melinda talks about how to gather research and understand the inner workings of your character by putting them through a Myers-Briggs personality tests. Never thought of trying that. Very cool. She also suggests you gather pictures, images, shapes and sounds that make up your world and surround your writing space with it.

Happy Building
Tina