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Switching Gears

16 Apr

(Nope, not a steampunk pun. Promise!)

As has probably been evident by my latest blog posts, I’ve been especially inspired to catalog the swarm of ideas for other books in my series that have been coming to me lately. To be honest, that meant putting editing the first book on the back burner for a bit. However, I really think I needed the distraction at the time. I had a lot of words left to sift through (over 100K). New ideas give me a solid reason to push through the rest of my manuscript.

It’s not that I’m not enthused about the words I’ve written; I’ve just been looking at them for a really, really long time. I want to move on.  Though, to do this, I realized I needed to make some big decisions about the future of my series. Now that a lot of those decisions have been made, I feel less vague about where the series is going. (Book V is still something of a blank slate in my mind, despite knowing what key events I’d like to have in it. I’m just not sure how I want to swing the blurb yet. Need to explore more details from the prior books first.)

Lately, I’ve seriously gotten back into the editing of Book I, The Elementalist: Rise of Hara. Each time I read back through my story, I find myself double-checking some assumptions I’ve made about my understanding of certain things it shares with our world. For example, a knife versus a dagger. One of my characters carries one, another the opposite weapon. It’s always been this way in my mind—probably an aesthetic choice, when I first created their characters—but I never really stopped to ask myself “why?” for practical reasons. Naturally, that required some research and deliberation on my part. (In the end, it turned out not to be a big deal. Still, it’s just one of those things you take for granted, I think, without actively realizing it.)

Anyway, I’m looking to get through a few more scenes this morning before I chill with the parents for Easter—which I don’t actually celebrate, but they do, so… In any case, it’s nice to be making progress again.

Challenging, but nice.

Life Aboard an Airship

3 Oct

zrs-4_landing_h42156

“USS Akron (ZRS-4) approaches the mooring mast, while landing at Sunnyvale, California (USA), 13 May 1932.” Source: By USN [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I was researching a technical point in my novel (for verisimilitude’s sake), realizing I was making some assumptions about technology during the 1930s and ’40s that I actually hadn’t researched–like whether or not airships had any hydraulic systems in place (a minor plot point in my WIP).  Anyhow, I came across a comment by a man named “Stu” on an article at airships.net about the Hindenburg, and I thought it was very interesting.  He was responding to another reader’s questions about airship rudders and elevators.

Here’s what he said: Continue reading

Back On The Saddle…Sorta

6 Jun

…So to speak.

But First–Some Wicked-Cool Inspiration

‘K, am I the only one wiggin’ out about how completely awesome the new Avatar show has been so far?  The battles are epic, the foes are worthy, and the (element) bending…

In-credible!

The music is also gooooooorgeous.  And epic.  And as much as I love it, I also secretly envy it because it has most of the traits I want my WIP to have.

[Insert Witty Title Here]

When I’m watching & listening to the soundtrack for “The Legend of Korra” (LoK) TV series, I can’t help but think of Element 7.  It shares similar themes with LoK and, now that the show is mostly set in a 1920s/30s Shanghai-kinda city, also a few similar aesthetics here and there.  Seeing this show done so well actually makes me feel bad about neglecting my own work–because ultimately I want to see it also at its absolute best and for others to see it, too.

I want it to be epic, I want it to be lovely and, most of all, I want it to be darn good.

Not that it means it’ll sell to traditional publishers even if it were all of these things…but it’s what I’ve always aspired to.  And sometimes that can be overwhelming.

Back On The Saddle…Sorta

After the Accident, I wasn’t doing any editing for about two weeks.  Though, over the past few days I have been able to get something done, so I guess it’s a start.  I need to do it every day, though, to get it done this summer (before my birthday in mid-August would be nice).  Recently I came up against another tricky scene in which I was unsure how to describe certain technology being used, so I had to go back and do some research–which slows things down.

You see, sometimes I seriously wonder how I’ll pull off certain scenes, lol.  I get like, “AH! OMG, too hard!” *runs-n-hides* I hadn’t run into a scene like that for a while…  Anyway, I think I’ve smoothed over that hitch now, so hopefully it’ll be easier to find a regular rhythm (and some confidence in what I’m doing) again.

