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Friday, April 30, 2010

Awesome Websites

I am feeling very drained today, if you couldn’t already tell from the lateness of this post.

But I do want to blog on a regular basis, and I don’t want to just post the scattered renants that used to be my thoughts before revision killed them all.

So. Lucky for me, some cool people did some awesome stuff with their blogs today, so allow me to direction your attention there, and ignore the revision-machete in my other hand.

This is Timothy Hallinan’s series of post of how to finish a novel. Before you phiffle that you’ve already finished a novel, I would take a look anyway. There is some useful stuff here.
Finishing Your Novel

Also, Kierstan White and some of her buddies posts their various writing processes. I found Kierstan’s especially amusing.
My Process

So there you go. You can haz links.

Back to the trenches!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Open Letter to My Muse

(Author’s note: My muse is a guy. I don’t know why, it’s just the way it is. *shrugs* And he’s much closer to Puck than Calliope, if you know what I mean.)

Dear Hammerstein,

I know we’ve had our differences in the past. You like to constantly flirt with my female author-friends, leaving me feeling like the third wheel. You always come up with good plot ideas for their stories, but hardly any for mine. If one of my writer friends asks for help coming with something, I have a thousand ideas immediately. If, however, I am trying to figure out how to make some element of my plot fit, it feels like I am cramming a square peg into a circular hole, while you stand on the sidelines chuckling.

To be fair, you do give me excellent character ideas. Yet I hardly have any ideas for the corresponding plot, which is problematic because characters need to DO something. I am the only one who is perfectly willing to read about my characters sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee. Is this how you get your kicks? Giving me a great character dynamic, but I’ll be darned if I can think of a proper plot to drop them in?

So I am writing this letter to you today to ask: What gives?

What have I ever done to you?

I feed you chocolate and cookies. Sometimes I stare at the computer screen, or lately, the printed pages in front of me, sure that chocolate will solve the problem. I read lots of books, about all kinds of cool subjects. I dutifully write down various bits of ideas, even though most of them are half baked at best, because of that one time you pulled two completely unrelated ideas together to make something really cool.

Those were good times. Now I am convinced that maybe someday you will combine two ideas again, so presently I have lots of little snippets in my idea folder.

I recently made a break through with my writing process thanks to your insight, so I know you’re still there. One of your favorite methods of idea delivery seems to be through my dreams, leading me to believe you must be Morpheus’s distant cousin (which is really cool, by the way), but this is problematic as well. Characters need to have some sort of purpose. I am all for cool scene ideas, really I am, but those scene have to exist within an entire book. I wish you would also enlighten me as to the context of the rest of the book those scenes go in. That would be really helpful.

I try to be a good author, I swear. I don’t just “wait for inspiration to strike”. I know you fired your last author because she was lax in her duties, and never showed up for your meetings. I try to have my butt in the chair at the same time everyday, and keep working through problems, even if the solution doesn’t immediately present itself.

I try to avoid those slutty new ideas too, that tempt me away from current works in progress. I drink lots of water and take my vitamins. I exercise regularly. I would drink milk, but I am lactose intolerant, so I save my dairy consumption for ice cream. You have already approved this.

So what gives? Is there someone else? Have you found another, younger author? I know I am not getting any younger, but I was hoping our relationship meant something more than just a pretty face to you. I had hoped all those moments of inspiration, coming to me like bolts of lightening, were your way of telling me you cared. Maybe I am just being naïve. Sometimes, when we meet up for brainstorming sessions, I could swear there’s another author’s font all over you. I can’t turn a blind eye anymore. I can’t pretend that I don’t notice that you’re out all night, always “working late”. I went to your house the other day, and your brother Ira was there with a heartbroken look on his face.

I just can’t do this anymore. The books are suffering because of it. It’s not me, it’s you. It’s time for us to part ways. I hope we can still be civil, but I am just too hurt right now to be friends. I’ll give all of your stuff to Ira; he’s been a better Muse to me than you ever have, and I’m not even his author. I am keeping the ideas we shared. We shouldn’t make them pay because we can’t get along anymore.

It’s time for me to move on.

Yours truly,
Elizabeth Poole

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thoughtful Tuesday Post

Song Playing: Ain’t That a Kick in the Head by Dean Martin

Okay, sooo I was very busy the last two days doing wedding stuff. The good news is it’s all coming together nicely. The bad news is it’s taking up a lot of my free time. Despite this, I still managed to make some awesome progress with editing. Like 60 pages worth of progress between now and my last progress update. Go me! This might not sound like a lot of progress to you, but the process of editing I am using right now, that’s huge.

Basically, I am reading over my rough draft and looking for story problems, places where the worldbuilding fell apart, places where the character are acting out of character, and pieces that I love (so I don’t edit these out, throwing the baby out with the bath water). Every single page I read over I ask myself these questions. When I encounter a problem, I mark it with a special number and letter code that references a specific worksheet, one worksheet for each type of problem, and write the issue on the worksheet. This gives me the space to write something really long if I need to, and allows me to come back to the same rough draft and edit it more, without it getting too complicated.

So as you might figure, this is very time consuming. I am averaging one or two edits per page for places where I need to tighten up the story, or the character isn’t acting in a believable fashion. This book in particular is very green, so I have a long slog ahead of me. But it’s going to be worth it, because I love this story.

Today I wanted to throw my two cents into a hotly debated topic.

Nathan Bransford posted a question last week: “Does the Query System Work?”

The comments section quickly became rabid sea of people taking sides and wailing about the failings of the publishing industry in general and agents in particular.

The summation of the thoughts was this:

*Signed authors/readers said: “Yes it does, because that’s how I got my agent/because there are books in the store I want to read.”
Personally, I think this is faulty logic. Just because it worked for you, doesn’t mean it’s working for other people.

*People complained the system doesn’t work and that it was “luck” and “being in the right place at the right time”.
I agree with this notion, but…it also seems pointless to complain about it.
Note there’s a difference between commiserating and complaining. We will all commiserate about failed queries at some point in time. But most of us won’t go on angry tirades the minute the word “query” is mentioned.

A LOT of things in life run on either luck or fate, depending on your beliefs. If you’re not fated to get your book published until Agent X sees your query on Day 12 and a bolt of lightening strikes them down, then what’s the use bellyaching about it in the meantime? If you have to get lucky in order to make the same thing happen, why not accept it and move on?

Conversely, I also believe you make you own luck. Sure, there’s a element of chance and connecting with the right agent, but if you keep going, if you keep summiting your queries and improving your craft, and writing books, and taking classes, and doing everything you can to be the best writer you can be, you increase your chances of “getting lucky” and meeting the guy who introduced you to your future agent. Or hearing about the right agency to submit to.



*People complained that writing a query was hard, and they wasted a lot time of finding the criteria to properly compose the query and then the right agent to publish their work.
I do agree we spend loads of time finding the right agent, crafting the perfect query, only to get rejected. I agree this is hard, and we have better things to do with our time. But I also think that this is the model we’re working with at the moment, and just because something is HARD doesn’t mean it’s not working. I think the bit that comes after the query letter is up for more discussion than the letter itself.

The problem here is define “work”. I am not trying to argue semantics, but making a point.

On one hand, yes, the query system works in the sense that agents are signing writers, and books are being published.

On the other hand, there are (presumably) awesome writers not getting their books looked at because they failed to write a query that caught people’s eye. I am going to bypass the complaint that writing queries is “hard”. Writing a book is hard. Writing a query IS hard, it’s like writing a haiku in blood with your big toe. But I don’t think just because something is hard (read: extra work) doesn’t mean the entire system in general doesn’t work.

The real issue is there is we will NEVER have a way to properly quantify the query system, because there’s no way to track the queries that didn’t make it. Sure, we hear stories of authors receiving a trillion rejections (a trillion!) before finding an agent, but there’s also the assumption that during this period of rejection, the writer was getting better. Growing and learning the craft of writing and stuff. You can’t say for sure if this writer should have been published years ago, and therefore the query system failed, or if the writer was published exactly when he was technically good enough to snag an agent.

The main problem I have with a query letter is I don’t feel like it properly conveys someone’s skill as a writer. I mean, it does to a point, but I could hire someone to write my query letter. Also, with the Internet and forums, query letters are becoming more and more polished, and therefore, less indicative of the actual writing prowess of the writer.

BUT

It’s not feasible for an agent to read 5 pages each of the hundreds of people that submit to them, even though this gives the agent a better idea of the quality of writing and the style of the novel. We screen books this way at the bookstore. Read the first couple paragraphs. If you’re hooked, then you request a full manuscript. If it’s poorly written or boring, pass.

This is where I think your query letter could come into play. I think query letters should be a stepping stone, and agents should use query letters to screen out the weirdos and the people who don’t know how to write in basic English (or whatever language their country speaks). Less “make or break it” on the query letter, and more on the first five pages you send them. I would also say standardize the query letter guidelines would streamline everything more efficiently, but then again, I can only assume that different agencies have different guidelines for reasons unknown to us peons.

Overall, do I personally think the query letter system is working? No. I don’t. I don’t understand how some books are even published, books that break all the rules and defy all conventions. And by “break the rules” I don’t mean are avant garde a la Cormac McCarthy. I mean, I was writing better in high school. I am not saying that to be mean, but out of honest confusion.

I think there must be a better way for agents to find writers who not only write good books, and have good ideas, but are willing to work with the system. Who want to make writing their career. Nothing against the hobby novelists, either. To each his own, but I know agents want to find writers who aren’t just good at spinning a tale, but are also a good match. I think the agent-writer relationship could be a wonderful partnership, and there could be system with less trial and error. You hear about writers who find agents who want to “nit pick everything I do” and conversely, agents who “never call me back.” Some writers want a partner in the publishing business who will listen to their woes, but other writers just want someone they can chuck their next masterpiece at and go back to writing.

Guess what? Agents are the same way. Agents want writers who not only write book they can sell, but they want a write that is a good match for their work style. Some agents don’t want to have to hold an author hand while they have their eleventh meltdown. Some agents prefer to have a more formal, business relationship with their authors. Other agents want a personal connection with their clients, who want to find a writer who matches their drive and ambition, and will build a career with them.

