Backstory isn’t Character

(IMPORTANT NOTE: I will be differentiating character, as in a person, and character, as in aspects of a person, by capitalizing the former and leaving the latter lowercase. So from here on out in this post, Character refers to people, and character refers to qualities of a Character.)

Happy New Year, everyone! I thought I’d start off the New Year with an informative post about something I see a bit too much in fiction: writers mistaking a backstory for character.

In particular, I saw this quite a bit in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which I saw in theaters, and Star Trek Beyond, which I saw on DVD recently (and since not everyone has seen those movies yet but might want to, I’ll keep this spoiler free). Both movies introduce new Characters with really sad backstories: Jyn Urso in Rogue One and Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond. However, these Characters’ films don’t spend a lot of time establishing their characters beyond being exceptionally good warriors and survivors. The most we learn about them is their backstories.

Now, a backstory is important. It tells us where a Character comes from, and can imform certain aspects of their character. However, backstory isn’t the same thing as character. A Character’s character is personality and how Characters react to situations.It’s their interests, their pet peeves, what they look for in friends or romantic partners, and how they change over the course of a story. That’s what authors and critics talk about when they speak of character development and character arcs and character in general.

For example, in one of my novels-in-progress, Laura Horn, the titular character also has a dark backstory. A very traumatic event occurred in her life when she was a kid, and that informs how she interacts with the world around her quite a bit. However, that’s not all there is to her. Laura likes animated movies and musicals, and uses them to de-stress. And even before the dark incident in her life, she was introverted and shy. She didn’t like to put herself out there, and preferred quiet to excitement. And, when it comes to the people around her, once they show her how much they care for her and how kind they are, she will become fiercely loyal and go to great lengths to protect them. That’s character in a Character.

An even better example is the titular character of the TV series Chuck, and its titular character Chuck Bartowski. From pretty early on in the series, we’re told Chuck’s backstory (and this series ended five years ago, so I will go into details). His parents weren’t always around in his life, so he was raised mostly by his older sister. He went to Stanford but his best friend betrayed him, framed him for cheating, and slept with his girlfriend. He was expelled, and moved home, where he started working at a Best Buy parody. But that is not Chuck’s character:

Chuck is a smart guy. He’s an accomplished engineer and programmer, and his smarts often help him in his crazy, espionage-filled life. Chuck enjoys science fiction and other nerdy interests, and will go on for hours with his best friend Morgan. He’s kind and caring, and tries to be optimistic despite how awful life can be sometimes to him, though occasionally he is seized by despair when things go terribly wrong. And although he hates guns and violence, he will go to whatever length necessary to protect his friends and family from trouble. And he tries to be the straight guy in a world where weird stuff is treated normal in his daily life (if you know the show and where Chuck works, you know what I’m talking about). That is Chuck’s character.

And when you have good character, you have a good Character. Chuck is still a much-beloved Character because people identify with him. Even though fans may not share his backstory (I certainly haven’t been expelled because of a friend’s betrayal or had to deal with absent parents), they love that a nerdy guy who tries to be nice to even nasty people and who enjoys all the nerdy things they love is the hero of a TV series, because that’s someone like them.

So how do you know if a Character has a character? Here’s an exercise I came up with before the New Year: pretend the Character is question (I’ll make one up for the sake of the exercise) is someone you know in your daily life, and you meet someone whom you would like to set up with the Character on a blind date. Now, I wouldn’t tell this girl my Character’s backstory, because it would sound something like this:

“Edward was orphaned at a young age. He was nearly killed by soldiers working for a rogue element of the Armed Forces, but the Queen of Hell saved his life and gave him powers because she felt that doing so would work into her plans. He uses his powers to go after the secret group, as well as anyone, human or otherwise, who stands in his way or tries to hurt those close to him.”

If I told someone that, they’d either think I was kidding or insane, or they would run screaming to the nearest convent in the hopes that a nun’s habit would protect them from evil. However, if I were to describe my Character’s character, I’d probably get a much better reception:

“Edward’s a smart dude. He’s always had the best scores in school, he’s been captain of the chess team for three years running. Also pretty rational, proved that our high school wasn’t  haunted when everyone else thought it was. He’s also very loyal and caring. He’s practically raised his sister since they were kids, and I’ve never seen him raise his voice or break a promise. And he tells pretty funny jokes, lots of situational humor. He’s very political, but if you tell him you don’t want to discuss spending on defense or reelection rates in Congress, and he’ll keep quiet.”

