Writing Wednesday: IWSG Feb 2020

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Every month I think this is the month I’ll come up with my own topic for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. And then I look at the optional question, and I really want to answer it! This is the case again this month. So, here’s the posed question:
Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

flowers prompt

My high school creative writing class has stuck with me for fifteen years. We went through a process of coming up with multiple story seeds, before then choosing the one we wanted to develop into a story. For example, we were instructed to come up with a setting and character that didn’t really go together. I chose a British soldier at a Minnesota lake.

We also each got a random pictures or post card that the teacher had brought in. The picture above is what I ended up with, and from it came the seed that I used to write the short story that I turned in for a grade. It opened with a husband & wife searching through a field of wild flowers for a briefcase as part of a ransom demand. I really enjoyed writing it, and it reminded me of how much I had loved writing fiction when I was younger (by high school, I’d temporarily abandoned fiction to write poetry).

What I find really funny is that in my end-of-class reflection paper, I apparently wrote that I didn’t think I’d have much reason to write fiction again in the future. Fortunately, that wasn’t true, and within 4-5 years, I was writing fanfiction, the gateway to my current writing.

Nowadays, I enjoy and really recommend using pictures as writing prompts for writing practice, and I know it all goes back to that creative writing class.

For my fellow writers, has an image ever inspired you to write?

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Writing Wednesday: IWSG Jan 2020

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I’ll be honest–I love talking about my writing history. So today’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group question just begs to be answered. Here is the question posed for today’s IWSG post:
What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just “know” suddenly you wanted to write?

The journey I took to get to this point amuses me greatly when I look back at it. The furthest back I can remember (on this topic) is when I was about 10 years old. I wrote a story about a couple that adopted two girls. When I think back to this story, I remember it as much longer and grander than what it actually was. I typed the story on my parents’ Tandy 1000, and even wrote a sequel. A few years ago, we fired up that old computer and I happened to find the story:

The Nickersons

Apparently I didn’t like the space bar…

I actually remember how that story was supposed to end, but there wasn’t going to be much more to it.

I also remember being sent to an enrichment class in school, though I don’t remember how old I was at this point (late elementary school, I think), due to my penchant for making up stories. They wanted to encourage my creativity, and I was taken out of normal class time for it. There were two other kids in the class–one was was an amazing artist, and I don’t recall the other one’s talent.

Around the age of 14, I got even more ambitious and started to write a story that I anticipated being a full-length novel (full-length for middle grade fiction, at least), and the beginning of a series. The main characters were a set of twins (girl & boy), and I based a lot of the other characters on a lot of people I knew at that time. I never finished the first story, but I still have what I did write, in the below notebooks.

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Overall, I think both of these dreams were inspired by series like The Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, Addie McCormick, and Mandie books, as well as many other series and stand-alones I read back then.

Fast forward to high school, and my fiction writing dropped away. I wrote some poetry in high school, a few notable pieces, but nothing spectacular. I took a creative writing class in my junior year, I think it was. A few years ago, I dug up a reflection paper that I wrote at the end of that class where I stated that though I’d enjoyed writing the short story required for the class, I didn’t think I’d have a reason to write fiction again in the future. And I didn’t until I was inspired by a computer game.

Pithea cover, KindleMy first full-length novel, Pithea (which releases this Friday!!!), had its foundation as fanfiction for the game Ragnaok Online. This started about 15 years ago, and about 7 years ago I began the journey to use the characters and some of the basic plot lines and create my own world. Now, with book #1 about to come out and at least 7 more planned, I really can’t imagine not being a writer.

Wherever this book and series takes me, however big or small they turn out to be, I know I will always be a writer at heart, and really, I always have been.

For my fellow writers, what does your writing history look like?

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Plan Every Day: Our Frenemy, the Outline

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Something else I learned in my high school creative writing class is that planning (or pre-writing) can be your friend. Thinking solely about research projects and essays, as much as I disliked doing them, writing an outline first always made the actual writing easier.

Cut to now, when I have no classroom to work in, no teacher to force me to do every tedious step of pre-writing, and no grade for my effort, or lack thereof. And you know what? I still do pre-writing, at least to some degree.

The debate of whether it’s better to be a plotter or a “pantser” rages on out there in cyber space. I’ve seen more than one comment of, “I’m not much of a planner. I write out broad plot points, but I have to give room for my story to go where it wants to go.” I have a response to that, but I’ve already ranted (jump to point 3) a little on that topic.

Planning might just help more than you expect. Don’t ever think that pre-writing locks you into anything. Very rarely do I even outline an entire story. Often, I outline to somewhere in the middle, then start writing. Sometimes when I get to the end of the outline, I’m on track. But more often than not, I derail before that point. Then I either just keep going or stop, regroup, and outline from there. Various sites call that a downside to being a planner, but is it really that big of a deal? Most likely, if your story has gone off-track from your plans for it, then there’s a reason, and you’ll likely be happier following the new path. Yes, you might have to write a new outline, or you might just pants the rest of the story (it’s okay to be a hybrid planner/pantser).