Now, what else does this sound like…

Dating! This sounds exactly like dating.

And guess what? There are dating websites out there.

What I really think would be cool if there was some sort of dating type website for authors and agents. That both sides—agents and authors—could make a profile. Genre, interests, projects, credits, etc. Agents would make a profile that reflects what genres they represent, and writers make a profile selected the genre they write in. Both profiles could link back to your website and blog. This would weed out people who submit to the wrong agent based on genre alone, saving both writers and agents time.

When a writer has a finished project, they could post a letter, sort of like a query letter, that states the basics of their book, like plot, word count and genre, and agents could search these letters for books that sound interesting. The time agents spend answering queries now could be spent looking through this data base (or bases).

Conversely, writers could also contact agents with finished projects, but now it’s a two way street. Agents could connect us when we write something that sound like something they would want to represent, and vice versa.

There could be forums were people post writing questions, and agents woes, and it could streamline the entire process for both writers and agents.

Agents have complained/mentioned recently that they are swamped with queries. I know agents don’t want to close themselves to submissions, just to catch up. This seems counterintuitive to their objective to get more clients.

Writers spend a lot of time looking up information on agents and publishing companies, and crafting the perfect query for each person. What if it was all in one place?

It wouldn’t solve ALL of the problems, of course. You would still get rejected, you would still not always connect with the agent you had your eye on, but it seems like it could cut out the middle man and get right down to the heart of the agent-author relationship: Do you want my book? Did you write a book I would want to represent?

I want to storm the publishing gates now, but there are no gates to storm. *sigh*

So clearly what I am talking about is just an idea. Do you think this would work? Am I missing something obvious?

It’s a day for pie-in-the-sky dreams anyway.

Nathan Bransford is following up with his question by holding a little contest to be an agent for a day. He’s going to post query letters and you can vote on which letter you would ask for a partial from. It should be interesting experiment to say the least.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Exploratory Draft

Quote: “Me, I have recently taken to calling that first flawed, juicy, wild draft the “exploratory draft.” It sounds so much more exciting than “first draft.” It sounds fearless, like you’re stepping into an unknown territory with a knife strapped to your thigh, or like you’re sailing around an uncharted island, looking for a place to drop anchor so you can dive in and swim ashore. And it IS kind of like that, because in your early days with your idea, no matter how well you think you know it from your daydreaming, brainstorming, and outlining, you can’t really know it until you’re IN it.

You have to find the story -- and that’s what exploratory drafts are for: exploring the unmapped lands of your idea and mapping them.”
~Laini Taylor

Song Playing: Welcome to the Jungle Guns and Roses


I am reporting deep in the editing trenches, machete in one hand and a pen in the other. I read a really great post about Plot by Laini Taylor, which in turn lead me to her post on Revision. Right now I am reading everything I can on revision, if only to give me more ideas on doing so. I find it’s an efficient way to motivate me, because whenever I read a technique on revision, it makes me want to try it. And what do you know, I have this fresh First Draft, just waiting to be revised.

The best idea I gleaned from Laini’s post on revision is she calls her first drafts “exploratory drafts”. This is an awesome idea. It really encapsulates how I am trying to view this draft. Not as this concrete thing made of stone, where I can only chisel a bit here, and smooth out a rough edge there, but a wild romp of an idea that I took for a test drive. Sure, I crashed into numerous mailboxes with this manuscript, but don’t we all?

It’s better to look at what you have and think: How can this be better? How can I make this character more interesting? Instead of just tinkering around with the sentence structure, all the while wondering why your writing feels flat.

Why settle for good enough? Why settle for “well, that’s the way I wrote it, so that’s the way it stays.” Trust me, I know. You’re thinking, “Nooo! I thought I was done with the writing part!” But what’s the rush? Especially for those of us not published, and not working with contracts and deadlines, you literally have all the time you need to make this the best story it can be. When you’re editing, you need to make sure to clean under the couch and underneath the sink too, not just dust for loose modifiers, and throw away purple prose.



The important thing is to reimage things for THIS story. You’re not making a monument to every idea that you’ve ever had, but you are making a monument to this idea. Sometimes you haven’t figured out what that idea is until AFTER you’ve written the first draft. That’s okay. That’s how a lot of writers work, if the blogs I read are any indication. It’s how this book turned out. As I revise and work my way through the scenes, I think of a better way to introduce the character, reimage ways to get the character from Plot Point A to Plot Point B, and come up with ways to tie subplots together.

I am not saying you should utterly change everything about your first draft (unless you need to), but I do think it’s in your better interest—and the book’s—if you allow yourself to be open to change. Even though the first draft feels very concrete, that’s a lie. It’s not concrete. You wrote everything exactly the way it is, and you can also change everything about chapter 12, or delete that chapter all together, if that’s what you need to do in order to make it the best book it can be.

Notice how I am saying “the best book it can be”. There’s always some amount of growth when you finish a book. I am a better writer now than I was six months ago, and I am definitely a better writer now than I was when I wrote the book. The idea isn’t to shelf this book, and write another, but to use what I have learned to make this book better.

Which brings me to my next point. Writers want to know when they should stop revising. Some people get stuck in this revision cycle for years, telling you proudly that they’ve been revising their masterpiece for 12 years.



Maybe you need 12 years to revise a certain book. I recently read an amazing book that took the author 7 years to write. I can bet you though she wasn’t working on that book nonstop for 7 years. She probably nurtured and prodded the book off and on over the year while doing other things.

Some people can revise a book in two weeks, and it comes out of the end of her gauntlet-like revision process as a publishable work. Personally, I would pay money to witness this bloody process in action, forget gladiator fights. Two week complete revision? Ouch!

However long it takes you, you should be improving the book. That’s the key. You should be able to see the progress between draft 2 and draft 3. Or 1 to 2, or whatever draft you are on. If the book isn’t moving forward, if you’re just dinking around with a word here and there, you’re procrastinating and it’s time to kick the book out the door to sink or swim.

What about you? How do you view your first draft? As one big experiment or something more solid? When do you know you’re done revising?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Ultimate Quest

Song Playing: Holy Diver by Dio

***Warning: Extreme dorkyness ahead***

Yesterday I embarked on a noble quest. This is a quest I think we writers all take at least once in our career. This quest gripped me throughout most of the day. It started innocently enough. I was working on my laptop, which has an older version of MS Word than my desktop. Some of my favorite fonts are not on it, as a result. So I thought I would download them.

Any of you who have been on this quest before…well, you know what happened next…

I typed “free font downloads” and hours later, I emerged with fourteen new fonts. I did not find a free download of Georgia, or Book Antiqua, or Gill Sans, or Century, like I was looking for (I assume now that you can’t download them for free, after some thought about copyrights and such). Instead, I found other fonts to fill the void that Georgia and Century had left. Cool fonts. One of my new ideas is about an exorcist’s apprentice, and I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if I have a gothic-looking font for this project?”



I have several gothic-looking fonts now, but the problem is most of them are not going to be easy to write a novel with. I could use some as headers, but they aren’t good for writing long documents, like books. Some of them are really busy, some are super teeny-tiny (seriously, font-designers, what’s up with squishing words together? Don’t you know how hard that is to read? Especially after hours of staring at the computer screen?), some of them look like they are in all caps, and some of them are so dark they look like someone made them with the “bold” button on. It’s hard to see how a font is going to work out with just a sample sentence, which is why I wound up with so many fonts and so few actual contenders for the Gothic Font of Choice.

I have three qualities that I look for in fonts that I write a book in:

*Medium sized. I can’t stand those teeny fonts or the really big ones that fit roughly two words per page.

*Clean. They need to be clean to look at. If the font is too busy or distracting, I see the words on the screen in front of me, and have a harder time getting into the “zone” to write. Fonts guilty of being too busy for my taste include: Bradley Hand, Castellar, Copperplate Gothic, and Curlz MT. Calisto MT is borderline for me. Sometimes I think it’s just over the line of being too busy and cutesy, and sometimes I think it can come and play with it’s big brother Georgia.



*Pretty to look at. This is subjective, of course, but I want it to have some decoration without it being too distracting. Too many curly-cues and flair to the letters and I look at the words (I am looking at you, Bradley Hand. I think most writers had that thought, “Hey, I am a writer, but I am using a computer. Why not use Bradley Hand? It’s like handwriting on the computer!”…two minutes later, you get annoyed with how the words look and you stumble across trusty old Verdana, or perhaps Book Antiqua and never look back). I fell in love with Book Antiqua first, and now I am stuck in a Georgia phase. I also like to use Century, Palatino Linotype and Bookman Old Style.



I tried Century Gothic to fill my gothic font needs, but it’s a little plain. Century Gothic looks more like a font I would edit in, not write with. Franklin Gothic Book is nice, but again with the too small and squished together problem. I thought about Constantia, though this one might be too dark, I haven’t decided yet. Bookman Old Style is nice, and a contender for the prize.



Despite the fonts I downloaded, I am not sure if I have found the perfect font yet. Some of the pretty fonts I downloaded (I am not going to link back to where I downloaded them. I am not a 100% sure you won’t get a virus (although I did check the website before I downloaded anything), and then come and blame me. So just Google them if you want to look at them):

*Daybreaker: This looks like it’s all in bold, but it’s relatively clean to read. It has an almost faded look to it in 12pt, but I would have to make the size larger if I wanted to write a book with it. It looks like a vampire wrote it, that’s the best way I can describe it.

*SF Gothican: This one is on the small side as well, but very clean to read, and about as dark as Georgia is, which is my preference. It’s downfall is it’s a little busy. It almost looks like script in 12 pt. I am still considering this one.

*Gothikka: This font is similar to Gothican, but it’s a little cleaner to read. It’s just as small as Gothican though, so I would have to write with it in larger size than 12pt, which is really annoying. It’s on the borderline of whether I think it too busy or not.

*Lombardic: this font looks like medieval lettering. It’s medium intensity, but the letters are too busy to write a book with. It’s a contender for my title page though.

