Category Archives: Guest Posts

Ideas For Stories. Where Do They Come From? by Catherine E. McLean

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Image by 453169 from Pixabay

When I first began attending workshops for writing fiction, there would be a question-answer session after the presentation. Invariably someone in the audience would ask the author-speaker, “Where do you get your ideas from?” The reply was basically “If you have to ask that question, you aren’t a writer!”

At first, I agreed with the assumption that you’re not a writer if you can’t come up with ideas because I never lacked for ideas. Then it dawned on me that the people asking the question of where do you get your ideas from, didn’t know how, or had never been taught, how to look for and be aware of ideas with story potential.

To be aware is to have or show knowledge or understanding or realization or perception. So, in a nutshell, the secret to generating story sparkers (ideas) comes from awareness—either on a conscious or subconscious level.

Awareness is also about sensory perceptions coming into play. For instance, take the sight perception of seeing and reading a newspaper headline at the bottom of page ten: “Bank Safe Explodes.” The awareness factor strikes, you pause and re-read the headline. The mind begins to extrapolate— what caused the vault to explode? Who would put a bomb or chemicals, or explosives in a bank vault box? What if instead . . . maybe after the bank was evacuated because of a wild fire, thieves came in, robbed the safe, tossed in explosives, then got away.

You then read the news item and become enthralled by other possibilities—ones based on the reality of the situation. And so the what-ifs multiply and the idea blossoms and intrigues even more. This is exciting stuff that stories are made of.

As to awareness on the subconscious level, remember the subconscious is always in the background recording and noticing things. Therefore, anything noted by the subconscious might trigger a heightened reaction of awareness that sparks an idea for a story. However, when it comes to outside-the-box concepts and ideas, the subconscious mind is an innovator. The subconscious has a penchant for randomly mixing-and-matching things or relishing in the juxtaposition of elements and concepts. Good fodder for stories.

The hard part about getting ideas is determining if the idea has merit enough to spend the time and energy writing the story. It’s about asking “will this idea sell?” That is, is there a market for such a story? Another problem with vetting an idea is figuring out what kind of length the story will end up as—flash fiction or a novella, novel, or saga. In truth, a story will end up being whatever length it is when drafted. It’s in the revision process that length can be adjusted, or not.

It’s also important to reflect on the idea and ask “Has anyone else beaten me to this story idea? If so, how can I make mine unique and more appealing?”

Even though anything can spark a tale, the bottom line is that to become a producing writer of worth, you need ideas—lots of ideas. Generating more ideas means becoming far more aware of possibilities and to actively look at your environment with “new vision” and a “new sense of touch or taste” or listen for sounds or snippets of conversation. What follows is a list of 12 possibilities for increasing awareness and generating story sparks:

1. reading newspapers, especially headlines on interior pages because truth is often stranger than fiction
2. driving down a road, you see a sign or billboard, logo on a truck, a sticker on a vehicle, etc. that leads to a story spark (pull over to the side of the road and write the idea down, or dictate the gist of the idea into a voice recorder—but avoid texting and driving)
3. beginning with a crime. What is the crime (murder, theft, etc.)? Who would commit such a crime? Why would they commit such a crime? Who must solve the crime or seek justice?
4. looking at a landscape picture (on a calendar or from a magazine, newspaper, Pinterest, etc.) and asking— Would this make a setting for a story? If so, what kind of story? What kind of person or people could live on such a beautiful/harsh/exotic/sparse landscape?
5. reading poetry and discovering a zinger of an image or wording that awes
6. browsing the Internet (searching for something but coming across an interesting aspect that might spark a story)
7. being on the lookout for an animal that fascinates you *
8. being on the lookout for a flower or plant that amazes you *
9. being on the lookout for a fish that astounds you *
* these can be real (alive) or prehistoric, even drawings of the mythical
10. being on the lookout for a little-known ship or plane that had an amazing or unusual voyage in space or underwater
11. listening to snippets of conversation at parties, restaurants, etc. Ask: Who would say such a thing? Why?
12. visiting your local library and browsing the stacks for interesting titles or book covers, or looking through magazines you normally would never notice

Lastly, truth is often stranger than fiction. So, start with a reality and let your imagination ponder a fantasy worthy of a story.

