Tag Archives: brainstorming

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 

Scifaikuest publishes – Scifaiku: Brainstorming Techniques by Wendy Van Camp

Scifaikuest February 2017

 

I am pleased to announce that my article “Scifaiku: Brainstorming Techniques” has been published in the February 2017 issue of Scifaikuest.  This is a print only magazine featuring scifaiku poetry edited by T. Santitoro.  The article describes my techniques for writing science fiction haiku.

Fountain Pens For Writing

Prera Fountain Pen and Ink
Pen and paper is often overlooked as a method of communication. Most prefer to keyboard their written correspondence, then send it via social media, a text, or email. A pen and ink is out-dated and unneeded.

Young students do not learn to read or write cursive handwriting and make due with poor penmanship if they use paper at all. When a young student needs to learn a signature, he is often sent to an art class where the instructor teaches how to develop one.

Among adults, lack of using pens has stunted their penmanship skills. Many have forgotten how to write except for the most rudimentary of script. Cursive handwriting has become a lost art. Many people are at a loss at how it happened and wonder how they could return to having decent handwriting again.

I found myself numbered among these adults several years ago. I used my computer keyboard for most of my writing needs and seldom thought to use a pen and paper. As I returned to writing novels, I discovered that something was missing in my process. I did not retain my ideas and I had trouble brainstorming.

One day, I decided to use a workbook to help plot out book two of a trilogy. The author recommended getting a paper notebook and writing all the exercises by hand instead of using a keyboard. His method asked questions about the characters and I wrote a certain amount each day for a month. I bought my first composition book and pulled out a ballpoint and got to work. At first, the writer’s block was still with me. Within a week I realized that ideas for my book were coming quickly. When I looked back over what I had written, I could remember the details better than when I was writing on my computer. Within that month, the plot for my new novel sprang into being. I became hooked on using paper.

At that time, my handwriting was horrible. I could print, but my cursive had eroded to near unreadability. The long periods of time that I was brainstorming ideas were hard on my hand and I experienced finger cramping. I did not want to give up this new method of brainstorming on paper since it worked for me. Instead I began to explore pen options. That is when I discovered fountain pens.

Why Choose a Fountain Pen?

There are many benefits to writing with a fountain pen over a ballpoint. In writing with a ballpoint, you must exert constant pressure to the page and hold the pen at a low angle. This is what creates the hand cramping when you write for a long period of time. With a fountain pen, you use a more natural writing angle, around 45 degrees when you write. This wider angle is easier on your wrist. The fountain pen flows across the page with little resistance, no pressure needed to put ink on the page. This allows you to write for longer periods of time without cramping your hands. There are a variety of nibs to choose from to give more character to your handwriting.

Plain – This is most basic shape of a fountain pen nib. It gives a clean line in your choice of width, from very fine, fine, medium, broad, and double broad. Most people find that fine to medium will work best as a daily writer.

Italic – This is also known as a stub nib. The nib is a flat plain where it meets the page and it allows the writer to write thin and thick lines as he writes. It adds character to your handwriting with a little extra practice.

Flex – These are nibs allow their tines to widen when a small amount of pressure is applied to the nib. As the writer presses, a much wider line results.

Ink Me, Baby

Besides choosing a nib, there are around 600 different inks to choose from on the market. Some inks have unique colors, others shade between two or three colors, still others have a special shimmer that is known as “sheen”. Some inks are permanent and will last for hundreds of years without fading, others last in the sun for only a few weeks. There are even “invisible” inks that you need a UV light to see on the page. All the different brands of ink and their assortment of hues allows a writer to develop a certain look to their writing. It can make your notes distinctive unto themselves.

For me, discovering the fountain pen has aided my skills as a writer. I now create all my brainstorming notes, character sketches, and plot outlines on paper with a fountain pen. What I write never moves on the page, as it would on my computer screen, and it gives my ideas a more solid presence in my mind. For the actual writing of the drafts and editing, I move to the computer, but with far better results than I had in the past. One extra benefit to this new method is that my handwriting skills have returned with practice. I can write legible cursive and my printing is small and neat. Due to this, I’ve been gradually moving to smaller nib sizes so I can fill my pages with more notes.

