Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (15) "Outlandish Characters"

In the last step you added some unusual characters to your story, but not so unusual that they couldn’t easily be explained.
In this step we’ll pull out all the stops and list some completely inappropriate characters that would take a heap of explaining to your readers if they showed up in your story.
In our example story set in an old western town, such characters might be:
Richard Nixon
Ghost of Julius Caesar
Pretty “out there,” right? Although you'll likely discard these characters in our pruning step down the line, the process of coming up with outlandish characters can lead to new ideas and directions for your story.
For example, the town Marshall might become more interesting if he was a history buff, specifically reading about the Roman Empire. In his first run-in with the gang, he is knocked out cold with a concussion. For the rest of the story, he keeps imagining the Ghost of Julius Caesar, giving him unwanted advice.
Now’s the time to let you Muse run wild and drag some truly outlandish characters into your story. Don’t hold back, you can always axe them later, but you might just discover the most memorable character you’ve ever created and perhaps a truly original way to use them as well.
In the next step, we’ll begin the process of transforming your characters, even the outlandish ones, into real people, preliminary to deciding which ones stay and which ones go.
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Monday, August 25, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (14) "Unusual Characters"

In the previous step you added to your cast list some characters who would not raise an eyebrow if they showed up in your story’s world.
Now, let yourself go a bit (but just a bit) and list a number of characters that might seem somewhat out of place but would still be fairly easily explainable in such a story as yours.
In our example story of a small town in the old west, these “unusual characters” might include:
A troupe of traveling acrobats
Ulysses S. Grant
A Prussian Duke
A bird watcher
You may be wondering why you’d want to have such odd characters in an otherwise normal story. The reason is to prevent your story from being too normal.
Neither reader nor publisher will want to waste time or money on a book that is just a rehash of the same tired material they’ve read over and over again.
What they are looking for is something with a unique personality – something that sets itself apart from the usual run of the mill.
Adding one or two somewhat unexpected characters to a story can liven up the cast and make it seem original, rather than derivative.
Once again, you won’t be married to all these characters. They are just a gene pool from which to select your actual cast in a later step.
So, add to your list some slightly odd, offbeat, unexpected or quirky characters – no one too unusual, mind you – just folks who would not immediately come to mind in a story such as yours but could be explained with a little effort – folks to add a little color and interest to your story.
In the next step we’ll pull out all the stops!
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (13) "The Usual Characters"

In the previous step, you added characters implied by your synopsis to your potential cast list. Range a little wider now, and jot down some characters that aren't explicitly mentioned or even implied but wouldn't seem particularly out of place in such a story.
In the example story we’ve been using, no one would be surprised at all to encounter a saloon girl, a bartender, blacksmith, rancher, preacher, schoolteacher, etc.
There is no specific limit to how many or how few “usual characters” you can or should add to your growing cast list. So just add the ones that appeal to you.
Don’t be worried if any of your additions seem stereotypical of too predictable. By the time we’re through a few more steps your list will be so large we’ll need to pare it down.
So for now, beef up your cast with any additional characters that would fit right in your novel as described in your synopsis.
Excerpted f rom the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Monday, August 18, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (12) "Expected Characters"

In Step 11 you made a list of all the characters explicitly named in your revised synopsis. Now list all the characters that your synopsis doesn't specifically name, but that would almost be expected in such a story. Include any additional characters you intend to employ but didn’t actually spell out in your synopsis. Again, list them by role and name if one comes to mind.
Suppose a story is described as the tribulations of a town Marshall trying to fend off a gang of outlaws who bleed the town dry.
The only specifically called for characters are the Marshall and the gang, which you would have listed in Step 10. But, you'd also expect the gang to have a leader and the town to have a mayor. The Marshall might have a deputy. And, if the town is being bled dry, then some businessmen and shopkeepers would be in order as well.
So, you would list these additional implied characters as:
Gang Leader
Deputy (John Justice)
Don’t list every character you can possibly imagine – we’ll expand our cast in other areas in steps to come. The task here is no more than to list all those characters most strongly implied – the ones that the plot or situation virtually calls for but doesn’t actually name.
Add these new characters below those in you listed in Step 11. Then, in the next step we’ll add some more!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (11) "Who's There?"

