Writing a Series

A lot of authors write series. Some make all their money writing long series rather than stand-alone novels. A few are even paid by their publishing companies to keep writing series even after the story has gotten old and there are no new ideas or places for the characters to go (*cough* *cough* James Patterson and the Alex Cross books *cough*). But writing a series is a lot tougher than it looks. Rather than keeping a reader’s interest for about 300 pages, you have to keep it for several times that amount and over several books too.

While there is no one way to write a series (is there ever “one way” to go about anything in this business?), there are some tips and strategies that can make writing a series a bit easier. Here are some of mine, gleaned from years of writing various different series in my teens and publishing one of them once I got into college.

Decide who your main characters are and what sort of story you’re going to write with them. I feel that it’s important to nail down who your main characters are pretty early on, because they often end up influencing where the story goes through their actions. You don’t have to go into each character’s entire history at this early stage, but you should have an idea of who they are, what they like and dislike, maybe what sort of environment they grew up in, and what they want and what you from them in this series. That information will come in handy when you’re planning out the series.

Make a roadmap. When you have your characters (and if you’re writing this story in a world different from the one you and most of your readership live in, a general idea of this world), then you should plan out the series and what is going to happen. You don’t need to go into every single detail on what happens in each book, you can save that for when you write each individual book. Just have a general idea of what will happen in each book, how that might fit into a greater arc if you have one in mind, which characters you might introduce or kill off or whatever, etc. It’s kind of similar to outlining a novel, in a way (for tips on outlining, click here), only for several books. Creating a roadmap can also be helpful in keeping a record of what and when you need to research a subject and can allow you to keep notes of what’s happened in previous books in case you need to refer back to something for the current book.

Immerse your reader slowly. This is something I’ve learned over a long time, but it’s useful to remind some writers of it every now and then. Let’s say your story takes place in a fantasy or science-fiction universe and you’re the only one who knows the entirety of the world, its various pieces and factions and groups and aspects. You’ll have an urge to make sure that your reader is immediately caught up with everything, so that they know all there is to know about these worlds. I’m telling you now, resist that urge! Updating them about everything in this world of yours too early would be overloading them with information. They wouldn’t know what to do with it and they’d put down that first book before getting very far in it.

Immersing a reader in your world is like teaching a kid to swim.

The best way to go about introducing readers to this world is to imagine it like teaching a young child to swim. Naturally you don’t start with the deep end. What if your pupil drowned? Instead you start with the shallowest end of the pool. It’s good to start without overwhelming the kid, and they can get a sense and a working knowledge of how swimming works. Later you move them into deeper waters, teaching them new techniques and watching them adjust to the greater depth of the pool. As time goes on, your pupil moves deeper and deeper into the waters, learning new knowledge along the way, until they’re swimming fine in the deep end and able to handle all you’ve given them.

In a similar way you should treat the reader. Slowly take them in, giving them the bare minimum to get along in this world and how to live and maneuver through it. As time goes on, you’ll add more information and they’ll be better prepared to handle it all, so by the end of the series they’ll be able to handle all that information really well.

Keep a guidebook. This can also be helpful, especially for series in fantastical worlds. A guidebook (or whatever you want to call it) contains information on the many aspects of your world, from characters to places to objects to story points and everything in between. If you need to organize a very complicated world, a guidebook can be helpful. Or if even the world is very simple, having a guidebook could help you keep track of things. I recommend using some sort of 3-ring binder for your guidebook, so you can add more information as time goes on. Dividers will also be helpful, so get those and categorize entries as you need. Using a guidebook can also prevent any ret-conning that could annoy and upset your fans.

Writing a book, and writing a book series, is often like this.

Remember the bigger picture. This is always important in writing, but it is especially important in a series. Writing a series is like working with several hundred or even several thousand puzzle pieces, but you have to focus on both the puzzle as a whole as well as the smaller pieces. It’s not easy, keeping track of the smaller stuff as well as keeping aware of the whole arc of the series, but it’s something you’ll have to do if you want to successfully pull off a series.