Though actually, when I look back at what I have spiffed up, I’m really happy with about 90-ish percent of it–like giddily happy.  It’s just getting the rest of the manuscript to that point that’s so gosh-darn difficult.

Grrrrr…

A Thought

One good thing I can say about working on a story for this long, though, is that it allows you to think about it over time in many different ways…in layers.  All the dead time in between is an opportunity to see something you wouldn’t have otherwise, to make connections you previously overlooked and weave a tighter, more resonant and cohesive narrative… In other words, it allows you to really flesh things out and explore things deeply.

I’m a pretty meditative, analytical kind of person, so I like being able to do this.  Though, I’m also a bit of a perfectionist–which could end up being my Achilles’ heel if I don’t finish this thing at all.

Anyways…hopefully–if I get my act together, lol–I’ll be able to share this beast-of-a story with my first readers in a couple of months and they’ll understand exactly what I’ve been up to all this time.

*sighs* Yeah…that would be nice.

In the meantime, I’ll stop talking about it, heh.

So What Do You All Think?

Go ahead, be brutal.  After all, I probably don’t know where you live. 😉

So I’m Supposed To Post Today….

29 Jun

…and I almost forgot, lol.

I got an email this morning telling me, “Hey, we can’t award your diploma yet because you haven’t met the requirements–surprise!”

WTH are you people talking about???  I went over my req’s forwards and backwards with my advisor and you have my transcripts, so what’s the deal?

I think this may be another case of “we changed the course req’s again at the last minute without telling you,” which has happened before.  And the fact that I’ve been enrolled in three different colleges/universities and have transfer credits out the wazoo doesn’t help; it only complicates things.  My usual advisor is out-of-town, so I had to talk to a general advisor.  Hopefully she can tell what’s what and we can get this ironed out.

Way to start off the day: stressed and mildly depressed.

But I’m not going to sully this blogging experience anymore.  I do have something that’s potentially useful to some that I can share today.

Life in the Early 1900s

I was editing this scene yesterday where my protagonist is having a phone conversation, and I realized that I was making some general assumptions about the way telephones worked in the late 1930s, which is the era I’m deriving a lot of my worldbuilding inspiration from (both American and European).  I just wanted to double-check myself (and ended up spending way more time than I needed to looking into 1930s telephones in general).

Rare Vintage Western Electric 202 Phone. Posted by user laushustell on Ebay.

Anyhow, I came across a really neat site called 1900s.org.uk where a woman by the name of Pat Cryer shares her mother’s recollections of life in London during the early 1900s.  She mentions so many little details that I feel just really bring that city to life while reading about it on the page.  I was quite ecstatic when I discovered this, haha, because I’ve never been able to find this kind of information before.  Additionally, I found another site with vintage clips and footage called archive.org.

Since I’m a very curious little monkey and just couldn’t resist, I wanted to compare this to life in America, as well, so I got a book called (and it’s a long title): Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression.  Anyway, I just bought it yesterday with my free two-day shipping through Amazon, so it should be here by tomorrow.  (Yeah, I could have it now if I were an e-book reader, though I’ve discovered there are certain things I just must have–with actual physical pages.  I like to highlight and underline and make copies and notes or whatever, basically just use my hands and have a direct connection to whatever I’m engaging in.  It just isn’t the same on the computer, for some reason.  I guess it’s just a tactile/kinesthetic learning thing–which makes sitting down for hours on end to write/edit a novel kind of challenging for me, actually.)

That’s the thing about doing research: there are different levels you can go into.  Some things I’ve researched more than others in my story, and others I kind of take what I need/want and just say “what the hey!” to the rest.  I guess at the end of the day it simply comes down to whether I’m satisfied with what I’ve written.  If I see a way to improve something, I’m going to improve it or else it’ll bug me till Kingdom come.  (Though, admittedly, seeing room for improvement and nitpicking are two different things…)

So yes, maybe this is all a bit OC of me, considering I’m writing secondary world fantasy, but I do care about whether there were dial and ring tones on telephones in the late 1930s and whether speaking to an operator was always necessary to place a call. (And maybe that kind of thinking is why I’ll never finish this book!)

