Tag Archives: story ideas

Getting Ready for a Showdown with Revision

When you ask writers what their least favorite part of writing is, many will tell you revision. Why? Revision is a necessary part of writing, however it’s something a lot of writers struggle with. It’s time consuming for one, and it can be difficult to spot the flaws within your own work. Not to mention mentally preparing yourself to tear apart everything you just wrote.western_showdown

A good old-fashioned showdown.

Revision can seem like a daunting process. So how do you prepare for it? 

  1. Remember that first drafts are for dumping all your ideas onto the page. First drafts aren’t perfect. Characters, setting, and plot can still evolve afterward. If you had an ending in mind when you began your novel, it might have changed halfway through. Now, you need to go back and foreshadow correctly for the new ending.
  2. Relish in dissecting your story. It’s natural to want to keep to keep your writing, but if the writing doesn’t fit the story, then it’s got to go. One of the great things about computers is that you can save all the different drafts of your story. Just because you make a change doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. But the goal is to improve your story, and if there’s a chapter that doesn’t advance the plot or reveal anything, then it doesn’t serve a purpose other than to add to the word count and so it needs to go.
  3. The story is key. The story is what matters. Story and plot are two separate entities. Plot can change, while the underlying story remains the same. The story is the core issue, while plot equals the events within a story. If your protagonist needs to come across the corpse in chapter two, then be caught by the murderers in chapter seven, then escape in chapter ten, etc. there are many different ways these events can occur. You can change up the entire plot and still have the same story!
  4. Break it down. Revision doesn’t occur all at once. You’ll revise your work multiple times. Decide what aspects of revision you’re going to focus on during each stage of revision. In revision one, you’re likely to focus on the big picture issues, such as plot holes, coherency, the stakes for the characters, etc. Without first looking at the big picture issues, you won’t know if your story will work. The next revision might take a look at each chapter, instead of the story as a whole. The third revision could focus on certain sections of chapters. Eventually, you’ll be looking at grammar and punctuation. By breaking down the revision process, it doesn’t seem like such a mountain.

In the end, the goal is to make the story better, and the only way to accomplish that is through revision.

How do you prepare for the revision process?

(Photo courtesy of CowboyLands.)

 

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How to Start a Piece of Fiction

Where do stories come from? Are they born from birds with eagles’ beaks and tails of fire? Do they originate from springs with waters so crisp and clear you’d stop aging if you drank from them? Can you reach up into the sky and pluck stories from clouds?

That would be cool. But where do stories come from?

Everywhere.

They can come from an experience you or someone else had. Or they can start with something you heard. What you heard set off a spark. It inspired you.

Perhaps a story began with a character. Or a complication. The exploration of an idea. Maybe the story came from the question “what if.” Toni Morrison got the idea for her novel, Beloved, from an old newspaper clipping of a mother murdering her baby, just before she was dragged back into slavery. Morrison was interested in why the mother killed her child. What would drive a mother to murder her infant?

Twilight came from a dream Stephenie Meyer had.

A story can even begin with a sentence. Whatever causes that first spark, that bit which makes you want to examine an idea. Makes you need to explore it. Obsess over it.

A few tips on starting a novel:

  • Get it down. Whether the idea or words are good or not, write it. Put it on paper. Any negative emotions that come up (“This is stupid,” “No one thinks I’m a real writer,” “This is such a waste of time,” “I suck at writing.”) shouldn’t stop you because emotions change. Something you hate now, you may love later. The opposite also applies.

There’s a quote a professor I once had said. One of his former students said it to him. I’ll say it to you guys.

“It’s amazing what you can do as a writer, when you don’t care about what others think of you as a writer.”

  • Write what you know and don’t worry about what you don’t know. Many novels are written piece by piece, and then put together. Write the parts of the story you can picture clearly. You’ll figure out what you can’t see down the road, if you need to.
  • If you hit a roadblock, jump over it. There’s really nothing in fiction you can’t get away with. You make up the rules, the laws. If everyone is blue and can fly, then so be it. And if you get stuck, skip over it and come back. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing (Unless you feel like your head’s about to explode, then take a short break. Go for a hike. Watch something that makes you laugh).

In the end, you can get an idea for a story anywhere and start a story with anything. The key is to persist and not get overwhelmed. Don’t talk yourself out of completing a story, or even starting it. Get an idea, write it down. Flesh it out. Mold it. Sculpt it. And when you do get another idea, jot that one down too, so when you’re finished with the one you’re working on, you have another idea to build with.

Where do you get your ideas?

The Birth Of An Idea

There’s one question writers tend to get asked universally: Where do your story ideas come from? 

There’s no one response to this question. There’s no correct answer that will help those searching for inspiration find it. 

Ideas can flow from anywhere. Many times they simply materialize out of the writer’s head. But there are some ways you can spark or jog ideas into something greater:

  1. Daydreams or nighttime dreams. If you remember what you dreamed about, you can often find inspiration. You just have to notice the details and pay attention to what can be used and what can’t.
  2. People, places, images. You could be sitting at the beach and notice a girl running along the sand. Something about her starts your mind churning. You could be visiting an ancient castle, once great but now in ruins. You could see an old woman, sitting at a kitchen table, holding a stack of half burned letters in her hands.
  3. Disagreements. Is there something you don’t agree with in the novels you read? How about in TV series? Is there something you believe is missing in these novels and TV shows?
  4. Ask yourself “What if…” type questions. What if you woke up and found yourself in a forest, naked?  I wonder what is behind that locked door. If only I could step into the trunk of a tree and find myself in another world.
  5. Experiences and emotions. Are there any experiences you’ve had or someone you know has had that stuck with you? Are there certain emotions or a combination of emotions you want to explore?

Ideas can sprout from anything and any moment. Finding ideas isn’t the hard part. The challenge is figuring out which ideas are worth pursuing, and then giving those ideas form on paper, fleshing them out enough to create an engaging and believable story.

Where do you get your ideas?

Executing That Idea (Without Hacking An Arm Off)

Novels start with an idea. You could be sitting in a classroom, out on a run, or at the grocery store. Often I’ll be in bed, attempting to sleep, when an idea pops into my head.

The question is, what to do once you get that idea.

Most writers have many more ideas than they do time to write novels. (I do.) But in order to get and keep readers, you have to create a world large enough to sustain an entire novel- often several novels. You need characters that are strong and full. Ones that readers can identify with. (This takes a lot of work.)

So, a good place to start is with the characters. Building strong, in-depth characters with backstory (even if you don’t include all the backstory in your novel) helps you to formulate a more detailed storyline.

The same concept applies for creating a world. If your novel takes place somewhere other than Earth, or in some secret place on Earth no one knows about, creating a history is very useful. For myself, I draw a detailed map of the land and write pages on the different towns and landscapes. Most of this never reaches my revised versions, but having the background allows me to create a more realistic feel.

Believability is key. Let the readers escape their reality and plunge into your world. Some of the best novels I’ve read have made me forget what time it is or where I am. I get so involved that the characters seem real to me. I can see them, feel them, and I feel for them.

Your world has to be consistent and well thought out. The storyline needs tension, depth, and conflict. There’s got to be a sense that at any moment everything can blow up in the protagonist’s face. That threat of catastrophe is very important. If the stakes aren’t high enough, readers lose interest.

Building up to the climax, giving readers that sense of anticipation, incorporating a climax that blows them away, and then having a satisfying release are essential.

And, if you are working on a series, make sure to leave some threads unanswered. It’s never too early to think about what’s going into a sequel or the third novel in a trilogy. That way you can set up future story lines and keep readers wanting more.

How do you bring your ideas to the page?