Seeing the World Differently

A friend of mine offered a suggestion for a post yesterday, based on an adventure we had a couple of days ago.  It was a logical suggestion, but the most interesting thing that came from the conversation was a discovery that we approach writing in two very different ways.

First, a little background.  We went to the shooting range over the weekend, which was a new experience for me.  I had never shot a gun before (except a dart gun in a college class).  He suggested that I think about that trip as a potential basis for a story.

I explained at this point that I do, in fact, need to physically experience my stories in order to write them.  However, those are more often fights, like the dragon battle scene that my sister and I “choreographed” in the swimming pool.

It turns out that he starts with a scenario, like walking through a park at night or visiting a pawn shop, and then develops a character that fits into the scene.  It’s a “what kind of person would…” form of writing, and while I understand it intellectually, my creative side doesn’t get it.  My characters come first, and then I follow them around to see what scenarios they get into.

Of course, when I told him that my characters talk in my head, his response was to ask, “Have you told that to a professional?”  Obviously my form of inspiration is foreign to his creativity.  🙂

Reading the words that don’t count

There are about 11,000 words in Mara’s Tale already.  While I am fully committed to being a NaNo rebel due to these words, I am not going to count them towards my total.  I am going to write 50,000 new words in November.

I do, however, need to see what’s already there.  It’s been a while since I’ve looked at them, much less written anything.

There are several scenes I am excited to write.  I know there are at least two that I didn’t finish, because I got stuck in the middle and didn’t want to force it.  I have yet to decide if I’m going to work chronologically this time or go with the flow.  Since I already know what happens (at least overall, if not in specifics) it’s tempting to try to work out-of-order.  The benefit is that I can write what seems fun at the time; the downside is going back and linking it all!

Here’s hoping that a quick review of the existing material helps me get my thoughts in line.  I’ll pay a visit to the giant timeline in my spare room, too, just to get the juices flowing.  I need to get this girl talking again if she’s going to carry me through this year’s NaNo!

The Value of Reading

Yesterday I made reference to the new idea that I’m working on for Mara.  Before I explain, I need to give a touch of background.

Mara is an orphan who spends part of her childhood running with a group of street kids.  She learns interesting skills, like picking locks, that come in handy later in life.  This group is very opportunist, scavenging, running errands, and generally doing whatever it takes to survive.  Most of what they do is legal, or at least gray-area.

I already had a scene written that establishes some of this about the group, including a wealthy man paying two of them to deliver a letter.  In the existing scene, the man starts by asking the girls if they can read.  They give the honest answer, which is no, and then and only then does he pass over the letter.

The two of them heading off to deliver it is where the scene ended.  What occurred to me while I was hiking is that this is a prime moment to build some depth into Mara’s character, establishing some of the personality traits that make her successful later.  Specifically, in this instance, her curiosity, observation, and intelligence shine through, as she realizes that there is value in learning to read.

In this case, it’s specifically monetary value.  She starts by questioning why the man cared if they could read, which her companion answers simply.  He doesn’t want them to read the letter.  Unlike our protagonist, the companion doesn’t really think past that, but Mara does.  She starts to consider why someone wouldn’t want a letter read.  After much thought, she realizes that the writer must want the contents to remain secret because there are other people who would use the information to their advantage. This, of course, leads her to think that there might be a way for her to use this, if only she could read.

Most of this logic isn’t yet explained in the story; right now it’s simply her questions about reasons and then asking if they know anyone who can read.  Some of her reasoning will come out as the story continues, and some will simply be inferred, because it’s much more interesting to write it that way than to have her internal monologue walk us through the steps right away.

This also opens up some interesting avenues for me as far as the story goes, because I can now bring in a bit more of the world Mara inhabits, perhaps introduce an adult into her life, and explore the personalities of the girls around her.

When I’m Not Inspired

Tonight I’m feeling uninspired, not sure what to write about, and the timing couldn’t be better.  One of my readers who comments regularly, Kate, asked me to explore writer’s block (along with inspiration sources and self-doubt, what a combo!) and perhaps a lack of inspiration might be the place to start.

Sometimes ideas just won’t come.  This is particularly troubling when you are working on a deadline, need to write a post for the day, or (heaven forbid!) you are behind on that NaNo word count.  I’ve experienced all of these, at various times, and while none have been life threatening, they aren’t fun either.

I have learned a few things along the way, hitting the snags that come with trying to write almost daily.  Instead of sharing advice as though I was an expert, I’m simply going to tell you about how I’ve worked past a lack of inspiration in my own life.

