Why on Wednesday: Why Are YOU Writing?

Chess Board - TwitterThere’s a crazy notion out there right now that everyone should publish a book. I’d like to break this down logically, but I’m a Figment, so I’ll break it down Figment-logically:

  1. Everyone should birth a baby. Yeah, that makes sense. Those who can’t birth a baby (men, women with fertility issues, small children, the elderly, aliens, and animals), those who don’t want to birth a baby, and those who shouldn’t birth a baby makes a pretty compelling argument against this. The same thing goes for book publishing: some can’t (lack of skills, finances, commitment, etc.); some don’t want to (which is perfectly valid); and some simply shouldn’t (I’ve read a few published “books” I wish hadn’t been published because… ugh).
  2. Everyone should sell a piece of art/ craft work. Really? Because not everyone will ever be good enough to sell something.
  3. Everyone should become a rocket scientist/ brain surgeon/ marathoner/ concert pianist.  All ridiculous, right?

I am not saying people shouldn’t write. Everyone should write. Anyone who wants to should write a book. Hurrah! I’m also not saying we should stop anyone from writing a book or publishing it.

But there’s a big push out there to get everyone to publish a book. It comes from companies that make good money off fledgling authors. I do not think it comes from anyone wanting the best for someone. It’s not in everyone’s best interests to publish a pile of steaming vomit mixed with crap spew. It’s, in fact, not in anyone’s best interests.

So, that brings me to that big question: why do you write?

  • Enjoyment
  • Mental stability/ emotional release
  • Growth/ learning
  • Memoir/ memory aid
  • Publication

There’s a lot of reasons (including many I didn’t list) to write, and most of them don’t lead to publication.

If you want to publish– especially if you want to be a “professional writer”– you should treat it with the same seriousness, the same intensity, that you would treat becoming a brain surgeon/ rocket scientist/ marathoner/ concert pianist. It’s a job, even if it’s not the job that’s paying the bills.

But if you just want to write to write to write to write (I got a little carried away there), then, please, write! Write to the sun and beyond. Enjoy that writing.

I’m not going to stop anyone from publishing. I’m just going to ask that you treat my career choice with the same respect you want yours given.

Feature Friday: I Need a Hero/ Villain/ Sidekick.

Chess Board - TwitterThere’s been some discussion going about my social media regarding villains. I don’t write villains. I’ve never written a villain (no, not even Ellie the Evil Queen is a villain).

Here’s why: a good villain isn’t a villain; they are the foil to your hero. A good villain, in another book, might be your hero.

I also don’t write sidekicks. Sidekicks have their own story going on. That story is every bit as important as the heroes story. Just don’t tell the hero. Sidekicks tend to be a lot lower on the ego scale than heroes.

Take a look at your WIP. If you’re writing a romance, you may not have a villain, but you’ll still have a foil to your main character. Look carefully at your villain/antagonist, love interest(s), and sidekicks.

  • Do they have a backstory? It doesn’t need to be in the story, but you need to know a little bit about them.
  • Do you know their personality type or motivations? If Myers-Briggs is too much, do a simple zodiac bit or a character archetype. Then do a little twist so the character isn’t just a stock character. (I hate stock characters.)
  • If you’ve ever played at tabletop gaming, you probably know the D&D versions of characters. There’s race, class, and alignment to get you going. Race is the same for most non-fantasy/sf books, but what “class” is your character? What about alignment? (I like alignment best; it tells a lot about a character.) If you don’t know a thing about it,  here’s some help. Or you can have fun with these memes.

All of this works for your main character, too, in case he or she feels too flat.

One last thing I have fun doing that only fantasy writers really seem to do is creating a genealogy chart. Must be the geek in me, but there’s something fun about knowing a little bit of a character’s backstory. Christopher, from Veneri Verbum and Beta Beware, is an only child of a single mother. I know what happened to Dad, but the rest of the world never will. Still, it affects who Christopher is. On the other hand, The Bobian (The Annals of Bobian) has a full-fledged family and is the only boy, stuffed in the middle. Yep, that affects his personality. Grandparents will have a role in later books.

