The 5 Stages of a Story Idea

the-5-stages-of-a-story-idea

If you start telling people that you’re a writer, eventually you’re going to get the question.

You know the one.

Where do you get your ideas?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was, like, a story idea bodega that we could just run down to and pick up a bestselling idea when we need one?

Of course, it doesn’t work that way. But, ideas are kind of magical and they are out there. The key is to be ready for them and to capture them when they show up–without letting them derail the last idea. Because, without fail, I always get a shiny new idea as soon as my current work-in-progress gets hard.

One of my favorite books about the magic of ideas is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you haven’t read it, I really recommend it. She has some interesting thoughts about the sentience of ideas that I really love.

The 5 Stages of a Story Idea

For me, ideas have a very definite five-stage progression that lead from the first inkling through a finished product that’s in the hands of publishing gatekeepers (or is self-published.)

Sometimes it takes years for one to get through all five stage.

I’ll use my upcoming release as an example as I go through them with you.

When my 13-year-old daughter, Ruby, was five years old she was obsessed with superheroes. She loved them. All of them. She used to dress up like a superhero by putting her swimsuit on over her clothes and tying a baby blanket around her neck. We called her Wonder Roo and I filed away the idea of one day writing a Wonder Roo story.

Three or four years ago, I went to Los Angeles to the SCBWI conference with my best friend. While we were there, I was really exposed to the idea of picture book writing for the first time. I was especially in love with a talk that Judy Schachner, who writes and illustrates the Skippyjon Jones books, gave on how she comes up with a scrapbook for each of her books before she writes them.

My little idea seedling took firmer hold that weekend: I wanted to write a book about a little girl named Wonder Roo who loves superheroes. I tossed it around for quite a while. I thought it would be a picture book. Then a chapter book. At one point it was a straight-up YA idea.

Two or three years later, the idea for Wonder Roo finally moved from Brewing to Plotting. I started to plot out an idea that I could use as my MFA project for the semester. This happened super fast, because I had deadlines for school. I moved almost immediately from plotting to writing.

I finished the first draft during the semester and spent a few weeks editing it. Those are stages three and four. And then I submitted it to agents–stage five.

So, that’s five stages. While it might seem like the writing part should take the longest–it usually doesn’t for me. Usually, it’s the early brew that takes the most. Typically, I have four or five ideas in the brewing stage at any given time and no more than one each in the others. But not always one in all of them.

At the most, I might have several ideas brewing, one that I’m plotting, another that I’m writing, another that I’m editing, and another that’s submitting. I never have this many balls in the air, but I guess I could. I often have a book that I’m writing and another that I’m either editing or plotting–the tasks use different parts of my brain and I can work on more than one story at a time if they are in different stages.

On the other hand, I’d have a really hard time writing two stories at the same time. Or plotting two, or editing two.

The five-stages of an idea feels, to me, like everyone’s in the pot, just kind of hanging out and marinating. Brewing away.  And then someone is suddenly ready to move on up into something a little more heavy duty. When idea is ready to be plotted, it’ll spark. The characters will start talking to me, I’ll starting getting inspiration for scenes.

Let’s take the stages one at a time.

Brewing

I keep a list of potential characters, settings, and situations. Some of them have been there for decades. Maybe one of these days I’ll find a use for the man I saw from a bus window in the early 1990s, praying on his hands and knees by the side of the road beside his muscle car. Or the brothel museum in Virginia City. You never know!

Every once in a while I’ll take a character, a setting, and a situation, and build an idea. I just collect those like some people collect coins or stamps. Each one gets a page in my notebook. I read over them sometimes to see if anything stands out to me. If I get an idea about one of these little idea seeds, I write it on the notebook page so I don’t forget it, but I don’t let it derail me from more active stories.

If I get a bunch of ideas around something that’s brewing, it’s time to move it on up to the plotting stage.

Plotting

The first thing I do when I’m ready to move forward with a story is something we call H2DSI around here. That’s shorthand for How to Develop (and test) a Story Idea. Basically, I develop the character, setting, and situation more fully, and then come up with five key plot points. I have a ton of ideas sitting at this stage.

I guess this is like brewing-and-a-half.

When I’m ready to go beyond that, I move into real plotting. I have an exercise I love that helps me get inspired. I really develop those five key plot points. I come up with 30 scenes, which is something I learned listening to a talk Walter Dean Myers gave one year at the Vegas Valley Book Festival.