Now there’s a Character with character, someone you’d like to date. And this exercise works in all sorts of situations. You can even use it to come up with character traits for your Character and work them into the story.

Backstory is important. No doubt about it. But it’s not everything to a Character. Their character is. Because without it, there’s nothing to identify with, and it makes it harder for readers to continue reading your story. And nobody wants that.

Prepare for a Writer’s New Year

I love this post and wanted to share it with you all. It’s a great idea for writers to say hello to the new year by saying goodbye to the old year.

Bane of Your Resistance

52800366 - man hand writing new year fresh start with black marker on visual screen. isolated on sky. business, technology, internet concept. stock photoThe New Year promises a fresh start, but only if we truly bring the current year to a close. If you don’t resolve the physical and emotional “incompletes” in your life, January 1 will look remarkably like December 31, with the possible minor difference of needing to clean up after the party.

One of the paradoxes of creative polarities is that the only way to finish is to get started. And the only way to get started is to finish.

Let Go of What Should Be

One of the hardest things to be done with is the idea of what your writing (or your reality) should be:

  • I should write this new piece the way I’ve written before
  • I should invent a new way to write every piece
  • I should write for x hours
  • I should be able to just show up when I feel inspired
  • I should always write…

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Calling Authors: Anthology Time!

The Legends of Ol’ Man Wickleberry

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Ol’ Man Wickleberry, rest his soul, died in the 1920s, attacked by a bear…or was it a zombie? I heard he was rabbit hunting…or was he prospecting? Or maybe he was defending his cabin from wild squirrels? At least we can all agree he died in northern Michigan – or did he? Maybe he was in California and his body was brought back to his family, and so now his ghost walks the beaches of lake Huron. Or maybe he spends his everafter trolling guests at a vacation lodge, or interrupting writers who stay up too late, or…

That’s the trouble with Ol’ Man Wickleberry, there are just too many legends! Heck, we’re not even completely sure when he died! In an effort to find the truth, Book Born, in conjunction with the Ink Slingers League, has decided to gather those legends into a single volume – an anthology if you will – where the proceeds benefit the Book Born 2017 Retreat Fund.

AUTHORS:

1) You do NOT have to be a “published” author to join us! Even if you’ve never published before – whether indy, self, or traditional- you can still submit a story

2) All stories must be between 1,000 words and 10,000 words.

3) All stories must be about Ol’ Man Wickleberry. They can be in his PoV, or anyone else’s – someone he is haunting, his dear old mother, whatever you can think of. They can be about how he met his end, or they can be about his ghostly afterlife (though they should at least mention what led to his grisly demise).

4) Stories can have adult components (such as language or violence) but please no erotica or heavily sexual stories. Ol’ Man Wickleberry doesn’t seem like the type to be gettin’ it on.

5) You MUST have a Smashwords author account. Smashwords’ rules, not mine. You don’t have to sell any books on Smashwords to make this account – it’s free and easy – but you have to have one for us to link to in the metadata.

6) We don’t guarantee any editing, so make sure you’ve done it before you submit. If a story has a lot of typos or errors we will reject it. We will also not update your story later. If you write a “better” version or a new author bio, or anything else. Once it’s published, it’s published, so make sure it’s the way you want it before you submit it.

7) You will NOT be paid. Though the anthology will be for sale, all proceeds will go to the Book Born 2017 Expo & Retreat Fund. This fund helps offset the cost of the first ever Book Born Expo and annual Book Born Retreat, which is currently set for October 2017 (pending finalization). If you’d like more information on either, please join the Book Born Facebook group where more it will be posted.

8) We do NOT require exclusive rights. It’s your story, and if you want to publish it elsewhere, go ahead. However, because there is money involved I will send you a basic contract that just says yes we have the right to use it and no, you know you’re not getting paid. You can get a copy of the contract here – it’s a word document, so please fill your info in and include it with your story. You must sign the contract for the story to be used.

