How Ideas Die on the Tongue

Just a short post today, but one with a very important message!

As writers we spend a lot of time thinking. Thinking about characters. Thinking about setting. Thinking about plot. But a lot of this early thinking will usually be focused on ideas. We think of something interesting and then we go about our daily lives, still thinking about and expanding on this initial idea.

Then, it will usually go one of three ways:

  1. The idea turns out to be a dead end. We abandon it and move on to the next interesting idea.
  2. The idea turns out to be really good. We incorporate it into our project or create a whole new project around this idea. It becomes something exciting. Exciting enough to write about.
  3. We think the idea is so great, so utterly ingenious, that we have to share it with someone. Against our better judgement, we corner a loved one or a friend and we flood their ears with our primordial, unspoken idea.

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Imagination and What To Do When It Runs Away

Dragon

I thought I would write about imagination today. It’s not a subject I’ve touched on before, but it is a crucial part of writing. The reason I chose to blog about this today is because I was sent a link to an eBook (link at the end of the post) called Everflame, which I thought was exceptionally imaginative.

Now, sometimes I feel as if my own writing loses its sense of imagination as I progress with it. I have all these fantastic ideas in the planning stage of my story, but they get lost along the way and I end up with something far more grounded and ‘human’ that I’d planned. Usually, this really annoys me. I do want strange fantasy creatures and stunning magical battles, but some part of me says: ‘No, we’re sticking to humans, gritty realism and a realistic plot.’

The only trouble with this, however, is that if I’m not careful, I end up writing something that’s not really fantasy, but modern-day people with weird names, wearing weird clothes and living in a carbon copy of Earth. As a fantasy writer and reader, it’s not fun writing this sort of story. I soon get tired with the banality of it all and long for at least some element of fantasy to rear its head. That’s when things start to fall apart. That’s when I stick in a dragon. You know the trouble with doing this? It scuttles any sense of plot that you had and it causes the story to plunge to the murky depths of your mind, never to return.

With my current project, however, I’m pleased to say I’ve made a change. I started out with the plot and the setting. Then I began to incorporate some original, not over-the-top, fantasy species (not races – Africans and Europeans are races, elves and dwarves are not… well, they could be, if you explain it as an evolutionary change). Next, I make sure that these species truly fit into the world. If not, they’re gone. What I mean by this is having dragons in your world but no history to make them believable or a suitable environment to sustain them. Only once all the above was done, did I start to write. Now, I have an interesting, truly fantasy world with a halfway decent plot to match.

Next time your imagination ‘runs away’ (i.e. abandons you mid-story), stop and take a look at your project as a whole. Figure out what’s missing and try to weave it into the world so it doesn’t feel out of place. Don’t stick in a dragon for the sake of it and certainly don’t try to make your story something that it’s not.

Until next time, adieu.

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Writing the Dream: 9th February 2012

It’s that time again.

Currently, I am part of the Spring WIPers thread on the SFF World forums. This thread involves deciding on a target amount of words to write for the Feb/March period and then plotting your progress on a graph. My target is a huge 25,000 words. I arrived at this number by seeing that I could write 500 words each evening after work (sometimes more) and I multiplied this by the number of days left over the 2 months. I’m currently sitting at roughly 5500 words, which is quite something considering that for the past few years, I have flitted between projects madly, unable to get past the first chapter of anything I tried writing. I think the main problem was that I couldn’t get a decent story into my head. Not an idea, a story. I touched on this a few posts back (linked below) but it’s a good thing to understand.

These are examples of my previous ideas:

  • I know what would be really cool! Medieval-style fantasy superheros!
  • Hmm… what if I wrote about a vigilante crime fighting fantasy assassin with a stick like Gambit?
  • Yes, that’s it! James Bond crossed with Sherlock Holmes. No, that wouldn’t work, he’s got no weaknesses. I know, the guy has depression but is still amazing and brilliant in every way.