*Letter Gothic: I might use this one, or at least to edit with it. It’s very clean, but the spacing is sparse. It’s like a prettier version of Courier, for those of you who thought “Man, I wish Courier was just a bit prettier, but still looked like a typewriter made it.”

Because face it, Courier is a little plain.

*Elphinstone: I love this font. It had a cool name, it’s clean, decorative without being too busy. My main complaint is the tails to the letters don’t drop down all the way, so it can be a little confusing, and once again, it’s small to read in 12 pt. It’s also reads more like script and less like typing, so that could be good or bad. Overall, a great font.

The next three fonts aren’t gothic-looking, but I downloaded them because they were pretty.

*GF Halda Normal: this font is on the darker side, and looks like handwriting, but with very sparse spacing and lettering. If Lucida Handwriting and Courier had a love child, Halda Normal would be it. I am not sure if I would use this to write a book though, because it’s looks so much like handwriting, I am not sure if I would be distracted or not. We shall see.




*Hansa: this font is clean and resembles handwriting as well. If Lucida Handwriting cheated on Courier to have a love child with Papyrus, this is the font they would have. This is like a nicer, more respectable version of Papyrus.

*Swansea: this is a really nice font. It’s pretty and clean, similar to Century, but a little darker. I will definitely use this one in the future.

So my quest for the perfect font to write my new book in is still ongoing, which is fine since I have editing to do anyways. At the moment I am considering: Century Gothic, Letter Gothic, Gothikka, Bookman Old Style, and Franklin Gothic Book.

Now that I have spent an entire post taking about fonts, I would like to know if I am the only one who is this particular about fonts? Do you deliberate between fonts before starting a new project, or do you just use the same one until you get sick of it? Are there some favorite fonts I haven’t mentioned? Any suggestions for me?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Character's Network

Quote: “Sometimes the relationship that your character has with other people around him will be important to the story, but often they’ll be there merely to give a sense that he has a full life, or to add an occasional comic touch. No matter how you use these mini-relationships in your story, though, the main benefit is that your character won’t seem to be puppets, alive only when they’re on stage and someone is pulling the strings.”
--Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Song Playing: Mad World by Gary Jules

Progress Report: Editing is going well. Slowly, but I am marching ever onward. Inevitably, like time and twinkies.

Today we’re going to talk (or post) about a character’s network. Not who they get their Internet from, or their marketing strategy, but who they hang out with.

You interact with all sorts of people every day. At work, at home, at the store…these are places that your character will come into contact with all sorts of people. Weird people, stuck up people, old people. Young bratty kids with sticky fingers, punk teenagers wearing too much make up and listening to loud music, mothers with harassed looks on their faces and a pack of kids. Guys in three-piece business suits glued to their cellphones, twenty somethings holding hands with thirty somethings, and little old ladies with blue hair. You get the picture.

These are the people—and more—your character will hang out with. And not everyone acts the same way around each group of people. How your character interacts with these people help show their personality. We’ve all heard the adage of how a person acts alone says a lot about them. How your character acts when he’s around another group of people also says a lot about them. And not just in the obvious way of he kicks helpless puppies when people aren’t around, or helps little old ladies cross the street. Does the store owner know your character’s name as she walks in the door? Does said store manager greet your character with a smile or with a frown? Even something as small as that can clue your readers into what sort of person your character is.

These outside interactions can also complicate the story and add a touch of realism. If your character is a jerk to all of those around him, and starts running from the cops, he might slip into his corner grocery store. All of that lip he gave the store owner might come back and bit him in the butt when the store owner throws him back on the street just in time for the cops to catch him.

I like to separate who my character comes into contact with into groups. Their family is an obvious group, as are friends, co-workers, and daily interaction. Daily interaction qualifies as the people they see on the street on the way to the store, at the store, while clothing shopping, while eating…you get the point.

After I develop some personality traits, I like to figure out how they interact with other people close to them. Take a Type A personality type, a corporate mogul kinda guy who has to be in control all the time. What do you think is going to happen when this guy sees his father? Would he show deferment and respect to his old man? Or would he be overbearing even to his father? Both reactions would say something about his character, and be interesting.

So the next time you think about characters, don’t forget to look further than just inside their personality for clues to who they are.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Secret No One Knows

Quote: “If you want to write something that will move other people, you have to come to terms with the fact that the writer is by profession a squealer. He learns by starting to squeal on himself.”
--Sol Stein
Song playing: Rust by Zakk Wlyde

Today I had an interesting conversation with a writer friend of mine. We talked about how we both have writing that we don’t want anyone to see. Period. Mostly scenes, or bits of writing scribbles, that we would just absolutely die if someone else read it. Some of this is just because it’s old writing and therefore embarrassing by nature, but for me at least (since I obviously haven’t read her secret stuff) these scenes are about things I was feeling or situations I explored that I didn’t want anyone else to know about. Some of the scenes aren’t even embarrassing by nature, but the act of writing out my personal feelings involved made me want to hide it away. All of these scenes contain characters and sometimes conflict, and one thing or another about the scene I found very personal to write about, and so hide them away.

I never really thought much about these private scribblings, but as I reflect on it now, I realize it’s helped me as a writer to get these feelings on paper. It helped in the therapeutic sense, of course, even though I never wrote from the “I feel” or “I think” way—it was always about other characters going through a similar situation I experienced. It also helped me develop my writing voice, because I was writing just for me, just so I could write about what was on my mind. Writing like this translated over well into my novels, because it’s easier now to write the tough scenes.

Writing like that also helped me practice putting the deeper core of my feelings and emotions to the page, so now I can write emotionally charged scene much easier.

It’s a good trick too, to tell yourself what you are writing never has to be seen by other people. I think it’s like training wheels that you may need in the beginning, and even from time to time in your life, to help you write honestly, without pulling your punches.

For example, I have a book idea, that I know will be a book someday, but for some reason it feels really personal. There’s no plot involved, the characters don’t resemble me in the least, but SOMEthing about this book makes me want to hide it away, and scribble it in the dark, like Fluffykins the cat feels the need to give birth to her kittens in the most secret, small place in your apartment. The book is a lot darker than I usually write about, so I think that’s part of it, and there’s a core of raw emotional pain for both of the characters centered in the book, so that’s probably another reason as well.

For whatever reason, it feels almost too personal, so naturally, I want to hide it away. So I trick myself. I tell myself I will never have to show anyone this book. When I sit down to flesh it out and work on it, I never ever have to let anyone know about it. I haven’t had to trick myself into telling the truth in a while, but I might have to do that when it comes time to write this book. That’s okay though, whatever gets the story told.



It’s my humble opinion that as an author, you need to get used to telling on yourself. That’s okay, I have made my peace with that a while ago. But sometimes an idea will stir that defensive mechanism, and you will have to quash it to get the story told. Having a way around your own defenses comes in handy, as well as a way of getting your feelings out in the most honest fashion possible. It makes for some excellent writing, let me tell you.

When I say honest, by the way, I mean don’t sugar coat the truth. Let’s say your character is a thief. You might want to sugar coat the truth, and say he’s only stealing to feed his family. That might be. But maybe, your character loves stealing things too, just for the sake of it. He loves feels smarter and more powerful that the merchants that have trampled on him his entire life. I have read stories that have glossed over the bad actions of their characters, because they were afraid the reader wouldn’t like a thief.

Judging by the reaction that Hannibal Lector gets, readers will put up with various degrees of villainy, if the character is real enough. So tell the truth. Write from the heart, the way the character is really feeling, petty jealousies and moments of greatest shame and times of bliss alike.

You start writing from the heart by writing from your own heart.

What about you guys? Am I the only one with secret scribbles? Times where the writing feels a little too personal, for no apparent reason? What do you do to make sure you stay the course?

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Lesson Was Learned By All

Song Playing: Take a Bow by Madonna

It appears that editing sends my creativity into overdrive, because I just had three new ideas for stories. Two of these ideas would need a lot of work to become a story, but they are there. The third idea is something closer to what the heart of a book would be in my mind.

It would also appear that most of my ideas come in two distinct forms. On one side of the camp there are the dream ideas. These ideas come from some portion of a dream I had, and are normally just a scene or two. Sometimes I am lucky enough to get some core conflict or characters out of the dream, but the image remains.

The pros of these types of ideas are these images are very intense and can also brew some awesome conflict. For example, my current WIP, my mermaid book, started from a dream. I dreamt about a girl standing on the shoreline of the ocean, silently crying as she watched a burning ship sail out to sea at sunset. I knew that this girl’s father had just drowned in a boating accident—a boat accident she survived—and her father wanted to have a Viking funeral, hence the burning ship.

That’s all there was to the idea. Girl at father’s funeral. But that image is still as fresh to me as the night I had the dream, and the death of her father has formed part of the core conflict in the book.

The con to these types of ideas is I have to work very hard to feel the characters. Since I first saw it as though I was watching a movie, the main characters remain as familiar and yet distant as movie characters do. I have to spend extra time developing the character until I feel like they are a living, breathing person.



The second camp of ideas I receive are usually speculations about “What if…”, and normally crop up while watching a movie or reading a book. Typically, I am frustrated with said movie or book. I feel like they are ignoring obvious internal conflicts, and I wish the story would address it more. Or the movie/book ends with events left unresolved, and I think about the aftermath of the movie/story events. My mind goes wandering, usually while the movie is still playing, “What would make someone get to that point? What if there was this other person, and they did such and such?”

The pros of these types of ideas are that I have the heart of the book, and can feel the character almost immediately. The internal conflict, and sometimes external conflict is right there in my question. For example, last night I was watching a mediocre movie (name withheld to protect the guilty) involving a love triangle. This Nice Guy was totally head over heels for this Girl, but she was already in love with her boyfriend, even though he’s a total Jerk, and broke her heart. The Nice Guy was there for the Girl, helped her mend her heart, but the minute the Jerk comes back into the picture she jumps back into his arms, and leaves Nice Guy in the dust.

Very frustrating to watch, because Nice Guy was obviously a better person for Girl (I know, my estrogen is showing :) ). They actually had a friendship, something she didn’t have with Jerk. So I sat there seething, wondering what would happen if Nice Guy had a Female Friend, and how she would feel about Nice Guy pining for a woman who barely gives him a second glance.