Post Script — the list above is taken from “Story Ideas—32 Ways to Find Them,” which is available as a free “Writers Cheat Sheet“.

CEM Sweater mini pixAs one reviewer put it, Catherine’s stories are “brain candy for anyone liking action and character-driven stories.” Catherine writes lighthearted tales of phantasy realms and stardust worlds (fantasy, paranormal, and space opera/soft science fiction). Her stories are adventure-quests where characters are like real people facing real dilemmas. It’s where their journey (with or without a romance) has a satisfying ending.

Catherine began her writing career as a journalist and earned Pennwriters Published Penn status from articles and short stories. Her short stories have appeared in hardcover and online anthologies and magazines. Many of those short stories are in her anthology ADRADA TO ZOOL.

Her books include JEWELS OF THE SKY (sci-fi adventure), KARMA & MAYHEM (paranormal fantasy romance), and HEARTS AKILTER (a fantasy/sci-fi romance novella).
She has been giving online and in-person workshops and courses for more than two decades. At https://www.WritersCheatSheets.com, she offers free Writers Cheat Sheets and maintains a blog for writers at https://writerscheatsheets.blogspot.com/. Some of her courses are available as 1-on-1 Fiction Writing Courses (information is at https://www.writerscheatsheets.com/1-on-1-courses-for-writers-authors.html
Also available is “Terrific Titles—an all inclusive guide to creating story titles.” Her nonfiction guidebook for writers is REVISION IS A PROCESS – HOW TO TAKE THE FRUSTRATION OUT OF SELF-EDITING.

Join her Reader or Writers Bulletin List.

Catherines Books 

Life Plus 70 by Ethan Ellenberg

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Photo by StartupStockPhotos on Pixbaby

I’m sure you recognize the provenance of that title—current Copyright law grants authors a term of the author’s life plus seventy years.

It’s an extraordinary grant by any measure and I can’t think of anything comparable in patents or any other system that governs intellectual property.

Copyright, however, is only part of what governs the working lives of authors. Far more consequential are the actual contracts and licenses authors enter into, which, as a practical matter, are the real governors of their creative and financial lives.

In ‘the old days’, when, for the most part, an author’s only recourse was a print book publishing contract with an established book publisher, there weren’t a lot of choices to make. Your income was tied to the success of your book that was in the hands of a traditional book publishing company. When it went out of print, its active life was essentially over.

More choices emerged as authors and their agents gained power and agents began selling translation and movie rights on the author’s behalf, in addition to negotiating the book publishing agreements seeking better terms and fostering competitive bidding.

Now we are in a whole new world. There are different ways to be published and author incomes are coming from a far wider range of sources. The standard book agreement that routinely grants the mainstream book publisher a license for the ‘term of copyright’ has to be reconsidered. If an author can make more money, have more control, and work with many more customers, his/her career decisions are more attractive, but also more complex and consequential.

The first issue to consider is whether mainstream book publishers will consider altering their traditional demand for a license that exists for the term of copyright. There’s no reason for optimism here, but Authors should start thinking about this. It won’t change without awareness and effort. I don’t like to use the word fair, but is it in an author’s interest to license their work for the rest of their life plus 70 years? Wouldn’t a change in this contractual term be hugely significant?

Beyond the term of license itself, one has to consider the Out of Print clause and the behavior of the publishers adjudicating it. I won’t explore all the intricacies at this time, and there has been good progress in this area, but more needs to be done. When small quantities of ebooks or a translation license are the only things keeping a book ‘in print’ and hence not eligible for reversion to the author per the terms of the agreement, things need to change. Publishers have to be more responsive to Out of Print requests. They also need to be more flexible in application of the rules. Books that are no longer performing for them should not go through long periods of decay as they age out, but should be reverted to their authors.

Additionally, as a traditional book contract ages, the original subsidiary rights granted to the publisher should be eligible for reversion, even if the book itself is in print. Whatever the subsidiary rights are, if they are moribund in the publisher’s hands, they should be eligible for reversion to the author.

Beyond what I believe are healthy, necessary changes in the basic terms offered by traditional book publishers, authors need to continue to evaluate the new paradigms that are available to them. These paradigms are already successful and there is reason to believe they will be even more so in the future.