Congratulations! You’ve completed the first part of your journey toward a completed novel. It was a heck of a lot of work, but it is all about to pay off.
From here on out, we’ll be drawing on material you’ve already created. What’s more, each step from this point forward is far less complicated, requires far less effort and is shorter to boot!
In this step, for example, we’re going to look for characters in the material you’ve already created. You don’t have to invent anything new. In fact, it is important that you don’t!
Read through your revised synopsis from Step 10 while asking yourself “who’s there?” Make a list of all the characters explicitly called for in your story, as it is worded.
To be clear, don’t list any characters you have in mind but didn’t actually spell out in your work – just the ones who actually appear in the text.
You may have given some of these characters names. Others, you may have described simply by their roles in the story, such as Mercenary, John's Wife, Village Idiot, etc.
If a character does not yet have a role, give them one as a place-holder that more or less describes what they do, who they are related to, or what their situation is.
If a character does not yet have a name, don’t hold yourself up trying to think of one now. Well have a whole step devoted to inventing interesting character names down the line.
For now, just list the characters actually spelled out specifically in your synopsis as it stands.
John - The Mercenary
An Archeologist
Painless Pete - A Dentist
A Clown
A Freelance Birdwatcher
Do NOT include any characters you have in mind but didn’t actually mention. Do NOT include any characters who may be inferred but aren’t actually identified. All those other characters will be dealt with in the next few steps.
So, get on with it and answer the burning question, “Who’s There?”
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Friday, August 15, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (10)

Smoothing Out the Bumps
In Step 9 you integrated all your new material into your existing synopsis to create an all-inclusive description of your story’s world. In this step you’ll move things around and reword them so that your revised synopsis reads like butter.
You’ve come a long way. And, you’ve just completed a lot of hard work messing around with intangible ideas. Time to get literary again for a refreshing break.
Your job in this step is to reread your synopsis as it stands, not for content but from the standpoint of word play. For a moment, put story aside and think about how things are said rather than what is said. See if you can come up with a more interesting way to express the very same thing.
Don’t feel you have to get too stylistic or come up with memorable ways of phrasing things – brilliant lines of soaring prose that sweep the reader off their mundane little feet.
Nobody is going to see this final plot revision but you. The purpose is not yet to create a finished work. Rather, you just want to iron out the wrinkles, trim the jagged edges, and smooth out the bumps for a pleasant flowing read.
So, crank open the stop-cocks of verbiage and pave a way through the telling of your story.
In Step 11, we’ll fluff up your newly washed and folded story synopsis and see if we can shake some characters out of it.
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (9)

Your Inspired Plot
In Step 8 you made a list of all the new material you’ve created that you’d like to include in your novel to fill holes and fix inconsistencies.  In this step, you’ll weave those concepts into your existing synopsis to fashion an all-inclusive and enriched version.
The first thing to do is re-read your synopsis from Step 5 to re-familiarize yourself with your novel as you originally saw it.  Then, look over your list of the new story elements to be added to the mix.
Begin with the notion you’d most enjoy seeing in your story and, scanning your synopsis from top to bottom, locate the best place or places to insert it so that it will seamlessly integrate into your existing material.  When you know where it is going to show up, re-write just that section (or sections) of your synopsis to include it.
After each inclusion of new material, scan over the rest of your synopsis to see if the changes conflict with any other sections.  If so, make any additional alterations required to resolve those conflicts.
Repeat this process for all the concepts you wish to weave into your evolving story.  Some new material may slip right in.  Other times you may have to scratch your head a bit to see how you can wedge it in there.  At times, you may have to reword a section you’ve already rewritten to add another concept or two in the same place.
Don’t spend too much time on your exact wording.  This isn’t the time to be literary.  That will happen in the next step when we wrap up the Inspiration: Plot section so we can move into Inspiration: Characters.
If there are some things you just can’t find a home for, fret not, for that just indicates they probably don’t belong in the same story with all the others.
When you have woven in as many of your new ideas as you can (again, within reason, without head-busting, face palms or the gnashing of teeth) move on to Step 10 so we can wrap up inspiration for your plot and get on with your characters!
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (8)