And then I build a plot board and get my scenes on it.

Sometimes a story will stay here for a quite a while, because I don’t write more than one book at a time. I rarely go this far on more than one book at a time. The brewing-and-a-half stage is the waiting place. I might have half a dozen stories there at any given time.

Writing

And then I write. Because I’ve done so much plotting, and my personal style happens to be writing a pretty sparse first draft, the writing usually happens rather quickly. When I’m writing the first draft, I have a long-standing (like decades) goal that’s ridiculously small: I write for at least ten minutes a day.

Really,  I just keep writing through to the end. That’s my only goal: get to the end of the first draft. Not necessarily as fast as possible, but with consistent forward motion. This is my least favorite part of the whole process. I love having a finished draft to work on. I’m all about revision. So I just put my head down and make sure I hit my bare minimum goal every day. Most days I write many times more than ten minutes.

Before I get to the editing phase there’s a . . . let’s call it an editing-lite phase. This is where the finished draft rests. Ideally, I don’t look at it again for at least a month. While this is happening, I get more serious about plotting the next thing. Or maybe I start editing something else that’s been in the waiting phase.

Editing

Straight up . . . I love editing. It’s my favorite part!

I’m the kind of writer whose first draft is short–sometimes only half or two thirds as long as the finished draft will be. So when I edit, instead of cutting, I have to expand. Some writers are the opposite–they write long and have to cut (sometimes, again, as much as half or a third) to find their story.

There is no right or wrong here. The editing phase is about tightening your story up, making it shine. If I’m going to have beta readers, that happens as part of the editing stage. If I’m workshopping the story, it happens in the editing stage.

After I’ve edited as well as I can, the story goes to submission. In reality, a story kind of rotates between editing and submission some. If the first round of submission doesn’t work, it might come back to edits for more work before going back out. If submission works and I find a publisher, then it definitely goes back to edits again–this time with my editor.

If you’re an indie author, by the way, hopefully, the editing stage is where you hire an editor to help your story shine.

Submitting

Submission just means sending a story out into the world.

If you’re an indie author, this would be where you actually publish your book.

If you’re a traditionally-published writer or hope to be, you’ll be submitting to agents and/or editors. For a long time, submission for me meant sending query letters to agents. Now that I have an agent and a publisher, it means turning my finished book into them.

There is a huge amount of waiting involved with submission to agents and editors. Weeks, at least. Maybe months. While I wait around for other people to do their part, I go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Always. That’s the key. This system is a perpetual motion machine.

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The One Thing You Need to be a Successful Indie Author

Okay, I’m not going to draw this out. I hope you’ll read the rest, because I’m on fire with this whole thing.

The one thing: a serious, serious work ethic.

If anyone ever tells you that they have an easy path to being an indie author they are lying. LYING.

I’ve learned more about indie publishing in the last two weeks than I’ve learned — ever.

The kind of learning that’s left me wandering around muttering, “What in the world is happening.”

And, “This is all insane.”

And, “If they can do it, so can I.”

What I thought.

I’ve known for a long time that I was going to at least give self-publishing a try.

I have books written that didn’t sell traditionally.

I have a series that ends on a cliffhanger, that I won’t be able to finish up with a traditional publisher.

But, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve been struggling with the idea.

No matter how many times I told myself it wasn’t true, indie publishing after being published by a big New York publisher (Penguin) felt like a massive and ugly step backward.

But, I was going to do it.

Eventually.

Let’s just say that I have FIVE books written. Two half written.

I think the technical term for what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years is ‘spinning my wheels.’ Or, maybe, ‘being a big fat chicken shit.’

When I’ve thought about indie publishing, my idea was that I’d just follow the model of traditional publishing — sans publisher. In fact, I thought I’d be super prolific and put out two books a year.

I’d write whatever I wanted (freedom!) and ask everyone I knew and this email list I’ve kicked my own butt building to buy it. And then hope for the best.

Let’s call that the ‘fingers crossed’ method of publishing. It’s the way traditional publishing goes, mostly, and the way that many writers who transition to indie approach it.

What’s real.

What I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks is that, holy crap, I had it all wrong. All. Wrong.

Publishing isn’t about luck.

It’s not some magic formula where the God of literature looks down and picks you.

It’s just this: a really good story, written in a genre that has a lot of readers who don’t have quite enough of what they love to read, some marketing that isn’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought it was.