Authors can self publish and having retained all the subsidiary rights, license rights to their books to audio publishers, foreign publishers and film/t.v. companies. There are challenges here to be sure, but the self-publishing paradigm has been proven successful and the most successful self-published authors have sold their rights in all these other formats. Here is where there is a radical change in the legal status of an author’s rights.

If they publish an ebook there is often no term of license and the author can change his/her plans at will. Audio licenses vary in length, with licenses of 3, 5, 7 and 10 years being common. Translation licenses also vary in length, with licenses also of 3, 5, 7 and 10 years. With talent available worldwide, authors can commission their own audio books and translations. Breakthroughs in print on demand technology may someday soon see printed books available inexpensively at all kinds of locations including coffee shops and salons.

To recap, there are a number of key ideas here that every author should be cognizant of in all of his/her dealings:

–Copyright is life + 70. Your work is protected, its value will last longer than your lifetime. Plan for it.

–Non-traditional publishing, retained rights, re-sale of reverted rights, and monitoring your publisher are essential. The active life of your book is no longer a year or two and you are key to managing this part of your career, whether you work with an agent or not

Authors need to organize all their contracts and licenses and realize they are in the intellectual property business, and not just book authors. With ebooks easy to publish and Audio rights in demand, the opportunities are ongoing and inheritable.

lit agent ethan ellenbergEthan Ellenberg opened his literary agency in late 1984 after holding jobs at both Bantam and Berkley/Jove. He is an acknowledged expert on the practical aspects of publishing including the publishing agreement and royalty accounting, and a long time industry observer and author advocate. His opinion and educational pieces have appeared in the newsletter of Novelists, Inc., the Romance Writer’s Report, and a number of F&W guides to publishing. His new venture is called Royalty Reminder, an author services company that helps writers and their heirs to store, manage, and monetize their intellectual property.

How to Deal with Writer’s Block by DG Kaye

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Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

A common problem many writers encounter is the dreaded writer’s block. It can hit us smack in the middle of our writing. We’re happily writing along until, boom! The creative well runs dry.

Because our craft is guided by mental focus and inspiration, it’s not difficult to imagine that sometimes we might get shut out from our creative energies. When life issues get in the way, I know I’ve certainly fallen victim to this freeze out of creativity while life is testing me with unforeseen circumstances that can take the wind right out of my writing sails.

When we implement self-imposed deadlines for our work, the mental pressure we put upon ourselves to accomplish our goals often have us scrambling to force our creative abilities.

Many writers have found their secret formulas for helping to get the creative juices, or their muses and mojos flowing, but many others struggle when the well of creativity begins to evaporate. So, what’s a writer to do?

Don’t change course by slacking off completely. Keep your imaginations open. There are many things we can do to re-ignite our creativity, often when we least expect it.

Read
Get newly inspired by reading a book or an interesting article or blog post. If you’ve allotted this time for writing, do something else to keep your mind in the creative realm. You will be surprised to find the ideas that float into mind while our concentrating efforts are focused on something else.

Write

Yes, you may get stumped on your current WIP, but working on another writing project will often summon up some new ideas for exactly the project you’re taking a breather from. If you don’t have another project to work on, use writing prompts to get the juices flowing again. Writing of any sort is a stimulant to our creative centers. Often, writing about a completely different topic will spark an idea for something else we’re working on.

Walk Away

You heard me correctly. When our heads are crammed with worry, doubts or blanks, forcing ourselves to remain at our keyboards staring into space looking for words to further our stories, it becomes an indicator that a timeout is warranted. Walking away doesn’t mean we don’t have to be thinking about our WIP; we’re merely changing the scenery and focusing on something else. If our WIP remains on the back burner in our minds while busying ourselves with a different task, something is going to give and eventually the flow of ideas will come back when we alleviate the pressure off ourselves.

Go Outside
Taking a walk while taking in the sights of people and nature surrounding us is a good way to calm the mind, which inadvertently allows creativity to brew again. Driving has the same effect for me, especially if I’m listening to music. Just be prepared to make notes about your new ideas or they may disappear into the ethers as quickly as they’ve sprung up.