Each book has a purpose. If your series has an overall story arc, then not only should each book tell an interesting story (or a segment of the larger story), but it should maybe serve a purpose. For example, the first Harry Potter novel introduced us to the Wizarding world, and to the boy we root for the whole series; Book 2 hinted at the existence of Horcruxes, explained the concept of Wizarding blood purity, and introduced other important elements that would later appear in the HP books; Book 3 gave more information on the night Harry’s parents died and their relationship with Snape, as well as introducing how Voldemort would come back to power; Book 4 brought back Voldemort in an elaborate plot as well as hinted at the denial the Ministry would be famous for in Book 5; and so on and so forth. You don’t have to, but it might be helpful to think of assigning your books a purpose in the overall story arc of the series.

What tips do you have for writing a series?

Creating Character Names

What’s in a name? Contrary to what William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo & Juliet, a name can say a lot about you. Certain names have certain associations or ideas linked to them. A character’s name can excite, terrify, or bore a reader (can you imagine Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes sounding interesting if their names were Roger Wilkes or Hugh Liddell? I can’t). There’s a reason why parents obsess so much over a baby’s name. They know that, one way or another, the name they give their baby will have an effect on it. And as the parents of our characters, we authors go through a lot of work to decide on names for our characters.

Occasionally though, we end up stuck for a name. We can’t think of one, no matter how hard we try. And if it’s an important character, we can’t proceed until they have a name. So what do we do? I have some ideas on what to do in these situations:

1. Use a name dictionary. Plenty of bookstores carry books filled with the most popular baby names, as well as names you’ve never heard of and names you didn’t think could ever exist (ever hear of Grunka? Neither have I, but apparently it’s a girl’s name in Sweden). You can even find dictionaries for names that are sorted by region, by what years they were most in use, by sex, by culture, by just about anything you can think of. The possibilities are endless.

And if you need a striking last name, I’ve got just the thing: some universities have directories on their websites that allow students, faculty, and staff to find contact information much more easily (my wonderful Ohio State does, by the way). An unintended consequence of this is that it provides a great place for finding surnames for characters, especially since it’s a big school with students and teachers from every walk of life imaginable. Two characters from my upcoming novel Snake, Blake Harnist and Angela Murtz, got their family names right off of OSU’s directory. It’s also great for first names too (though I couldn’t find Grunka on there).

2. Look to history and literature. Ancient Greek history, the Bible, A Thousand and One Nights, the age of colonization, Chinese folktales, Elizabethan England, philosophers throughout the ages. Any one of these is a great source for a character name. You never know what interesting name you’ll find among them that could be just the perfect fit for a character. For example, one of the main characters from Snake, Allison Langland, got her last name from a contemporary of Shakespeare whom I read about in an English class back in 2012. The name fit everything I was looking for in Allison’s surname, and I ended up using it. And with these sources and so many more, there’s got to be some great names out there (just avoid using Oedipus if you can).

3. Look through a cemetery. As creepy as cemeteries can be, they make great places to find people’s names. JK Rowling said that she got the name of Gilderoy Lockhart partly from a gravestone. And you can find the most interesting names in a cemetery: Hamoud, Earps, Rosen, Kraczynski, MacBannon, Chang, Gupta, Owusu. And that’s just last names! Imagine what you can find with first names, especially in an age when some parents like to give their kids very unique names.

4. Name a character after someone you know or admire. The nicest thing an author can do for someone sometimes, besides dedicating a book to them or listing them in the acknowledgements section, is to name a character after them. It makes a great gift, and you can even model the character or make them a parody of the person being named. It can almost be like an inside joke between you two.

Just be careful whom you name your characters after: sometimes if you name a character after someone you know, they may feel entitled to tell you as the author what they think of “their character”. For example: “my character does what, exactly?” “My character would never say this or flirt with that sort of person!” “Why the heck is my character a ginger?”