This new world of indie publishing (or at least new to me) is so exciting because it is so, so centered on story. And story is where I live. I’m a writer, but that’s really just the way I’ve chosen to be a storyteller.

In order to make sense of the vast quantity of information I’ve been learning, I’ve narrowed the whole process down to six steps.

The steps seem to be:

    1. While you’re doing all the rest, build an email list of readers who read your genre.
    2. Write a compelling, addictive story that continues over multiple books. (AKA a series.)
    3. Repeat step two. A LOT. What traditional publishing would consider prolific (one or two books a year) doesn’t scratch the surface. You need to publish at least once every 90 days if you’re going indie. Every 60 days is better.
    4. Write as well as possible, but remember it’s more about the story than the presentation between the covers.
    5. Except when it comes to a cover. You need a cover that A) fits your genre and B) is professionally designed.
    6. You also need a really good blurb and sample chapter, plus an understanding of Amazon key words and categories.
    7. Selling your book, in the first days, to readers who read your genre — so that Amazon can find other readers like them to market your book to.
    8. A slow build up of sales, instead of a fast burst of everyone you know, followed by a drop off. Amazon will interpret that burst as an anomaly (which it is.)

There’s more. Like formatting. And how to actually get your book onAmazon or any other platform. Whether or not you should let Amazon sell your book exclusively, or ‘go wide’ (which means putting your book on lots of platforms.) And . . . I can’t even. A lot of stuff.

Moving parts. There are a lot of them.

But those are the big eight. They’re a starting point, anyway. And they make sense.

I’m an utter newbie, still wiping the traditional publishing out of my eyes, who has been walking around with her brain cracked like an egg for the last weeks.

It’s been a long, long time since any part of writing felt new and exciting to me.

Here are some resources you can start with, so that your brain, too, can be cracked like an egg.

Some books: (The first one is a MUST if you’re going to wrap your head around that book-every-60-days thing.)

 

Some websites and podcasts:

Doing what I always do.

I’m going to implement all the exciting, sort of scary, overwhelmingly awesome stuff I’m learning.

That’s right. I’m going to dive into an experiment.

Bryan Harris would call this learning out loud, because I’m absolutely bringing you with me.

I have three books already written in a paranormal romance series. I went looking through my email, trying to figure out when I started working on it. Back when romance was my main genre. I found an email I sent to my long-time critique partner — in 2010.

So seven years.

If you asked, oh, two weeks ago, I’d have told you that I don’t write romance anymore. But I managed to write three full books over the last seven years. I love the world I’ve created. The love story.

It’s a good experiment. I only need an edit and a cover for each book. The heavy lifting is done. I can practice being prolific, because the work is already done. They fit squarely in a genre that has a lot of readers. And I love the stories enough to keep going if my experiment is successful.

So — first steps.

In case you want to play along. Maybe experiment yourself.

I’ve uploaded a book to Instafreebie, to start building an email list of people who enjoy reading paranormal romance. Keeper is actually the first novel I ever sold. The rights reverted to me a few months ago. So, perfect.

You can download it here. It’s free. It would help me out a lot — especially if you read paranormal romance regularly.

I’m not sure about you. But for me? All of this is insanely complicated and full of moving parts I barely understand. I’m excited to dig in and figure it out. And I’m super excited, if I can make it work, to share the process with you.

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How to Use a Notebook to Reach Your Writing Goals

First let me introduce you to my friend. FRED is the Folder for Reaching the End of your Draft. It’s an analog tool I use to keep track of my daily writing. It’s been downloaded thousands of times and is the best accountability tool I’ve ever used.

So, when I found this notebook and realized that it was essentially not only a full year FRED, but could also hold the story notes for a novel, I bought it. And it’s awesome!

The notebook is the Erin Condren Monthly Planner. It’s a lined notebook with a monthly calendar in the front.

I made you this quick video showing you how I have my annual FRED set up.

The notebook is available here.

When you get to the site, first sign up to get your $10 discount.

Then click “Planners & Books” and then “Monthly Planners.”

As I’m writing this, this notebook is HALF OFF, so hurry and jump on that.

Here are some pictures:

Very writerly cover!

Monthly calendar. To use it like a FRED, just give yourself a sticker everyday that you meet your writing goal. These boxes are big enough to make note of things like goals and deadlines if you want to.