J/K.  I will.  I’m going to.  You’ll see.

[Quick update: I just got a call from the advisor, and they totally just fixed my problem–yay!  Diploma’s on the way, at last.]

So anyway, I wonder what you folks have been up to recently?

Making headway on your projects?  Encountering any speed bumps?  And bonus, if you’re bold enough: do you think I am maybe just a little bit crazy?  (Or normal–for a writer, anyway.  I’ll take that, too.)

Yesterday I got pretty distracted, to be honest, so today I plan to do better.  (If there’s one downside to having to type up and edit your manuscript on a laptop with Wi-Fi access, it’s that the Internet is always riiiiiight by your side… But oh!  Aren’t the discoveries wonderful? ;))

P.S.: the random patch of light grey text at the beginning is…yeah, not intentional.

Vintage Military Videos: WWII, Secret Agents & the OSS

27 May

I don’t know why I’m just now discovering this, but I came across this website today called Real Military Videos and it’s got some really interesting content!  They have some vintage OSS instructional videos–very relevant to my fiction.

I know I can’t research every little detail in my (fantasy) novel and I don’t get a whole lot into the more involved aspects that comes with real espionage–tradecraft, namely; I’m taking a pretty fanciful approach, to be honest…but I really can’t believe I’d never thought to look up “OSS agent training” before.

*palm-face*

Well, I’m sure to pick up some good stuff now, at least, and am likely to find some information that could help me take some of my ideas to the next level, you know?  It’s not too late, as I’m still in the first editing stages and haven’t made any extensive changes to the manuscript just yet, aside from my first chapter.  So long as I don’t spend ages dabbling in this stuff, heh (big temptation there).

What is the OSS?

Well, before there was the CIA there was something called the Office of Strategic Services, or the OSS.  It came about during WWII and didn’t last very long, from 1942 to 1945, and is known as “America’s first intelligence agency.”  (The CIA was subsequently formed in 1947.)  You can read more about it here, if you’re interested.

Video

Here’s a link to the first of the instructional videos I was talking about before.  It’s pretty neat to be able to go back in time via cinematography!

Anyways, you never know who else might be interested in this stuff, so I thought I’d just share.

Music: Creating a Legend

13 Apr

When I first started doing so reasearch for my novel some years back, I looked into specific eras that I wanted to be inspired by.  At first I thought I was going for something more 1920s because of how young planes were at this stage, but then later realized that I also wanted more of the lifestyles and technologies adopted in the 30s (roughly speaking).  Still, I was really interested in how planes performed and were used during WWI as opposed to WWII.

That’s when I happened to stumble across firstworldwar.com.  They’ve got all sorts of information on the war, ranging from first-hand accounts in the forms of hand-written letters to music and video footage.

Inspired by Music

I hadn’t expected to find music there, so I was especially interested in listening to the kind that was played and listened to around that timeframe.  Here’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve sampled from their collection (using YouTube since I can’t upload MP3s without paying extra monies!):

That one is dated 1911, though the one on firstworldwar.com says it was written in 1911 and recorded in 1912.  In any case, it predates the war, so it doesn’t make reference to it.  I suppose like it because it’s fun and light-hearted and hasn’t been influenced by war.  You get a glimpse of life in America before the coming storm.

Realizing that maybe this was a little earlier style of music than I was looking for, I found 6thcorpsmusic.us, which features music from around the WWII era.  Lots of good selections there.

There’s a big gap between the two (from the early 1910s to the mid-1940s), and the range of musical influences I was looking for lies somewhere in the middle.  Still, it was a fun research of sorts.  I think listening to the music from different times gives you a certain kind of insight into what people were all about back then.  What people care about is typically what they’ll sing about.

Why This Has Anything to Do with Writing

After listening to all of this vintage music, I thought, “Hmm…what if I came up with a song that was popular in my novel’s storyworld?”

All right, why not?

Well, I have this (dead) character, a traitorous double agent, who’s become a part of the contemporary culture of the people in my story–a legend, even.  She’s a Mata Hari figure, of sorts, who’s inspired others to create several movies, songs and novels about her.  And, as you can imagine, the tales that people tell about her have likely undergone some…change over time and distanced themselves from the actual truth, which is what makes them kind of legend.  It’s just another look at how a tragedy can become a romanticized figure, despite what she did (committed treason) and what happened to her as a result (execution).

