Tag Archives: Ideas

The Story Behind The Stories

I know that some followers of this blog enjoy reading the story behind the stories I write, so here’s a bit of “process” for last week’s shorts. Spoiler Warning – if you haven’t read the stories, click on the titles and read them first!

Man, What Are You Doin’ Here?

When I saw this prompt, what sprung to mind was the joke which forms the final line of the story. It became the first line, and I imagined initially that it was said by an actor on stage. I envisaged a teenage girl, watching the play and not enjoying it. She was cynical and angry (aren’t a lot of teenagers?!) at the people laughing around her. I wondered why she was there, pondered her being on a bad date, or even being an escort. I added a leery older man beside her, his arm creeping around her shoulders… But the story didn’t go anywhere. It was too long to squash into 100 words and the short version just felt like a prurient snippet rather than a story.

I backed off, but kept the first line. It seemed like a corny joke, but what to do with it? I’ve done stories of Dad Jokes before, so I didn’t want to repeat that. When I hear bad jokes, I often feel like laughing even though they are terrible. And hence Miranda’s reaction was born. The bad date idea returned and I wrote the rest of the story right to the last line. But I wanted her to make a joke back to him, and the pedals line didn’t seem strong enough to end on. Jokes aren’t my forte and I couldn’t come up with anything better, so in the end I swapped the two jokes around, and I think it makes the story work better.

Curiosity Shop

The unhappy escort from the theatre was still in my head when I came to write my InMon story the next day. I liked the idea of someone going into a shop out of curiosity (rather than a shop full of curiosities) and the first few paragraphs came easily after that.

I wanted the girl’s name to tell us a lot about her, especially combined with her Mum’s outlook and behaviour. I hope I’ve made it clear enough that she’s from a rich family, but trying to make her own way in the world.

Having written most of the scene, though (up to the Dad with the credit card), I knew that Minty wasn’t a hooker, high- class or otherwise. But she was doing a job her Mum wouldn’t approve of, and working on the streets, so I wondered what else she could be doing? It came in a flash of inspiration (If the muse is on holiday, at least she’s sending postcards) and then all that was left was to craft the reveal.

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Flagging – (Lack of) Progress Report

I did wonder whether I could continue the flag analogy on these progress reports, but given the update I’m about to post, it seemed there was only one possible title for this post. Sadly. Have you ever found yourself bogged down in a cycle of procrastination? Apart from the old-fashioned rocket-up-the-bum, do you have any foolhardy tricks for getting back into the groove?

Author: Hubert Berberich

My goals are set out here: https://elmowrites.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/flag-raising/ and, to some extent, here: https://elmowrites.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/bookers-seven-progress-report/

ERIC:

My goal is to finish this edit by 1st July so March was meant to be a big month for me. Instead, I largely neglected him, and then got into a mood with him after my pitch slam suggested I might have deeper problems with such a bleak story. I feel the novel needs a stronger sub-plot, but that equates to substantial revision and it’s all sufficiently daunting that I haven’t got back into it. Now we’re halfway through April and I’m still procrastinating from even opening the file.

REGULAR COMMITMENTS

I did manage to submit in March, although it was touch and go for a while, and with the exception of one post I missed by being away, I’ve kept up with my blog. I’m focusing on this as a good point – something that didn’t go wrong!

EXTRAS

I’ve finished my first edits of Booker’s Seven. The table now looks like this

Story Idea

Booker Plot

Progress

Colonisation Overcoming the monster Awaiting Beta Readers
Wild West Voyage / Return with stage 1 Beta reader
Concert Tragedy Awaiting Beta Readers
Road Trip Comedy Needs post-beta edits
Stargazing Rebirth Awaiting Beta Readers
Robin Hood Quest With Stage 2 Beta readers
Phoenix Rags to Riches With Stage 2 Beta readers

If Beta Reading is something you’d like to do, and think you do well, I’d love to hear from you!

My husband and music collaborator has been busy again, but he’s started putting some music to my lyrics from February, and I’ve started thinking about edits to make some of the lyrics better (or at least, shorter).

My writing group, Moosemeat, are starting work on our annual chapbook, so I need to prepare a 500 word story for that. I’ve done one, but I hate it. I can’t quite work out whether to run with radical re-writing or starting again. So, like Eric, it’s in a state of being ignored.

By way of excuse, I’ve been busy with other things and under the weather, as well as the fact that a lot of life-related stuff has got in the way of concentrating on writing. But the truth is, if my heart was in it, I’d have fitted writing in around these things. I need to push myself back into the groove now it’s April, before another month slips by… Wish me luck!

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Writer seeks Readers, GSOH a must!