The rest of the planner is just a lined notebook. I have the first few pages set up as a log, which is the second part of the FRED. There’s one page per month. Every day I can just write the date and what work I did that day. It helps me to feel professional. It’s visual proof of how hard I’m working, which frankly, sometimes I really need.

And then the rest of the lined pages, I’m really excited about. It’s just the right size to use to plan a novel using The Plotting Workshop. The story I’m writing right now, I already plotted in another notebook, but in a month or two I’ll be ready to start working on the next story and I’m going to just plan it right in here.

The paper is high quality and nice to write on, by the way.

Okay, also, I made this little printable PDF thing for you. You can print it, use double-sided tape to stick the two sides together, then laminate it. I tell my printer to print it in A5 size. The lamination makes it so that you can use a dry erase marker (or wet erase, so it won’t smear. That’s what I do.) to keep track of your writing progress.

I use mine as a bookmark.

One side has a sort of bar chart thing you can fill in for a week. (Make sure the plastic is totally dry after you clean it before you write on it, or you get wonky letters!)

And the other side has a chart where you can write down your word count everyday for a month. And a space for notes.

If you’d like the PDF, leave me your email address below. I’ll get it right to you.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Character Super Power

hump-day-writing-prompt-charater-super-powerMy work-in-progress is about a 12-year-old girl who believes she has super powers.

Her super power is problem solving. When she becomes Wonder Roo, she can figure things out at the speed of light, leap any obstacle with a single bound.

Yesterday I was thinking about how we all have our super powers. Maybe you’re really good making other people feel good about themselves. Or you make perfect hard boiled eggs (seriously, this is one of my son’s super powers. Perfect eggs, every single time.) Or you can sing like an angel. Whatever it is, it’s part of what makes you, you.

So, think about your main character and write a little today about their super power. Bonus points for figuring out your antagonist’s super power, too.

My Turn

I’ve already told you about Roona’s super power. She’s a kick-ass problem solver.

The other main character in my story is Roona’s friend and next door neighbor, Gideon.

Gideon’s super power is his ability to be rational in just about any situation. He’s the guy you want with you when you’re twelve and you decide that you have no choice but to buy a bus ticket to Las Vegas and go find your dad, who’s been missing since you were a baby. Because he’s the guy who will make sure you save enough money for the cab ride back to the bus station.

Where Roona is a doer, Gideon is a thinker.

The antagonist in Wonder Roo is Roona’s mother. She’s not bad or evil or mean. She’s sick. Roona for sure believes that her mom’s super power is her ability to bake her emotions into her cakes and pies. Her real super power is her free spirit. Miranda Mulroney knows how to have fun. She is fun.

Your Turn

Spend some time today thinking about your main character’s super power. How does their super power affect your story? Do the work, then come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

***

Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 100 Day MFA.

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How to be a good writer with a good life: The WRITER Framework

I have a thing about teeny, tiny goals.

They’ve changed my life, more than once.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been kicking around the idea of stacking teeny, tiny goals. I can (obviously) fit six in an hour. So, I started thinking about the things that might help me to become a more well-rounded writer and generally happy human being.

Writing and reading, of course. But also physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Here’s what I came up with: The WRITER Framework.

WRITER stands for Writing, Reading, Ideation, Talking, Exercising, and Regrouping.

Everyday, for at least ten minutes a day, I do these things.

I write fiction.

I read fiction.

I make a list of ten ideas. (Thanks James Altucher!)

I talk to someone I don’t live with.

I exercise.

I review my day and plan for tomorrow.

The first two are all about being a writer. They’re the building blocks of your craft and if you do them everyday, even for a few minutes, you won’t be able to help improving.

The rest about the good life part of the equation.

The secret sauce.

The best thing about teeny, tiny goals is that they’re so small — it’s easier to just do them than it is to skip them. Psychologically.

An hour long goal? Not so much. You can skip an hour. No problem. So, the key is to keep the goals separate in your head. That way, if you skip your walk, or have a recluse day, you might not skip everything else.

Also, for everything on this list, ten minutes is a guilt-free minimum. Hit ten minutes and you can stop. You’re a rock star! You’ve hit your goal. Give yourself a gold star. (I mean it. Get a calendar and some star stickers. Do it up.)

But, I can almost guarantee that one day you’ll find yourself writing for an hour or you’ll take a nice long walk or fall into a great conversation with someone.

I followed the Framework everyday for a month. Here’s what happened.