Putting It Back Together
If you’ve been diligent in the last step and generated a lot of answers, you probably have a huge number of potential story points. But which ones to use?
Usually, you won’t be able to select two answers for the same question, as they would conflict. What’s more, some answers for one question might conflict with several from other questions.
The time has come to make some hard choices. In preparation for this, you need to get a good feel for all the potential directions your story might take depending upon which answers your choose to include.
When you came up with your answers, you were probably focusing on each question, one at a time, not on your story as a whole. So, the first thing is to stand back again, read over all the questions and answers from top to bottom straight through at least once or until you have a really good sense of what this grab back has to offer.
Now answer just one more essential question – how married are you to the original story concept you started with? If you really want to tell that original story, then go through your list of questions and answers and eliminate any that aren’t compatible with your initial concept.
Once you’ve completed this task, you can move on to Step 9.
But, if you are falling in love with some of the new potentials that have opened up, then go through your list and mark all the answers that you’d really like to include. Next, prioritize them as to which ones you are most excited about.
What you now have is a list of your very best and most interesting new creative concepts. Problem is, though they all have the same roots, they have diverged and may no longer be able to fit in the same story.
And this is where the hard choices come in. You need to pick one of all possible combinations of these new story points that is compatible both with your story concept and with each other.
There’s no easy way to do this. If you really like one new idea so much that you’d rather have it than any combination of others, then choose it first. Next, add your second most favorite new concept that is not incompatible with the first, and so on, until you have selected as many of your favorites as you can.
On the other hand, if there are many new concepts that are all top priority but can’t reasonably co-exist, then you need to try several, perhaps many, combinations until you find the one that has the greatest combined benefit for your story.
Though this takes time and is labor intensive, it is well worth it in the end, for your story will not only be far richer, but will excite you more in the writing of it, and therefore your work will be filled with far more passion, and your writing will progress more quickly.
The best way to try many different combinations is to use good old-fashioned index cards. Put each concept you’d like to include on its own card. Then, just like playing Scrabble, keep rearranging them, trying different groupings until your find the one that is the best for you.
Finally, organize that grouping into a list of its story elements that you can easily reference as preparation for Step 9, where you will weave them into your original synopsis in an all-inclusive revision.
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Monday, August 11, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (7)

Filling the Holes
In Step 6, you found holes and inconsistencies in your story as it stands so far by looking at it as an audience would, rather than as an author, and asking questions about what was missing or didn’t make sense.
In this step you’ll fill those holes and fix the inconsistencies by answering these questions to make your story more complete and to tune it up so it rings true.
Recalling the “Creativity Two-Step” method you employed in Step 4, you can see that the questions you’ve just asked about your synopsis are the first part of that technique. Just as before, your task in this step is to come up with as many potential answers for each question as you can (within reason).
And speaking of reason, just a reminder that the “two-step” method works because it alternates between logic and passion; between the analytical mind and the creative mind.
Asking questions about your synopsis is an analytical endeavor: you are trying to make sense of the story and noting everything that doesn’t.
Coming up with a grab bag of answers for each is a creative endeavor: you are turning your Muse loose to invent new concepts with no restrictions at all.
It is important to keep in mind that any answer is a good one, even if it is patently ridiculous. No matter: the most nonsensical idea, though it may never be used itself, can spur the inspiration of just the idea you need, which never would have occurred to you if you hobble your Muse in advance and force it to work within constraints of any kind.
The Muse hates limits, and cannot be directed any more than one can herd cats. Asking the questions is a focused and critical process, but answering them should always be completely free-form in order to achieve the best results.
So, refer to the questions about your story synopsis you just asked in the last step and see how many interesting answers you can bring forth. The more unusual the answer, the more likely your story will avoid following a cliché path and will stand out as original and intriguing.
Answers to Questions About Snow Sharks
From the synopsis:
A transport plane carrying them [the snow sharks] crashes in a storm high in the Rocky Mountains, just above a high-priced ski resort for the rich.
  1. What kind of plane?
  1. Constellation
  2. B-2 Bomber
  3. Modified 747
  4. B-17
  5. Blimp
  6. Dirigible
  7. Bi-Plane
  8. Glider
  9. Rebuilt flying saucer from Area 51
  1. How many sharks was it carrying?
  1. 1
  2. 17
  3. 300
  4. A mating pair
  1. Do they all survive?
  1. Only one survives
  2. 6 survive
  3. They all survive
  4. Just the mating pair
  5. An even dozen
  1. Where was the transport taking the sharks?
  1. Hawaii (for disposal)
  2. An arctic research station
  3. A secret base in Colorado
  4. Russia (they were being stolen)
  5. To NASA for a mapping expedition on one of Jupiter’s moons.
You may have noticed that a few of the answers actually provide more information than was asked for in the questions, for example:
Question 4 - Where was the transport taking the sharks?
Answer d. - Russia (they were being stolen)
When I answered “Russia” arbitrarily, I thought of the Russian Mob, and it occurred to me that organized crime might be trying to hijack and resell these biologic weapons.
If additional material comes to mind when answering a question, don’t be afraid to include it just because it goes beyond the expected answer. It’s all part of the creative process, and it never pays to squelch a good idea.
The more questions you answer, the fewer holes and inconsistencies in your story, and the more answers you come up with, the less cliché your story is likely to be.
Conversely, don’t feel pressured to answer everything and never – absolutely NEVER – do more work that you find interesting and pleasurable. The best way to kill a story is to kill your interest in writing it.
Though producing more answers enriches your novel, it may also deplete your drive to get your novel completed if the process becomes work and ceases to be fun.
So, let your Muse loose, without restrictions or quotas, and whatever shakes out will both add to your story and add to your motivation to tell it.
Now - spice up your story by peppering it with new material! Then, in Step 8, we’ll put it all together and integrate your original concepts and best new ideas into a revised synopsis.
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (6)