So, look at your characters. How well-rounded are they? Could they use a little tweaking?

Bonus: Archetypes in literature and media

Motivation Monday: Novel Structure

Chess Board - TwitterI’m currently plowing my way through KM Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel. There is a very good point early on that I want to address today: writers are afraid that structure will take the art out of their writing.

There are writers who get away without consciously outlining their novels, including Stephen King. It seems to work okay for him. However, he’s also a prolific read and I’m sure he at least understands story structure.

Story structure takes nothing away from art. Here are a few examples from other artforms:

Architecture relies on buildings being structurally sound. Yet for every plain row house out there, there is a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright creation or an IM Pei glass pyramid. They both use structure; in fact, they have to understand it innately to create the buildings they do. But their structure only adds to their artistry.

Michelangelo and da Vinci are both known to have studied human anatomy excessively to give their artwork more lifelike reality. They knew that the underlying structure of the human body is what influences the outward beauty.

So why are writers so afraid that structure will destroy their art?

“The three-act structure is intrinsic to the human brain’s model of the world; it matches a blueprint that is hard-wired in the human brain, which is constantly attempting to rationalize the world and resolve it into patterns. It is therefore an inevitable property of almost any successful drama, whether the writer is aware of it or not.” – Edoardo Nolfo

The three-act structure is really very simple:

  • Setup (beginning)
  • Confrontation (middle)
  • Resolution (end)

Remember that outline we did (some of you kicking and screaming– or just lying about doing it)? Let’s go back to that. We’re going to hash your story (and mine) into three-act structure.

First, we have our amazing opening line and chapter. This is the setup to the setup. Usually, it’s set in the normal, boring world before everything starts. Then the setup continues for roughly 25% of the book. At 25%, you have the end of Act 1.

There is an important plot point at the end of acts 1 and 2:

“The Plot Point at the end of Act I is always the true beginning of your screenplay. Acts I sets up the story components. Then, the screenwriter has to establish the dramatic need and create obstacles to that need; the story becomes the main character overcoming the obstacle after obstacle to achieve his or her dramatic need.”

“There could be as many as nine or 10 plot points during a screenplay. But the two most important come at the end of act one and at the end of act two. They are the anchors of your storyline, the stitches that hold everything together.” – Syd Field, Four Screenplays

After Act 1,  you go into the guts of the story, the meat of it. There’s a lot of flexibility in this section, but you need to continue building upon whatever plot point happened at the end of Act 1. You can introduce (and sometimes close) new plot points, but that main plot point will continue throughout Act 2.

“Act II is a unit of action that is held together with the dramatic context of Confrontation. Your character will confront obstacle after obstacle after obstacle to achieve his or her dramatic need.” – Syd Field, Four Screenplays

Finally, you’re in Act 3 at about 75% of your story. This means you still have 25% left, so don’t go resolving the story early and then dragging out the ending. End the story at the end, period.

“Be certain that the hurdles get bigger and come closer together, accelerating the pace of your story, as your story moves forward.” – Michael Hauge, author and script consultant

Your Monday assignment is to embrace the beauty of structure. Take that outline you did (*coughcough*) and pick out your three act structure: opening line, opening, plot point at the end of act 1, midpoint (not always obvious), plot point at the end of act 2, and ending.

Don’t worry. I’ll be right here, cheering you on.

Unless you throw things. Then I’m moving.

 

Feature Friday: Time to Commit

Chess Board - TwitterI can tell you all sorts of secrets for getting your book written. Once you have it written, I can give you all sorts of tips for getting it to market. However, until you’ve actually committed yourself to doing it, it’s not going to happen.

“Well, of course I’m committed. I keep reading your lousy blog for advice, don’t I?”

That just means you’re committed to learning how to do it. You haven’t committed to doing it.

“Okay, semantic-laden Figment, how do I commit to doing it?”

Set a deadline.

I’ve heard all the excuses (really). Don’t bring me your excuses. I’ve used them myself and probably made them funnier (because, well, I’m funny). There are no excuses.