I wrote nearly 19,000 words toward my new novel. (Incidentally, I also wrote on Medium everyday.)

I clearly write more than ten minutes a day. What this little goal does for me is simple. It keeps me writing every single days. There was at least one day a week over the last month where I would have just skipped writing. But, because I had this goal, I didn’t. Which is good, because I know from long experience that skipping one day leads so easily into skipping two.

I read eleven books.

I’m in an MFA program and I have to read a lot. Ten books a month. Plus, I read a poem, an essay, and a short story every day for the 1000 Day MFA program I run through Ninja Writers. So, the ten minutes a day? That represents the extra book. I read that one just for pure pleasure. In ten minutes a day. It was Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig.

I had 300 ideas! A couple of them were even good.

I came up with ideas for friends. Ideas for silly apps I’d love to have. Books I want to write. Fairy tale tropes. Ideas for a new newsletter. Ten people I want to meet and how I can do that.

One of them was James Altucher, who writes a lot about the power of writing down ten ideas a day. I asked him if he minded if I included it as the I in WRITER. He didn’t. (This counts for T, too!)

I reached out to people and some of them reached back. That was huge fun.

See above about James Altucher.

I also had coffee with Jonas Ellison. And lunch with my friend Tracy. I talked to the lady who works at the fabric counter at Wal-mart about her grandchildren. I called my sister. I talked a couple of times to my friend Amy. I talked to my ex-husband’s sister, who is also called Amy. I spoke to the other soccer moms, instead of sitting by myself feeling awkward.

I lost seven pounds.

This is about 100 percent because exercising everyday made me more mindful of what I was eating.

I started a new note keeping system and set up a writing accountability tool that I love.

I can’t believe that I’ve never heard of a Commonplace Book before. This feels like a pivotal moment. Before and after my Commonplace Book.

I wrote an ebook about this thing.

It’s the reward for patrons at the $3 level and above on the Ninja Writer Patreon account. It goes into much greater detail about each aspect of the WRITER framework and there are a couple of printables, too.

You can get it here. The past $3 awards were The Writing Planner, The Plotting Workshop eBook, and an eBook called 31 Days of Ninja Writing. You’ll get all of those, too.

Here’s a sneak peak at the printables:

If you enjoyed this post, you can:

>>Sign up for the Ninja Writers Newsletter here. (I’m on a mission!)
>>Or come hang out with the Ninjas on Facebook.
>>There are some pretty kickass rewards on our Patreon page.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: The Name on the Sign

the-name-on-the-sign

I don’t think we’ve ever done a writing prompt that dealt with a minor character.

Minor is, of course, a relative term. There are characters in literature who aren’t the protagonist or the antagonist who absolutely make the story. Here are some classics:

  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Professor Dumbledore
  • The Mad Hatter
  • Tinkerbell
  • Mr. Tumnus

So, last night I was driving my daughter to soccer practice and I passed a sign that I see practically everyday, but never really notice. There’s an apartment (or maybe condo?) complex with a small golf course attached to it. The Trent Jones golf course.

For the first time I wondered . . . who is Trent Jones?

Here’s your challenge today. Think of a street or building or . . . golf course in your town that’s named after someone you don’t know. Then write about who that person is. Try to make them someone who might have a place in your current work-in-progress, even if you never put them in your story.

My Turn

In my story, Wonder Roo, the two main characters (Gideon and Roona) rush to a local Old Folks Home to try to retrieve a blueberry pie that Roona’s mother made while she was very sad. Roona believes that her mother bakes her emotions into her cakes and pies. When they arrive at the Old Folks Home, everyone is crying. They’re too late

#

Trent Jones is eighty-six years old. He used to be so strong. An athlete. He was a champion golfer once. The city even named a municipal golf course after him. But, he’s more frail than he used to be, since his heart attack on his eightieth birthday.

He had to move to a nursing home. It was the lowest point of his life. He’d been married for fifty-three years. He didn’t want to leave his home or his wife or his life. And then Sarah came with him. Like it wasn’t even a question. She put their house up for sale and they moved into assisted living.

He thought she probably wouldn’t have to live in the nursing home long. He went to bed every night sure that he wouldn’t wake up again. But he did. And he got better. Stronger, although he never got back to where he had been.

And then one morning, six years later, it was Sarah who didn’t wake up. His Sarah was gone.