9) All entries are due by January 1st, 2017. This gives us a month to compile the anthology and have it ready for a February 1st release on Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

9) Cover, formatting, etc. will be provided by the Ink Slingers.

10) The only file types accepted will be .doc, .docx, .txt, and .rtf. We will NOT accept .pdfs.

11) Send your short story of no more than 10,000 words to joleene(at)joleenenaylor.com and include:

  • the signed contract as a separate attachment
  • your smashwords link
  • your author name and story title
  • a short blurb/synopsis of the story
  • your author bio
  • your website or blog link (optional)
  • a short blurb/synopsis of another work available for download (optional)

If you have any questions, please leave them here or drop me a line at Joleene(at)JoleeneNaylor.com.  Thanks and I’m looking forward to what you come up with.

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NEW RELEASE! Two 2017 Planners Designed with Writer’s in Mind

This month I released two planners through Lulu with writer’s in mind. The 2017 Task & Project Planner and the 2017 Writer’s Notebook Planner. I thought I would share the article posted on my blog for anyone who is interested in them.

I wish all those participating in NaNoWriMo the best of luck this next month. Have fun!

Stephannie Beman

Reestablishing a Writing Routine

We go through great changes in our lives. It’s frankly inevitable. In fact, I remember someone telling me once in high school that in a twenty-five year period, it was likely that we would change our city/town, home, job, education status, socioeconomic status, political party, religion, and/or a whole bunch of other stuff. And when that happens, writing routines established over time and perhaps uninterrupted for years, are suddenly thrown out the window. And then where are you?

A couple of months ago, I moved into a new apartment so I could start a new job after a job search that lasted several months. Now, prior to this move, I would’ve said to anyone who asked that I didn’t really have a writing routine, that I just wrote wherever I could. Well, that is kind of true, because I do tend to write whenever I can if it’s convenient for me. But after the move, I did realize I had a routine of sorts established, and that routine no longer existed.

You see, while I was job-hunting, I lived with my dad, and in the evenings, I would settle down on the couch downstairs in the living room and write or edit while I watched whatever show I liked was playing that evening (you can get a lot written during commercial breaks). This routine lasted from late October 2015 to the end of May 2016. And my God, did it work! I edited the same novel twice and wrote more than a few short stories and blog posts that way during the job search, and it kept me sane while I looked for employment.

However, after I got employed and I moved for work, a lot changed for me. Yeah, I had increased independence, a nice location near work with a grocery store, a Target, and a library very close to where I live, and the chance to be as eccentric as I wanted within the confines of my own home without anyone judging me. But I also did not have a cable package, a TV, or a couch (though that’ll change soon with one of those). So suddenly the routine I had, which I’d been using for months and which I’d been comfortable with, was about as useful as an alchemy textbook at football practice.

For a while, I tried just writing or editing as much as I could when I sat down in front of the computer. Sadly, that worked horribly. I was moving at a snail’s pace, getting through only a couple of pages a week. A chapter could take up a whole month! With work getting busier and busier for me, I was starting to worry if I’d ever get back to the level of productivity I enjoyed prior to the move and in college.

But then a friend of mine gave me a recommendation that I found very useful. She had recently joined a group on Facebook where members sign up each month to try and write 250 words a day, and it had helped her get back into a routine of writing fiction after a pretty lengthy hiatus. That got me thinking: I can’t write every day, some days there just isn’t enough time. But what if I just tried to write 250 words every time I sat down in front of the computer? It couldn’t hurt to try.

To my utter delight, it worked like a charm. The first time, I ended up writing a little over the minimum 250. The next time, I ended up writing over 700 words! And the third, I managed to get out over thirteen-hundred words! It was amazing. Somewhere between words 150 and 250, a switch would flip and the story would just start flowing out of me like a river. In this way, I managed to get out the outline for my NaNoWriMo project in about a week or so.