You can work to a deadline, even if you’re a creative.

You can write a full-length novel, even if you’re the busiest person ever.

The only reasons you can’t finish a book by your self-imposed deadline are either that you were too ambitious or you quit.

We don’t do quitters. You can modify your deadline if life happens or you can suck it up for a little while and pretend you don’t have a choice, but you don’t quit. Clear?

Now, let’s work on the ambitious part.

In order to set your deadline, you have to know how many days per week you are going to write, how many hours (or minutes) a day you can commit to writing, and how long your book is going to be.

“But I don’t know that! This is hard!”

It does involve math, so I’ll try to simplify it.

Do an exercise for me right now. No, not later. If you have the five minutes it takes to read this post, you have the five minutes it takes to do the exercise:

Write for five minutes about a talking tree.

“But I haven’t done any research.”

If you really can’t figure out what to write about a fantasy talking tree, fill in the gaps with [look this up later]. You can even count it toward your word count total. If you cheat and write nothing but [look this up later] for all five minutes, I will write you into a book as a snot-eating toddler. I promise.

“But I don’t do well under pressure.”

I can’t make you do this, but if you don’t at least try, I have a team of ninja fox memes standing by to steal all your favorite books while you sleep. It’s not pressure. It’s motivation. You want to write a book.

“But…”

Shuttup and write. Er, sorry. Bad manners. Suck it. Write.

Five minutes later.

How many words did you write? Multiply it by 12. (You have permission to use a calculator.) That’s your words per hour.

How long is your book going to be? The minimum for a real novel (regardless of NaNoWriMo teaching people that 50k is a book) is about 60k, and that’s short. Better to shoot for long and be pleasantly surprised when it comes together early. I usually plan for 100k. I am always pleasantly surprised.

How many days per week will you write? I know the maxim to write daily. Throw that out. You should use your writing skills daily, yes, but no one does a job every single day unless they want to burn out. Pick six days or five days or even just three. Just make sure those writing sessions are sacred.

How many hours/ minutes will you write each time? I strongly recommend one-hour blocks when you can, but if you can’t, work with it. You can always do more math (divide your words per hour by 60 for your words per minute) to do the math later. The important part to this step is to know how much time you have for each writing session. This is an appointment! It’s sacred! Only reschedule it if you wouldn’t show up for your day job for the same reason (death in the family, illness, etc.) You do not have to schedule the same amount of time each day, either. It’s just easier if the time periods are similar.

How long will it take you? Here’s the most math for this whole shebang. If you write 1000 words in an hour (approximately 17 words per minute) and you will write a total of 210 minutes per week, you can write 3500 words per week.

Breathe deep. You can do this.

If you are writing a book that you estimate will be 100,000 words, it will take you about 29 weeks to write it. (100,000 divided by 3500 words per week.)

You can write a book, even on a meager 3500 words per week, in a little more than six months.

“Why not make my goal more ambitious?”

Set yourself up for success with this first novel, not failure. I mean, don’t be a baby about it. If you know you can write 5000 words a week, do it. But be realistic. Have a life on the side.

So, the final step for this is to get a calendar. Buy one, make one, go online. But have an actual, physical calendar. Please don’t tell me how awesome your online calendar is. Get a physical one for this. Please.

In ink, schedule out your writing time. You can move it for emergencies, but the ink tells you it’s meant to be important and permanent.

Below your writing time, write how many words you need to hit. Maybe you end up with some overtime. You’ll get faster as you start to figure out that daydreaming doesn’t get you out of school any faster.

Now, every single day that you are scheduled, sit down and write the words until you hit your goal for that day. When you’ve finished, put your total actual words below the words you need to hit.

Don’t stop. Don’t tell yourself it’s bad; it probably is. The point isn’t to be good for this first draft of a first novel. The point is to finish something.

“I hate you.”

That’s the spirit. Warms the cockles of my heart. Now, finish the book.

Then we’ll work on the rest.

So, did you do it? Did you carve out your writing time? Did you have to modify this plan at all?