Your Turn

Pick a person a street or building or whatever in your town is named after and write about them. But them into your story somehow, then come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

***

Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 100 Day MFA.

 

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Monthly Planner for Writing Accountability: An Annual FRED

In case you’re new here: FRED is the Folder for Reaching the End of your Draft. It’s an analog tool Ninjas use to keep track of their daily writing. It’s been downloaded thousands of times and is the best accountability tool I’ve ever used.

So, when I found this notebook and realized that it was essentially not only a full year FRED, but could also hold the story notes for a novel, I bought it. And it’s awesome!

The notebook is the Erin Condren Monthly Planner. It’s a lined notebook with a monthly calendar in the front.

I made you this quick video showing you how I have my annual FRED set up.

Erin Condren’s stuff is mostly VERY girlie. I picked a cover that was as gender neutral as possible, because there are Ninja Writers who maybe don’t want flowers or sparkles on their FRED. I picked the customizable quote cover.

The notebook is available here.

When you get to the site, first sign up to get your $10 discount.

Then click “Planners & Books” and then “Monthly Planners.”

From now until March 31, you can get the notebook for half off!

Here are some pictures:

Very writerly cover!

img_0707

Monthly calendar. To use it like a FRED, just give yourself a sticker everyday that you meet your writing goal. These boxes are big enough to make note of things like goals and deadlines if you want to.

img_0709

The rest of the planner is just a lined notebook. I have the first few pages set up as a log, which is the second part of the FRED. There’s one page per month. Every day I can just write the date and what work I did that day. It helps me to feel professional. It’s visual proof of how hard I’m working, which frankly, sometimes I really need.

img_0710

And then the rest of the lined pages, I’m really excited about. It’s just the right size to use to plan a novel using The Plotting Workshop. The story I’m writing right now, I already plotted in another notebook, but in a month or two I’ll be ready to start working on the next story and I’m going to just plan it right in here.

The paper is high quality and nice to write on, by the way.

img_0711

Okay, also, I made this little printable PDF thing for you. You can print it, use double-sided tape to stick the two sides together, then laminate it. I tell my printer to print it in A5 size. The lamination makes it so that you can use a dry erase marker (or wet erase, so it won’t smear. That’s what I do.) to keep track of your writing progress.

I use mine as a bookmark.

One side has a sort of bar chart thing you can fill in for a week. (Make sure the plastic is totally dry after you clean it before you write on it, or you get wonky letters!)

img_0713

And the other side has a chart where you can write down your word count everyday for a month. And a space for notes.

img_0714

If you’d like the PDF, just click here and leave me your email address. I’ll get it right to you.

 

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Visual Inspiration

hump-day-writing-promptToday’s Hump Day Writing Prompt has two parts.

Go online and do an image search for a picture that speaks to you about your story. It doesn’t have to be a perfect fit. Just look around until something grabs you.

Then write the story behind the picture. Think about what’s outside the frame.

My Turn

I came across this picture in a post on Daily Mail about a photographer who documented a Florida roller rink in the 1970s. It made me think about my main character’s parents. Roona is very attached to her roller skates, throughout my story. What if the reason why is that the only picture she has of her father is this one, where he’s at a rink with her mother and they’re young and happy and obviously in love?

Moment in time: Photographer Bill Yates spent from the autumn of 1972 to the summer of 1973 taking snaps inside the Sweetheart Rink

(Like I said, the picture doesn’t have to be perfect. My story happens in Nevada, not Florida. And the people that this picture made me think about weren’t born until the 1980s.)

Roona sat on her bed, wedged in the corner with her knees pulled up to her chin. She opened her copy of The Hobbit, the one with her mother’s name written in pencil on the first page, and took out the picture. She’d had it for almost a year and so far she’d been able to keep it secret. She ran her finger over her father’s face. She knew it was her dad because her mom had written “Curtis and Miranda, 1999” on the back with a marker. She’d never seen her mom look as happy as she was in the picture. If she’d baked cookies that day, good luck and laughter would have bubbled up in anyone who ate one, like ginger ale bubbles.

Your Turn

Find a picture and write about it, then come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 100 Day MFA.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Make a List

hump-day-writing-prompt-make-a-list

Yesterday I came across this idea online that if you make a list of 10 ideas a day, you’ll turn yourself into an idea machine. (Look out for Sunday’s newsletter. I’ll share that link. If it’s past Sunday, check out the archives for The NW #12.)