So I thought this would be perfect material for a song and a fun way to spin a tale within a tale–one that maintains relevance throughout the story.

The Lyrics

“Dirty Little Spy” is the name I came up with for the song.  It would be sung by a female blues singer (I only meet half this requirement, lol) in the key of A minor and at a fairly slow tempo.  I guess the form would be something like AABABBC, for those who are into music.

I have put parts of the song into the story, but I don’t use all of the lyrics, as that would get clunky and awkward.  Anyhow, it tells the story of this double agent I mentioned, whose last name is Feruupa (she was a Borellian citizen).  Here’s what I came up with:

(Instrumental introduction)

Verse 1

There once was a girl named Feruupa,
She worked the cabaret shows at night.
Then she met a man who was strange and new
And he liked her ways—so sly and cool.
He said,
“You could be a spy.” 

Verse 2

So she thought the deal over and over,
And it just seemed so perfect and right.
She could travel the world and see the sights,
Maybe work by day and spy by night.
She said,
“I wanna be a spy.”

Chorus

Baby, darling, it’s but a game.
Business, pleasure—it’s all the same.
So I fool you once, a pardon is due;
I fool you twice, the fool is you.
You never woulda guessed I was a spy.

 Verse 3

So she took a job over in Darmoil.
When she came back she just weren’t the same.
Something changed her mind and she did the unkind,
Put one over her lover, kicked her country in the ‘hind.
“You never shoulda known I was a spy.”

Chorus (x2)

Coda

For treason she made a date with the electric chair.
“How unfair,” she wailed, but it didn’t care
‘Cause she was just a no-good,
Filthy, rotten,
Dirty
Little spy.

[The ending would get really, really slow…and then suddenly pick back up again.]

Naturally, I had to make this song something that my heroine would be influenced by.  She’s got some silly notions floating around in her head about how glorious spying would be–notions which are soon challenged after she gets an offer to become one herself!

The Sound

I’ve never tried writing anything with a jazzy blues feel to it before, so it’s something I’d have to experiment with more.  However, I did find this really neat video on YouTube of a couple of guys just experimenting with unusual sound combinations.  They call it “oud blues“.  It sounds exotic yet familiar–exactly the kind of quality I was looking for.  I thought it would be really cool if the song was played in a similar style but slower–something I haven’t exactly figured out how to accomplish yet, heh.  Anyway, here’s the video:

Now, I do play some piano, but since I don’t play the oud or the bass it would be difficult to bring the entire song to life unless I use composition software.  And I’m generally not a singer (too shy!) though I can sing things in-tune and in-key, so long as it’s within my range.  So maybe one day I’ll be able to sit down and finish fleshing out the song into an entire composition.

Does music play a role in any of your stories?

If so, in what way?  Also, how large or small of a role does it play?

Sometimes, I’ve noticed, authors will make passing references or allusions to songs and celebrities, or if there’s television or radio a reference to what’s playing on there–particularly when it’s set in the real world.  Though, I have seen it done some in secondary worlds.  In Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch he sometimes includes rebel radio messages spoken by the Lady in Blue, the leader of an ongoing resistance movement.  I thought this was a nice touch.

Just the mere mention of things like music and even news that’s being talked about in newspapers, radio and other mediums, even word of mouth, can add an extra level of depth and richness to a story.  However, I think it only becomes meaningful to the reader if it has relevance to the story itself.

What do you think?

Frederick M. Trapnell: The Test Pilot’s Test Pilot

25 Mar

USS Akron releases its N2Y-1 aircraft while in flight. Source: http://www.history.navy.mil.

 

The heroine in my WIP becomes a test pilot, of sorts, though in her world aeroplanes aren’t quite as developed or widely used as ours were in the 1930s.  Still, I thought this was a fascinating account of a real-life test pilot who lived during the era I draw my inspiration from.  To be able to see his log books and photographs of the kind of test runs he went on…pretty invaluable stuff.  (I get all giddy inside just looking at it.  Takes me to a different time, you know?)