And then I thought, what if the Girl was very popular, the center of her clique’s universe, and everyone wanted to be her or date her? But (now named)Popular Girl was secretly miserable? (at this point, the idea congealed with a conversation I had with one of my massage clients. She’s a school teacher, and we had a discussion about how sometimes the kids turn out differently than people would think. So the cheerleader valedictorian with a scholarship to Yale goes down the path of drugs and petty criminal-druggie picks himself up and becomes successful) So from that line of thinking, I was thinking about the relationship dynamic between Popular Girl and Female Friend, with Nice Guy in between them.

I can’t stand love triangles as plot by themselves, and I would have to spice this thought up to make it not so very high school, but there’s something there, between Female Friend and Popular Girl.

The con to these types of ideas is it can be very hard to capture that essence of conflict within a plot. Especially with this idea I just had. I definitely don’t want to just do a boring love triangle. Those get angsty quick. It can be hard to figure out the exact events that would best show this sort of conflict, and the possibilities can be paralyzing. There’s a lot of vague wandering around conflict and ideas, and thinking “I could…no, no, that’s not quite it.” Like going shoe shopping, and looking for the ultimate pair of shoes: comfy, cute, and not too expansive (I am not sure such a pair actually exists).

I have other ideas that don’t fall into either of these camps, but they are far less prevalent.

You might be wondering at this point why I care, or sound so pleased with myself. This is a fair thought.

The neat thing is now that I have identified this about my ideas, I already know what to look out for. I already know I am going to have to work on the characters of all the ideas I dreamed/thought up a scene for. Most writers can tell you that scenes, no matter how cool, do not a novel make. There’s a lot of other stuff that goes with it too. Like, a plot and stuff.

I already know that all the ideas I had from wondering some form of What if?...will need extra love in the conflict department.

Overall, this makes my life easier, and will prevent future frustration. It might behoove you to keep track of how and where you get your ideas, not just the ideas themselves, and see if you have a pattern.

Or do you already see a pattern? Is there a certain way you get most of your ideas? What are the pros and cons of that way?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Creator/Destroyer

Song Playing: Legal Assassin from Repo! The Genetic Opera Soundtrack

I hope everyone is having a happy Friday. Mine has been fraught with calling relatives about my upcoming nuptials and trying to explain to my mother that voices messages saying “I have some information about the cabin your wedding is being held at” is entirely too vague for my more than active imagination. “What information?” My brain immediately wondered. “Did it explode? Is there a problem with it? Why is she calling me about the cabin?”

The information turned out to be the box number, so my relatives can Mapquest the location from their various cabins.

*headdesk*

In other news, my work load has lightened because I had the brilliant idea of…get this…taking some projects off of it! I know, I should have thought of that earlier. Normally, I have enough time and energy to take care of several different types of things at once. So editing, worldbuilding, reading for pleasure and reading for education, and studying grammar (yes, I study grammar, I have workbooks and everything) is not too much of a struggle for me. I like variety, even when I am focusing on one project (in this case, revision of my book Masquerade).

So I cut back, to allow time for stuff to crop up and so I wouldn’t feel guilty for not getting other stuff done. I am still revising, just with a slightly slower pace. And I am not focusing on creating anything new.

I have plenty of energy for editing and revision, but even if I had the time, I don’t have the burning passion for creation at the moment. I mean, my new ideas still excite me, but not in that new-shiny idea way. I think right now I will focus less on the creative aspect of writing, and more on the “destruction”. Editing and revision. Not that revision and editing are really “destruction”, I just like the image. But I am focusing on the reconstruction phase of writing, breaking down my book into it’s separate pieces, fixing said pieces, and putting it back together again.



I am also reading more. It seems I need to spend more time taking information in, than putting it out. I made a reading list, one for nonfiction and one for fiction. I just finished “Changes” by Jim Butcher, and I am reading “Under the Dome” by Stephen King, and then I have a stack of books waiting to be read, some of which include:
The Judas Strain by James Rollins
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Fate of Mice by Susan Palwick
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnecut
Invasive Procedures by Orson Scott Card

I intend to finish reading the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, and Watchmen by Alan More. And I have a Roald Dahl short story anthology I want to peruse through as well (if you didn’t know, he writes awesome short stories for adult, not just stories for kids). This is just the fiction books I have waiting to be read.

I have an equally long list for nonfiction. Right now I am reading “The Artful Edit” by Susan Bell, and it’s amazing. So short and simple, and full of useful information.

The fun thing about being a writer? All that reading isn’t goofing off—it’s research! :D

I have experienced phases like this in my life before, but not one so profound. It would make sense though, with the rate and intensity I have been working on my writing the last year and a half. I have written two full manuscripts, and halfway through two more in that time. I have tried to revise the first book, realized it needed to be almost completely rewritten, and started to revise the second book, Masquerade.

It doesn’t feel like much, because I am still editing Masquerade, but I know that’s a good output. So for now, I will focus on revision, and editing. The technical side of writing. It’s just time for it. And serendipitously enough, it coincides with my moving and marrying plans nicely.

So, am I the only one that notices fluctuations in their creative life? Do you feel like you move through a creator-destroyer-creator phase in your writing life?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Make It Personal

Quote: "You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal."
~Sonny, from the Godfather

Song Playing: Don't Stop Believin' by Journey

In real life we talk about business versus pleasure. You always here the villain in action movies tell the grungy hero “this was just business” after trying to kill him/his wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother etc. Later, with the hero inevitably catches up with him, he grunts “No, this was personal.” And then spits in his face or something.



My point is just like those action movies, make everything in your writing as personal as you can. Obviously not certain aspects of publishing—you’d drive yourself nuts if you took it as a personal insult every time someone rejected a query, and swear bloody revenge if an agent dared to reject a full manuscript.

As with anything, a balance is required. If you treat your writing like a second job, you have better chances of success. If you track your queries, your writing progress, work on your WIPs with a regular schedule, you can expect to have results. You might not published, but logic dictates that you are honing your craft and becoming more savvy, so when you ARE published you can just keep trucking as you have.

But, you’re not just churning out hubcaps or microwaves. You’re making books. And at the risk of stating the obvious, writing a book is a very personal endeavor.

So make the book personal. Not that you should put yourself as the main character, your mom as the MC’s mom, and so on. But write about something that fills you with burning passion, that make you sit up and want to shake the person next to you. It’s not enough to have a good idea, or a great character. I have known writers with those things. They produced a rough draft, but lost all desire to continue on. What they wrote about didn’t move them enough.

I am not saying you have to write DEEP and LITERARY things, but that the subjects, situations, and events matter to you.

I am sure most of you know this already. But I figured a nice reminder once in a while wouldn’t hurt either. Yesterday I was ready to toss my manuscript out the window I was so frustrated with it. But I took a ten minute break, listened to some music, perused the inspiration folder I made for it, and grew excited again, because I had written about something that filled me with a burning passion, that hasn't died even a year and a half later.

That about wraps up this public service announcement. What ways you do you keep yourself inspired?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Motivation

“I think I can, I think I can…”
The Little Engine that Could

Song playing: Halo by Soil

Hello all! I have returned, armed with lists galore!

I also painted my toenails bright, turquoise blue in case you were curious. It’s called “Turned Up Turquoise (neon)”. Part of me wonders whose job it is to name nail polish. I mean, someone has to do it, right?




Anyway, moving merrily along.

Yesterday I talked about not feeling motivated because I felt overwhelmed. I shared a link for Demotivational Posters, because I think they are funny in a snarky sort of way, and remind me to not take myself too seriously. It was NOT intended to demotivate anyone, but to make people laugh. Carry on, writer friends! Let the ink follow like a river of…ink.

Anyway, today I thought I would talk about motivation. So, what do you guys use as your motivation to finish things? What do you do when there are extra projects on your plate? Right now my personal life is crazy, because I am hip deep in wedding preparations (I am engaged, and getting married June 19th. Yay!). On top of that, I am also moving back in with my parents in July, while my new husband goes off to Air Traffic Controller class for six months. Yes, it’s going to sorta be like being an army wife. So I have to prepare for moving my stuff into an even smaller place than I am living now.

So my free time has dwindled, and my regular writing production has slowed, making me feel backed up and behind. Joseph Selby was kind enough to give me a swift kick in the rear, and advice on carrying on, which also made me remember other tricks I used to finish projects mounting up due to time restraints.

But these are not excuses. In fact, I see such complications as blessings in disguise, because goodness knows my life will only get busier. I need to learn how to deal with demands on my time now, while I am still single, and childless, and unpublished.

So here’s some strategies you can use to wave your magic wands over projects to finish them.

This is Joseph Selby’s advice, and let me tell you, this guy is productive. It’s a great suggestion:
"Look at your overwhelming pile of things to do and pick one thing from it that has an achievable goal (so no starting a new WIP, this is something that needs to be finished, not started). Pick it up and push everything else away. It is now dead to you until this thing is finished.

When you're done with that one, repeat this process until your overwhelming list of things to do is no longer overwhelming."

Great advice. I especially love the "it is now dead to you" bit.



Here are some other ways to keep you on task:

*If you are easily distracted: TV, phone, people, whatever is interrupting you—remove it. Unplug the internet (you don’t really need to check your email every ten minutes to see if someone has replied. You only feel like you do), put the ringer for the phone on silent, and in another room altogether. Turn off the TV. How many reruns do you need to see to make your life complete? Crappy reality tv shows?

*Set goals. So cliché, I know. But it works. Make a list, set daily word count goals, make a list of steps you need to prepare for your book (like, research you might need to do, character sheets, etc depending on your level of pre-book planning, or the same for the editing your about to embark on). I am very anal. I have “Make to do list for A Dangerous Mind” on my other, more broad to do lists. I like my lists. They comfort me. *pets her lists* I am told not everyone likes lists though, so if they aren’t your thing, find another way to organize things.