Be prepared for those glorious moments when inspiration returns. Have journals or notebooks handy to write down those precious newly inspired ideas because if you’re anything like me, they’ll be forever gone if we don’t write them down. Nothing to write with? Keep your mobile phones handy. With the various apps available, such as Voice Note, you can record your ideas, so they are there when you’re ready to go back to your stalled WIP. Heck, I’ve even whipped out a lipstick and wrote on a napkin a few times while out at a restaurant. Whatever works!

I like to think of the blank out moments while writing as merely a delay rather than a block. Where there is a will to write, sometimes a diversion is all it takes to bring us back to inspiration.


Debbie GilesDebby Gies is a Canadian memoir/nonfiction writer who writes under the pen name D.G. Kaye. She writes about real life experiences and matters of the heart sharing life lessons in hopes to empower others.

Connect with D.G. on her social sites:

Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Twitter | Facebook

AboutMe | LinkedIn | Google+ | Instagram | Pinterest

Come join our Literary Diva’s Library Facebook group for writers and authors.
Visit D.G.’s books at her Amazon Author Page

DG Kaye Books

Character Observers in Crime Fiction by Lisa Ciarfella

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Well it’s a pleasure and an honor to be asked back to NoWastedInk.com once again as guest blogger. Wendy’s asked me to chime in on my choice of the writing craft, so we’re talking about character observers in crime-fiction, the ones who help the sleuths solve the crimes and how they can help when writing in backstory.  It was Author Margot Kinberg’s latest blog post, “I Am the Observer Who is Observing* — at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist https://margotkinberg.wordpress.com/2018/05/31/ that got me thinking on all this…

So, how can the observer characters in crime-fiction help us write better backstory into our novels? In Kinberg’s post, she likens writers to those people in life who tend to be natural observers, hanging back and taking it all in. I tend to be like this, and I think most good authors probably are. In fact, we often like nothing better than to sit in open air cafe’s, pretending to be reading or writing on our laptops when really, we’re zeroed in on other people’s juicy conversations, stealing our next tantalizing idea for a story. Observers in our crime fiction stories do this a lot; nothing escapes these people.

As Kinberg points out, if you’ve ever read Agatha Christie, you know her main man Poirot is always looking to interview the observers in the room, and that these types are ultimately the best source for detectives and cops wanting to solve crimes. Likewise, if you’ve ever watched FX’s Criminal Minds or any of BBC’s Masterpiece mystery shows, you know that observers are often more helpful than any physical evidence found on the scene since they can point the crime solvers in the right direction when the evidence can only say so much!

“Observers often have a very interesting perspective, because they stand back and notice everything… Observers can give valuable information on what they’ve seen. And their perspectives can give the detective a sense of what a group of people is like So, it’s little wonder that we see them so often in crime fiction.” Kinberg

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Photo by Pam Evans

What intrigued me the most in Kinberg’s post was her mention of author Louise Penny’s book, Still Life. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list now. According to Kinberg, the victim, Jane Neal, seems to be the observer, albeit from after the grave. She helps the cops by letting them know she’d known things, a lot of things, that other people in town just may have wished she hadn’t! And that very fact, helped seal her doom!

Now since I’m writing up a novel where the victim chimes in after the deadly deed, this intrigues me! Especially as a way of dealing with a character’s backstory. Backstory is so challenging to write. It engrosses us as authors as we create our characters, and it can be all consuming if we let it. After all, it’s so easy to get caught up in the how and the why of our main players and lose sight of the most important part of the story, the action! Action is where it’s at for the readers, and if there’s too much backstory and too little movement, the story can fall fabulously flat!

And we all want to avoid that dreaded dumping scenario, right? The one where the reader becomes barraged with info. overload in one fell swoop! Or, as renowned crime fiction author Les Edgerton like to call it, doing “The Rubber Ducky” (http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/rubber-ducky.):

“The “Rubber Ducky” is Paddy Chayevsky’s term for when the hero or villain, at a lull in the action, explains that he is the way he is because his mother took away his rubber ducky when he was three…Always a nice scene… And totally unnecessary … It usually comes from not trusting the reader’s or viewer’s intelligence to “get it” ….

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…if all you’re trying to do is give your hero more emotional depth, for the sake of emotional depth, without integrating his back-story into your story, you run the risk of awakening the dread Ducky.” Edgerton

I don’t know how my attempt at incorporating my vic from beyond the grave will turn out, but it seems like going back in time and letting my victim tell some of the tale from an observer standpoint is a great way to deal- in her back-story without awakening that dreaded RD! 