On Doing Research

I’m not really a history buff or especially knowledgeable about aircraft, but I do find it fascinating to read about them every now and then.  Got some books on airships written as early as 1942, and one on planes originally written in 1915!

  • The Story of the Airship – Hugh Allen, 1942 (has pictures!)
  • Military Aircraft in World War 1 – Frederick A. Talbot, 2008; originally published in 1915 as Aeroplanes and Dirigibles of War (kind of boring, actually, but still has a few interesting things in it)
  • The Giant Airships – Douglas Botting, 1981 (it’s got pictures and colored artwork!)

Even with these references, I still like to “modify” things to suit my storyworld, and maybe I’ll get some stuff wrong.  (Someone is bound to point it out if/when I do.)  But I am writing fantasy, for heaven’s sake, not historical fiction (or even alternate history, for that matter).  While I hope to establish some verisimilitude, I do like to play around and so I mostly use this stuff as a guide.

How About You?

Do you ever do research for your novels?  How much, or how little, do you find yourself doing (if you do)?  Is it something you ever get concerned with, or do you pretty much just like to “wing it?”

Getting to Know Your Story (Part II)

17 Feb

In a previous post I talked about the notions of idea versus story, and last time in Part I I discussed the importance of doing research–aka learning.

You cannot hope to understand your story if you don’t even know what is supposed to go into one in the first place.  You cannot write a good novel without having basic knowledge of storytelling elements beforehand.  Trust me, that lack of knowledge will pop up later as some glaring weakness in your writing you hadn’t really noticed before, which means you’ll have to stop writing, go investigate the problem and then learn about it when all you want to do is write the darn thing.  At least if you’ve done the research first you’ll know how to spot those weaknesses when they do manifest.  More importantly, you’ll know how to fix your own problems.  (There’s that do-it-yourself aspect again…)

Most of them, anyway.  The rest is for first readers and editors to catch.  But we haven’t gotten that far yet.

Today, I am going to use my experience writing a novel to provide some examples of methods and techniques you can use to help you start fleshing out that vague, nebulous idea into what will eventually, hopefully, become an actual story.  A completed first draft.  Perhaps even a novel worth reading.  (Though, who knows?  You may discover your idea isn’t large enough for a novel but instead is more suited to a short story or novella.  No one length is better or worse than the others.  I just happen to know I’m writing a novel-length tale, so my blogs are going to naturally reflect this.)

NOW, *ehem* to the point.

Even while you’re learning about the basics of storytelling, you can begin exploring your new story idea.  Looking back on my experience thus far, there are a couple of things I wish I would have done differently before I decided I was writing the actual novel.  Doing more research about writing is one of them.  (And you may get sick of hearing it, but I can’t stress it enough.)

I did it backwards.  I explored my ideas some, started writing the novel, and then went back to learn more about the basic elements of storytelling–concept, character, plot, theme…those things.  (I also see setting mentioned as one, but really you can view your setting as another character.  Some people also list conflict as a basic element, but your plot should already include that after it’s been planned/figured out or else you’ll put readers to sleep.  Larry Brooks also lists scene construction and writing voice, or style, as “executional competencies.”  I think scenes belong to the larger plot, but they certainly do merit their own discussion.  However, style isn’t such a basic thing and doesn’t emerge until you’ve written a good number of words, so let’s not go there just yet.)

The other thing, I think, has to do with the discovery process of figuring out what story you want to tell.  I don’t believe a story just magically comes to you all wrapped up in a pretty pink bow saying, “I grant you the power of omniscient knowledge and artistic insight.  Now go, aspiring writer–write!”  Though, that would be pretty awesome.

What does happen is this: Your mind is captivated by some vague-ish idea, be it a thought, a character, a setting or some other element of a story, and it grabs hold of you like a…well, I don’t know what.  But you can’t shake it because it’s determined that you, lucky you, become its voice.

Unnecessary mysticism?  Perhaps, but for lack of any other way to describe the phenomenon, that is exactly how I feel about it.