*Remember when I had that How to Write a Novel Series? Remember how I said right when you have an idea that you know you will write into a book you keep a little inspiration diary of some sorts? Where you write down what inspired the book in the first place, maybe some pictures and artwork? Not only does this help you push through writing and editing the book, you can also use this to fall in love with the story again, if interest is your problem. Maybe back off the nit picky of what you are working on with your book, and ask yourself, What about this book excites me so much? Sometimes you might be moving away from that idea and need to move back. Sometimes you just need to fall in love with your book, all over again. *collective sigh* Awwwww…

*Bribery. It hardly ever works for me, but I’ve seen it work like magic for others. Tell yourself you’ll buy or do something you really want to once you reach a certain goal. You can work with small scale bribery by saying you’ll eat some M&Ms after you finish the chapter, or large scale like buying a new computer if you complete some monumental task. The size of the goal should be directly proportional to the size of the bribe. You lose all sense of accomplishment if it’s not.

*Caffeine and chocolate. Enough said.

*My best suggestion, one I know works because things fall apart when I don’t stick to it is to have a REGULAR schedule (case in point yesterday, which was a flow over from having Sunday off, but spending the day making stupid meal plans for the wedding and not writing (guess where I would have rather been? Writing, yes. I am in this for life)).

Don’t tell me you can’t have a regular schedule, because your life is too crazy. People, I am the QUEEN of crazy (somehow, saying that feels more like a defeat than a victory). My official work schedule is 9-3 Mondays, and 3-9 Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday but those are more like guidelines, really. If I don’t have any clients passed 7, I can go home early. If I don’t have any clients scheduled before 5, I can go in late. I can be “on call” through this times, and have to get and leave with one phone call if they get someone booked. I live with four other people, all who have their own work schedules, and use the computer two inches away from my desk.

If I can juggle all of that, and still have a semi-regular schedule, then so can you. The idea is to be flexible. If you wind up with more time than you normally do at that hour, take advantage of it and keep writing. If you wind up with less, no sweat, you can make it up later. If you have children/spouses/family members/pet with unpredictable needs and desires, try to work around them. If you have some free time, don’t waste it on TV (unless you need a break of course), work on your writing.

Okay, there you have it. Some suggestions. What keeps you guys motivated?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Demotivation

Having some troubles with motivation lately. I have lots to do with my own writing, but I just don’t feel like doing it. I know, Bad Writer! No chocolate!

It’s not for lack of enthusiasm, it’s because I feel overwhelmed. Oh well!

Thought I would share some funny demotivational posters with you, in interest of not taking myself too seriously. I think these posters are hilarious, and hopefully you will too. I am not sure if I am allowed to post them, so I will err on the side of not getting sued, and just direct you to the site. I particulary like "Determination", "Writer's Block", and "Horror".

101 Reasons to Stop Writing

Also, regular readers, feel free to check out my blogfest scene I posted yesterday and comment. Your thoughts on what worked and what didn’t is welcome.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bar Scene Blogfest

Tara is hosting a Bar Scene Blogfest, and I had the perfect scene in mind. This is from one of my WIP. It's going to be the book I write after the mermaid book I am currently working on.

Here is Tara's blog:
Bar Scene Blogfest

This is the first page in my WIP, titled "A Dangerous Mind". I also plan to use another scene from this book for my Bad Girl Blogfest, because my MC just makes it so easy for me. ;)


A Dangerous Mind


“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Confucius

There is an urban legend that says your body completely replaces itself every seven years. If this is true, that means the skin I have now has never known my mother’s touch or my father’s piggyback rides. There’s no way I can restore the touch of my parents, so I hug Alex as much as I can. He was the only blood relation I have left.

My foster parents aren’t really the hugging sort, but I hug them as often as I can, just in case. It frightens me to think that my patchwork family might die someday, and I’ll grow out of them, like I grew out of my favorite pair of combat boots in high school. I had to peddle ten pounds of weed to be able to afford those boots, and when I grew out of them a year later, I was pissed.

I had returned to my hometown of Seattle a few days ago, like clockwork, for the fall and spring semester of college. Every summer I visited my foster parents, and every fall I returned to the city, to Jim and Caroline, to Alex. Despite my circadian rhythms, I still felt like I was perpetually one pace ahead or behind the rest of the world. Dancing to my own drummer didn’t typically bother me, but there were times I wondered what my life would be like today if my parents weren’t murdered by a serial killer while my brother and I hid in my bedroom upstairs.

I wondered how different my life would be now if I had stopped Alex from going downstairs to investigate the noise; I already knew what was making that awful sound. If I had just tied Alex to the bed or something, things might not have turned out the way they did. But he was six and I was eight; Alex never listened to me.

I stared at the moon, and crushed the unlit cigarette I almost broke down and smoked under my boot.

It started to drizzle. I would have taken it as a direct sign of God pissing on me, but this was Seattle. It was always drizzling.

I shook my head at my own futility. Wondering ‘what if’ never made me feel better. Only fantasies of capturing the man who ruined my life and making him pay eased the pain. If I could find him, and make him suffer like I suffered, maybe my life would cycle back to even again.

I turned around and walked back into Joe’s Old Bar, my current place of employment. I was one of the best bartenders in the entire joint, but you’d never know it by the way the owner, a creep named Sam, treated me. Like I was one of his slave girls. If I didn’t have to work while I was in college, I would have walked out of the joint on a Friday night with a full house.

I grinned to myself. That would show him.

Sadly, my landlord didn’t accept I.O.U.s or cookies in lieu of money for rent, and I wasn’t about to take him up on his offer for “something else”. Gross.

I returned to my noble post at the bar, and started to stack the glasses underneath the bar. Frank, the daytime bartender, never put them back correctly, so the glasses were one hard shove away from getting knocked over, a catastrophe I would surely be blamed for.

“Heeeeey, Jade, you’re back,” A regular named Bill slurred. “Good to see you again, hot stuff.”

I nodded in Bill’s general direction and continued to work. Drunks were so needy.
“How’s about you and me go out on a date?”

I leaned my elbow onto the top of the bar. “How’s about you pay your tab and get lost?” I asked.

Bill muttered disparaging things about me under his breath.

I ignored him, and turned to another regular of mine, Mr. Chen. He was an older Asian man who always ordered a Tom Collins, and spoke broken English. He was in the process of opening his own night club, and I had no qualms with telling him what exactly sort of set up he needed for the bar. It was a match made in bartender heaven.

I’ve tended my fair share of bars, and none of them were designed by a bartender. Some bars were way too long, or the drain in the floor wasn’t angled properly so when you washed the floor some of the dirty water ran back over the clean tile or any other hundred of little details that over time add up into a bar that was a pain in the neck to tend. I knew some bartenders who wouldn’t tend a poorly designed bar, but I couldn’t afford to be picky.

Mr. Chen took a sip of his Tom Collins. “You make the best drinks,” he said in Mandarin. “That’s why I always come here.”

I grinned at him. “I know.” I am sure the fact that I was fluent in Mandarin Chinese didn’t hurt either. I can also speak passable Cantonese. My foster parents are both first generation American citizens, children of Chinese immigrants who still preferred to speak Chinese over English. “How’s the nightclub coming? Did your financing come through?”

“Hey, hot stuff, I need another one,” Bill said, burping. Bill was the sort of guy who worked out every day to make up for his ugly face. He thought he was God’s gift to woman. I thought he was a plague in holey blue jeans.

I looked up and checked the clock. Midnight. I was officially done for the night. “Don’t call me hot stuff,” I said, glaring at Bill. “We’re closed.”
Bill leered at me, and I clenched my jaw. “Come on baby, why you gotta do me like that? Come home with me, I could—“

I walked around the bar, and grabbed Bill’s forearm and twisted it hard. Bill squealed like a pig and tried to break my grip, but I used his body weight against him, and sharpened the angle I held his arm.

“I said no,” I said, resisting the urge to punch him in the face. Even though it was afterhours, I was still not allowed to beat up the customers. Unless it was in self defense. Maybe I could make it self defense…

“Fine, fine,” Bill said, trying to stand up, “I’ll leave you alone.”

I loosened my grip on him, and stepped back. “I wouldn’t date you if you were the last man alive. Your face makes me want to vomit.” I pointed at the shirt I wore. It was blue and had a picture of a cartoon bunny on it. The caption below the bunny read: Hey, you make me throw up a little. “I wear this shirt because of losers like you. Now get lost.”

Bill scowled at me, and took a swing, like I knew he would. I couldn’t insult him and his pride let me get away with it.

Mr. Chen cried out, but I ducked Bill’s swing, and tripped him.

Bill caught his balance on a table, and whirled around, swinging for me again.
I sidestepped him quickly, grabbed Bill’s wrist, and used it to bring him around. Bill jerked away, trying to break my hold. He was physically stronger than me, but I was trained. I knew how to use his momentum against him. If you had a good hold on someone’s wrist you could move them around as you wished. I stepped forward, and flipped Bill onto his back with a loud thud.

Bill groaned and rolled over.

“Are you done?” I asked, nudging him with my foot.

Bill tried to stand but it took him a few tries. He glared at me, but stalked out of the bar.

I sighed. I was itching for a fight, but that could hardly be called a fight. I wasn’t even sweating.

“You are trained in Martial Arts,” Mr. Chen said.

“Yes,” I replied, picking up the chair Bill overturned and set it down. “Wushu. My father is a master, and ran a dojo.”

Mr. Chen regarded me for a minute. I wondered what he was seeing when he looked at me. The whitest girl on the face of the planet? My brown hair? My jade green eyes, which were the source of my nickname? I looked like every normal white girl in America. Hardly anyone knew I had Chinese foster parents. Mr. Chen had commented on how well I spoke Mandarin when I first talked to him, but he didn’t pry. “Would you like to work at my nightclub?”

I blinked. I wasn’t expecting a job offer. I was expecting to be told a nice girl like me shouldn’t know how to beat people up.

“I would pay you well. You’ve been most helpful with the plans. I wanted to ask you, but it’s in a rough area of the International District, in the middle of gang territory. But I see you can handle yourself. You could help protect my club, without people realizing that you can also be a bouncer if needed.”

I looked around Joe’s. Continue to work at a crappy dive or work for Mr. Chen, who wanted me to work at a nightclub, be a silent bouncer, in the International District, and pay me more money? Sold!