Pulling It All Apart
In Step 5, you created your first comprehensive description of what your story is about – who’s in it, what happens to them, what it all means, and the story world in which it all takes place.
In this step you’ll take a new look at this synopsis to find holes in your story – dramatic elements that are either missing or inconsistent with one another.
For a moment, step out of your role as author, and put yourself in the position of your reader or audience. Read over your story synopsis from Step 5. If something doesn't make sense, is off kilter or missing, make a note of it.
List each point in the form of a question, as this tends to help you focus in on exactly what is needed to fix the problem.
When you have finished your novel, your audience will be unforgiving, so be harsh now! Don’t gloss over problems, but don’t try to solve them either. That comes later.
For now, just ask questions about everything that bothers you about your story from a reader’s perspective, as if you were reading someone else’s description of their story rather than your own.
If push comes to shove and you are just too close to your story to see many problems with it, share your synopsis with friends, family or fellow writers.
Don’t ask them what they think of it – they’ll always pull their punches to be kind. Instead, just tell them to write down any questions they have about your story that weren’t answered in the synopsis – anything they didn’t quite understand or found confusing.
Having them state these issues as questions will get you a far better result than just asking their opinion, for they would really like to know the answers.   Friends and family are especially much more likely to be frank if they are just asking questions rather than criticizing.
Using the example below (based on the Snow Sharks example synopsis provided for Step 5) pick your synopsis apart as thoroughly as you can, jotting down every question about it that comes to mind.
Questions About Snow Sharks
From the synopsis:
The government has been developing a new breed of shark that lives in snow rather than water for use as mobile land mines in places such as Siberia or the Arctic.
  1. What branch of the government is involved?
  2. Is this sanctioned or rogue?
  3. Who is/are the scientists behind this?
  4. How long has this program been going on?
  5. How close are they to a final “product?”
  6. Do the sharks breathe air?
  7. Do they require cold (can they live in heat)?
From the synopsis:
A transport plane carrying them crashes in a storm high in the Rocky Mountains.
  1. What kind of plane?
  2. How many sharks was it carrying?
  3. Do they all survive?
  4. Where was the transport taking the sharks?
  5. Why couldn’t they wait until after the storm?
  6. How many crewmembers are on board?
  7. What are their jobs?
  8. Do the crew members know what they are carrying?
  9. Do any sharks survive?
  10. If so, do the sharks kill all the survivors?
  11. Is there anything in the wreckage that reveals the cargo, its nature and who is behind it?
  12. Is the crew able to contact their command center before crashing?
  13. Are they able to convey their location?
  14. Is there a rescue beacon?
  15. Does the plane carry a “black box.”
Using this list as a guide, separate your entire Step 5 synopsis into short sections (as above) and then come up with as many questions as you can (within reason) about each section.
Next, in Step 7, we’ll take each question, one at a time, and generate several potential answers that would satisfy them, thereby expanding and enriching your evolving story, even while you fill its holes and fix its inconsistencies.
Excerpted from the book, Write Your Novel Step by Step

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (5)

