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.

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

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