As a writer, I am always on the look out for story ideas. Inspiration can come from anywhere: a dream, a TV show, a role playing game (RPG), like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).
Up until a year and a half ago, I never played D&D. I knew it existed and what it was generally about, but none of my friends played so I never played. That is until I met my fiance. He's been playing RPG games practically his whole life and he and his friends have a standing Saturday night game. A couple of months of dating, I met his friends. A couple of weeks after that, I witnessed my first Dungeons and Dragons game. A couple of months after that, I was building my first D&D character.
Building a D&D character is like building a character for a story, so the process was natural for me. I wanted a female character who was head strong, independent and could kick some butt. This character has a tragic past, one that lead her into the game and meeting the existing set of characters. But, here's what was different for me.
I knew of fantasy characters: elves, orcs, wizards, etc., but I never really immersed myself into that type of fantasy world. I write mostly contemporary stuff. Even the current book I'm writing is grounded in contemporary fantasy: wicca, voodoo, grimoires, etc. It won't have the fantasy characters that RPGs are built around. This meant, I am learning something new. Something that I could include in a future book should an idea present itself. In fact, one did.
10 months into playing D&D, it was time for me to build another character. This time I was building a female, tiefling, rogue assassin. I was building her along side my fiance (who obviously know more about the fantasy element than I do) and as we were creating her backstory, her personality, who she is as a person, I started falling in love with her. I wanted to know more about her and build out her life far beyond what was needed for the game. She's sitting in my back pocket to develop in the future.
I have built three characters thus far and with each iteration I learn more about this world as well as my habits. Apparently, I have a type. Strong female characters with a tragic backstory who need to overcome their grief. This experience into RPGs have taught me to not only to expand out of my comfort zone sometimes, but that this world is so rich that I should try creating a fiction story for it. Who knows, maybe my tiefling, rogue assassin will be at the center of it.
I have been writing Glasses and All for quite some time now. It's a story that I'm proud of so I have been taking my time to do it right. In 2013, I heard A Great Big World's song Say Something (the one featuring Christina Aguilera). The second I heard, I thought it was a perfect song for one of the chapters in my book. And from there, a playlist emerged.
Every time I head a song on the radio or on my iPod, I thought "Hmm . . would that work for this chapter?" So one weekend, I decided to create a playlist. I sat at my computer on iTunes, YouTube and the like, finding songs that were perfect for my book. I came up with two songs per chapter that best showcased the emotions and/or plot of that chapter. I was pleased with what I came up with.
The first time I listened to the playlist, I couldn't stop smiling. Each time one of the songs played, I could picture the scene in that chapter clearly in my head, both the good and bad parts of it. The playlist has helped me to stay connected to my book even when I find myself too busy to work on it. When I do work on it, I always have the playlist playing in the background. It guides me through my book and the emotions and plots I want to tell within.
Music has that great ability in portraying emotion that sometimes words alone can't do. By finding songs that connect to my book, I have been able to take it one step further. I listen to the song and pay attention to the way it makes me feel. Then I take those feelings and try my best to incorporate them into the story.
This one experiment has made me want to do it for all my books. I am currently researching my next story and already I have a list of songs that might just work for what I want to say.
Creating a playlist has now become apart of my writing routine and I am glad I added it.
Every writer has their own process. Some writer’s plot before they begin writing their story. They have their outline, complete with character development and plot twists. While others, like myself, fly by the seat of our pants. I start with my main characters, a conflict and resolution and then I jump on in. I have no clue where the story is going to take me and it isn’t until about half way through that I realize how my story might just end. The difficult part in jumping in is not to let the gaps, possible plot twists and random thoughts deter you from getting past the writing stage to the revision stage. How do I do that? I keep a wall of post-its.
Post-its are great little tools that you can stick anywhere and then remove when you are done with them. As I’m writing and an idea pops into my head, I write it down on a post-it and stick it to my wall. I then revisit the post-it during the revision process and once I’m done with it, I just remove it from my wall thereby leaving whatever post-its I have left to get to.
Let me take this one step further. Because I am anal retentive and a bit of a control freak (ok, maybe more than a bit), I use different color post-it to represent different things. Take a look at this image.
This was early on in my writing and my wall has gotten fuller since then. I’m currently using pink post-its for character (i.e. changing a main character’s eye color), blue post-its for specific chapters (i.e. add a particular scene to chapter 6) and yellow post-its for the overall plot items (i.e. remember to add specific idiosyncrasies throughout). Since this image was taken, I’ve added green for revision specific items such as mapping out my characters class schedules and white for random thoughts like maybe changing the point of view of my story.