5. Use a name you dislike. Granted, you hate the name and would at the very least hesitate before using it for a character. But in situations where the naming of a character is proving difficult, using a name you dislike might be worth it. For example, I dislike naming my characters Jack or John (no offense to anyone who is actually named Jack or John, it’s just that those names are used too much, so I tend not to use them). However if I was sutck on a name and I thought Jack or John might work with my character, I’d use it.

I would probably never use Bella though. Stephanie Meyer kind of ruined that name for me.

6. Derive a name from another language. In many languages, people’s names are the same or similar to words reflecting plants, animals, objects, events, or concepts. You could name a character after the Hebrew word for mystery (“Taloma”) or the Japanese word for island (“Shima”). You can also take names from dead languages or languages that aren’t used much anymore. What would be the Latin, ancient Egyptian, or Yiddish word for something you believe describes your character? You never know until you find out.

7. Just make up something new. I believe I said earlier that parents are starting to name their kids in very unique ways (“Apple”, “Brick”, “Bronx Mowgli”, and “Tripp” come first to my mind). You could make up something new and interesting for your character, especially in a fantasy or science fiction story. Use random syllables or sounds and see what comes together. I’m pretty sure that’s how they named most of the characters in Star Wars, anyway.

However you end up naming your characters though, it’s up to you to figure out what is the right name for them and yours alone. So remember to have fun with it and not get too worked up about it. If you dislike a character’s name after a while, you can always go back and change it if you want to. I’ve done that before, and I’m sure I’m not the first author to do so. Nor will I be the last, either.

Happy naming, everyone.

Taglines

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

“In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

“Who you gonna call?”

Hopefully not the grammar police. Especially not for that last one. That’s a class-A spelling felony.

The statements above are recognizable to plenty of fans of science fiction and comedy-horror. They are the taglines for famous franchises: Star Wars, Alien, and Ghostbusters. And just saying them brings to mind billions of images, along with associations with and overwhelming emotions of heroism, friendship, screwball comedy, terror beyond imagination, and the possibility that anything is possible.

Based on all that, one could say that taglines are a great promotional tool. and if you aren’t lucky enough to have a publicist, coming up with the tagline for your novel or other creative work usually falls to the author. And it’s important to come up with a great, memorable tagline for your story. Doing so accomplishes two things.

  1. Before the book is even read, it intrigues the reader enough to find out more. Hopefully their investigation to find out more means they’ll ultimately read your book.
  2. After the book is read, the tagline (hopefully) evokes memories of flipping through the pages, wanting to know what happens next; of heroics and romance and terror and joy and characters so vivid, you’d swear they were real.

So with that goal in mind, here are some tips to creating a great tagline that will (hopefully) pull in more readers and create great associations with the book for the fans. And if nobody objects, I’ll use the tagline for my upcoming novel Snake: “How far will you go for love and revenge?”

Short, simple statements are the best. The tagline for Snake, as well as the ones I used at the beginning of the article, are all one sentence. This works to the advantage of the book, because it is easy to remember and easy to repeat. And if it’s easy to remember and easy to repeat, it’ll be more likely to be remembered and repeated. Look no further than “Who you gonna call?” for proof.

The statement evokes something in the mind of a reader. When I was writing the back cover blurb and the tagline for Snake, I wanted it to at least get potential readers interested. However, a novel where the serial killer is the main character can be…a little frightening. Somewhat off-putting. I wanted to emphasize that the main character had good intentions, even if his methods were reprehensible. So I asked myself what would I want to emphasize about the Snake in just a single statement? Well, he’s doing what he not out of any awful desires for murder. He’s doing it to save the love of his life, as well as get revenge on the ones who kidnapped her. How can I use that? Well…maybe I can phrase it as a question.