Exploring Your Idea

If you can’t just walk away from something like this and are suddenly inspired to become a writer (Lord help you), then what you have to do at that point is explore this thing, this vague idea that’s spontaneously come to you.  What is it, exactly?  (Idea, concept, or story?)  What does it want to become? (A short story?  A novella, a novel?  Something epic?)  What, if anything, does it have to say?  Hmm…

More directly, what do you want to say?  Why?  (More on this another time; it’s something I’m still exploring, more or less, as well.)

Perhaps you’re the kind of person that is really good at coming up with a clear plan, implementing it and sticking to it.  You come up with a story idea; you outline your setting(s), character bios, and plot(s) and develop a premise;  you are blessed with a clear vision of what your novel is going to be about after some effort; and then you’re on your merry way writing the thing.

I’m not that kind of writer.  I think I have to take a more organic approach, and by that I mean I can’t just sit around thinking about things for them to “come” to me.  I have to sort of muck around first and make connections between things that aren’t even necessarily related to one other before I come up with something that would work for a novel; the premise and the story itself have to kind of morph out of a collection of broad ideas that I feel should go together but, at the time being, don’t mix well logically.

It’s like pulling select things out of the vast aether and trying to make sense of it all.

It’s like a giant puzzle, in my mind.  I’ve got the pieces (some of them, at least); now I just need to figure out how to put them together.  Or if I’m still missing pieces (plot holes, lack of character development, etc.).  Or if I have extra pieces (ideas that come to you but don’t necessarily work for the story or novel you’re currently working on.)

The organic process takes time, but that’s how I have to do things and I’m cool with that.

The moral of that short story: I don’t know what kind of writer you are; you’ll have to figure that out for yourself.  What I can do is share some suggestions on how you might go about discovering your story and come up with some preliminary plans.  (I say preliminary because those initial plans are bound to change, in one way or another.)

Just write.

Remember at the beginning I talked about what the first step might be after you’ve been bitten by the muse–aka got an idea?  I suggested you start writing about it.

Yes and no.

No, don’t start writing the novel just yet.  Yes, do start writing something creative.  Something that has to do with your new infant idea.  (As they say, you can’t be a writer if you don’t, after all, write.  They also say you may go through a million rotten ideas before you get to a nice shiny one.  I wholeheartedly believe both are true.)

What I mean is, if you’ve never written a novel before, don’t put yourself in the mindset of “okay, I’m writing a novel now” right off the bat.  Set out to explore your idea a bit.  Get chummy.  Get to know one another.  Some of your ideas may even insist that you know yourself a little better before you get try to get to know them.  *snap-snap-snap* Okaaayy?  (Black humor there.)  Your muse/subconscious can be self-righteous and sassy like that.

When I thought I was writing a novel, when I went through the entitled “Seven and a Half First Drafts,” I believe that what I was actually doing was making small attempts at scenes.  Perhaps some short stories.  The problem was I didn’t have a clear end goal in mind, no overarching plot to provide a sense of purpose.  The scenes had conflict and were connected through character and setting, but the overall plot was vague, undecided.

So I suppose I did gain some practice in this way.  (I also participated in some online role-playing at one Star Wars community for several years, but that is quite another story…)

Writing Tools

One of the ways you can “get to know” your novel before you start writing it is by keeping a writer’s journal.  You wouldn’t believe how many journals I’ve kept on my WIP (work in progress, from here on out).  Not only do I keep a paper-and-pen journal–you know, the old school kind–but also a word processor journal because sometimes thoughts come to you when you least expect.

I always include the date of entry and give it a title.  This helps to set a writing goal, something to write towards.  If I want to explore a certain character, for example, then I name that entry something like “Voi’s Character.”  Or, if I’m exploring more than one thing, I’ll link several titles together, like “Voi’s Character; Elementalism.”  That way, if I want to look back on it later, I know what it was about and can find it more easily.

(“Who is Voi?” you might wonder.  This dammissi, which is Borellian for “little woman,” or more commonly “miss.” Depends on how it is used.)

Once I name the journal entry, I’ll try out several things: just plain talking to myself, freeform word association, bubble diagrams, stream-of-consciousness entries, spiels of dialogue, vignette studies of certain settings or characters living their lives… There are a lot of different techniques you can try and different reasons to use them.  Whatever will help you get from formless idea to a coherent story that has a point to it is what you should use.