Every time I think about re-starting my blog about an english girl’s adventures in Canada, I come across the same problem. The best way to make it interesting to other people would be to cast it in a humorous light, a la “A Year in the Merde”, Stephen Clarke’s book (later, series of books) about his time in France. But my sense of humour is traditionally British – dry and sardonic. If sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, then I might be the lowest form of whit(1).

Ok, I throw in the occasional pun for good measure, but mostly my sense of humour doesn’t translate well onto the page, and especially not to a Canadian audience. It didn’t take me long over here to discover that God’s Frozen People were taking me far too seriously, and potentially getting upset by what I appeared to be saying.

For example, in one piece of short fiction, I had a young character who doesn’t like children, refer to the “spawn” of some of her friends. To me, it was clear that the term was used (by the character) in jest and with an eye to the dramatic, but my writing group friends were almost universally appalled!

So I hesitate to publish any anecdotes about life in the colonies for fear of causing offence, or at least confusion. And my fictional writing tends to steer clear of any attempts at humour too. Maybe this is why I am always inclined to write about death and destruction!

If you have any hints or tips about ways to add humour, and particularly how to indicate sarcasm in print, I’d love to hear from you. Otherwise it’s back to reading Clarke and Austen, two great British wits (whits?) for suggestions.

1. Whit, for those without a British English dictionary, is a 15c variant of “wight” and means “creature”.

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More on Inspiration and Murderers

Less than a week after writing my previous post, “Where do you get your ideas?”, I was sitting in a juice bar waiting for my husband.So I picked up the book he’d been reading and started leafing through it. To my surprise, I came upon the author’s views on just this question – the writer’s top FAQ. It made me realise there was something else to say.

In the Preface to “What the Dog Saw” (Little, Brown and Company, 2009), Malcolm Gladwell attempts to answer the question first of all by giving some specific examples of where his ideas came from, but then he summarises, “The trick to finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell.” He goes on to correct himself, calling this trick a challenge.

Gladwell is a reporter; he writes factual books and articles about interesting psychological and societal phenomena, but his remarks gave me pause. Because he is right in a way, but I wouldn’t call it a trick or a challenge, more a worldview. A way of looking at things. And maybe that is what makes me a writer of fiction.

Last week the Friday Fiction picture was an airport (you can see the picture, and my response at https://elmowrites.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/flash-fiction-9/). And yet only maybe 20% of the responses featured an airport. The rest spanned heaven and hell, ancient sailing ships and moderns cruise-liners, shopping malls, alien space craft… we couldn’t help it. We couldn’t just see the picture and think “There’s an airport concourse [full stop. no story there.]” any more than we could look at an acorn on the ground the week before and see nothing but an acorn. We all saw something else. Characters. Drama. A story.

So perhaps, as a fiction writer, when faced with the question “Where do you get your ideas?”, there is only one answer, “I’m a writer. It’s not a question of where I get them, it’s a matter of how I get rid of them.” And that, of course, is by turning them into stories.

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Where do you get your ideas? (or, Could you defend a murderer?)

Where do you get your ideas? This is one of those questions that comes up a lot as a writer. It’s as much my standard fodder now as “Could you defend a murderer?” was when I was a lawyer(1). In fact, probably more so.

Writers never ask it of each other. We occasionally read books about it, and we even occasionally swap ideas or steal each others’, but we don’t ask each other “How do you come up with these things?” Perhaps that’s because we know there’s no real answer. Or at least, if there is an answer, it’s hard to put into words. But I’m going to try my best to answer it anyway – if you’re a writer, feel free to send people here next time they ask you, or to leave comments about how you get your ideas. If you’re a reader, I hope this begins to answer your question.

1. Inspiration

The first stage of any idea for me is the inspiration. This can come from a variety of sources. On Fridays, I get a picture from Madison Woods’ excellent blog. For Bookers’ Seven, I was given themes, first lines, chracter names and a rough idea of the plot type. Sometimes I work with an interesting phrase, or an overheard snippet of conversation. Very occasionally, I start with a character or a setting. And once in a while, I have a dream which becomes the opening or closing scene.

In addition to all this, there is the technical way to seek inspiration. In books on plot, we are told that all plots start as what ifs. What if some young boys found a body in the woods? (Stephen King’s Stand By Me). What if a young wizard came to the royal court, believing he was destined to take care of the Prince when the King had banned magic? (BBC TV’s Merlin). What if two handsome strangers arrived in a village full of eligible young women? (Pride and Prejudice). I’m less convinced by this – I think it’s easy to reverse engineer a what if out of a story, but I’m not persuaded about how many writers sit down with a What if stuck in their craw.