Pulling It All Together 
In Step 2, you jotted down any and all story ideas you may have already had for your novel.  In Step 4, you probably generated a huge number of additional creative ideas for your novel.  (If not, repeat Step 4 until you do!)
Problem is, the resulting collection of notions for your story from Steps 2 and 4 probably ranges far and wide, resulting in a hodgepodge of interesting concepts and schemes, all out of order and jumbled up in something of a chaotic mess.
So, before we go on into future steps, we need to do a little necessary housekeeping lest things get out of hand.  Just as we boiled down your Step 2 ideas into a single log line, in this step we’ll pull together all the material you’ve created so far into a more manageable form: a synopsis of your novel,
A synopsis is like a map of the ground your story is going to cover, noting all the landmarks and important things that happen at them.  Just as we originally had you jot down any ideas you already had in Step 2 and then boil them down to a single log line in step 3, we’re now going to take all the creative concepts you spewed out in Step 4 and pull them together into a this single conversational description of your novel’s content.
The length of a synopsis is completely variable.  The shortest form would be a thumb-nail sketch, perhaps just a paragraph long – the minimum necessary to outline the key elements and scope of your story.  Typically, the longest synopsis is usually no more than a page or two, though can be far more extensive than that.
So, don’t feel compelled to write more than comfortably flows or to limit yourself to less than you have.   Tolkien, for example, created whole worlds, histories, cultures, and languages in synopsis form before putting any of it in story form.
Our goal here is simply to take that unwieldy shopping list of story elements from Steps 2 and 4 and to turn it into conversational language that, more or less, describes all the interesting people, events, topics, and stylistic flourishes you’d like to include in your novel, as if you were talking about your story to a friend, rather than actually trying to tell your story.
So, for this step, your task is to refer to all that you created so far and describe it as if you were telling someone about your story who was very interested in it and wanted to hear every juicy detail.
“My novel is about….”  There.  I started it for you.  Now, go to town.  Guided by your log line that describes the crux and center of your novel’s concept, write your synopsis of every interesting and/or essential thing that is going to be in it, based on the work you’ve done in the last step.
Sample Synopsis (from my own work):
Snow Sharks: Don’t Eat Red Snow
The government has been developing a new breed of shark that lives in snow rather than water for use as mobile land mines in places such as Siberia or the Arctic.  A transport plane carrying them crashes in a storm high in the Rocky Mountains, just above a high-priced ski resort for the rich.
Normally closed at this time, the resort was opened for a powerful client so that his college-age daughter and her friends could have a ski vacation.  The sharks gradually slither down from the heights into the bowl-shaped resort and begin feasting on the kids.
Characters include the handsome but stupid jock, the stuck-up daughter of the patron, a cheerleader, a nerdy science geek who is the tag-along token outcast, and the usual crew of stereotypical college kids.
Scenes include night skiing where the proprietors had installed disco lights on the ski run, so they light up and create changing colored patterns under the snow.  During the night skiing, we see one of the kids ski by, followed by a silhouette against the disco lights of a snow shark following him.  This is the first attack that alerts them that something deadly is out there on the slopes.
In a later scene, the jock trying to escape by out-skiing the others, leaving them to die, when the sharks attack.  He ski-jumps over a chasm, looks back and laughs, looks forward and a snow shark has also jumped the chasm by shooting down the hill on the other side and is coming right for him.   The skis land solidly on the other side of the chasm with nothing but boots attached, and bloody stumps sticking out of them.
The government sees this as a great opportunity to see how effective the sharks are and send in an agent to document but not interfere.  He ends up dying a horrible death that both divulges to the kids what the government has done and provides the idea of how to escape.
Ultimately, they learn the sharks can no longer live in water, only in snow, so they blow up a geothermal spring to flash-melt the snow above the bowl-shaped valley, ironically drowning the sharks, and barely escaping the floodwaters themselves.
Armed with this rather cliché example, it’s time to write the first synopsis for your own novel.  As we continue through our step by step method, we’ll pause after each major new creative effort to fold what you’ve just developed into a revised synopsis.  In this way, you have a story right from the beginning that is continually evolving, step by step, into your finished novel.
Next, in Step 6, we’ll stand back a bit to see the first draft of your synopsis just as your readers will, looking for any holes they might see.  Then in the step after that, we’ll begin to fill them.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (4)

