Keep the Ideas Coming Two: Try Something Completely Different

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Keep the Ideas Coming Two: Try Something Completely Different

 

You may feel in a rut for new writing ideas, but a great way to give your creativity a boost is to do something else creative – but totally different.

 

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There’s actually a merit badge for this.

Photography. Painting. Dancing. Piano. Even if you aren’t creating through writing, anything that flexes your mental muscles will keep your brain working and active. These new pathways in your brain will often unlock ideas that were hidden when you actively hunted for them. Knit or build a model or put together a puzzle. Build with Legos or blocks with your children to keep your mind working. Going on a hike or bike riding gives you exercise while clearing out clutter and stress.

Writing something completely different helps just as much. Are you a fiction writer? Try writing poetry about a scene in your current or a past work. Write newspaper copy about a current event, or an event in your story. You don’t have to concentrate on quality for these pieces. This effort is to take your mind out of the familiar and tackle creativity in a different way.

Your focus may be writing, but writing isn’t the only way to be creative or to find ideas. Make sure your mind gets variety, and you’ll be surprised how well your trove of ideas starts to fill.

Keep The Ideas Coming One: READ

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Every author has experienced, or at least dreaded, the curse of writer’s block. Sometimes this is in the midst of a longer work, but often it’s because we don’t know what to write about. My next blog series focuses on getting ideas on topics to write about so that you always have a story to work on.

Keep The Ideas Coming One: READ

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Some of the best sources of new ideas are from other materials you read or watch. Not just books or TV shows; magazines, newspapers, blogs, journals, the nightly news, anything can give you ideas for a character, a setting or a conflict you can turn into a story. And it’s important to expand your reading and viewing material outside the genre you write, to give yourself the broadest selection of ideas.

I just read an article on how life might exist on a comet. It may never blossom into a story, but it’s intriguing enough to put in my notepad app for ideas. I have gotten other ideas that have turned to stories from 1491, Guns, Germs and Steel, American Lion and other books I’ve read. My writing is typically science fiction and fantasy, but none of these books are. Any type of book can give you an idea for any type of story.

History is a great source of ideas, and comes with the added advantage of detail. George R. R. Martin famously pulls ideas for his Song of Ice and Fire novels from history, which gives his crises and characters an element of veracity they might lack if events were entirely imagined. Little true anecdotes can weave dimension and depth into characters and events in your story that your readers will appreciate.

Suffering from writer’s block? Worried about a lack of new ideas? Watch the news. Read. Take a history class. Read the featured article button on Wikipedia. You’ll be surprised how many ideas start flowing.

Amp Up Your Conflict Four: Throw a Rock at the Planet

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Amp Up Your Conflict Four: Throw a Rock at the Planet

A great way to raise the stakes in your story is to add something that’s beyond anyone’s control.

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The title of this post is a bit facetious. Hucking an asteroid at the Earth does not make PLOT! appear, contrary to what Armageddon would have you believe. I am not a fan of making natural disasters the antagonists in your story. (This does not mean the man vs. nature conflict is invalid. The story still has to be about character, and giving your antagonist a face keeps that focused.) However, as both a setting and a crisis, natural disasters can add urgency and suspense to your story.

Think about any story set against the backdrop of greater calamity (Gone With the Wind, Slaughterhouse Five, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Postman, The Stand). All of these use various disasters like war and disease outbreaks as the setting and much of the conflict in the story. Natural disasters can add tremendous conflict and add tension to normally mundane tasks like day-to-day survival. But we still remember Scarlett O’Hara and Billy Pilgrim. It’s their struggles against these disasters that give them conflict and drive their characters. Even minor disasters like a power outtage, a flood or an unfortunate storm can drive forward a plot that doesn’t have the disaster as a central theme.

The Odyssey is popularly characterized as a man vs. nature story, and in a way it is. Odysseus is struggling against nature to get home. However, nature has a “face” through the Gods, which make it a struggle of Odysseus vs. the Gods more than nature.

Disasters (like an impending asteroid!) can crank up the tension in your story. Just remember that the disaster isn’t the point of your story. Be sure to keep your characters in the forefront and disasters can add an unexpected twist to your tale.

Amp Up Your Conflict Three: Don’t Forget The Flipside

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Amp Up Your Conflict Three: Don’t Forget The Flipside

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Any narrative you write always has two stories it’s telling: the story of your protagonist(s), and the story of your antagonist as well.

A good antagonist thinks they are the hero of your story. Their motivations should make sense to them (and eventually the reader) and their actions, in their minds at least, should be the right thing to do. This still gives you depth to make them as evil or depraved as you need, but they should never do anything just because it’s evil or because it furthers your plot.

A well developed antagonist like this gives you as author tremendous opportunity to amp up tension – by throwing your antagonist some difficulty. Remember, most events in your plot are going to go the antagonist’s way. But that doesn’t mean they can’t suffer some setbacks of their own.