It worked. “How far will you go for love and revenge?” struck me as thought-provoking. It makes you think, “Well, I might go so far. Is the novel about someone who will go farther?” It’s why it’s the first sentence in the back cover blurb, the first image you see in the book trailer I created for it, and what I’ve been using in most of the advertising I’ve done for Snake. Hopefully it entices a few people to read it.

Get a feel for taglines. Most of all, one has to get a feel for taglines, see what works and what doesn’t work. What taglines make you excited, scared, weepy? What just make you feel disappointed? Ultimately, coming up with a tagline, just like creating a story and everything else in the business of writing and publishing, is taking in the work of those before us, and practicing and practicing until you get a feel for what works for you.

Now, you don’t need to have a tagline for your novel. As far as I’m aware, Harry Potter, anything by Stephen King, and the Bible never needed taglines. Their names and authors are enough to get their stories to millions and millions of people. But taglines are helpful. They’re great marketing tools and in some cases they can become a part of our culture and part of our fondest memories (ask any Trekkie about the phrase “Boldly go where no one’s gone before”). And the best part of being a self-published author is that you, as the author, get to create your very own tagline.

What is your favorite tagline? What are some you’ve created for your own stories?

Stuck For An Idea?

We’ve all been there at some point or another. We want to write, but nothing comes to us. Everything that does come to mind seems trite, boring, maybe even repetitive or used up. At times we stare at the blank page for hours on end, willing an idea for a story or a poem or an article to come to us. When nothing comes, we doubt ourselves as writers and we wonder if maybe we’ll never have a good idea again.

The good news is, there are ways to get the creative juices flowing again. And none of them involve sitting in front of a computer or notebook for hours hoping an idea will just pop up. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of worrying about the problems you are dealing with, psychologists recommend finding something else to focus on. It’s not entirely clear why, but when the mind is unfettered and is free to roam or hone in on something other than a problem you’re dealing with, a solution often presents itself to you just when you least expect it.

When I’m stuck for an idea or experiencing writer’s block, I do anything but focus on the problem at hand for hours at a time. I’ll work on a blog post or another story. I’ll watch TV or read a good book. And if ideas don’t come after all that, I often find just going about my daily life is an inspiration. Some of my best ideas for stories occur during the semester. While at work or in my classes, a random thought, sometimes related to my coursework or the project I’m doing and sometimes not, will pop into my head and grab my attention. From that thought I can develop an idea, which turns into a story or article of some sort.

A great example of this happened in class a couple of weeks ago. During a discussion, one of my classmates made a comment about the Soviet Union in World War II and about D-Day. What he said so captivated me that it ended up being the foundation for a series of novels taking place in a dystopian communist nation (no idea when I’ll write them, but the fact is, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with them if I hadn’t been in that class on that day having that discussion and hadn’t seized on the thought when I least expected an idea to come to me).

Plenty of other authors are able to come up with ideas the same way, whether by taking classes, working, volunteering in the community, or finding some other hobbies or interests that occupy their time and allow the creative processes in their brains to do what they do naturally rather than being forced to produce something. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you try finding story ideas this way.

And if you do have an idea while pursuing this method, I highly recommend writing it down immediately. I write down all my ideas so that I don’t forget them, which Im prone to do. I even bought a little notebook the other day so I can write down ideas as they come to me and then put them down on a list on my flash drive when I’m at a computer so that I’ll remember them when I want to write them. (I used to just write on the back of my hand, but I’m kind of tired of seeing a bunch of ink scribbles covering my left hand.)