Once that experiment had proven successful, I wondered if I could do the something similar with editing. It would have to be slightly different though, because editing is editing. Sometimes all you have to do work on is changing a word or a punctuation mark, and word count doesn’t change that much, but sometimes you rewrite whole sections and the word count changes dramatically. I ended up going with editing at least three pages per session, and that worked as well. After I rewrote the beginning of a short story I’d been working on and off with for over a year, I managed to finish editing the rest within a week (it helped that on the last night I worked on it, I was doing everything I could to avoid the presidential debates and I only had twelve pages to go!). Clearly this new routine I’d been working with was doing its job.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to adopt this routine if your old routine becomes impossible to do, but I am saying you shouldn’t just throw yourself into work and expect magic to happen. That didn’t work for me, and I’m not so sure it’ll work for you. Instead, take baby steps. Try writing a little a day until you find something that works for you and you’re at a level of productivity that works for you. If you do that, then I think that whatever life throws your way, you’ll be able to get back into the swing of storytelling with little to no trouble.

Have you ever had to change your writing routine? What did you do and how did it work out?

The Secret to Making Tons of Money as an Author.

Everyone’s journey is different and I ask only that you keep comments respectful and don’t point fingers and make the “Well, if only you would do X” comments. the point of this post is not to give people promotion ideas, it’s to remind the struggling authors out there that most of us are also struggling and you’re not alone and you should not judge your self worth – or even the worth of your writing – on whether you make a lot of money or not, nor should you get discouraged and feel hopeless because you’re not “good enough”. You ARE good enough. Your book is good enough. And half of those people you think are selling millions of books, really aren’t, anyway.

7504650884_d53924a482_m pennies for the author

The secret to making tons of money as an author is: There is no secret.

Yeah, that’s right. There’s no “If you just do X you’ll make it big.” It’s not just about marketing, it’s not just about a good book, it’s not just about great writing, it’s also about luck.

Otherwise 50 Shades of Gray would never have been big.

I got into a discussion on Facebook today where I tried to explain that to a fellow author who was feeling down about her lack of success (with only one book out, I think she’s doing pretty good if she’s sold so much as one copy to a stranger. I only sold 25 my first four months, all to people I knew), but of course that explanation was met (by someone else) with the same old same old:

“If you just do this, this, and…

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Smashwords Author Alerts

Smashwords has added an awesome new feature: Smashwords Alerts. When readers sign up, Smashwords will send them an email alert whenever the authors they’re following publish something new.

To send alerts an author doesn’t need to do anything; they just happen, thanks to Smashwords’ system. To follow and author, readers need to log into their Smashwords account at http://Smashwords.com, then find their favorite author’s page. On the left side, under users who’ve favorited the author,there’s a button to favorite the author and one to subscribe to author alerts. Right now Smashwords has automatically subscribed readers to all their favorited authors, but they can go in and unfollow.

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But what if your readers don’t buy books from Smashwords? What if they like Barnes and Noble, or Amazon better? I can’t speak for all authors, but when I publish a book or story on Smashwords, I also publish it on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and all the others, so an alert from Smashwords would still let readers know that a new story was out there, waiting for them on their platform of choice – and I wouldn’t need to harvest their email addresses or send that notification manually.

In a business that increasingly sucks time for promotions, networking, newsletters, and more, any little thing can help! I’m encouraging all my readers to sign up for the alerts. whether they purchase from Smashwords or not, and hopefully that will save me some time and get the word out easier about new stories.

What do you think of the new alerts? As an author? As a reader? Are you planning to make use of them, or do you find it just more email for your inbox?

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Don’t Feed the Trolls

Wow! It’s been ssssooooo long since I wrote a post here (looks like sometime in 2013), even though I’ve continued to lurk around checking things out.

For whatever reason I just got an image of Batman, or would that be Batgirl, slinking around?

Anyhoo, there are so many new people here that I feel the need to introduce myself again.

Hello! *dorky grin and wave* My name is Stephannie Beman, I’m a writer. I write books.

And yes, I’m this awkward in person, possibly even more so.

Actual picture of me so you know who you're talking too. :D
Actual picture of me so you know whose talking.

Okay, now that the introductions are out of way, we can focus on the important stuff. The reason I decided to break my long silence and write this post.

Storytime

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a group of people terrorized by Trolls. These were not the normal kind of trolls with an ugly countenance, giant tusks, long claws, and sharp teeth. These Trolls were the covert kind. The ones that looked like everyone else, hiding in plain sight. It was only through their actions that the truth of what they were was revealed.

These nasty, mean, awful beasties thrive on stalking their prey, destroying lives, causing self-doubt, and ruining the dreams of the people. But then the people started to learn an important secret about the snarling creatures.