The Creativity Two-Step
In Step 3, we described methods for boiling your initial story concepts down into a log line: a single sentence that expresses the essence of what your story is about.
In this step, we’ll use your log line as a creative core in a method that will generate an expanding sphere of new ideas for your story.  In following this step, also draw upon the original story ideas you jotted down in Step 2.
The concept behind this method of finding inspiration is quite simple, really: It is easier to come up with many ideas than it is to come up with one idea.
Now that may sound counter-intuitive, but consider this… When you are working on a particular story and you run into a specific structural problem, you are looking for a creative inspiration in a very narrow area. But creativity isn’t something you can control like a power tool or channel onto a task. Rather, it is random, and applies itself to whatever it wants.
Creative inspiration is always running at full tilt within us, coming up with new ideas, thinking new thoughts – just not the thoughts we are looking for. So if we sit and wait for the Muse to shine its light on the exact structural problem we’re stuck on, it might be days before lightning strikes that very spot.
Fortunately, we can trick Creativity into working on our problem by making it think it is being random. As an example, consider this log line for a story: A Marshall in an Old West border town struggles with a cutthroat gang that is bleeding the town dry.
Step One: Asking Questions
Now if you had the assignment to sit down and turn this into a full-blown, interesting, one-of-a-kind story, you might be a bit stuck for what to do next. So, try this. First ask some questions:
1. How old is the Marshall?
2. How much experience does he have?
3. Is he a good shot?
4. How many men has he killed (if any)
5. How many people are in the gang?
6. Does it have a single leader?
7. Is the gang tight-knit?
8. What are they taking from the town?
9. How long have they been doing this?
You could probably go on and on and easily come up with a hundred questions based on that single log line. It might not seem at first that this will help you expand your story, but look at what’s really happened. You have tricked your Muse into coming up with a detailed list of what needs to be developed! And it didn’t even hurt. In fact, it was actually fun.
Step Two: Answering Questions
But that’s just the first step. Next, take each of these questions and come up with as many different answers as you can think of. Let your Muse run wild through your mind. You’ll probably find you get some ordinary answers and some really outlandish ones, but you’ll absolutely get a load of them!
  a) How old is the Marshall?
a. 28
b. 56
c. 86
d. 17
e. 07
f. 35
Some of these potential ages are ridiculous – or are they? Every ordinary story based on such a log line would have the Marshall be some common age from our example list, such as 28 or 35: just another dull story, grinding through the mill.
Step One Revisited
But what if your Marshall was 86 or 7 years old? Let’s switch back to Step One and ask some questions about his age.
For example:
c. 86
1. How would an 86 year old become a Marshall?
2. Can he still see okay?
3. What physical maladies plague him?
4. Is he married?
5. What kind of gun does he use?
6. Does he have the respect of the town?
And on and on…
Return to Step Two
As you might expect, now we switch back to Step Two again and answer each question as many different ways as we can.
5. What kind of gun does he use?
a) He uses an ancient musket, can barely lift it, but is a crack shot and miraculously hits whatever he aims at.
b) He uses an ancient musket and can’t hit the broad side of a barn. But somehow, his oddball shots ricochet off so many things, he gets the job done anyway, just not as he planned.
c) He uses a Mini-Gatling gun attached to his walker.
d) He doesn’t use a gun at all. In 63 years with the Texas Rangers, he never needed one and doesn’t need one now.
e) He uses a sawed off shotgun, but needs his deputy to pull the trigger for him as he aims.
f) He uses a whip.
g) He uses a knife, but can’t throw it past 5 feet anymore.
And on and on again…
Methinks you begin to get the idea. First you ask questions, which trick the Muse into finding fault with your work – an easy thing to do that your Creative Spirit already does on its own – often to your dismay.
Next, you turn the Muse loose to come up with as many answers for each question as you possibly can.
Then, you switch back to question mode and ask as many as you can about each of your answers.
And then you come up with as many answers as possible for those questions.
You can carry this process out for as many generations as you like, but the bulk of story material you develop will grow so quickly, you’ll likely not want to go much further than we went in our example.
Imagine, if you just asked 10 questions about the original log line and responded to each of them with 10 potential answers, you’d have 100 story points to consider.
Then, if you went as far as we just did for each one, you’d ask 10 questions of each answer and end up with 1,000 potential story points. And the final step of 10 answers for each of these would yield 10,000 story points!
Now in the real world, you probably won’t bother answering each question – just those that intrigue you. And, you won’t trouble yourself to ask questions about every answer – just the ones that suggest they have more development to offer and seem to lead in a direction you might like to go with your story.
The key point is that rather than staring at a blank page trying to find that one structural solution that will fill a gap or connect two points, use the Creativity Two-Step to trick your Muse into spewing out the wealth of ideas it naturally wants to provide.
Your goal for this step, then, is to apply the Creativity Two-Step to your original log line and follow your Muse as far as she can take you.  More than likely, you’ll end up with something of a mess – a disorganized mash-up of a huge number of story ideas of many different kinds for your novel.
In step 5, we’ll delve into the treasure trove of ideas you’ve generated and begin the process of organizing them into Characters, Plot, Theme, and Genre elements to be further expanded before we move into the Development stage.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (Part 3) - What's the Big Idea?