Writing with a fountain pen is sheer joy. If you have not tried it for yourself, I recommending buying an inexpensive starter fountain pen. See how it might improve your own writing process.

Brainstorming a Book Title for Independent Publishing

Moleskine Notebook - CC photo by Paul WorthingtonDuring the days when novels were only available in print and the publishing houses held a monopoly on which authors would sell their books or not, a book title was often chosen by them and not the author. The title would be short, easy to fit on the cover and the spine of the book, and would be something catchy to catch the attention of a browser in a book store. The combination of color, detailed artwork and title would make a novel marketable. Today, the model of selling books has changed. More authors are bypassing the publishing houses altogether and are independently publishing their novels to sell directly on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes or other alternate sites. There, the book is not physically present; it is simply a tiny image in a vast ocean of choices. It is easy for an author and her book to become lost at sea unless simple SEO techniques along with classic novel naming methods are used.

Intuitive Process of Generating a Book Title

Everyone brainstorms differently, but I will put down my method of thinking up SEO friendly titles for stories. My method is intuitive and will not work for everyone, but I find that it produces solid titles for my stories and articles. I prefer to use paper and pen for my brainstorming, however if you are more electronically inclined, feel free to use the word processor of your choice. Digital notebook systems such as Evernote or OneNote might be good options to use in this process too.

Step 1

Go to the genre category that your book would belong in on Amazon. Look at the titles of the novels that are already there. Try and gain a feel for what seems appropriate as a title for your genre. Pick out twenty titles that would be a close fit for your book or are similar in style to what you would want to name your book. Write these titles into a notebook and set it aside for later.

Step 2

Sit with a pen and notebook and free-associate words, making lists related to your novel. Put the words in columns: nouns, verbs, adjectives.


    List words that would describe or suggest the setting.
    Think about each of your major characters and write down words that relate to them.
    Ponder about the action in the story and write down verbs that capture it.
    Add character or place names with unusual spellings related to your novel.
    Write down any word or short phrase that conveys your book’s theme.
    Seek out visual words that suggest a scene.
    Use words that evoke emotions, a sensation, a question, or a location.

If you have a writing critique group, ask them to help you put the combinations of words together. Write the combinations of words out in a white board session. You should have no fewer than 100 words to choose from. Aim to create around twenty possible titles based on words related to your book, whether you do it on your own in your notebook or via your writing group. Write these into another list and set it aside.

Step 3

Once you are done brainstorming, put your list of newly created titles away for 24 hours. It is critical to take this down time to allow your subconscious to continue to work on the title project. When you return to your brainstormed list, you will be able to see it with renewed perspective. If new ideas have come to you during this short down period, add them to the brainstormed list.

Step 4

Take the generated list of twenty or more book titles and narrow it down to five possibilities. Take your short list back to your writing group and ask their opinions. Perhaps run a poll to find out which one is their favorite for your project. Take their opinions, but remember that it is your project and in the end, you are the one that is responsible for titling your book.

Step 5

Wait another day or two while you close the notebook on the title finalists. Allow your subconscious to work on the choices. Deep down, you know which title is the best one, but sometimes it takes a little while for the subconscious to filter up to our conscience minds. After this passage of time, narrow the list down to your final decision. Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of a titled novel.

Step 6

Pull out that list of titles you had gathered from the catalog at Amazon. Ask yourself if the title you’ve chosen would fit in this list, without being a clone of any of them. Titles of novels are not copyrightable and you could possibly copy another author’s title without risk of being sued. However, in the world of search engines, you will run the risk of readers being sent to this other book instead of your own as they search for you. It is always better to be unique and fresh when titling your novel.

Conclusion

When your ebook is nothing more than a tiny image on a catalog screen, you must make search engines work for you. Therefore, it is good to build keywords into your title along with traditional naming methods. Good keywords could be ones that are unique in spelling, but still instantly recognizable. While many authors still cling to the idea of a single word title, I personally feel that a slightly longer title works better in the digital age. You need to give the search engines more information to help differentiate your novel from that of your competitors and you must make it easier for your dedicated readers to find your book when they are looking for you. Find a balance between enough words to work with the search engines and short enough to be easily memorable to your readers. That will prove to be the perfect book title for an independent publishing author.