Don’t feed the Trolls. It only makes them stronger.

By feeding the trolls ego the people were giving the trolls what they wanted. Control. These people learned a few ways to weaken the noxious influences of the trolls in their lives by….


Knowing That It’s About Them

Those who go around behaving in an abhorrent manner that reminds you of a raging toddler in adult form are trolls and you should tell yourself that it has very little, or more likely, nothing to do with you personally. Yes, I know the attack was probably personal in nature, they usually are. But it’s not about you. It’s all about them. It’s about who they are, their past experiences, their unmet desires, their inability to communicate in positive ways, their fears. Anger is just fear indulged and magnified in an unhealthy and hurtful manner.

That Sometimes It’s About You

Yes, sometimes you did or said something to contribute to the incident. However, that doesn’t mean you are to blame. If you said or did something they didn’t agree with, they could have taken their mom’s advice and walked away without saying a word. Nothing says that anyone has to agree with everyone’s opinions, but the trolls are the ones that feel justified in pointing it out in great and insulting detail why you are wrong. They want you to see it their way because it is the ‘only way’. It doesn’t mean it’s the truth, or even your truth.

Some trolls find insult in the smallest things, like the woman who was angry at me for “destroying the Persephone myth” in one of my stories by not following the myth to a ‘T’. Not only did she point it out in great detail what I did wrong, but she brought a few of her friends along to do the same. At the time I was a newbie author who took what she said to heart and it crushed me.

Why? Because I was afraid that she was right about my ability to tell a good story, a deep-seated fear that was created long before she came along. I was afraid that everyone would hate the mythology that I created and that the books would fail miserably. I really had to take a good look at that fear and ask myself if it’s justified. Years later I can say, I told the story that I wanted, in the way I wanted to, and as a fiction writer it is my right to screw it up royally if I want.

Either Way, You’ll Never Know The Whole Truth

Even if you ask. There rarely is a good reason for trolls to do what they do. They are no better than the schoolyard bully trying to feel better about themselves or impress the other bullies by attacking “the little guy” to make themselves feel important

If some of the troll attacks I’ve had over the years are anything to go, it probably won’t make sense even if they tell you the problem they have with you. I’m still scratching my head over one woman’s scathing remarks over my author bio which I won’t go into detail other than to say that for two days she personally attack me and all those who commented on the blog post that had nothing to do with the bio. I came back from the weekend to 120 comments.

Years later, she apologized for her behavior and being curious as to what started it I asked her in the hopes of understanding why something so simple had set her off. It only triggered another bout of personal insults. Needless to say, I still don’t understand her reasoning and probably never will.

So Remember The 1/3rd Rule

When I was in the 2nd grade I came home crying because some of the girls didn’t want to be my friend because I wasn’t girly enough and I was kinda weird. My mother told me that there is no way to please everyone I met and to try would only twist me out of true. That rather than change to be their friend, I should surround myself with friends who loved me for who I am. I learned early that people will try to change those not like them and demand that they bend over backward to please them.

Later I learned the 1/3rd Rule. 1/3 of people you meet will love you, 1/3 of people you meet will hate you, and 1/3 of people you meet won’t care one way or the other about you. So I guess the question is, do you really want to spend your life trying to impress people only to fail? Or would you rather strive to impress the person you have to live with the most, yourself?

Because Resistance Is Futile

Yes, I love Star Trek. And I do use this phrase on my kids regularly, although the circumstances usually involve cleaning their rooms or doing their chores. Mom is the Borg and resistance is futile. You will be assimilated, kids.

Surprisingly, it also applies to trolls. You can’t change the minds of bullies. They will think what they want no matter what you do. Sometimes you can teach them a hard lesson, but I wouldn’t suggest it. It has the horrible potential of backfiring and causing you more harm.

No matter what you say or do, defending yourself against a bully will only makes things worse because if they don’t “hate” you for one thing, they will find another “fault” to hate about you. Haters hate.

And Hate Is Contagious

Trolls ‘hate’ you for anything and everything you do, and that hate can contaminate you if you let it in. If you aren’t careful their hatred might become yours. Don’t own that.