 

 

 

WorkIt Wednesday: Create-a-Plot and Pushups

Chess Board - TwitterThis is a two-part WorkIt Wednesday, as always. For the physical part, my goal is to hit 100 pushups throughout the day. I can do a single pushup or all 100 at once (no, really, I can’t). As long as they’re all done by midnight, I reached my goal.

Define a pushup: Because not everyone is at the same level, you can do any type of pushup you want. Do you have some physical limitations? Do wall pushups. Maybe you have some minor lower back issues? Do knee or “girl” pushups. If you can, do the regular pushups. If you’re feeling really ambitious, go for one-handed pushups or another variation. You don’t have to do the same kind all the way through, either. Start out at the hardest level you can and, if you need to, finish up with wall pushups. The goal is to get all 100. There’s a good tutorial here.

Now for the written part of the day, inspired by this article on The Write Life. Depending on which resource you go to, there are only seven/ twenty/ thirty-six plots in literature. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going with seven for this exercise. Also, because I’m a simple Figment, I’m referring to all humans as “man”. Feminists, I salute you, but writing all those bracketed [wo]man gives me a headache.

According to ipl.org, here are the seven:

  1. Man vs nature
  2. Man vs man
  3. Man vs the environment
  4. Man vs himself
  5. Man vs machines
  6. Man vs supernatural
  7. Man vs god/God

Some of these seem repetitious, but work with me. (Only a few decades ago, school children were taught man vs man, man vs himself, man vs nature. I guess “supernatural” and “machines” are two different ones. I don’t really see seven here.)

According to Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots, there are seven completely different plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster (man vs the supernatural?)
  2. Rags to riches (man vs himself?)
  3. The Quest (man vs the environment?)
  4. Voyage and Return (man vs god/God?)
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

The writing portion of your WorkIt Wednesday (and mine) is to take a story idea you already have and put it through all seven plot ideas. Because enough people are familiar with Pride and Prejudice, let’s use that as an example.

On its own, Pride and Prejudice is either man vs man (Darcy’s prejudice versus Lizzie’s pride) or man vs himself (each learning to overcome their own shortcomings). Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes the same story and makes it man vs the supernatural. What if there was a sudden blight or illness in England? It might change to man vs nature or the environment. It’s a bit of a stretch to picture it as man vs machines, but let’s make it Steampunk Pride and Prejudice for that one. If you want to change it to man vs god/God, maybe Darcy questions his morality in the story. You could do the same for the Booker list.

Your assignment is to take your basic work in progress and morph it into each of the seven plots. Again, you can use either list, but use the same list throughout. If you want, share your mutations here. I may share mine next week. You can use the original The Write Life article for ideas on how to morph your story.

How did you do last week? Did you make your goals?

 

Motivation Monday: Getting Past The First Chapter

Chess Board - TwitterI’m going to assume if you’re reading this you’ve taken me up on my challenge to write and publish an indie book. If you haven’t, go back and read the earlier posts first. I’m pretty sequential for a Figment. Doing things in order is always a good idea.

You have an outline (or you’re humoring me and pretending). You know why you’re writing. You have a first chapter. And now… you’re bored. Or you think you’re blocked.

Here’s my take on it: there is no such thing as Writer’s Block.

Before I get a bunch of angry replies, let me clarify. People to get blocked, but it’s not truly writer’s block. Writer’s block is this mystical thing where your muse has deserted you. Sorry, cupcake. While there are real muses, they don’t cause writer’s block. Here are some reasons you can feel blocked, though:

  • Your story is going in a dead-end direction. If your story isn’t making sense, your subconscious may be trying to tell you to turn it around. Break the rule about not editing and go back and find what isn’t working. If you can’t find it, get a trusted but brutally honest friend to tell you.
  • You have a stressor in your life. Real life is stressful. I avoid it whenever I can. Apparently real people can’t do that. If your life is highly stressful, feeling pressure to finish a book can add to that. Give yourself a day off if you have that luxury. If you don’t, write something silly in the middle of your story. You can edit it out later, but it may get your creative juices flowing.
  • You didn’t outline. One thing about outlines: you always know where you’re going. I know there are writers who say this destroys creativity for them. As long as those writers never get stuck, bully on them. Keep up the good fight! However, for those of us who do get stuck, an outline can tell you where to go next when you just aren’t feeling it.
  • You’re relying on feeling. This is one of those “suck it up, buttercup” moments. I didn’t feel like writing this blog post. There’s a major Spelling Bee Hive event today and I’m missing part of the live bookcast. But I am committed to blogging and it needed to be done. So… I wrote. I hate you all for it, but it will be done shortly. Also, now that I’ve started, I’m remembering that I like writing more than I like watching a bunch of letters chase each other around a grassy field, so I may keep writing.
  • You don’t have a deadline. It doesn’t matter where your deadline comes from, but many of us (not all of us) work better with a deadline. I get my best work done twenty minutes before it’s due. Set yourself a deadline. In fact, I’ll be sure to post about making a schedule later. I’ll lose all three of my regular readers when I do it, but it’ll still be there.
  • You need a break. I know the maxim: write daily. If you’ve been doing that, consider a day of rest. Recharge. Take a quick break. But get back on it tomorrow.

So, what’s keeping you from writing today? How did you resolve it?

Feature Friday: Writing the First Chapter

Chess Board - TwitterThere are some who find the last chapter to be the most difficult. There are a few who struggle through the middle. For most, however, the first chapter is the hardest to get out there. There’s good reason for this. The first chapter is what draws, drags, or defers. Either it is so clever that the reader must read; it is acceptable enough that the reader chooses to read; or it is so bad that the reader refuses to read.

But no pressure. Really.

See, the nice things about first chapters (and first lines) is that you have the most time to get them right. You have the entire time you’re writing the book through the editing process through just before publication. That’s a lot of time. (Longer for some, say, whose last name is Martin, than some others.)

“I don’t edit while I’m writing.”  Very smart of you. Really. Just try this with me for one work, though. Edit that first chapter.

Here’s why: if your first chapter does what it should (set up the story), then you have an easier task ahead of you. Instead of dragging the story uphill to get to the first plot point, your first chapter has already set it on the right path.

I’ve discovered I cannot write well until I’m happy with the first chapter. Oh, I can write. I go on putting words to paper anyway. But each time I open that document, I edit the first chapter until something clicks. For some works, this happens before I get out of the second chapter. For others, it may not happen until I’m frantically trying to fix things for publication. But it always happens because it’s important.

What does a first chapter need?

  • The protagonist
  • The antagonist
  • Possibly one or more support characters
  • The setting for the “normal” world (the world in that millisecond before the story starts)
  • The reason why the reader should care about any of this

If, by the end of your first chapter, the reader doesn’t at least know a little bit about your main character, where he is, why they should care about her, etc., you’ve failed.

Yes, I know there are books that manage to get away with breaking the rules. You can break the rules, too, if you know them well enough to do it well. Otherwise, stick to the guidelines. They exist because they work, oddly enough.

So, your homework (and mine) is to go back to your first chapter. Read it first. Just read it. Does it grab you? Does it repulse you? Then go back with whatever form of red pen you use and mark it up. Do you have a lot of unnecessary exposition? Bye-bye! Does your main character go nameless and descriptionless for most of the chapter? Fix it. Do you, being honest, not really care about this chapter? Maybe you need to toss it entirely and start with the second chapter.

Whatever you decide to do, go do your homework. Tear apart the first chapter. Let me know how it works out.

Want More? Try This Blog Post
Learn four possible ways to hook your reader in the opening. Try all four!
http://danmalakin.com/writing-great-story-opening-4-quick-tips-hook-reader/

 

 

Motivation Monday: WHY Write a Book?

Chess Board - TwitterIf you’ve been following along, we’ve worked on how to write, what to write about, and done an outline. (You did do your homework, right?) Before we go any further, though, you really  have to understand why you’re writing a book.

There is no wrong reason for writing a book. None. But if you don’t know why you’re writing, you may go about it the wrong way. (Yes, there is a wrong way for you, just like there is a wrong way for me.)