“When can I start?”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Writer Interview: Michael Emeritz


Okay Ladies and Gentlemen! It’s time for another writer interview! Yaaaay! Let’s welcome Michael Emeritz to the stage!

*the crowd goes wild*

Before we begin, I would like to remind you all again I am interviewing authors about their day jobs and/or their writing habits. You don’t have to be published to qualify, and you can use a pseudonym for your day job if you want to. So if you would like to participate, just email me at: writer (dot) elizabethpoole (at) gmail (dot) com and let me know.

Today I am interviewing Mr. Emeritz, an up and coming new author who has an amazing sense of humor. I laugh at almost every one of his posts, and they manage to be vastly informative as well. Mr. Emeritz commented that his responses to my interview questions were long, and I say that’s fine in my book! (pay no attention to the behemoth I posted yesterday. I am not biased, I swear) Seriously, I love reading about other author’s habits and preferences. Michael was brave enough to answer my interview questions, so let’s all give him a round of applause…

*audience claps wildly*

You can find him at: http://michaelemeritz.blogspot.com
Let me again apologize for the terrible linkage, I shall have to fire my tech boy.

Let's begin:


1. Why did you decide to become a writer?

I didn't really decide, it just sort of happened. When I was very young my mom would always make me do these English worksheets during the summer, and I couldn't go out or watch cartoons until I finished them. Eventually, as a plot to undermine her scheme, I started finishing entire books of them in one long go so that I could be done with it and move on to fun Summer shenanigans. Still, that laid the foundation for me to have a means to express myself clearly through writing, and I eventually adopted journal writing as a means to sort out the thoughts in my little head. It wasn't long thereafter when I made the distinction between fact and fiction, and the idea of making shit up without getting in trouble for it appealed to me.


2.What is your writing environment like now?

I share a two bedroom apartment with my girlfriend and a roommate. My "office"takes up a good half of the living room which also serves as our dinning room and entertainment area. Because of this I tend to write at night when everyone else is asleep, or early morning before everyone begins their day. My roommate is an amateur game designer who works from home, but he's kind enough to keep his bloops and blips in his own room so I can concentrate while I'm working. My desk is cluttered with sticky-notes,reference material, pens, pencils, dictionaries, writing journals, books,coffee mugs, notepads, and little what-nots to fiddle with while I'm thinking.


3.What is your ideal writing environment like?

An isolated vault similar to the lab Rick Moranis' character uses in Honey I Shrunk the Kids. That would be nice. Sound proofing all around so even the deafening boom of a jet breaking light speed fifty-yards above my property would be merely a soft poom... Like that of a bagel falling on a down pillow, the entire metaphor also encased in an airtight plastic chamber. All along the walls of my vault, bookcases of varying heights; some as high as the ceiling, others to eye level with artsy knick-knacks displayed atop, and still more of many different shapes and sizes.Against one wall, a large drafting table and a shelf next to it filled with note-cards, paper, and other needed supplies. Opposite this table one would find a large desk, computer on top, more shelving, and more supplies. On either wall to the side, yet another desk, a clean wall behind it where a gigantic chalkboard is mounted, magnets holding note-cards scattered all over the surface of the board in rows. In some corner of this vault would be a lounge of sorts, a place to sit back comfortably on a long couch, or in an armchair with my feet up on a coffee table, and a stiff drink within arms reach. The smell of wood, the sound of music. Oh!, it would be beautiful.


4. Do you write with music? Why or why not?
I am distracted by the most minuscule of repetitive ambient sounds, so I like to keep a play-list of music on to drown out any potential outside distractions.I'm very finicky with music though. It takes me a long time to sort through my library to construct a play-list I can work to. I don't usually like anything with vocals, but I do make some exceptions if the singer isn't too distracting.The piano and violin have an incredibly emotional effect on me, so I try to fill my play-lists with music incorporating those instruments. I can write easily without music, but the reason I choose not to is it helps me find a rhythm, it even "inspires" me to think deeper into the subject I'm writing about.


5. How do you find time to write in between the other demands on your time—kids, family, job, etc?

I don't have kids, I'm not very involved with my family, and I work from home...Writing is my passion; the thing I want most out of my life is to be a successful writer, so if ever there is a free moment to spare I'll spend it writing. I've made some hard sacrifices in my life to allow myself the freedom I need to pursue my dream. There was a time when I considered myself to be a reporter on life, and I felt I knew more about some strangers than I did about my own family. I never look back on those times with regret though. Sadness, yes, but never regret. I've made my decisions,and, having come this far, I can see it's a much longer road back home than it is toward the dream. I think I'll keep on walking.


6.What are your comfort books? Those books you can read again and again, that foster and rekindle your desire to write?

Oddly enough, the books that do this for me are style manuals or books about writing.Reading The Elements of Grammar makes me want to brush up on my grammar, The Elements of Style makes me want to construct elegant and well-formed sentences, Your Screenplay Sucks inspires me to be honest with myself and to create a story that follows the books 100 rules. Fiction serves as a strange muse to me.If I'm not completely immersed in the story I'm reading, a work of fiction will make me want to put the book down and go write my own. I guess in that respect bad books compel me to write more than anything else. It's like an--"If they can get away with THIS,then surely I can write something worthy of publication"--sort of attitude.


7.What authors do you find influential?

Tolkien:I don't care for fantasy, but I love how thorough he is in describing every last detail, and his command over the English language is inspiring... Clive Barker: Straight to the point. Very imaginative. Captures emotion well.Brilliantly talented story-teller... Hunter S. Thompson: He lived a life worth telling through fiction. I love the complexity of the subject matter in his books. There is so much subtext in his work that it's worth reading every book again and again... Anne Rice: Her characters are so deep they're nearly four-dimensional... Steve Martin: Yes, he's also an author and a columnist.Very smart even when the content is incredibly silly. His writing flows very naturally. The way he constructs sentences and uses punctuation ensures the humor in his writing is delivered with whimsical rhythm and perfect timing...Poe: I adore his ability to convey emotion. The pace and rhythm of his poems and stories are captivating... H.G. Wells: His imagination is boundless... Mary Shelly: A true master of prose... John August: A screenwriter, but a writer nonetheless. His stories are all so unique and well balanced... Stanley Kubrick: A screenwriter/director. This guy knows how to tell a compelling story that will take you on an emotional roller-coaster... Oh, there's so many. I should really stop now.


8. Do you belong to a critique group? Writing organization? Why or why not?

Stephen King writes, "It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters." I wholeheartedly agree. I've never been a part of a critique group, and never will. I have a few individuals whose opinions I take into serious consideration, but outside of them I don't put stock into the opinions of others unless they are miles ahead of me in the field. The "why"is where I'm probably going to offend a lot of people, but this is just how I feel. In my opinion, time spent in a critique group is time wasted that could be better spent working through the project yourself. In the end, it is the author who writes the story so why trust anyone else to tell you what's right or wrong with it? A person can say that something doesn't sound right, a better word can be used, a bit of dialogue is weak, but if the author is worth their salt then they should be able to see that for themselves. Now, there is one exception; if the critique group consists of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Anne Rand, Mary Shelly, Tolkien, Thoreau,and the most renowned agents in the industry... Order me a tall, double latte,and I'll be there as soon as I finish printing my manuscript.

I have along-term goal to become a member of the Writers Guild, but that's for accreditation, and to ensure royalty payments and credit aren't overlooked when a film goes into production that is based on one of my screenplays... If I'm ever that lucky!

* * *

Here is a dramatization of how Michael likes to edit. He assures me no manuscripts were hurt in the making of this dramatization:

I marvel at how similar my manuscripts look after I am through editing them. Especially the “REDRUM” and the fire breathing dragon part.
* * *


9.Have you ever been to a writing conference? Why or why not? If so, what was your experience like?

No. For the same reason above.


10.Are you querying? If so, what’s keeping you sane?


Yes. I've sent out four queries in the last two-months, and have been sent a rejection letter from three out of the four. What's keeping me sane is that each rejection stated that the agent wasn't a good match for my book, and that I should try elsewhere. This tells me that they're either very polite, or they actually believe that someone else will pick it up. The genre of my book teeters between transgressive-lit and contemporary fiction, so my choices for agents are slim. I absolutely love writing, so I've already started two other novels and three screenplays to keep me busy while I patiently wait for that magic moment when someone finally requests a partial or full manuscript.


11.What are your favorite kinds of characters to write about?

Flawed, awkward, anti-social, pathetically alienated losers. They have the most potential for change, and it's incredibly fun to put them in situations they would dread. I also like characters with some grit and grime to them. I thoroughly enjoy writing about the kind of characters that most people would never take the time to get to know in real life. I would, and do, so I have a unique perspective in this area. I'll converse with anyone who is at least friendly enough not to try and harm or rob me.


12. What are your favorite kinds of characters to read about?

Same as above, but there is really no limit to the types of characters I will follow in a story. There only a few requirements to keep me interested in a character: flawed--I can't stand perfect characters; human--I have trouble relating to aliens or fantasy creatures; unique--I want to read about a needle in the haystack of people around us; searching--I enjoy characters who seek change.All in all, as long as the character isn't some boring, whiny, self-centered,two-dimensional little peon, then I'll be interested enough to keep reading about them.


13.Are you an outliner or a seat of the pants writer? Why?

Outlines are my friend and worst enemy. I have more elaborate outlines than I have finished books, but thank the stars for that. If I had written half of those stories without creating the outlines first, by the time I would have realized they all sucked, it would have been too late to get my life back. Not to mention that after writing an entire horrible book I may have actually tricked myself into believing it was good just because I'd put so much effort into it. A story is like a piece of music in that it has to have rhythm, and I honestly don't see any other way to achieve that rhythm without a very distinct plan in mind.


14.Would you like to be a bestseller or have a smaller, more manageable following?