Now, this is an example of one of my previous stories:

  • There’s this kingdom that gets attacked by a dragon that is sent by an evil lich. There’s also a race of elf-eagle hybrids that work for the lich and they are breeding an army in the abandoned lands of the elves. A hero has to rally the forces of good and reawaken the elven homeland’s defences to defeat the eagle-men. First in a trilogy. (This was the first thing I ever tried to write. I reached 60,000 words.)

See the difference? I won’t bore you with more, especially since I had to re-write this after the window crashed on me!

Tune in again tomorrow for something different 🙂

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Inspiration and Ideas

Right, I promised you a meaty post on becoming inspired to write and coming up with ideas for a story, so here it is.

Now, as there are no right and wrong ways to approach this, I’ll share some of the techniques that work well for me.

Becoming Inspired

Becoming inspired is not as easy as you might first think. Here is the official definition of the word:

  1. an inspiring or animating action or influence: I cannot write poetry without inspiration.
  2. something inspired, as an idea.
  3. a result of inspired activity.
  4. a thing or person that inspires.

Inspiration can come in the form of a person, an object, another piece of writing or an event. I often find that I become inspired by reading: either other fantasy/non-fantasy novels, news articles, history writing and anything else I can lay my hands on. I’m not a huge fan of poetry, but I enjoy it in small doses.

Another major inspiration for me is visiting museums, castles or anywhere with some history to it. I love learning about history and I find it inspiring everything that I write in some way. I’m sure authors like George R.R. Martin have delved into the political intrigues of the

Roman Empire at some point and researched the Renaissance-era House of Borgia (hence a prominent quote on the back of his first book). The point is, if you can’t think of something suitably thrilling or devious for your own story, borrow from history a little.

A third inspiration of mine comes from movies and TV (usually well-written drama). When I write, I find myself thinking about my story like a movie. Over the years, I’ve had to adjust this way of thinking to allow for more in-depth plots and twists (or the book would barely be a novella) but I find it works well for me. The ultimate goal for your writing is not just to put a picture in the reader’s head, but to immerse them completely in the world that you’ve created. I’ve experienced this rarely, but most recently with Joe Abercrombie’s writing. It really is a huge accomplishment when an author can

Ideas
Image via Google Images

make you forget where you are and make you actually able to see their fictional world and characters with your own eyes. This is a really hard experience to describe and even more impossible to advise how to write, but it’s something I one day aspire to being able to do.

Generating Ideas

The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard with regards to ideas is this:

Don’t jump too fast at your “what ifs.”
 
They are like items on a menu… the picture is appealing, and you know it’ll taste good.  But will it nourish?  Will it fill you, does it check something off your bucket list, will it give you focus and joy and challenge?
 
Is the idea worth a year of your life?

Source: Storyfix.com
Asking ‘What If?’ is a good way to think up new ideas for a story, that’s true. However, you can almost guarantee that it won’t generate an idea that you can base a novel on. Here are a few examples:

  • What if… humans had never discovered electricity?
  • What if… there was life on the Moon?
  • What if… we lived on Mars and not Earth?

These ideas are all well and fine, but you need to be asking further questions like:

If electricity didn’t exist, who would discover alternatives? Was there conflict or tension that arose from this? Would the Middle East be viewed as a threat if nuclear power didn’t exist?

Skeleton Story Idea
Image via Google Images

After you’ve asked these questions and got an idea that you think is so amazing that you couldn’t possibly ignore it, you need to start weaving a story into it. Think of it like the human body. First you have a skeleton – this is your awesome idea. Then, you have organs, fat and muscle that get slotted into place within and around this framework – this is your story, the real meat on the bones. There are steps after this, of course, but we’re only concerned with the story for now.

If the Lord of the Rings had just been about Sauron waging war against Gondor and there was no One Ring and no hobbits, where would we be? What if Spider-man was a crime fighter but there were no super villains to defeat? How about if you studied to become a doctor but then suddenly nobody ever got ill again? This is what happens if there’s no story to let the reader explore this fantastic idea that you’ve dreamed up. You can’t drive a car without tyres, so don’t write a book without a story.

I think I’ll leave it here for today. Check back tomorrow for something completely different.