Another thing I do is collect images like there’s no tomorrow, and my poor hard drive suffers for it (though luckily I’ve got a back-up external drive now with like a terabyte of storage space).  If I see something that inspires an idea for a setting or character, for example, I’ll save it to my “Element 7” (a working title for my current novel) file under those categories for inspiration.  I keep files on characters, settings, technology in my world, historical photographs to observe certain outmoded lifestyles from… You name it, I’ve got it.

Mind mapping has also helped me figure out the finer points of my story.  It’s not as complicated as it sounds, only looks that way once you’re finished.  Basically, you take one central idea, generate a few connected sub-ideas and use those to further explore even more offshoots.  The goal, when you use it to help you develop your story, is to come up with ideas for characters, places, etc. that are connected to your central idea or concept and can later be used to generate a story.  Or, if you already have a premise, then you can use mind mapping to make the overall story richer by exploring deeper connections between characters, themes, settings, and so on.

Of course, there are many other uses for this tool outside of writing.  (I first learned about it in one of my interior design classes at ASU.)  In the end you get this giant diagram that looks like a network of brain synapses or something:

An example of a mind map I made at ASU with a friend.

Here is another, shorter, article about mind mapping, if you’re interested.  I’d share a map I made for my novel, but it isn’t as pretty, heh.  Like this one, from Wikipedia:

(By the way, your mind map doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty.  It’s just has to get your brain juices flowing.  I did my mind map for my story in black and white.)

Clustering is another technique I’ve used that’s helped me understand my story a little better.  I just used it a few days ago to sort out all the prominent themes in my novel; I found there were eight. O_O (However, I also discovered that they were all connected to each other either directly or indirectly, which helps create a sense of unity, and they all could be linked directly back to one prominent theme: humanity, or human nature.)  I didn’t use color in mine, but you can take a look at it:

I used solid lines to suggest direct relationships and dotted for indirect.  The “people/humanity” cluster had the most (all) solid line connections, which to me suggests it may be [edit: connected to] the central theme in my story.  I can use this knowledge now to help me assess whether or not my story reflects this then go back and “realign” sections where it does not.  Theme is a tricky element because sometimes you don’t “see” it until you’ve finished writing most of, if not all of, your story.  However, it can be used to create focus, unity and cohesion.  (Funny–this is starting to sound a lot like the principles and elements of design.)

At first I tried everything because I didn’t know what would work for me and what wouldn’t, but eventually I found techniques that got results, so now I’m sticking to them.  And that’s kinda what you have to do as a writer: figure it out.

“Ah-hyuk!  That’s all, folks!”

Really, it is.  For now.  I’ve rambled on long enough.  Bless those souls who actually read both posts on this topic.  I really do hope you got something out of it.

On another note, I am interested to know what others do to help develop their story ideas.  Got any unusual or particularly effective brainstorming methods?

Getting to Know Your Story (Part I)

16 Feb

So let’s say you’ve got this fantabulous idea for a novel, right.  So then the first step, naturally, would be to start writing about it.  Riiiiight?

Err…if you mean start writing the actual novel, then I’m afraid not.  I’ll explain why.

READ the INSTRUCTIONS FIRST.  Please.

I can be a real stubborn one.  I’m the kind of person that will purchase one of those self-assembled furniture pieces from places like Target and IKEA and refuse to read the instructions because I’m smart and can figure it out by myself, thank you very much.  My dad’s an engineer (electrical, actually).  Works in the aerospace industry.  I’m sure he passed down some of his figure-it-out mentality to me through the bloodline, even if it’s just a fraction.  Convicted of this, I set my mouth in a grim line and put those insulting pictorial instructions with those ridiculous smiling faces aside.

Of course, I usually end up regretting it later.  “What?  Where did that piece come from?”

Disassemble.  Insert missing piece.  Reassemble.  Scowl at own stupidity.  Smart, eh?

Shut up, I tell my snickering subconscious.  Shut the frak up.