I'm happy just writing for my own amusement, but, to be perfectly honest, I want to be a rock-star of modern lit. That's the only way I could ever achieve the sort of dreams I have. I write stories that are meant to change people's lives, move them, make them think in a whole different way. I also write to entertain, but if my story doesn't have a strong theme I scrap it. This attitude extends into my personal goals and aspirations as well. If I'm ever fortunate enough to become ridiculously wealthy from writing, I would ensure my family is taken care of, I would pioneer a creative arts school geared toward educating miscreant kids like me when I was growing up, and I would start an entertainment company to produce freaking amazing shows, movies, and events that will rock this world upside-down. So, yeah, I want to be a bestseller and then some. Why not? Shoot for the stars, but plan to land on solid ground.


15. Do you have a writing "process?" What is it, if so?

I carry a notebook with me everywhere, so whenever I get an idea I jot it down.Eventually an idea will hit me like a brick and I'll know that's the one I need to start writing about. From that point on I'll dedicate any spare moment of thought to elaborating on the ideas that I've already come up with. If a scene comes to mind, a bit of dialogue, or a concise stream of exposition, I find a quiet place and write my brains out until I can't think anymore. Over time I'll start to write the best ideas on note cards, and tack them up on my wall where I think they'll fit in the general time line of the story. I repeat this process for as long as it takes to fill the wall, then I try switching cards around to find the best rhythm. When I can read the wall without questioning whether something is going to work or not, I'll type up an outline based on what I've written on the cards. By then I've decided on the title, and I start thinking of chapter titles as well. Then I create a file for each chapter, setup the formatting, and type the titles into each file. This is where the real fun begins. I write a one-paragraph summary for each chapter, then a page, then two, three, and so on... I only add to the length of a chapter if it absolutely needs more information, otherwise--why drone on for no reason? After each revision, (paragraph, page, etc...) I print what I've written and add it to a binder. I take that binder with me everywhere, and any chance I get I make edits, write in new lines, suggest changes. I'll make a copy of the chapter file with a new version number, and rewrite it with the new edits from the binder. I'll do this for as long as it takes. Somewhere along the way, (usually when I feel that I will jump out of a twenty-story window if I make one more edit), I'll call it finished, leave it alone for a month or so, then go back to edit it again. Wash, rinse, repeat as necessary.


16.What is the single best writing advice you have ever received/come across?

"I asked for a ten-page short story, not a fifty-page novella! I'm not reading this, and you're not getting credit unless you cut it down. Just because you wrote something this long doesn't make it any better." ~College Scriptwriting Professor

Less is more, and never give anyone more than what they ask for. If the industry standard for a screenplay is between 110-120 pages, don't submit a 300page epic. If the standard for a novel is between 50,000 - 110,000 words, don't submit a 6,000 word short story and call it a novel. If a contract calls for a500 word article, don't write a 1,000 word essay; don't even write a 512 word article! More so than being conscious of standards, writing within a set limitation forces you to consider the importance of every single word.


17.Any fears about becoming published?

Nope. I really want it to happen, and being afraid isn't going to help me get any closer to that goal.


18.Where do you get your ideas from? (*grin* sorry guys, I had to include that)

My life experiences and wild imagination. Simple as that. If there's ever a time when I run out of life experiences to draw inspiration from, I'll take a walk outside where I'll always find something interesting. If I still can't think of anything real to base a story off of, I'll make something up. If there ever comes a time when I am unable to make something up, I'll buy a boat and a barrel of whiskey.


19.What is your biggest pet peeve in your genre?
Haha! There aren't enough agents representing it. Aside from Irvine Welsh and Chuck Palahniuk, who have a stranglehold on the genre, how many other trans-lit authors do you know? I think the bigger issue is that trans-lit encompasses an extremely broad range of subject-matter. It's essentially the avant garde of literature, which doesn't classify the story content very well. My books are basically romantic comedies, but because of the characters' life-styles, the settings, and the overall presentation I'm pegged for trans-lit.


20.What is your biggest pet peeve about books in general?

The binding. I hate breaking it, but it drives me nuts trying to read and drink coffee at the same time.


21.What is the biggest writing issue you’ve had to date, and how did you fix it?(writer’s block, crappy first draft, realized the main character sucks, etc)

The most difficult issue I've ever had was writing about a transvestite character in away that the reader would except her, empathize with her, and still find the situation of having her as a love interest funny. This also presented the challenge of conveying love without sex or any other intimate interactions. If this character had sex with the main character then my book would be pegged in the GLBT genre, which I didn't want. The book wasn't about gay relationships, it was about self-acceptance. I made it work by revealing the character as a transvestite in a humorous way, and then explained her perspective on this lifestyle in a very emotional conversation with the main character, and I left it alone after that. I let the character exist as a regular person, and only brought attention to her lifestyle through the concerns of the main character who thinks he's falling in love with her, when in actuality he's just happy to finally have a good friend. Despite my initial concerns while writing it, no one who's read the story has felt there was any other relationship between the two characters other than friendship in the end. Even the most prejudice of readers has accepted the transvestite character, and was not put off by any interactions between her and the main character.


22. Do you like books about writing? If so, which books would you recommend and why?

I do. The Elements of Grammar, The Elements of Style, The Elements of Editing, and Your Screenplay Sucks are some that I mentioned above. Stephen King's On Writing is a great book for any writer. Aristotle's Poetics should be in every aspiring writer's bookshelf. Georges Polti's The 36 Dramatic Situations is a great resource for basic plot foundations. 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer is a great general reference for editing, and avoiding, well, common mistakes. Save The Cat by Blake Snyder is a must have for screenwriters, but novelists can learn a lot from this book as well. Blake was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood, and a screenwriter is still a story-teller. There's a lot to learn from any successful writer.


23.And lastly, if you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which would it be?

What a tough question. If I had to pick one it would be Mission Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, only because it's the longest book ever written in the English language, and if I'm going to read one book for the rest of my life I want it to remain interesting for as long as possible. However, if my choices include fictional books, and I wanted to be clever, then I would read The Never-ending Story.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Brainstorming and You

Song Playing: Spark by Tori Amos

I signed up for three blogfests recently, because I am a glutton for punishment. So here they are before I get on with today’s post.

Charity Bradford is having a Baking Scene Blogfest: http://charitywrites.blogspot.com/2010/03/50-followers-baking-blogfest.html

The Write Runner, also known as Iapetus999, also known as Andrew Rosenberg is having a Bad Girl Scene blogfest, which I totally have covered:
http://blog.dawnsrise.com/2010/04/blogfest-voting-results.html

And finally, Tara is having a Bar Scene Blogfest:
http://t-fouts.blogspot.com/2010/03/announcing-bar-scene-blogfest.html

Also, the lovely Mia is having a Deleted Scene Blogfest, that I will sign up for if I can think of something! So go on, check them out. It’s fun to write a scene with a specific goal in mind. I like to use these scenes to stretch myself as a writer, so it doesn’t just have to be a distraction from your normal schedule.

***

Brainstorming. Every writer does it. Whether it’s just thinking about how the idea you’ve had can play itself out, or a more formal jotting ideas down on paper, you’ve had to brainstorm your idea every time you write a book.

Given the frequency a writer will brainstorm, I was surprised I didn’t find more information about various brainstorming methods on the Internet and in books. So I decided to post about it myself.

I have already touched on the idea of brainstorming in one of my earlier posts, “Hypnotize Yourself While Writing”, but I didn’t really expand past mentioning you need to brainstorm.

Now, you might be thinking you don’t like to brainstorm, you hated those tree diagrams and free association just isn’t for you, but like I said, my theory is EVERY writer brainstorms, it’s just a matter of how.



Let’s back up. What do I mean by brainstorming exactly? I mean when you have an idea for a book, and you think about how that idea could work itself out. Probably the idea comes to you in a piece. My ideas almost ALWAYS come as a situation between two characters.

Case in point: two nights ago I had a dream that a rich, high society girl was traveling by a large ship across freezing waters with her high society family. She snubs a soldier on the boat, but later she falls overboard, and starts to drown. Her parents are standing on the boat, crying out for her, but not doing anything to help. They assume she’s already lost because the waters are freezing, and by the time they can get a lifeboat out to her she’ll already have drowned.

The soldier guy she snubbed earlier dives into the ocean, and drags her back to the lifeboat the other soldiers have lowered into the water. The girl gets medical attention, but now has a huge dilemma. She just had literal proof her parents wouldn’t risk their lives to save her. A complete stranger—one that she had been mean to, no less—was the one to risk his life. Not her family. She had always suspected she was just an asset to her parents, but here was the ugly truth (note: I realize that not diving into the freezing ocean doesn’t necessarily mean someone doesn’t love you. But that’s how it was in my dream. ;) ).

That’s the idea. In it’s entirety. A typical idea for me, where there are two characters that are connected through a complicated, not easy to define way, and they both have to deal with internal issues.

Everything I do to develop this idea I consider brainstorming (or will do since I am just writing this idea down for later, since I have several others books already in the queue).

Let’s say you do need to do some brainstorming. If not now, in the future. How do you go about it? The neat thing is almost anything can click with you and make you see your idea in another light. Actually, I try to allow that synergy to happen as often as possible, so when I have an idea, I write down everything I know about it and then let the idea stew for a while (the above example’s idea page is longer than what I explained to you. Sometimes just the act of writing the idea down will spark more ideas, or uncover more information. Like, when I typed that up I KNEW her older sister was a rival, and her parent’s greatly favored her older sister over her).



Some people prefer to not write the idea down and let it stew, but I do my best stewing with I have something jotted down, even if it’s just a sentence. If you are passively brainstorming, you’re acting like a normal writer and observing the world around you, thinking “What if this happened?”, reading books, watching movies, watching birds, listening to people talk, thinking about the idea while driving, talking to people etc. And sometimes you see a picture or watch a movie that clicks and opens up more potential for an idea you’ve already had. Those kismet moments are what I live for as a writer (among others).

Sometimes you decide you want to do some more active brainstorming, for a variety of reasons. Here are some, according to the most common for me.

1) You are in love with an idea, it burns deep inside you, and you absolutely must work on it. Right now.

2) You already have most of the basics of the idea down. Maybe you have the characters named, you know the theme and setting. All you need now is a plot. (Because in my case, I almost NEVER had ideas that come with plots. Situations that could spin out into a plot? Yes. But not a whole lot of ideas relating to plots).

