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An idea whose time has come

My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living.  ~Anais Nin

People often ask writers where their ideas come from. I even find myself wondering the same thing after I read a great book. The answers? Everywhere, nowhere, hard work.

We get them from things we see in our daily lives, that is, everywhere. Places we go, people we meet, new stories, and personal experiences all have the power to generate the seed of an idea. Many authors become intrigued by the “what if?” and pursue that until they have a story.

But, they can also come out of nowhere. For example, I often think of storyline bits, or plot ideas right after I wake up in the morning. I'm not actively trying to work on anything, it just comes. I keep a pen and paper by my bed for this reason, because if I don't write it down, I'll surely lose it.

Sometimes, a writer just has to work at it. There are all sorts of techniques for generating new ideas. I even wrote about one of Einstein's creativity methods for the Southern Magic blog a while back.

For me, often the key is to give myself permission to let the ideas flow. I sometimes have this sense that ideas are waiting for me if I would just stop whatever I'm doing and let them out. At those times, I sit down with plenty of paper, and start taking notes.

No matter how a writer generates ideas, the real trick is to put in the time, day after day, writing them down. Some will turn into a story, some won't, but all the best ideas in the world won't make you a writer if you don't put fingers to keyboard and write.

The Daily Squirrel: nose

Amelie stared at her nose in the mirror. The purple bruising had turned more green and yellow over the last few days, but at least the swelling had gone down. She touched it gently and winced. Stupid John and his flailing racquet. That ball had been hers. She knew one thing for sure: she was never going to play doubles tennis again.

So You Think You Can Dan…er, Write

This post is also available at romancemagicians.blogspot.com today…

I was watching So You Think You Can Dance last night (yes, I can't live without my DVR–I never watch live TV anymore), and something the judges kept saying caught my attention.

The gist was that if the dancers got “into character” and put the appropriate emotion in the performance, they could get away with a few technical errors. But, the opposite was not true. A flawless technical performance lacking emotion or story was not enough to cut it.

I think the same could be applied to writing. Grammatical problems or minor plot issues can be overcome with a great voice and style. It's more about the execution of the story, than its mechanics.

As I was flipping through The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman at BAM today, I was happy to see that he agreed. He basically said that execution was more important than plot for catching an editor's or agent's eye. If they don't get past the execution, they'll never read enough to get the plot anyway.

Not that we can afford to discount grammar or other technical issues–after all, we need to put our best foot forward–but we shouldn't forget that in the end, the story and how we tell it is what will grab the reader.

I guess I'd say, “Always improve your craft, but don't forget your voice.”

The Daily Squirrel: soap

The scent of gardenias filled the steamy shower as she worked up a lather on the bar of soap. A familiar peace settled over her as her slick hands washed away the sweat and the lingering odor of cigarettes. Some day soon, she'd finish her degree, and she'd never have to work in a smoky bar again.

The Daily Squirrel

squirrelYears ago, when I was in Toastmasters, we had a member, Ken, who was truly a remarkable speaker. Anytime we had an unfilled speaking slot, he would give an impromptu speech using a random topic from the audience. His most memorable speech was about gray squirrels. He gave a humorous, completely off-the-cuff, 7-minute speech about hunting squirrels as a kid. True? Who knows? Impressive? Absolutely.

In honor of Ken’s “squirrel speech”, I’ve started a (mostly) daily exercise that I call “The Daily Squirrel”. I think of a random topic (my squirrel), and then try to write a short scene around it. You can do this while brushing your teeth or waiting in line at the grocery store.

As an example, I chose a water bottle as my squirrel, and here’s what I came up with…

He reached for the water bottle tucked into the truck’s console, but it slipped from his grip as he lost the feeling in his fingers. The bottle fell to the floor with a thud, water pulsing out onto the dirty carpet. Every lost drop made him more desperate to quench the fire in his throat as his heart stopped beating and he gasped for his last breath.

Okay, morbid, but you get the idea… To force myself to practice, I’m planning to add a daily squirrel to the end of my (almost) daily blog posts.

Wanna try it? Share your own daily squirrel.

UPDATE 1/14/2010: The Squirrel has gone weekly as it became too time consuming. Look for it on Sundays. Click here to see all of the Sunday Squirrel installments.

My Aha! Moment with GMC & BIF

In August, I had the good fortune to attend a workshop by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love based on their great book, Break Into Fiction (hereafter called BIF). I read the book beforehand, and went through the workshop thinking how great all of the templates are because they force you to answer the tough questions about your characters and plot. But, still, I struggled with filling them out. They get into details I wasn't ready to produce yet.

I had an “Aha!” moment yesterday when I realized that filling out the GMC charts for my characters provided me the macro view of their lives and story that I needed to have in order to complete the micro-focused BIF templates. By completing the GMC work first, I can make sure I'm not spending my time on the BIF templates until I'm fairly sure my story will work.

So, after moving 20K words (ouch!) into my Unused Scenes folder (a topic for another day), I'm pretty much starting over.  But, this time I'm going to try it with the help of the GMC and BIF tools. The great news is that I'm pumped up about my story again. My goal is to have a completed rough draft by January 31. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Chalk it all up to lessons learned and, like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep moving.”

BTW, if you ever have a chance to take a class from Mary or Dianna, you won't be disappointed. Both of them are incredibly giving of their time and insights, and will answer endless questions with patience.

Goal, Motivation & Conflict

I thought I'd start my blog by talking about one of the best books I've read on the craft of writing. “Goal, Motivation & Conflict” by Debra Dixon. I had seen this book mentioned so many times in articles and other books that I finally bit the bullet and bought it–a decision I will not regret.

Understanding GMC will help me with my query letters, the dreaded synopsis, and, of course, crafting a story that can stand up to 300 pages of prose. Making sure each major character (and even the minor ones, if you want) have a clear goal, a reason for wanting that goal, and something keeping them from getting it, is key. The concept seems so simple, and yet it's incredibly powerful.

I've decided to figure out the GMC for the hero and heroine of some of my favorite books by other authors in hopes of gaining insight into what successful authors do. After applying the method to my own work, some issues that I'd been struggling with became clear.

I'd like to know if GMC has helped you solve a problem or find a new direction with your own story.

Happy Writing!