I’m writing a book to get down the stories my dad/mom/next-door-neighbor told me.
If you’re not planning to publish (or you’re only planning to publish to adoring family and friends, then the format won’t matter as much. Good grammar may be optional. You can create your own cover and learn design or get one online for $5 (Fiverr.com). This is a labor of love, not a polished product. Enjoy the ride, but don’t stress over it.

I’m writing a book because I love to write. I might publish, someday.
Go as slowly as you want. You’re doing this for the story. This is where pantsers excel, just letting the story move them. If you eventually decide to publish, you can go back and edit the words into shape. For you, it’s about enjoying the commune with your muse.

I’m writing a book for traditional publication.
Read up. Find out what the markets are and what the formula is for your genre. Don’t stress over the cover, but pay for a good editor. You might get lucky and find an editor/agent who appreciates someone thinks outside of the box, but most of them won’t. Take the time to find out who wants what, too.

I’m writing a book for self-publication.
Learn how to write, first. Either study cover design or pay for a good one. Read up on the business side of being a writer, because being an indie means you are a small business. You can write how you want and what you want, but you’ll sell better if you at least find your niche audience (know who you are writing for) before you get too attached to your story about alien llamas from Venus who love curling. Get an editor– a good one. If you’re planning on publishing more than one book, save up for a block of ISBN numbers; you’ll save money in the long run. Either learn how to format well or get someone else to do it.

I’m not trying to scare you off from self-publishing, by the way. I just want more people to realize that self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted. It’s for the person who knows what he wants to write, is willing to work hard to get it off the ground, and isn’t afraid to market herself.

So, let’s start with the basics before you write a word on the page: why are you writing your book? Remember, there’s no wrong answer unless you lie to yourself. Looking forward to some great responses.

How to Write a Book: Outlining

Chess Board - TwitterI am aware that I just lost a lot of pantsers. I’m going to ask you to come back and give me an opportunity to woo you. I’ll even hold your hand if you want, but I’m running at the first sign of a restraining order. Stick with me through this post. Let’s see what we can do about this outlining idea.

There’s a reason we learn to outline in school: it’s a very useful skill to have, even if you’re not a writer. If you are a writer, it can be invaluable.

But, Zan, I hate outlining.

Here’s a thought: if you hate it, maybe you’re not doing it right.

But I’m a pantser. I like to just let the story flow.

There are people who can do this. If you’ve already finished books and published, ignore me. If, however, you either can’t finish a book or you get stuck in forever edits, let me try to help you. It might not work. The fun thing about anything artistic is that there is no real right way or wrong way; there’s only the way that works for you.

So, how do you outline a novel?

Start with the basics. Every book (except some really trippy random stuff) has a similar form to it. You have the opening, the first inciting moment, the second inciting moment, the faux climax, the oops moment, the third inciting moment, and the finale. (Yes, some of these are my own very technical terms.)

I didn’t outline for Veneri Verbum, but I did have these major plot points figured out. I’ll use that as an example. If you haven’t read it, you can still get an idea of what I mean.

If you are new to outlining, you hate outlining, or you’re a pantser and really against having the book set in stone (which it isn’t, but that’s a different post), just get down these key points:

  1. The opening. Get the who, the where, and the how at the very least. For me, it was Christopher, at his computer, trying to write a novel in one month.
  2. The first big moment. It’s not set in stone. If you really feel like writing it down limits you, write down several possible first big moments. You’ll end up with more of a flow chart than an outline… and that’s okay. For VV, it was Christopher realizing he’s not in Kansas (or at his computer) any longer.
  3. The second big moment. This will be the one that propels the story. In Christopher’s case, it was realizing that he had to get home or he would destroy the known universe.
  4. The faux climax. This is when your reader briefly thinks that big moment #2 is being resolved. In my story, it was getting everyone– almost– on the train.
  5. The big oops. Okay, the story isn’t resolved. Almost everyone got on the train.
  6. The third big moment. This is the one that has everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, holding their breath, waiting to see what happens. I think I sort of skipped through this one without touching down. Veneri Verbum is weaker for it.
  7. The finale or true climax. This is when everything comes together in a neat little package. That final chapter wraps it all up with a bow if you do it right. When Christopher… wait. That would be a major spoiler. Nope, not revealing that one. Sorry!