3) You are bored, feeling creative, and your mind is wandering. Out of curiosity, you what to see what comes out.

So you’ve decide to brainstorm. What next?



Brainstorming is as personal as creating characters, but here are some of the methods I have run across in my time as a writer:

1) The Free Form
This one is also called Stream of Conscious, or something along that line. Basically you sit down, and write everything that comes to mind while vaguely thinking about your plot. For my girl falling off boat idea, Free Form could look like this: boat, ocean, Titanic, life rafts, SCUBA diving…

I don’t like to do this so early on in the brainstorming process, but some people swear by it. I almost never come up with something useful when I have so little already planned.

2) The Web o’ Ideas
We all know this one. This is where you draw a circle, write the character’s name in the middle, and draw another circle. You write something in that circle, like BOAT. Maybe you have another idea related to BOAT, so you draw a circle off of BOAT and write LIFE RAFT. Or you have an idea for the character and write PARENTS USE HER. You get the picture. There’s all sorts of data why this is useful—because you’re engaging both sides of your brain, because you’re drawing, because you’re harnessing order and chaos.

I don’t really use this method a whole lot either. I don’t do well with anything resembling free form. I don’t know why. I just keep recycling the same ideas over and over. So I get frustrated, crumple it into a ball, throw it across the room, and do something more linear.

3) The List
This form of brainstorming is where you either write long hand, or type in a new document some short bullets of your idea. It’s a cousin to the Web o’ Ideas in that most of the time the bullet builds on the one that came before it. It’s different from Free Form because you normally group similar ideas together, but very similar since you are just sort of throwing ideas out there as they come. So in the continuing example, my list could look like this:

*Somehow the soldier has to function in her world, instead of going the expected route and making the parents destitute, and having to rely on him. He is granted a huge amount of land and title for saving her life?

*Her sister is the main antagonist? She’s prettier and engaged to a prince or something?

*Or war could break out where soldiers are more needed, the soldier guy gets titled, and then moves up the ranks. Leadership, where you have people under you. Grant land from a traitor and give it to the soldier?

*No one showed the soldier how to be noble. He doesn’t know how to deal with finances because he’s been a soldier his entire life. The estate has a huge upkeep, high, falling to ruin, deeply in debt, the girl helps him out of it? Mined his own land, and kept his land. Social etiquette part?

*The girl listened to all the chatter of the high society, talk about the latest fashions, runs across the soldier, so he’s a different person and has different things to talk about.

I use this one a ton, so that is a real life example from where I wrote my idea down. See how the ideas jump around a bit, but mostly stay on topic? I also have several permutations of a situation—in this case how the soldier will come into play later—and I basically think out loud.



4) The Hundred Questions
This is also called several different things, and I have also blogged about this method a little bit, in my post “From Idea to Story” when I talked about brainstorming. You sit down with a piece of paper or new word processing document, write out your basic idea, and start asking yourself all sorts of questions. Like, what if X happened? What would happen from that? How would that work out? Where would that happen? Who would do it? You could follow this train of thought as far as you want, with as many detours as you want. You could decide you didn’t like this line of thought, and go back to the start, and ask yourself the same questions.
Example:
A girl falls overboard from a huge boat, in the middle of freaking nowhere, and the water is ice cold.
What if she was really pushed overboard? What if her parents paid to have her pushed? What if she fell due to her own stupidity? What if someone saves her but now they are stuck with each other because of the customs of the land? What if she realized her parents didn’t love her because they assumed she was dead? What if she decided to sabotage her parents because of this hurt? What if she joined the mafia? What if she embezzled all her parents’ money and turned to a life of crime…

And so on. I have NO idea where the mafia thing came from, but see how I started to follow that train of thought? Initially I would say that there is no mafia where they live, so she can’t join it, but maybe I could have a criminal element? Maybe they are merchants and her father belongs to the mob in their world, and she sells him out? Maybe I keep the “stealing all her parents’ money” part and drop the mafia angle.

Maybe not, but it’s something I could keep in mind. Many times I have come up with a random thought I didn’t think fit the story at all, only to think of a way include it much to the betterment of the story later.

I really really really…REALLY like this method. I always do this as some point in time to my plots. It helps me make sure I have really found the best, most original way for the story to unfold. Usually I have one part of the idea, and then I ask myself what if over and over, and just write whatever springs to mind. Half of what I come up with is awful, but that’s not the point. The point is to think your idea through as much as you can before you actually write it. Sometimes you can spot an idea that’s going to fizzle during this stage, or a glaring problem that you’re going to need to address.

And plus, it’s loads of fun! I think writers should play “What if” at parties.

5) With a Twist!
Something you can do at any stage in any method of brainstorming is twist your idea. Take whatever you just wrote, and twist it. You can already see how I twisted an idea with the previous example. Girl falls over board, guy saves her. I decided I didn’t want to just write a damsel in distress story, so I twisted it, and started thinking of ways that she could also “save” him. And not in that sappy, “He’s a jerk, and she melts his cold heart and saves her with LOVE” *cue sappy music* sort of saving him.



Also, most people would simply have them fall in love, and then have her wealthy parents loose all their money, and it turns out that her parents rely on the soldier for food and shelter. It would turn into Romeo and Juliet Take a Chilly Cruise in a heartbeat. So I decided to head that off at the pass, and left the nature of their relationship up in the air, and twisted the idea so that the soldier would have to learn how to function in the upper class’s world. Somehow. The details are still sketchy.

Or you could use a synergy of any or all of the above. I knew a writer who used the web, but also Free Formed ideas in a sidebar on the same paper. Different forms of brainstorming might be more useful at different stages of the book for you as well. Like I said earlier, I don’t like to use the Web or Free Form early on, but once I have most of the details worked out I will sometimes do that to see what other ideas shake down from my subconscious.

To start with, I usually use a combination of the List and the Hundred Questions. You can actually see the questions buried in the bullets, where I was already asking myself why? How? What? Who? And When?

Something else to consider: put yourself into the story. No, I am not talking about making a Mary or Gary Stu. But somewhere around the stage when I am twisting and wringing the idea for all it’s worth, I start asking myself, What do I like about this idea?



That questions can save your book if you know the answer. If you get to the middle of the book and run out of steam, you can look back at the brainstorming stage and read over what made you so excited in the first place, and rekindle the book.

Finding out what you like about the idea can also keep you on track with your plot. We know that by making one decision about the plot, we also affect every other future decision we make on the plot in a chaos-butterfly effect way. Let’s look at my example. By deciding the soldier was going to have to deal with the high society, I changed a lot of the other options I had for the plot. It would probably take place in high society more now, than if I had went the “family goes bankrupt” route. Every decision takes you down a different path, and sometimes it’s hard to know which path you want to go down.

If you know why you are so excited about the idea, you can make sure your plot stays within that idea. I don’t know if you have ever had this happen, but sometimes I would either write an idea out or plot it out, and suddenly I was no longer interested in it. The book morphed at some point into a story I didn’t care about telling.

Once I started identify what caused the fires to be stoked, I never had that problem again. AND it helps while you revise the book.

This reason doesn’t have to be meaningful, or insightful, or even make sense. I like the girl falling over the boat idea so much because I love wondering how she’s going to deal with finding out her parents don’t love her. I also love the “pride comes before a fall” concept, so the girl finding out there’s more to life than fancy parties intrigues me. It’s that simple. When my plot starts to veer off course, I bring it back to: what situations would force her to come to terms with her family? How can I milk that for all it’s worth?



Some ideas I liked just because I had a great feel for the main characters. Others because I had a good sense of the world. This reason can be anything you like. Once you realize what draws you to the idea, you can also proceed to put more of what you find fascinating into the story. Why stop with just one thing?

Here is something that has really changed the way I write, and create ideas. I have noticed a huge difference in my stories after I started doing this.

Keep a file on your computer, call it whatever you think is appropriate. Mine is called “My theme” and subtitled “The Shiny”. Write in this file ideas and concepts that fascinate you. For example, I think dreams are really cool, and I want to write a story about someone controlling their dreams. Some other things I find cool to think about:

*Why is it that the things we want hurt us the most? Is it the act of wanting it? Or the thing itself? Is it us? Our choices? Something we can’t control?

*Why is it to really live sometimes you have to die? Why is it ironic, why do you have to give up your hair for a hair comb? Why?

*Forgiveness: are there some things someone can do to you that are so terrible, or just hurt you so bad that you could never really forgive them? What if this was a loved one? A family member?

Finding your themes is easy. What topics do you find yourself debating until the wee hours in the morning? What subjects are guaranteed to keep your interest? A quirky sidekick? (maybe you could write a story about a quirky sidekick, and what it’s like to play second fiddle) Angels and demons? Do you, like me, love those movies that came out in the 90’s that dealt with heaven and hell fighting each other?



I also have a list of subjects that intrigue in the same file. Here is a small sample:

survival in a dystopia
survival after an apocalypse
ghosts
zombies
angels and demons fighting, exorcism
Morpheus
Orpheus going back to the underworld
death is not the end
bouncers
serial killers
1940’s gangster
gang wars
Cyberpunk
Mental illness

I am not suggesting you write the same story over and over, but to have a place you can regularly go to for ideas that you love. In the girl falls off a boat idea, I could easily see myself asking the Forgiveness question. Could she forgive her parents? Could they make things better? Worse? How would she get over it (without whining through the entire book)?

Once you story identifying how you brainstorm best, and what excites you about a story, you can reliably create interesting ideas. I am not saying you don’t still need your muse (I would never suggest such a thing. I love my muse. He’s the greatest, bestest musing muse in the history of muses…there. I think I placated his ego enough) but when you have all the rest of this stuff in place it makes it a lot easier to start cross pollinating and getting eureka moments.

What is the best way you have found to brainstorm? What topics rabidly interest you?

(P.S. I could say I used all pictures of glasses to symbolize how brainstorming fills your creativity up, but that would be a lie. I just found those pictures aesthetically pleasing. Thank you, FreeDigitalPictures.net for the pictures)