*   *   *
Not surprisingly, I’ve taken a similar approach to writing.  I like to learn things the hard way, apparently.  Make mistakes.  Make a fool of myself.  Gain incredible insights along the way.

The latter is the greatest part, the part I never regret.  The same can be said for making some mistakes along the way, though a good number of the mistakes I’ve made probably could have been avoided.

Here’s where I’m going with this: There are instructors out there in this big wide world who have set aside time out of their daily bustling lives to provide useful tips, guidelines and storytelling commandments, either free of charge or for an affordable rate, to would-be writers who think they’ll have no trouble figuring it all out on their own by doing things their way.  (This page is proof.)  Writers like me.  And, perhaps, you.

I think it’s quite possible to figure it out all on your own, but if you’re not a very patient, dedicated, or disciplined person you’ll burnout long before you’ve even gotten a quarter of the way there.  Lucky for me, once I’ve dedicated myself to an endeavor I don’t quit easily, but I also don’t like floundering around like a fish out of water for long and will eventually turn to someone for help.  But only if I can’t figure it out by myself first.

Call it a character flaw, but I really do like to figure certain things out on my own.  There’s a sense of achievement that comes along with that.  I’m sure you’ve experienced this for yourself at one point or another.  You’d understand.

Okay, so maybe there’s stuff I should learn before attempting a novel.  So what?

If you’re not convinced you need to get yourself edumacated before you set out to start a novel with any hope of potential amongst other readers besides yourself, then I’m sorry; I can’t help you.  No one can.  If that’s what you want, to figure it out on your own, then more power to you.

On the other hand, if you are new to this writing thing, want to benefit from those who’ve been there and learn more about storytelling before you embark on the incredibly ambitious mission of writing a novel (or any story for that matter), then there are a few places you can start.

The first: remember that page I mentioned earlier, that orange link?  (At least I think it’s orange, unless you already visited it.)  That would be a good start.  Or, if you have a favorite author(s), why not check out his/her website or blog?  They might even have free writing tips to share with you.

There are also some books out there that you might want to consider.  If you’ve read some of my other posts, then you already know that I’m a biased writer in that my focus is on the fantasy genre.  With that said, there are a couple of books I’ve read and thought were helpful without them being limited to fantasy writers.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey was one.  It gives you some basic things to think about before you start pecking away on your keyboard, relentlessly churning out fiction into your poor word processor during ceaseless nights, and perhaps even, days.  (Sometimes you get that into it.)  The Key, by the same author, was also useful to me in understanding the archetypal Hero’s Journey and character types but also cliches, how to avoid them and how it’s possible to mix character roles to create more complex characters.  Also, check out Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.  It goes through the basics of how to put a coherent sentence together, but it also talks about how to appropriately use certain misused words and phrases like lie and lay.  Style and grammar all wrapped up into one.  It’s a good reference book–one I still like to thumb through.

…and that’s where my book-reading advice stops short.  Like I said, I am of the figure-it-out variety, so I didn’t read too many how-to books before I dived back into the process of writing.  Most of my research, when I hunkered down and did some, was actually done online.  However, if you prefer books to online articles or want to mix up your educational-things-to-read list, then there are many bookstores out there, online and in-person, that make it easy to search for instructional books and make personal judgements as to which ones might help you the most.  This is especially easy online, where you can also browse other reader’s reviews on books you’re interested in and read their takes on how helpful those books were/were not.  That’s personally my favorite way to go about purchasing books.

Alibris, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders are all great places to search.  I’m sure there are more out there, but those are the one’s I’ve tried.  (Amazon is probably my fave. :D)

Learning about writing is a lot like homework in college: No one’s gonna keep looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re doing it.  Either you learn the material or you don’t.  That’s how I feel about it, anyway.  In essence, I think becoming a (creative) writer is just one of those do-it-yourself kinds of things.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t mentors out there who can give you pointers and advice along the way, though.

Now, to the Point.

Hm, this post is getting long, and I’ve barely brushed the titular topic!  You know what?  Here’s what I’m gonna do: Consider today Part I.  Tomorrow, I will post Part II.

“Soooooooound good?”

“Yes, sir!”

(Thinking of Inglourious Basterds there.)