2. Motivation

Possibly this should go first! Different writers have different underlying intentions in writing – for fun, for money, for company or for solitude, but a specific motivation can help too: a contest with a weird brief, an event like NaNoWriMo, or a deadline. Sometimes i just get hooked on a story in my head and have to write it down. there’s always an underlying motivation, there’s usually also a trigger.

3. Imagination

Inspiration, with a touch of Motivation, gives me the nugget. But that’s not enough of itself. If it were, everyone in the Friday Fiction group would write the same response to Madison’s pictures, and we definitely don’t.

This is the hard bit to explain. It’s about looking around the inspiration. If that’s a picture of an acorn lying on a rocky path, where is that path- in a forest or on a barren mountainside? In one case the acorn is perfectly natural and unremarkable, in the other it’s special, either a miracle or a clue to disturbance. Who is seeing this acorn? How were they feeling and what were they doing when they found it? A squirrel will see it as food, a depressed human might see it as hope of rebirth, someone in love might just think it’s pretty.

Sometimes I light upon a story straight away, sometimes I try a few different scenarios, often I just find a scenario that interests me and start writing, to see where it leads.

A bit of old-fashioned bloody-mindedness helps. I find the story comes easier if the acorn is not in a forest in the springtime, surrounded by other sprouting acorns, being found by someone walking the dog who saw it lying there unsprouted yesterday. Boring. Put it on a rocky mountainside in early winter and suddenly there has to be a story!

4. Perspiration

As tWhere do you get your ideas?hey say, there’s no substitute for hard work. Once the basic story idea is there, I run with it. It might twist and turn and come out differently from how I expected, but that’s fine by me. Or, I might know right from the start what the ending is going to be and keep dropping hints as I go. I enjoy it either way, because the first is like reading a story for the first time and the second is like sharing a secret.

The more I write, the more I feel able to pick up any challenge, any inspiration and turn it into a secret worth sharing or a story worth hearing. I hope you tend to agree!

 

(1) The answer to the lawyer question is equally long and complex. Luckily, I was a property lawyer, so I never had to wrestle with it in the flesh. It would make a good story though … Just ask John Grisham!

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12 Days of Christmas (or Seeking Inspiration)

As is traditional, I’ll be spending most of the twelve days of Christmas dashing around the UK visiting various family and friends. I probably won’t have internet access for some of it, and I certainly won’t have a lot of time for writing. But I don’t want to stop exercise my creative muscles, so I’ll have my notebook with me and I’d love to pen a short piece, perhaps 100 words, every one of those twelve days.

To do that, I need your help! If you follow this blog, hopefully that means you like reading what I write – imagine if you could be a part of that! I’m looking for 12 pieces of inspiration – a link to a photo on your tumblr / flickr page, or simply one you’ve found online; a first line, a character or a title, or a writing exercise like the “page of a dictionary” one I did the other day. Anything at all – it can be Christmas related or not, and about absolutely anything you like. If I get twelve ideas, I’ll write one every day from 25th December to 6th Jan and post as often as I get Wifi, so check back or subscribe to see the fruits of your labours!

In the meantime, a practice run, based on a game we played at my writers’ group Christmas Party last week (yup, we sure know how to have fun!). A twelve word story (including the title).

Christmas dinner. Cranberry, stuffing, potatoes, gravy. And Pedro, yesterday’s pet. Gobble gobble.

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More Writing Games

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is 1st December. NaNoWriMo is over, I won, so did huge numbers of the WriMos I am proud to call friends. WOOHOO! Confetti! etc etc.

So now we’re back to the real world, and what better way to celebrate than with a game.

“What I often do when I have to, say, describe a room, is to take a page of a dictionary, any page at all, and see if with the words suggested by that one page in the dictionary I can build up a room, build up a scene. Nobody has noticed. … You’re really normally doing what nature does, you’re just making an entity out of the elements. I do recommend it to young writers.” Anthony Burgess

Well, it’s an idea, isn’t it. So here’s the game, with due credit to Mr Burgess. Take a dictionary (yes, a paper one, sometimes the old ways really are the best) and open a page at random. Then write a story, or a scene, or a description, whatever takes your fancy. The only rule is, you have to include at least 5, ideally ten, or more! words from that double page spread in Chambers, Websters, the Oxford English or Collins’ Gem in front of you. Definition words, mind, no sneaking in with “well, there’s a ‘the’ in this definition here” excuses.

I’ll try to do this exercise and post it next week. If anyone has a desperate desire to pick a page number my dictionary has 1654 pages. First come first served to give me a number. Otherwise, it’ll be random.

Off to search out room descriptions in Clockwork Orange now…

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