Creating A Great Antagonist

The antagonist or antagonists of a story are often the central driving force to the story or what causes the central driving force to come into being. That being said, a lot of thought has to go into creating an antagonist, especially the central antagonist. In fact, for horror novelists such as myself, it’s often one of the first things we come up with in a story, and what we often use to describe our stories to others (ex. “an evil clown demon terrorizes a small town”, “a cult leader with horrifying dark powers and those who stand against him”, “two children fall through a doorway to a world where the demonic ruler has a terrifying interest in the young boy”).*

When designing antagonists (human or otherwise), there are a few things I try to keep in mind in order to make them as evil/terrifying/monstrous as possible. Here’s some of them (the ones I’ve identified, anyway. I’m still new at this and I’m still identifying what I do, what works and what I should probably stop doing):

1. What does your antagonist want? I’m going to use a villain from a hypothetical novel, because I don’t think this is the best place to advertise any of my own books(as fun as that might be). And since I’m watching Once Upon a Time while watching this, I’m going to say…my villain wants to take over the magic kingdom. Why does this villain want to do it? Perhaps he’s a sociopath (I’m going to make it a male villain) who just wants power, mayhem and murder. Perhaps he’s the illegitimate child of the King’s eldest daughter, there was a really bad scandal where they murdered to keep things under wraps and he’s got some mommy issues. Or maybe he’s thinking he’s doing the kingdom a favor by trying to avert a prophecy about the current regime and the destruction about the kingdom, so he’s willing to do some very terrible things to avert disaster. Any of these or even a combination could work. This is also a step where I try to create as much backstory as needed to explain how my villain came to be, though if I need to I can hold that off till much later in the story, when it becomes much more relevant to the story to explain why my villain is so evil and screwed up.

2. What are my villain’s means of getting what he wants? Every villain has a means of getting what they want. Maybe he’s a very dangerous, highly-trained assassin. Perhaps he has magic powers, or a mercenary army with enough magical weapons to do a miniature Chernobyl. It can be anything, as long as you can make it plausible in the universe of your story.

3. Who opposes my villain? I’m going to assume the protagonist. Perhaps it’s the crown prince of the kingdom, who just found out about his elder sister’s illegitimate son and sworn to stop him but bring him back alive for the sake of his sister, who has always regretted letting her child go. Or maybe a knight who wants to protect those close to him by going off to slay the great evil. Perhaps it’d be more interesting to see if an orphan of humble background (or perhaps not; s/he is an orphan, so s/he could have any background I please) could go up against this great threat to the kingdom. In any case, the antagonist needs someone to go up against him, so I have to create that person at some point early on.

And now that we’ve come up with the antagonist’s motives and who’s going to try to stop him. Here comes the fun part of designing the antagonist:

Family values, loves cookies and miniature golf…and he does horrifying magical rituals to become a terrifying demon. What’s not to love?

4. Design your villain’s character. Perhaps my villain will be a full adult, or perhaps a teenager or even a young boy, to drive home that he’s the son of a princess, son being the operative part here. I could give him a dark, sadistic personality. Or maybe he’s like one of my favorite villains, Mayor Wilkins III from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who always had a smile on his face and acted like your typical 1950s sitcom dad even up until the moment he killed you. Maybe he’s got a hobby that indulges in while he’s not busy planning the destruction of the kingdom. Does he actually care for anyone besides himself? Maybe that person would give him someone to interact with besides his despicable followers. All these options and more are at my fingertips, and I can mix and match as I please in designing this villain.

This is basically how I design villains. And it works for all types of villains, from primary to tertiary in importance of plot and in all types of stories. I could also use these steps to design a sultry heiress hell-bent on doing some nasty stuff in LA’s best social circles. Or maybe a company president with some very cruel plans for a Native American community in the Amazon. It even works on zombies and vampires, too.

However you create your antagonists though, if it fulfills your need to create a great villain to go up against your hero or heroine, then it works. I’m just trying to give helpful suggestions, and if these help you, then my job here is done.

Also, if you get inspired by the hypothetical story I created above, by all means write a story about it. I just came up with it on the spot and I have enough on my plate without another story to write. Go ahead. It’s yours.

*Only one of these examples is a story I’ve actually read, and that’s Stephen King’s IT. The other two, if there are stories that are like that, I haven’t heard of them. Let me know if you have.