Have you ever had a story or scene rolling around in your head, maybe even playing itself out? There have been times that I feel like I’ve written half of the story before I ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But when I do sit down to write it out, one of the following things happens: I’ve forgotten many of the important parts; what was playing through quickly in my mind takes a lot longer to write out and I can’t get it all done in one, two, or even several sessions, leaving me again in danger of forgetting what I don’t get to for a while; or I simply can’t figure out how to start.

So instead of going directly to writing, I make an outline. Then I can get a lot of story out before I forget it. Even aside from potential forgetfulness, outlining a lot of the story at once can let you see how it will go from a distance, which sometimes lets you catch mistakes or fill in plot holes before they happen.

One last note I want to be clear about–don’t think that in order to make an outline, you have to use the formal format.

outline

You know the kind, with the Roman numerals and all the indentation.

That’s great if it works for you. I tried it once, but I didn’t care for it. Normally I just write broad plot points one line after another, sticking in details when I think of them and want to remember. Here is an example:

outline

Plan for yourself: It’s not easy to practice or try out planning or writing outlines, but I do have a few ideas. And keep in mind, I’m not trying to convince you that planning is better than pantsing. If you already know you work better without an outline or much forethought, then you should feel free to skip this whole thing. However, if you’ve never really given it a try, now’s your chance. If you’re like me, you have at least one story idea rattling around in your brain, waiting to be given form. Take some time now, even if you weren’t planning to write that story now or even soon, to start planning that story. Write out the key plot points, make a sketchy outline, and get it out on paper before it disappears into the void.

Another option, if you’ve written a story (or part of one), have characters you’ve created, and don’t have other ideas just now, is to take those characters and the world they live in and just think up a new situation for them. Something unrelated to the story they’re already in (or it can be related too), even something crazy that you know wouldn’t happen. Outline a scenario, long or short, and see how it feels. The idea is just to see how outlining can feel, with just a random scenario that doesn’t have to have any further purpose. Though who knows, maybe this will spark a more solid idea simply because you’re pushing yourself for a new idea. But even if not, get a feel for the outlining and see what you think. You may like it, you may not.

Of course, if you do write an outline for a story that interests you, the next step would be writing from that outline. You can’t fully evaluate whether you’re a planner, pantser, or hybrid, without going past the outline. But the actual writing is a subject for another post.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the great debate, or anything you produce from the above ideas that you’d like to share.

Dream Every Day: Revisiting High School

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When I was in high school, I took a creative writing class. It’s the only one I’ve ever taken, and I couldn’t tell you how alike or different it was from other such classes. There was a process we went through before we ever started writing for the short story part of class that has stuck with me for fifteen years. It was a process of coming up with multiple story seeds, before then choosing the one we wanted to develop into a story. One day we were instructed to come up with a setting and character that didn’t really go together. For example, I chose a British soldier at a Minnesota lake. Under that, it says:
“Why–the queen of England decided she wanted a vacation in a secluded spot and he was assigned to guard the family.
Conflict–the people who live around there are secretive, don’t know why he’s there, and don’t want him there.”

The scenario sounds ridiculous to me now, and I never wrote any further with that idea. However, for some reason, this exercise has stuck with me for a long time.

On the other hand, what is just an innocuous picture–a field of wildflowers–became the short story I turned in for that class. A short story the teacher loved and helped me to remember that I enjoy writing (I had written a lot in elementary school, then abandoned it for poetry). In an essay in that class, though, I apparently wrote that I didn’t think I’d have much reason to write fiction again in the future. That was fun to dig up from my past.

flowers prompt

This colorful, foggy field became the setting of a frenzied, fear-filled search for a briefcase and a race against time for the protagonist in the story I wrote from it.

At the same time I was taking this creative writing class, I had the same teacher for English class. In English, we would get vocabulary lists, and for every list, one assignment was always to write some sort of paragraph or short story that incorporated at least 5 of the vocab words. A few of those ended up being great sources of creativity for me. One, a one-page short story, my teacher said was written well enough and had good enough character development that I could have turned it in for my short story in creative writing.

The point of all of this is to say that, while inspiration can certainly come from anywhere and sometimes nowhere, it is possible to create ideas using various methods and stimuli. Images, sounds, prompts, word lists, outlandish character/setting combos, even story scenarios provided by someone else, can produce seeds that may or may not be worth developing. The key is to keep all of the potential seeds somewhere that can be referenced later. One important rule of writing–never throw anything out. You never know if you’ll want to be able to look back at it 15 years later and write a blog post about it.

Dream for yourself: If anyone reading this wants to try their hand at some of these story seed starters, I encourage you to look at the image above, describe it in vivid detail, and use it as a setting for a scene. Then see where that takes you. Or, use the following list of words to create a paragraph or two–it can be a setting, a short story, or even a scene from something larger. (Remember, it’s from a school vocab list. If you don’t know the words, look them up! Expanding your vocabulary can always help with writing too.) It doesn’t have to produce a full story–just spark an idea. If anyone does write anything from my suggestions, feel free to share with me! I’d love to see what others come up with.

noxious
sub rosa
tete-a-tete
parvenu
a capella
postprandial
minatory
venal
quid pro quo

Continue reading below to read the short story I created with the words above (if you’re considering writing from the list yourself, don’t read mine yet; it’ll skew your ideas).

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