In step 2, we explored the purpose of and methods for clearing your mind by jotting down any initial ideas you may have before trying to further develop your novel.  In this step, your goal is to be able to write a single sentence that expresses the essence of what your story is about. 
Having a core concept will provide you with a creative beacon – a lighthouse by which to navigate your creative efforts so they stay on course to your ultimate purpose: a completed novel.
While this seems fairly simple, it can be a lot harder than it looks.  It is the rare writer who has a focused concise story concept right from the beginning.  Many discover the essence of their novel during the development process or even as they write.
As described in step 2, most writers fall into two categories: those with a general sense of what they want to write about and those with a collection of story elements they’d like to include.  Some writers have both, but still no solid center to it all.
Without a core concept, the first inclination is to try to pull all the good ideas they have for their novel into a single all-encompassing story.  Problem is, people think in topics more easily than they think in narratives.  And while all the material may belong to the same subject matter category, more often than not it doesn’t really belong in the same story.
Still, no one likes to abandon a good idea – after all, they aren’t that easy to come by.  And so, writers stop coming up with new ideas as their attention turns more and more toward figuring out how to connect everything they already have.
This can create an every growing spiral of structural complexity in the attempt to fit every notion and concept into a single unifying whole.  And before you know it, your inspiration and enthusiasm have both run dry to be replaced by creative frustration with a candy coating of intellectual effort that is not unlike trying to build a single meaningful picture from the pieces of several different puzzles.
To determine the central vision for your novel try these techniques.  First, shift your focus from what your story needs, and ask yourself what you need.  More precisely, consider why you want to write this story in the first place.  What is it that excites you most about this subject matter?  Is it a character, a plot line, a thematic message or topic, or just a genre or setting or timeframe or…?
Refer to the list you created in step 2 of your general concept and/or all the elements you have been pondering to possibly include in your story.  Next, consider your own personal interests and prioritize that list, putting the items you most want to include at the top and those less compelling at the bottom.
(Tip: sometimes it is hard to pick the most interesting and it is easier to start at the bottom of the list with the least interesting and work up!)
Now, block the bottom half of the list to see only the top items.  These are the aspects of your story that are most inspiring to you and represent the heart of your story.  Think about them as a group and see if you can perceive a common thread.
This common thread is called a log line.  Log lines are like the short descriptions of a program you see in cable or satellite television listings. As examples, here are the log lines for two stories of my own:
Snow Sharks (Don’t Eat Red Snow) - A group of rich teenage ski-bums are terrorized by escaped sharks that have been genetically altered by the U.S. government to act as mobile land mines in potential arctic wars.
House of W.A.C.S. – In 1942, this cross between Animal House and The Dirty Dozen follows one of the first groups of young women in the newly created Women’s Army Corps as they learn to work together as a team to thwart a Nazi fifth column and protect a crucial war factory.
Using these as a guide, try to write a sentence that describes the core concept you see in your work from step 2.
If your material is too limited or sketchy, just describe the idea that has you excited enough want to write this particular novel, such as:
I’m fascinated with the notion of an archeologist finding a modern device embedded in the ruins of an ancient civilization.
If you have the opposite problem and your wealth of story ideas is so wide-ranging or diffuse to easily see the thread, try writing several log lines, each of which touches on one aspect of what you see in your step 2 work.
Each of these sub-log lines will help focus a different part of what you’d like your story to be.  So, rather than trying to find the core directly from your original list, try to see the central concept outlined by your collection of log lines.
Hopefully, by using some or all of these techniques, you’ll be able to answer the question, What’s the Big Idea?  But if you can’t, don’t worry.  Some writers need to add to their collection of story elements before the big picture emerges.
In step 4, we’ll walk through a really useful method for using your existing concepts as seeds from which to grow new ideas.  So, if you don’t yet have a log line, you soon will as you begin to integrate this additional material into your evolving story.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (2) - "Get Out of My Head!"

When beginning a new novel, writers are often faced with one of two initial problems that hinders them right from the get go.  One – sometimes you have a story concept but can’t think of what to do with it.  In other words, you know what you want to write about, but the characters and plot elude you.  Two – sometimes your head is swimming with so many ideas that you haven’t got a clue how to pull them all together into a single unified story.
Fortunately, the solution to both is the same.  In each case, you need to clear your mind of what you do know about your story to make room for what you’d like to know.
If your problem is a story concept but no content, writing it down will help focus your thinking.  In fact, once your idea for a novel is out of your head and on paper or screen, you begin to see it objectively, not just subjectively.
Often just having an external look at your idea will spur other ideas that were not apparent when you were simply mulling it over.  And at the very least, it will clarify what it is you desire to create.
If, on the other hand, your problem is that all the little thoughts, notions or concepts that sparked the idea there might be a book in there somewhere are swirling around in a chaotic maelstrom….  well, then writing them all down will make room in your mind to start organizing that material by topic, category, sequence, or structural element.
For those whose cognitive cup runneth over, the issue is that one is afraid to forget any of these wonderful ideas, or to lose track of any of the tenuous or gossamer connections among them.  And so, we keeping stirring them around and around in our minds, refreshing our memory of them, but leaving us running in circles chasing our creative tales.
By writing down everything your are thinking, not as a story per se, but just in the same fragmented glimpses in which they are presenting themselves to you, you’ll be able to let them go, one by one, until your mental processor has retreated from the edge of memory overload and you can begin to pull your material together into the beginnings of a true proto-story.
Whether you are plagued by issue one or two, don’t try to fashion a full-fledged story at this stage while you are jotting down your notions.  That would simply add an unnecessary burden to your efforts that would hobble your forward progress and likely leave you frustrated by the daunting process of trying to see your finished story before you’ve even developed it.
Sure, before you write you’re going to need that overview of where you are heading to guide you to “The End”.  But that comes later.  For now, in this step, just write down your central concept and/or all the transient inspirations you are juggling in your head.
In step 3, we’ll look at what to do with what you’ve written down…