One major thing that I’ve found helps is to not stress about it.  (This is much harder than it sounds.)  If I start to push, to force my creativity, it will turn into a stubborn two-year-old who is now saying “no” just because you want her to say yes.  A power struggle with my muse is not a fun way to spend my day, so if I sit down to write and the words won’t flow, I get back up and do something else.

Speaking of doing something else, that’s another thing I’ve found useful: doing something.  I like to take a shower, or go for a walk, or even just clean the kitchen.  Inspiration might not be there when I want it, but my brain can be like a sore muscle.  If I get my body working it can sometimes loosen up and the process will be less painful.

I’ll also search for connections within what I am reading or watching.  This has become such a habit that I’ll often think “that would make a great blog post” when I’m not looking for inspiration.  Most of what I read and enjoy doesn’t relate, so it will occasionally feel forced.  This is where forcing it can actually be good exercise rather than a futile effort.  When I try to stretch to make something writing-related, I sometimes stumble across a better idea than the one I had at the start!

One other trick that I’ve discovered is writing something else.  If I am stuck on my NaNo novel, I’ll pause and write a blog post.  (Possibly about being stuck on my novel; why not take advantage of a situation if it presents itself?)  If a certain story just won’t come, I’ll turn to another character from a totally different tale for a while.  Creativity is like water – you can harness it if you do it carefully, but sometimes you just need to go with the flow.

Ok, enough from my experience.  I’m sure there are others out there who hit the same kinds of walls.  How do you handle a lack of inspiration when you’re trying to write?

Finding Ideas

Yesterday’s post was inspired by a movie I was watching.  The post before documented actual events in my life.  My WordPress stats inspired Sunday’s post, and a conversation about NaNo led to the one on Saturday.

Basically, my post ideas come from all over the place.  When I sit down to write each evening, I let my mind wander until I stumble on something that I feel like articulating.  Usually the inspiration is fairly obvious, at least to me.

My writing ideas, on the other hand, trickle up from my subconscious.  The basis of these ideas is probably similar, but unlike the quick boil you get from sticking a mug of water in the microwave, these are the deep geothermal rumblings of a pool that sits near the molten heart of the earth.  All the things I’ve ever experienced, and some things I’ve simply imagined, mix and meld within my unaware mind until an idea percolates to the surface, surprisingly well-developed and seemingly out of nowhere.

We all know there is no such thing as a new idea; there really is only one story.  Everything you write comes from somewhere, which is why authors should read prolifically, explore the world, and interact with people as much as they can.  You never know where your next idea might come from, and even when it comes, you may not recognize what inspired it.

A Rush of Inspiration

Last night, as I was driving home from a friend’s party, I had a rapid influx of ideas for my next NaNo novel.

I already had the two main characters, how they meet, and a bit of each’s back story.  The big piece I was lacking was a plot.  I’d had several hints of ideas, but most of them were lame, overdone, or not fantasy.  (Having a fairy in the story does not automatically make it a fantasy, people!)

On the drive I found my plot!  It takes pieces from one of my idea-hints, but also incorporates new concepts that I hadn’t thought of prior to last night.  The really interesting thing is the setting – this is going to be fantasy in the real/modern world.  I know that it’s a well-established motif, but it will be new and different for me.  (Butterflies is set in its own world, and Dragon has gates between modern and fantasy, keeping most of the magic to the fantasy realm.)

I need to do a little bit of research and start making some notes so I’m ready to go when November rolls around, but I’m already getting excited!

Strange Sources of Inspiration

Tonight I had a moment of inspiration with one of my two new characters, Doug.  It was inspired by an odd event, though, namely a line from a Nicki Minaj song.

Unlike other odd moments of inspiration, I can give a clear trace of this one.  I will do so now, for your entertainment.  The following train of thought was sparked when I heard the line “My name is Onika, you can call me Nicki” in a song.

There are a lot of things Nicki can be short for.
Nicki is an interesting name.
Would I name a child Nicki?
No, I know too many Nickis and some of them are not nice.
Would I name a character Nicki?
Maybe.  Do I need a new female character?
Doug could use a woman in his life.
She could be Doug’s girlfriend!
But Doug is single in the novel.
She could be Doug’s ex-girlfriend!
Heartbreak!  This is a great piece of back story for him.
So Doug’s heart was broken by Nicki.
She could be his ex-wife!
Doug is divorced!  That makes sense with what I know so far.

This is the exact line of thought (which happened quite rapidly, between one stoplight and the next) that led from a Nicki Minaj song on the radio to my decision (discovery?) that Doug is divorced.  🙂

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