I’m giving it my best shot anyway. Could make my tale so much more present for the reader, involving them intimately in the life of my vic by hearing her own voice relay her rough-ride. Much better her than me! And as author, I so want to get out of my character’s way and let them do the heavy lifting!

lisa ciarfella headshot Lisa’s a recent MFA graduate from California State University, Long Beach. She writes darkly tainted, noir style prose where bad things happen to bad people and not so bad people get caught up in the madness. In 2018, her fiction was featured at http://www.outofthegutteronline.com, Near to the Knuckle.uk, and at Short Mystery Fiction Society’s  https://shortmystery.blogspot.com/2018, as part of theirMay short story month’ series.

You can also find her work at PulpMetalmagazine.com, Nowastedink.com, Ashedit.com, StudentHealth101.com and other places.

By night Lisa’s currently cranking out more short stories and her first crime fiction novel, doggedly pursuing the game! By day, she shepherds high school kids with their daily grind, and on the weekends, likes throwing Frisbees around the beach with her pups and catching ball games.

Find her on Facebook at @lisajohnljc, or on her blog, at Ciarfella’s Fiction Corner

Magical World of Mish-Mash by Angela Castillo

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Photo by Artem Sapegin on Unsplash

Sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk . . . one of the challenges speculative fiction authors face is figuring out just what Amazon category to click when listing books. Especially in the case of short story collections, where many authors throw things together in a glorious stew of deathly curses, spaceships and roving mercenary camel-racers (runs off to write story about camel racers).

Most traditional editors are looking for definites. They want straight-up fantasy, sci-fi, space operas, or defined steampunk (is there even such a thing).

I say why choose? Some of the best fiction novels of all time are a happy jumble of several genres, and you don’t see the millions of readers who cherish them complaining.
Here are a few of my favorites. Please note many of them are children or YA because that’s what I mostly read!

C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy

Spaceships, planets and government conspiracies all point to sci-fi, right? But hang on. In Perelandra we learn about the eldil, angel-like creatures that communicate through thought. Rainbow-colored flying frogs abound, and a mysterious woman (who is rather like a Biblical Eve) is discovered on another planet. In That Hideous Strength, an apocalyptic world emerges where the leader wants to turn humans into brain-powered machines. The mixed-up frenzy continues, and it’s all glorious.

The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles
Julie Andrews Edwards

Mary Poppins writes a delightful children’s fantasy? Yes please! But hidden in the story of the Whangdoodleland, complete with Whiffle Birds, furry creatures called Flukes, and a villainous creature called a Prock, are references to tessering (a type of matter and space travel also referenced in another glorious match-up, A Wrinkle in Time) and DNA sequencing. So there’s that.

The Giver Quartet
by Lois Lowry

At first this series seems pretty straight-forward Utopian/Dystopian. You have the seemingly perfect future world that slowly unravels into something heartbreakingly sinister. As the series unfolds, though, it becomes apparent Lowry has created an allegorical social commentary, with plenty of spiritual/supernatural (dare we say fantastical?) Though some of the story arcs can be frustrating, it would be a rare reader that could walk away from the series without some serious food for thought.

The Claidi Collection

Claidi is a servant of an isolated kingdom. The rulers of the castle are lazy, cruel, and treat their servants terribly. This introduction screams fantasy until a stranger crashes his balloon outside the walls of the castle. Thus begins a journey through a land of gears, machinery, and magic–or is it magic? This series keeps the reader guessing all the way through. While the MC, Claidi, can make some maddening life-choices, the series is still fun and interesting.

Do you have any favorite genre mish-mash books? Or do you prefer to read more straightforward, cut-and-dry, single genre fare?


Angela CastilloAngela Castillo loves living in the small town of Bastrop, Texas, and draws much of her writing inspiration from her life there. She enjoys walking in the woods and shopping in the local stores. Castillo’s greatest joys are her three sons and one daughter. Castillo writes a variety of genres, including sci-fi and fantasy mish-mash, and has been published in The First Line, Aardvark’s Ark, Heartwarmers, Thema, and several other publications, and also has works available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format, including The Busy Mom’s Guide to Writing.

 

Busy Moms Writing Guide Book Cover