This, of course, maybe a bit much for you and right now you’re probably thinking I’m a lunatic. I know other writers who keep a running issues list on a piece of paper and then cross them off as they fix the issue. This works as well and at the end of the day it’s all about what works best for you as a writer.
I have been writing a lot on my book lately. It seems like every few days I tweet that another chapter is done. Yesterday was one of those days and about 5 hours after tweeting someone asked me, "Do u have advice when it comes to chapter writing? How do u know how many u should write? Length for each chapter?" I realized it was another one of those questions I couldn't answer in 140 characters, so, today's blog topic. Alinanegrau, this one's for you.
Chapter writing is one of those topics that have no right answer. I've seen books that have 12 chapters, each with 10 pages or books that have 30 chapters with 3 pages each. I'm currently reading Dead to You by Lisa McMann whose first two chapter are single pages, front and back before she moves on to a longer chapter. At the end of the day, it's about what's best for your book and best to tell the story.
For me, I think of chapter writing like putting together a PowerPoint presentation for work. The first thing any presentation class will tell you is to break up your topics onto individual slides. For example, if you're presenting ideas for a party, you would break up food options and entertainment onto two separate slides. I think of my chapters in the same concept. If I want to show my main character being bullied in school on the same day she has a date, then I split them up into two chapters giving each plot point their due diligence.
The length of the chapters will vary depending on how much time I need to adequately show the two plot points. In that case, for me, it's a feeling. There are times when I get to the end and realize that this is the perfect place to stop as well as times when I get to the end and it doesn't feel like the end and I keep writing. The idea is not to force the chapter either way. Even with revision, sometimes a chapter can be told just as well when it's short as when it's long.
As this is my opinion, here are two links for articles from The Writer's Digest. And if you haven't subscribed to their email newsletter yet, I say do so. It's got some great tips.
In two and a half weeks time, I will be teaching a class on creative writing. I have 17 people signed up eagerly awaiting for what I will have to tell them. I have my outline done and my next step is to practice. As I was putting together my outline, a thought occurred to me: patience.
People in general can be impatient sometimes, but what I find is when you add the pressure of creativity, patience is often lost. I am just as much as guilty as the next artist. I start working on a piece and before I can even get through the first sentence I am eager to have a finished product. I forget that things take time, that I have to put in the work and energy into finishing what I start. Even when I continue and work through my impatience, I am often frustrated that more time as passed than I would have expected. In the end, my impatience is clear, but I know enough now that I can't let it beat me, that I must move passed it to get the outcome I am looking for.
New writer's can sometimes fall within this trap. They let the impatience of the process take over and decide that writing is not for them and then move on to the next endeavor. It is the determine ones that realize writing takes time. It takes time to hone one's craft and even after you make it through the publishing door, you are always growing. Writing is not something that comes quickly, a book just doesn't appear out of thin air. Sometimes, the best books take years to write. The trick is to take the impatience and use it. Use it to push you further down your path. Turn that impatience into a positive.
I have been trying for weeks now to come up with something to talk about. There are days where inspiration hits and I know exactly what to write and days where I have to struggle to find a topic. Today, after weeks of struggling, it hit me. The joy of getting out of your house to write.
I am blogging this from a bookstore in Boston. It's a frequent meeting spot for my book club and today is our next meet up. I was already in town and instead of traveling all the way home to come all the way back into the city, I thought why not work from the same location where we are meeting. It's a perk of working from home. Now that the official work day is done, I can spend the extra time working on my writing until 6:30pm rolls around. I sit here with ideas formulating in my brain, ideas I haven't had for a while now and I began to wonder what was the difference and that was when it hit me. The difference is I am NOT at home.
As comfortable as you can make your writing space at home to be, sometimes you just need to get out. Sometimes you need to take your writing on the road and see what adventures may come. Perhaps you will think of something your character can overcome just by drinking a cup of coffee in your favorite cafe. Or a new scene pops into your head because you took your notebook to the park. What I find, is that sometimes a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered.
So the next time you find yourself stumped like I was, try moving your location. And I, will remember to do the same.
There's no better way to help answer your questions or get advice than to consult reference books. Whether it's to hone your writing skills by learning about grammar and sentence structure, or dive into a new genre by reading about how to write for sci-fi and fantasy, or learning the tricks to getting published, or just to read advise from of the authors who have made into the business, reference books can provide you with the knowledge you need to expand your skill and take your writing to the next level.
Here is a list of some helpful reference book. Some I've personally read, some I've heard good things about and some I have being delivered to me as we speak. I've split them into four categories: Honing Skills, Genre Specific, Publishing, and Author Advice. Let's get started.