That got me thinking. Wouldn’t thinking about our characters’ ideas be a great exercise?

So today’s prompt is to make a list of 10 ideas. They can be anything. Except a to-do list. A to-do list doesn’t count.

Here are 10 ideas for your 10 list:

  1. 10 favorite books.
  2. 10 ways to solve a problem.
  3. 10 favorite cartoon characters.
  4. 10 people they’ve hurt, and how to make amends.
  5. 10 people they’d kiss.
  6. 10 things they could do to fall asleep at night.
  7. 10 crazy inventions.
  8. 10 jobs they wish they had.
  9. 10 dogs they’ve known.
  10. 10 bad habits they want to break.

Really, it can be anything. This should be fun! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

My Turn:

I’m working on a middle grade book called Wonder Roo. The story is told by Gideon, but it’s really about his next door neighbor, Roona. Roona is a 12-year-old girl who may or may not be magic. She believes that her old baby blanket makes her Wonder Roo and that her mother bakes her emotions into the goodies she sells–and passes them on to the people to eat them. It’s hard for Gideon to argue with what he sees.

Here’s Roona’s list of 10 ways to survive middle school.

  1. Keep my blanket in my backpack.
  2. Save some good-mood cookies in the freezer, for emergencies.
  3. Make sure Mom doesn’t bring cupcakes for my birthday. (Especially if the frosting is blue.)
  4. Find the library. Pronto.
  5. Wear striped socks.
  6. Use Wonder Roo in emergencies.
  7. Make friends.
  8. Pay attention.
  9. Join the soccer team.
  10. Be brave.

Your Turn:

Write your character’s 10 list and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Character Fidgets

hump-day-writing-prompt-character-fidgets

Last week my husband bought something called a fidget cube. It’s basically just a cube with different fidgety things on each of the six sides. I feel like this is a particularly apt quirk for Kevin, because he’s a craps dealer. He spends a lot of time with dice in his hand.

Image result for fidget cube

So, the fidget cube made me start thinking about character fidgets.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself having EVERY character do a lot of shifting weight from foot to foot or nodding or pacing or smiling. My characters smile a lot. When they’re happy, when they’re sad, when they’re nervous. They’re smiley people.

So smiley that I have to search for smiles in my finished manuscripts and tone them down.

Everyone has a fidget. Something they do when they have to do something. I spin a pin between my fingers. I know a girl with the (terrible) habit of chewing on the ends of her hair. My husband, when he isn’t fidgeting with his new cube, rubs the bridge of his nose, even though he hasn’t worn glasses in fifteen years.

Fidgets do a couple of important things in fiction.

They’re beats.

While you want to be careful about having your protagonist bite their thumbnail on every page of your book, a fidget can be a good way to pace your dialogue. It forces the reader to stop for a second, the way your character might.

They provide character insight.

Why does your protagonist rub at their lower back or whistle under their breath? Is it a tell? Maybe they only do it when they’re lying or feeling guilty or hiding a juicy secret.

This week’s prompt:

Write a scene that includes a character’s fidget. It can be your protagonist, but I think that even minor characters can be deepened by having some sort of tell (if it moves the story forward.)

My Example:

(The fidget is highlighted.)

Mom wouldn’t let me leave the house without eating breakfast and she wouldn’t let me go to anyone’s house, not even our next door neighbor’s, before nine a.m. After I got dressed and ate some banana bread, I sat at the kitchen table fully dressed, with my shoes on, drumming at the table with my fingers, watching the clock tick slowly, slowly from 8:34 to 9:00.

The instant it did, I went into my parents’ bedroom. “Can I go to Roona’s?”

“Your room,” Mom said.

“I promise to finish it after lunch.” I looked at Dad. “Please?”

It was his first day at his new job. He was going to work in marketing at a big casino on the outskirts of the most outskirt town in the world. He adjusted his tie and said, “Your whole room unpacked by the time I get home from work sounds great to me.”

“I don’t know about my whole room,” I said.

He held out his hands, like it wasn’t up to him, then pointed his forefingers at me. “It was your plan, Boss. Have fun with Roona this morning, then get to work.”

Mom lifted her eyebrows and I said, “Okay, fine.”

“Can I go?” Harper asked from the bedroom door. “I want to go.”

“No way.”

“Mooom! I want to go with Gideon.”

“I need your help here, Harper.”

Harper pouted and I left while I had the chance.

***

Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

***

Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

 

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