Hate is like an infection that spreads and consumes the person. A better use of your time would be to learn from what they say, and if changes need to be made (like improving my horrible grammar), then it is better to put energy into improving yourself rather than hating the trolls. It’s not like they care if you hate them, it only gives them more power.

Just Wait 24 Hours

Don’t respond to them. Stop responding to them. Ignore them.

If I learned one thing from the schoolyard, bullies hate to be ignored, and nothing angers them more than your apathy. It’s actually the perfect revenge. If you don’t feed the trolls, they’ll eventually lumber off in search of easier prey who will respond to them and feed their need for control and conflict.

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that most things, even the vilest of rumors, die within 24 to 72 hours. It might be Hell during that time but there will always be juicer gossip for people to consume.

Or Delete Them

If it’s an offensive blog comment, delete the comment or post a note that their comment was “deleted for offensive behavior”. It sends a message to the other Trolls that see it that your blog isn’t their stomping grounds and their attacks will not be tolerated.

Regardless if you can delete them or not, don’t speak to people who are bad for you. You deserve better than their venom. They aren’t worth the breath, or words you’ll write, to answer them. Don’t become the thing you hate in the mistaken belief that you are combating them.

Either way, Don’t Respond to Them

I get the need to defend yourself by creating boundaries and lines that trolls can’t cross without consequences. I’m not saying ‘turn the other cheek’ or ‘let them use you as a doormat’, I’m suggesting fighting them in a way that hurts them most, by not giving them the attention they want.  I found that if I do or say something, even if it’s calm and rational manner, I’ll eventually say something they will later be use against me.

In the grand scheme, ignoring them and removing them from your life is the best advice I can give you.

Eventually, Time Heals all Wounds

Anger and hate ultimately passes if you let it and you will heal from what was said. In time, you might even be able to shrug it off as an unfortunate learning experience or laugh about “that one time when that one person told me…” or you could use that anger toward the troll in your next story. What better way to relieve the pressure then by using that energy to fuel your story? You can even make your troll into the villain and proceeded to kill them horribly and violently.

And yes, I am that vengeful. However, the idea came from other writers who have used strong emotions to create emotional charged scenes in their books and from time to time even immortalized their enemies by making them the villains in a story. 😀


In Summary, Trolls are bad

Nothing makes their attacks right or excuse their behavior. Feeding the trolls makes it worse. Letting them into your lives is like bathing in toxic waste. You will not get superpowers. You will get burned. Keeping them around like allowing a feral Mountain Lion to sleep at the end of your bed. You’re likely to wake up one morning with a Mountain Lion gnawing on a body part. Really not smart.

Be smart. Don’t feed the Trolls.

Rejuvenate the Writing Soul

How do you rejuvenate a weary soul when you feel so lost for a long time? You do it by facing the problem and moving forward.

I had to confront that type of problem this fall. For more than a year, my life was miserable. A health issue had plagued me. I tried to deny its existence. But after so much anguish, where I no longer could enjoy life, I gathered up my nerve and went to my primary doctor. He prescribed a medicine, which ended up giving me every kind of side effect mentioned, such as dizziness and foggy vision. I called the office and they referred me to a specialist.

From there, I eventually ended up seeing a woman doctor. She tried one remedy but I could not tolerate that solution. The next option was surgery.

“Surgery,” the word hung on my lips. I had never had an operation. The only time I was in the hospital was when I gave birth to four sons. Now, this avenue faced me.

I tried a chiropractor. He was a nice man and did his best, but my problem had deteriorated to such a point that method did not work.

A friend urged me to get a second opinion. Finally, I took her advice. The smiley doctor came in and gave me his honest recommendation, which was the same as the first opinion – surgery. However, during this visit, he talked about what would happen down the road if I let it go. This frightened me. I had to face the music as they say. After the visit, I returned home and called the first doctor’s office to schedule the procedure.

February first was my day of reckoning. We also all experience those days in our writing. Should we write this story? Will this book sell? Is there enough emotion in this to make this novel work? If nonfiction, can I make this information interesting?

These are difficult decisions, which also must be confronted. How do we decide these? We do through asking others in the field, our readers or taking professional advice as I did. In other words, we rejuvenate our writing souls.

We enlist fresh ideas, we rewrite, we fine tune until we reach the state of proficiency. We are in control of our fate. We edge forward with our next great idea just like I moved ahead to do the procedure.