So, there you have it. Seven steps. Seven little bitty tiny steps. You can do that, right? (Note: if you’re using the flowchart method, then you’ll branch off at each inciting point, so you might have more than seven steps. “Might” in this case means “will”.)

There’s your homework. Go do your outline. No, no whining. I already told you this is not a safe zone. I will have to mock the whiners and that takes away from my writing time. Shame on you. Just do the thing. You’ll thank me later.

Probably.

How to Write a Book: Getting Ideas

Chess Board - Twitter

 

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott Card

I once belonged to a writing group. It was a mixed group, with experienced, published writers shuffled in with complete newbies. There was one thing that often made the newbies stand out. They’d come in, participate for a while, and then say, “I need help. Does anyone have a story idea I can use? I can’t come up with any.”

This is a relatively safe place. I try to not mock much…. Wait. Who am I fooling? I write humor, parody and satire. Mocking is my middle name. So if you are a sensitive soul who doesn’t like being the butt of a good poking (but not a poking in the butt; that’s just rude), you may want to pull out your blankie.

A good writer learns to see the millions of ideas out there. You cannot be a good writer unless you can come up with ideas.

The good news is that fourth word: learns. This is something that can be learned. I’m here to help you learn how to see the ideas out there.

1. Take a tip from Shakespeare

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. He was writing all the time. Most of his stuff is taught in classrooms and still performed on the stage. Most of his stuff also came from somewhere else. Chaucer inspired Troilus and Cressida. Plutarch inspired Julius Caesar. In fact, it’s quite possible only three of his plays are original.

The point of this is that there is nothing wrong with getting ideas from elsewhere. Veneri Verbum and Beta Beware owe a lot to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Just be sure that you’re only using other sources for ideas, not for actual stories. There’s a fine line between inspiration and plagiarizing!

2. Read the news

There’s a saying: truth is stranger than fiction. There are plenty of writers who have gotten their inspiration (or an entire book deal) out of real life. Read the news on a regular basis and make a note of any stories that jump out at you. Be sure you reference the original article.

3. Play the “what if” game

I have a favorite game. I will go out in public, suitably disguised so my fans don’t chase me for autographs, and I will play a “what if” game. What if zombies suddenly appeared in this mall. What would the bored girl in the food court do? What about the jock boy who’s busy bragging to his friends about what he did this weekend?

You can play the same game. Get a notebook, go out somewhere in public (you don’t have to talk to someone), and write down some “what if” scenarios. If you don’t have your own, there are cards and books that will get you started.

4. Use story prompts

I’m not going to link you to story prompts because I don’t use them. However, if you search “story prompts”, you’ll get more than you could ever use in a lifetime.

5. Take part in a writing competition

Usually, competitions will give you the topic. How’s that for easy?

6. Use photos for inspiration

Go look around the internet and see how many photos can spark a story idea.

 

There are plenty more ways to get ideas, but these are good ways to start. One key to this is to always keep something with you so you can write (or voice-print) your ideas. You get ideas in the shower? (Lots of people do.) Get a waterproof pad, because you will forget by the time you get out. You get ideas in the car? Get a voice recorder. I always have my phone (with a notetaking app), a notebook and pen, and a voice recorder with me. Always. I also go through an inordinate amount of sticky notes.

Keep a file (paper, electronic, or both) of your ideas. Even if an idea is just a snippet, it can be invaluable.

There you have it. Six easy ways to get story ideas. Your assignment this week is to try all six ways. That’s right. Go do something to improve your writing. Then come back to tell me what worked best for you.

By the way, when you’ve been doing this long enough, you’ll start to see story ideas everywhere. I call them plot bunnies. Be sure to stab them. They are both voracious and extremely fecund. You will soon be overrun.