You can use these conflicts (a rebellious employee, or a past jilted lover) to give opportunity to your protagonists. Or you can also use them to build some sympathy for your antagonist, which adds depth to your narrative. Think Cersei from Game of Thrones. In every way she’s an antagonist, but when she’s captured and ridiculed, we feel for her. Not enough to forgive her of her past actions, and perhaps mostly satisfaction that she got what was coming to her, but at some level we have sympathy. Now our feelings toward her are more complex.

Every story has a flipside. Don’t forget that side when you’re looking to amp up your story’s conflict.

Amp Up Your Conflict Two: Make Everything Worse

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Amp Up Your Conflict Two:Make Everything Worse

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 In every scene you write, always think about how you can make the situation worse. Making your moments of crisis as dire and emotionally charged as possible will keep the tension ratcheted up and your narrative moving.

It’s important that nothing ever goes your protagonists’ way. They should succeed through their choices and actions, not luck. Readers will spot luck and deus ex machina the moment it appears, and they won’t buy it. However, those same readers won’t question if something bad happens. That gives you as the writer the freedom to make the situation as awful as possible.

Start with your base conflict. Your protagonist wants to flip gender stereotypes and propose to her boyfriend. She plans a dinner at his favorite restaurant and secures the best seat in the place. But the restaurant loses her reservation. They have to wait for an hour to get a seat, which is in the back of the restaurant near the kitchen. Their waiter never remembers to check in on them, and a leak starts dripping onto the center of the table.

You have the scene set up with plenty of conflict. The night is a disaster, and not the right mood at all to propose. But now think of just one additional crisis to make the scene even worse:

Just as the leak stops and dinner is finally served, giving your protagonist hope she can salvage the night, her boyfriend’s ex walks into the restaurant with her date. Maybe they get the table your protagonist originally wanted. And it upsets her boyfriend so much she can tell he still harbors feelings for her.

Not only did you tease the readers with a satisfactory resolution and then rip it away, you also opened up new plot possibilities. Does the ex share in the lingering feelings? Does your protagonist know and like or dislike her? Is her new date the jealous type? With one additional crisis, you’ve introduced a Pandora’s box of potential conflict. You can follow all, some or none of these new possibilities, but regardless of your decision, you’ve just heightened the tension in your story.

Whenever you write a scene, always think about how it can get worse for your protagonists. Never let anything come easy for them. You’ll keep your reader turning pages, and when your protagonists do succeed, their victory will be all the sweeter.

 

Amp Up Your Conflict One: Give Your Secondaries a Crisis

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All stories need conflict. It’s what keeps your protagonists developing, your characters on their toes and your readers on the edge of their seats. Conflict doesn’t have to be big or world-changing; anything that presents your characters with a challenge or drives your narrative forward qualifies, no matter the size.

In my next writing advice series, we’ll discuss ways you can amp up the conflict in any story so you keep your readers hooked and your characters dynamic.

Amp Up Your Conflict One: Give Your Secondaries a Crisis

 

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I would wash the Batmobile, Master Bruce, but I have a colonoscopy this afternoon. Long story. Regrettably, you will have to chase the Penguin with a soiled vehicle.

All your characters have backstories. From your protagonist to the clerk at the corner store, everyone has a story. Moreover, they have lives. Life is happening to everybody.

This doesn’t mean you need to know everyone’s backstories in detail, or that their life crises will add depth and conflict to your narrative. But a great way to shake up a slow section of your story, or add complication to an existing conflict, is to throw a curveball at a supporting character.

Say your protagonist is a devoted Catholic looking for moral support from his priest before he makes a rash decision. Have the priest accused of embezzling from the church. Your high-powered attorney is preparing for the big case of her career, but her paralegal starts to fall apart when his pregnant wife is hospitalized. In both of these examples, the ramifications for your protagonist make an already tense situation that much harder.

Conflict doesn’t have to come to your main characters exclusively. Conflict happens to everyone and can be used to heighten tension in your narrative. It may even take your story in new directions. Just remember that you don’t have to make life suck for just your protagonist. You have a whole world of characters whose lives you can make worse for the sake of your story.

Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript: You Edited

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Why I Fall In Love With a Manuscript 5: You Edited

Remember in my first Why I Fall In Love post when I said I don’t reject submissions for bad grammar, poor prose or faulty construction? In reality, I reject submissions for these things all the time.

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Your goal above all else is to share your story with your readers through the language you type on the page. I can forgive a few misspellings or misplaced commas. I can accept a submission that meanders a bit before getting to its heart. These are errors that editors are here to help you fix. I can see the story I’m going to fall in love with through these faults and help you polish it into the story it wants to be. But this isn’t a free pass to forego the rules of written language or storycraft. Polished submissions with clean declarative sentences, few spelling errors and a command of storytelling basics sing to me.

You have to edit your work. Send me the best you can offer. Let your manuscript rest for a few weeks or even months, then take a look at it with a fresh eye. Make sure to catch all the spelling errors you can (especially those pesky errors that spell check misses), clean up your punctuation and cut as much unnecessary words/digressions/fluff as possible.

Give me your best. Then I will help you to make your story the best it can be.

This is not an exhaustive list of reasons I fall in love with a manuscript, but it covers 95% of them. And I would wager that most every editor would agree.