- Courage And Craft: Writing Your Life Into Story by Barbara Abercombie
- Editors on Editing Edited by Gerald Gross
- Essentials of Writing by Vincent F. Hopper, Cedric Gale and Ronald C. Foote
- Essentials of English by Vincent Hopper, Cedric Gale, Ronald C. Foote and Benjamin W. Griffith
- A Writer's Space by Eric Maisel
- Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks
- The Writer's Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card & the Editors of Writer's Digest
- Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper
- Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art by Judith Barrington
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold D. Underdown
- Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market by Alice Pope
- How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters by John Wood
- How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen
- Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- On Writing by Steven King
There are, of course, many more books out there to choose from. The idea is to find the books that work for you and what you need for your writing. Some good places to look are not only at your book stores or online book shops, but also writer specific websites like the Writer's Digest Shop.
People are habitual by nature. We like our routines and habits whether it's a cup of coffee with our morning news or sleeping on the right side of the bed. These routines and habits make us who we are, individuals. The same can be said with our writing. In a previous tip, I mentioned finding your creative time a day. Are you a morning, afternoon or night person? Are you more creative the moment you wake up? Me, it's the moment I wake up. It could be 6am or 12pm, but the second I wake up, my mind is fresh and blank and new ideas starting filling it. On the weekends, this is usually when I start writing. I wake up and head straight for my computer or notebook. The week days are tougher with work, but I try to get the writing in. Once I figured out my creative time of day, I had to figure out and develop my writing routines and habits. Here's what I discovered:
1) I am more creative on paper. I am still an old fashion paper and pen writer. I like to use composition notebooks. Whenever I start a new story, I find that I have to start it on paper in order to really get it going. Sometimes I use a separate “idea jotting” notebook and then if I like it, I transfer it to a composition notebook. I do often find myself eager to write on the computer. When that happens, I write however long on the computer I need to. Then I print those pages out and tape them into the notebook. A notebook is also easier to travel with.
2) I like to write with black pen. I am a pen writer. There’s something about a pencil I don’t like. I was taught that pencils are for math and drawing. I guess it stuck. What I do tend to use are the Bic pens with an eraser. This way I get the smoothness of a pen with the erasing capability of the pencil. I also like the RSVP pens.
3) I write on the right side and keep notes on the left side. When I first starting using notebooks, I didn’t like the idea of writing on both sides of the pages, but then as I progressed I realized, that’s a waste of space. So I came up with an idea that worked for me. I write the full story on the right side of the notebook and keep notes on the left. These could be plot points I want to mention later. Research topics I need to look up on the internet. Revising and editing notes I need to remember for when I’m done with the writing phase. Anything that helps me develop my story.
4) I keep munchies on hand. I am a muncher, especially when I’m doing anything creative like writing. As such, I always keep my cupboards stocked with my favorites. This way, when inspiration strikes and I get momentum going, the lack of chips doesn’t stop me.
5) I always have background noise going. I can’t work in complete silence. I need something in the background, something that fills the space whenever I stop to think or ponder the scene I’m writing. Most of the time, this is the radio. Sometimes, I can even work with the TV on. I’ve always been good at tuning the background noise out whenever I need to.
6) I edit on paper using a red pen. We all know the dreaded red pen, but our teachers had something going with that color. When dealing with black or blue ink, the red pen stands out and makes those edits visible. I also print my MS and edit on paper. After I’ve written the story, I type it up (I make sure to save those random typed pages to copy and paste). Then I go through and edit it. I’ve never been able to read on the computer screen, too blaring. So I always print things out and my MS is no exception.
There are probably a few more things I can mention, but I’m sure you get where I am going. The idea is to develop your own routines and habits. Find out what works for you. You may find it easier to write once you do. One book I recommend is A Writer's Space by Eric Maisel. He talks about finding that idea writing space for you, the space that will open up the door to possibilities.
As I said, people are habitual by nature. Use it to your advantage.
At last weekend's New England SCBWI conference, I attended a session on World-building. It was about how to create worlds for sci-fi and fantasy novels, worlds like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. As part of this discussion, someone asked about creating bibles for these worlds. My first thought was "bibles?" I had never heard of that term outside the context of catholic church and in truth my next thought after "bibles?" was "Sunday School?". I admit I was curious and intrigued. Why was this not something that was taught in my fours years as a Writing, Literature and Publishing major at Emerson College? Is it a new concept? One that developed in my 7 years since leaving Emerson? Or did the professors just forget to mention it? I guess I won't really know the answers, but as they say "better late than never."
A book or series bible is a collection of facts about the book(s) your writing. It's away to help keep the information and story consistent from one chapter to another or one book to another. Here's a list of sections to consider for a bible:
Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining ‘Blog’ is a fool’s errand.