Monday, August 4, 2014

Write Your Novel Step by Step (Part 1) - Stage of Writing a Novel

Writers often begin the novel development process by thinking about what their story needs: a main character/protagonist/hero, a solid theme, a riveting plot and, of course, to meet all the touch points of their genre.
Because this is just the beginning of the process, they usually don’t have much of that worked out yet.  And so, they are faced with the daunting task of figuring out their story’s world, who’s in it, what happens to them, and what it all means before they even write a word.  This can throw a writer into creative gridlock right out of the gate and can get so frustrating that the Muse completely desserts them.
Fortunately, there’s a better way.  Rather than asking what the story needs, we can turn it around and ask what the author needs.  What is the most comfortable sequence of activities that will lead a writer from concept to completion of their novel or screenplay?
As varied a lot as we writers are, there are certain fundamental phases we all go through when coming to our stories.  In fact, we can arrange the entire creative process into four distinct stages:
1.  Inspiration
2.  Development
3.  Exposition
4.  Storytelling
The Inspiration Stage begins the moment we have an idea for a story.  This might be an overall concept (computer geeks are transported to the old west), a plot twist (a detective discovers he is investigating his own murder), a character situation (Ponce de Leon still lives today), a thematic topic (fracking), a character study (an aging rock star who is losing his licks) a line of dialog (“Just cuz somthin’s free don’t mean you didn’t buy it.”), a title (Too Old To Die Young) or any other creative notion that makes you think, that’s a good idea for a story!
What gets the hair on your writerly tail to stand up isn’t important.  Whatever it is, you are in the Inspiration Stage and it lasts as long as the ideas flow like spring runoff.  You might add characters, specific events in your plot or even write a chapter or two.  A very lucky writer never gets out of this stage and just keeps on going until the novel is completely written and sent out for publication.
Alas, for most of us, the Muse vanishes somewhere along the line, and we find ourselves staring at the all-too-familiar blank page wondering where to go from here.  Where we go is to Stage Two: Development.
In the Development Stage we stand back and take a long critical look at our story.  There are likely sections that are ready to write, or perhaps you’ve already written some.  Then there are the holes, both small and gaping, where there’s a disconnect from one moment you’ve worked out to the next one, bridging over what you can intuitively feel are several skipped beats along the way.  There are also breaks in logic when what happens at the beginning makes no sense in connection to what happens at the end (like the Golden Spike if the tracks were a mile apart).  There are characters that don’t ring true, unresolved conflicts, and expressed emotions that seem to come out of nowhere.  You may find thematic inconsistency or may even be missing a theme altogether.
And so, the work begins – tackling each and every one of these by itself, even while trying to make them all fit together.  By the end of the development stage, you’ll have added detail and richness to your story and gotten all the parts to work in concert like a well-turned machine, but it probably wasn’t easy or pleasant.
Eventually (thank providence) you’ll have all the leaks plugged and a fresh coat of paint on the thing.  You now know your story inside and out.  But, your readers won’t.  In fact, you realize that while you can see your beginning, ending and all that happens in between in a single glance, all at once, your readers or audience will be introduced to the elements of your story in a winding sequential progression of reveals.  You also realize you have quite unawares stumbled into Stage Three: Exposition.
You know your story, but how do you unfold it for others?  Where do you begin?  Do you use flash backs or perhaps flash forwards?  Do you mislead them?  Do you keep a mystery?  Do you spell things out all at once, or do you drop clues along the way?
There are endless techniques for revealing the totality of your story, many can be used simultaneously, and each one adds a different spice to the journey.  Like a parade, every float and band has a position designed to create the greatest impact.  And when you have all that figured out, you are ready to write as you begin the Storytelling Stage.
Storytelling is all about word play and style.   Whether you are writing a novel, a screenplay or a stage play, there are media-specific manners of expression and conventions of communication, but within those there is plenty of room to maneuver artistically.
Before we send it out the door, we writers shift and substitute and polish until (almost regretfully) we let it go, just like a parent bundling up a child for school.  In the end, as Da Vinci’s famous saying goes, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
So, Inspiration, Development, Exposition and Storytelling are the four stages of story development that nearly every writer travels through on the way from concept to completion.
In Step 2 we’ll explore Stage One: Inspiration to discover tips, tricks and techniques for coming up with ideas for your characters, plot, theme and genre.