How to Do a Flashback

Flashbacks appear in many novels, comic books, television shows, and movies, yet they are some of the most difficult sequences to write in all of fiction. After all, how does one take a reader from the present point in the story to a former point in the story and then back again without a visual dissolve and a strange tint or border to the scene followed by another dissolve like they do on TV? It’s not easy, and it requires some practice to get any good at it. And even with practice it can still be a lot of work writing a flashback sequence. I’ve done some flashback scenes myself, sometimes several in a single novel, and I always wonder how to go about doing it.

I’m not sure if these tips will work for everyone, but here are some I’ve picked up over the years, and I’ve found each and every one of them helpful in writing flashback scenes. Some I’ve learned from other authors, others I’ve learned on my own, and a few I cannot remember where I picked up, but wherever they came from I’m grateful for them. And if you have any tips for doing flashbacks, please leave us a comment. I’ll add it in at a later date.

1. Is a flashback necessary? I know it seems silly to add this one in, but it’s one I learned the hard way. In the first draft of my novel Reborn City, I had a character flashback to a romantic encounter she had six months prior to the events of the novel. I nixed it from the second draft though for two reasons: one was that I already had enough flashbacks in that novel, so it seemed like I was spending too much time in the past, and the second was that this one scene really didn’t add anything to the characters or to the story. So asking if a flashback is necessary isn’t always a bad idea. It can actually save you some time.

2. What does the flashback do? You may be thinking at home, “It tells us a past event in the story or in the character’s life”. That is correct. So my next question is, if the flashback is the event in the past that needs to be told, why does it need to be told? Does it explain something vital about the character? Does it explain why the world of the character is the way it is? These are important questions, and every time I do a flashback, I always consider this question so that I know one-hundred percent whether or not I should use the flashback.

And now for actually implementing the flashback after deciding it’s necessary. Here’s some ways to start and end one:

3. Start a new chapter. This is the method that usually works for me. In the previous chapter I say that the character has just realized something that relates to a past event or that they’ve been knocked out and are dreaming of the past, or their thoughts have wandered and they found themselves looking to the past. Then I’ll start the flashback in the next chapter. By the next chapter I’ve gotten them back to the current events to connect the flashback to what’s happening now, or they’ve woken up with a terrible headache, or they’ve come out of their thoughts and they’re wondering how they got into the hospital’s ICU and no idea where the exit is (I’ve actually written that last scenario).

4. Use a transition mid-scene. I’ve seen this method in a few novels, but the one that always sticks in my mind is the many flashbacks in Stephen King’s IT. His flashbacks usually went something like this:

“…Beverly bent down next to Eddie. She couldn’t believe this was happening. Eddie was one of them, he was their navigator, he was the first one…

…he was the first one to come to her. He was shorter than her, nervous, but he was ready.”

The important thing with these sort of transitions is not to jar the reader too much. It takes a real expert at flashbacks to do a flashback mid-scene that goes “Bob was running while bullets flew around him and it reminded him of his time working for the CIA when he became embedded in a terrorist cell” without making the reader go “What the heck just happened here?”

If you do decide to do a mid-scene flashback, a change in font or using italics to differentiate between the present and flashback, or a series of identical symbol before and after the flashback (popular symbols include *** or ~~~) can help readers transition more easily into the flashback and help the story flow more easily.

5. Have your character tell the event to someone. This isn’t always considered a form of flashback, but I consider it one. It’s useful for books where the idea is a fictional person writing down his/her memoirs or telling someone their life story, like in a psychologist’s office. And in my opinion, it’s a method for those memories that a character is uncomfortable with. For example, in my novel Snake, the titular character relates his first kill to another character this way because he’s not proud of the way that event went down and tries not to think about it. Telling it this way offers a unique chance for a character to tell the events in his/her own voice, rather than the voice of a third-person narrator. The only difficult part is, if you’re not using this method for the whole book, then for the brief time you’re using it, keeping the flashback in the voice of the character rather than in the voice of the third-person narrator.