Where will we end up? We do not know. But after my “surgery,” I can say I am no longer in misery. I again am living my life to the fullest as God provided.

Are you? If not proceed forward, what do you have to lose? Nothing. You do not know what you will miss if you do not put one foot before the other and step toward your next destination. Why? Because you do not know what will happen if you do not, and that alone should keep you moving onward. God bless.

How to Deal with Idea Fragments

Imagine JK Rowling never thought of Harry Potter (I know, scary thought, but bear with me), and that you just had the idea for a boy wizard. You recognize that the story could be good. Very good, in fact. The question is, what else do you include? What does your boy wizard do? What is his world like? What makes him special enough to follow around? Obviously in the coming months you’ll come up with Hogwarts and Voldemort and all the other relevant characters and details, but until then Harry’s not really an idea but an idea fragment.

Is there a difference? Yes there is, at least how I write. To me, an idea has a bit more meat on it, like a summary or a prompt. You got this, and you can move forward coming up with all the details based on this little information. Using the Harry Potter example:

Harry is a boy who finds out he’s a wizard, and that when he was a baby, he defeated the greatest Dark wizard of all time. He goes to Hogwarts School to learn magic, and there his destiny begins to emerge.

Now in idea fragment form:

Harry is a boy wizard. That’s all I got so far.

See the difference? It’s just part of a summary. You can’t move forward without knowing a bit more, without deciding what direction you plan to go with Harry. That’s an idea fragment. And we all have them from time to time. Heck, I’m struggling with more than a couple right now. I know that with a bit of development they could be great ideas for stories, but until I add a few more details, I can’t write them down on any of my idea lists. And that makes them annoyances that you work desperately to make into full-fledged ideas. Which can be maddeningly difficult sometimes.

So in order to aid you with these fragments while you have them, here are some tips to develop them into full ideas:

  • First, write them down. Nothing is more infuriating than an idea you forget before you can find some way to make sure you don’t forget it (which is why I keep several lists for ideas and thoughts on my stories). While I’ve found losing idea fragments just to be slightly annoying–as far as I’m concerned, it’s just going back into the sea of the subconscious, to bubble up gain someday and maybe as an idea–it’s still good to write them down so they don’t slip your mind. Writing information down has actually been shown to help commit it to memory, so you’re making sure you don’t forget these possible great ideas-to-be.
  • Don’t stress on trying to turn them into ideas. You can spend your time turning over the fragments in your head, trying to do so until you’re frustrated will not help you come up with an idea. If anything, it’ll just keep you up at night and ruin your mood in the morning. So if you start getting frustrated with a fragment, here’s what you should do:
  • Take a break and distract yourself. Watch some Netflix. Read a book, especially if it’s in a genre or on a subject you’re not entirely familiar with. Go hang out with friends and talk about anything but the fragments. Dive into work, or another writing project, or your family, or whatever. When you come back to it, you’ll be a little refreshed and maybe also armed with new information or experiences to add to your potential idea. And psychology also shows that distracting yourself while trying to solve a problem actually leads to ways to solving it (there’s an episode of The Big Bang Theory, “The Einstein Approximation”, that illustrates this very well). So distract yourself. You never know what you might find.
  • Use a generator site. Idea generator, random word generator, story prompt generator, story plot generator, whatever generator. Do a Google search, you’ll find plenty of them. Each varies in what sort or how many parameters they require, and what sort of prompts they give as a result, but if you’re really stuck with some fragments, one of these sites might really be able to help. The downside is that some of the suggestions they give can be really silly sometimes (I tried a horror-themed one, and it gave me some odd plot summaries), while others ask for so many parameters you’re like, “If I knew all this, why would I need to be on this site?” Also, some people may feel that these sites are cheating or really lame last resorts, but it only matters if you think that.

While working on this article, an idea fragment I’d been struggling with for about two weeks finally became an idea. It helped that I was listening to a Stephen King audio book and that I read an article about a recent police operation leading to a huge arrest, helping me to think of something for the characters I had in my head whom I had no idea what to do with. So while these fragments can be a source of frustration, eventually they can become great ideas.

What tips do you have for figuring out idea fragments?