6. Use a video or a diary or something along those lines. I didn’t think much of the novel Catching Fire, but I did find it ingenious that the way Katniss and Peeta found out about their mentor Haymitch’s Hunger Games and the traumatic experiences he suffered was through a video. It was very well written, and it explained a number of things about Haymitch that had been left up to the imagination at that point. Using a recorded medium like a video, diary, poetry, or other means is a great way to do a flashback without directly involving the character the flashback may be about, such as the case with Haymitch.

7. What tense and POV? My final point is on questions some writers have on tense and point of view. People often worry about tenses in flashbacks, if it should be changed or different just for that particular scene. Sometimes they’ll even change the point of view for a flashback. I think the best way to do it is not to worry about the tense too much while writing the flashback and just use the same tense you’ve been using the whole novel. If you have been using past tense third-person omniscient narrator, continue in past tense third-person omniscient narrator. If you use present tense, second-person point of view, continue with second-person point of view. If you really have to change the tense though, then do so, but consult with another writer, an editor, or a beta reader on what tense would be best before doing so.

 

I hope you enjoyed these tips and found some of them useful. Flashbacks are great ways to tell back-story, develop characters or plot, and use exposition in a novel. Some flashbacks can even become the most memorable scenes in a novel, if well written and executed correctly. They’re difficult to do, but with enough practice, an author can incorporate them into most novels and enhance the story greatly through their presence.

The Creative

My second-oldest grandson made me a birthday card,  what do you think he drew ? The answer will surprise you. Done guessing?

Well, it was a dinosaur that swallowed a rainbow fish.  My grandson thought out of the box. Are you thinking out of box? Are you using your creative juices?

As a writer, I guarantee you probably do that. But sometimes our drinking well dries up. How do we replenish our creative side? Downtime helps at times.

I recently put my prequel novel on hold. It included some great scenes but the whole concept was not right. Readers must love your character and if I continued with the way it was going they would not root for him. Thus, I got input from critique groups and entered a contest and received feedback there. These insights will make this project better. But while I sort out on how to fix the problem, a different idea came to fruition.

And, this is co-authoring a book with great friend Ruth Ann Nordin. Our work in progress is titled, Bride by Arrangement, where two women meet on a train to travel to Nebraska in the late 1800s. When I have mentioned this story, people ooh and ah.

The romance will include two novellas – one written by Ruth and the other by me. My novella is called She Came by Train, where Opal leaves her beloved Virginia to become a governess of two children of a local banker who lost his wife. The plot thickens when a minister from Virginia conducts revival services in the area. She came by train but only her heart will determine if she leaves that way.

How do we develop concepts? There is no certain path. Mine is to write a scene and see where it leads. Here is an example:

“Her mind whirled. ‘Mice. You don’t bring those into the house do you?’ she asked in a weak voice.

He shook his head in the negative. ‘No, Papa wants them outside so the cats can have their meals. Miss Preston you looking kind of white.’

Her eyes closed. 

‘Miss Preston,’ his shrill voice penetrating her consciousness.

She teetered.”

However, everybody has their own method. There are people who are story plotters. One woman Ruth and I ran into at a conference had a huge sheet with a series of notes on it. She needed a king-size bed to display that paper. But if this helps you create, go for it.

Creators do come in many shapes and sizes and each builds on their own experiences in order to fashion their stories. For example, in my Lockets and Lanterns the secret the husband hides from his wife is something which comes from my background.

Thus, feed on your past and embellish them to make good reading. Remember those fish tales? They only get better as the fish got bigger.

Sometimes visiting historical homes or other places gives you ideas. These also make great resource tools to get a real feel for the time period. Even childhood memories assist you. In my prequel, I wrote a scene where a character falls in a lake. I can describe this since as a child we went camping and I waded in the river.

In addition, do not forget about past actions and conversations. Family and friends make wonderful fodder. In my story, “Sweaters of Love,” in Seasons of the Soul I used a conversation between myself and my oldest granddaughter who was 4 years old at the time and weaved it into this fiction tale.

“Mary told Jolleen about how the weather changed. ‘Grandma,’ Jolleen said. ‘God is a big guy. He will do whatever He wants.’”

So remind yourself you can take a break; look for new projects to refresh your writing; plot your story your way; generate ideas from experiences, conversations and actions; and fill that drinking well with writing. You cannot believe what you can produce when you put your mind to it.

How do you create your stories? I look forward to your comments and as always God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideas: Where do you keep yours?

I’m an organized writer that lives in an organized mess. Everything has a place, though I’m sure that anyone looking at my desk would disagree with me on that. My wonderful hubby is just such a person. 😀

He also doesn’t understand my propensity to collect story ideas. Every time I turn around I’m coming up with new ones. They pop up when I watch TV, movies, listen to music, read books, write books, when I dream, when I watch my kids play, and from life itself.

There is no storage of ideas, and I’m sure there are many who would agree with me. Ideas are not the problems. Storing them might be the problem for some of you. I know that my mother was forever washing my story idea books and the random scraps of paper in my pockets.

At one point I started an Idea Box. Everyday, every scrap of paper I wrote a story idea on ended up in that box. Every so often I went through that box and threw away papers that didn’t make sense or grouped together papers that seemed related. The Ideas soon outgrew their Box.

I tried keeping them in a computer, file that I brilliantly named my Idea Bank (LOL Okay, so it’s not so brilliant but give me a break I was 16-years-old and thought it was cool),  but I want easy access to them and didn’t want to turn on the computer every time I wanted to look through my PC folder of ideas. The Box and Computer storage Quickly morphed into an overflowing 3-inch 3 ring binder with pocketed series dividers. Do they make folders bigger than 3-inches? Maybe I’ll have to move it to a file box next, or just trim it down to fit in the 3-inch 3 ring binder.

Either way, I’d like to open the comments up to you guys. Where do you keep your ideas? Do you have an idea notebook, box, or computer file? Do you write them in a journal? How many of you keep it in your head and play it by ear when it comes time to write your next novel? Or what do you do to come up with new ideas?

Ideas: How to use them?

The biggest stumbling block I notice when I taught High School Students Creative Writing, wasn’t getting ideas, but how to utilize the ideas they got. Which ideas should they use in the story? Which ideas should they discard? How do they use the idea in the first place?

Writers never seem to have a storage of ideas and brainstorming is the easiest way to expand an idea. I like the What if Game because anything and everything can spark a “what if?” What if JFK hadn’t died? What if Hitler had finished his campaign of world domination? What if mythical creatures were real? What if he had met her on the street corner instead of the cafe, who they be together still? What if, what if, what if? The list is endless.

I always told my students to take their ideas and write as much as they could about them. Brainstorm about the characters, where the story would start, where the story was going to end, and what would happen along the way? They could throw around ideas about the main goal of the characters? Why those characters there?

Every writing method is different and for some this is the time to start writing. Others have to plan out every detail of the story before they write. And then there is me. I decide what to keep and what to chuck, then I write a summary before heading out into the story. I don’t need all the details of A to B to C to D, but I need enough to know what direction to head.

My last piece of advice to them was to keep in mind that their rough draft would be flawed and that was okay. That this first draft was for them and no one else. That if they aren’t inspired to write point D, they could skip to point X if they wanted. That while exploring the boundaries of the book, if you insert an idea you didn’t plan on, this isn’t a bad thing, it might just be inspired, but wait until the editing stage to worry about it.

The Idea Book, Box, or Computer File

Since I finished the revisions to my current novel, I decide to take a look through my idea notebook so I could start plotting out my next novel after the one I’m writing. Confused yet. I am.

Anyways, out of curiosity, I wondering how many of you authors have an idea notebook, box, or computer file? How many of you keep it in your head and play it by ear when it comes time to write your next novel? Or what do you do to come up with new ideas?