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Showing posts from May, 2017

Generating Ideas for Writing - Stealing Ideas

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It seems that many writers are worried about someone stealing their ideas; obviously, I am almost the opposite. Even innovative ideas are very similar to past ideas. Today I am going to find a good idea to steal, and maybe innovate.


This is Jim Butcher, I am going to steal an idea from him. Why?
I was watching a video of Brandon Sanderson teaching writing. He mentioned that Jim Butcher was in an argument in a forum about whether ideas or writing skills are more important. Jim told his rival to give him the worst idea he had, and he would write a novel on it. The guy gave him the idea of combining the lost 13th Legion of Rome and Pokemon. Jim did it, he wrote a novel, and it sold well. So well that it became a very successful six book series. Ideas matter, writing skill matters much more; that is the lesson I took from the story.
I haven't read a book by Butcher, or from Sanderson for that matter, but looking at The Dresden Files it seems like Butcher uses an interesting device. He…

Generating Ideas for Writing - Movies

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Movies are different than television shows in that they should be complete, whereas a television show has the next episode. There are a lot of caveats to this because a lot of movies are parts of series and a lot of television shows are an hour long, but there is still some truth to it. I think that focusing on plot may be the best place to start when coming up with a movie idea. Let's see how it goes.

I have an idea inspired by history that I think is pretty solid.
The Vice President of a large space confederacy kills a political rival in an illegal duel. His political ambitions wrecked, he colludes with a general (who is also a spy for a rival nation) to form a private army and conquer the confederacy. In his attempt he is abandoned by the general and captured. Because the government doesn't want some of the troubles that may come with killing a former Vice President for treason, the high court lets him go and he moves to a far planet.
That seems like a solid idea for a movi…

Generating Ideas for Writing - Television Series

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I am thinking about entering a contest, two contests actually, one about coming up with an idea for a television show and one about coming up with an idea for a movie. So . . . I have to come up with an idea.

A television show is not plotted out for the entire series before it begins, usually it is not plotted out past the first season, often it is not plotted out past the pilot episode. There needs to be a good plot, and a pattern can develop for the episodes, and it is nice if the whole series develops some sort of plot, but the consistent thing is the character or characters, and many times the setting. That is where I will begin.
Let me rethink that, I have generated a lot of different ideas for stories in my blog just in the last couple of weeks. So, maybe, it would make sense to look at some of those and see if there is one I really like. For science fiction, alternate history, and fantasy a few of the different ideas were: what if JFK wasn't assassinated but that ended up …

Generating Ideas for Writing - Stage Plays

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I have seen a number of good plays, but there have been two that were really impactful. Both of them were very personal stories written by the performer, and only had the one actor. Would it be possible for me to do something as impactful?

A couple of years ago a woman in my Toastmasters group did a speech where she was talking to her deceased mother in a dramatized fashion. It was amazing. The whole thing was in a single setting, with a single person, and probably less than 10 minutes, but I would have paid money to see that play.
About a year before that I flew from Michigan to Malibu, California to see "Runt of the Litter" by Bo Eason. It is a dramatized version of parts of his life, and very powerful. I had quite the adventure and learned a lot on that trip.
I have talked about some of my ideas for Memoirs before, and I think that a few of those stories could be really powerful. The key is to add in the movement to aid the monologue. I think that if it is a powerful enou…

Generating Ideas for Writing - What You Thought You Knew

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Alternative history is always an interesting thought experiment. What if the US lost WW2? You get The Man in the High Castle. What if the US lost the revolutionary war? What if the South won the Civil War? There is another interesting thing to explore that runs along a similar vein. You thought you knew that aliens don't exist, but then there was Men In Black.


What if what you thought you knew about the shutdown of Alcatraz was wrong? Most people know that Alcatraz was shut down because the government wanted to save money. That seems like kind of an obvious lie. Everyone else knows that Alcatraz was shut down because two guys escaped. The real answer is that Alcatraz was shut down after all of the guards and prisoners mysteriously vanished without a trace. Then decades later they start reappearing and killing people. A secret government agency was set up to track them down and put them in a new black prison. That is the storyline for the show Alcatraz. It only ran for one season, …

Generating Ideas for Writing - Starting with Setting

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You can get an idea for writing from anywhere. You can base a fictional story on a real story you heard, a myth or legend, an incident in history, those ideas that just pop into your head, or anywhere else that you happen to encounter one. Building a story from scratch can seem a little more daunting, but the ideas are fairly easy to come up with once you start.


I like starting with either character or plot, but today I am trying setting. I can think of two basic ways to do this; 1) realistic 2) not realistic. That is actually a false dichotomy, real and not real would occur across a spectrum. Boolean logic is nice because it is simple, and it works well with electrical circuits, and therefore computers, but it seems that writing works more with spectrums of options.
A lot of thrillers, mysteries, crime, and romance novels keep things completely realistic (mostly). Science fiction is many times just ahead of our current technology in some way, so it is an attempt to predict the future…

Playing with Writing - Voice, Tense, and Point of View

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The voice, tense, and point of view that you use in your writing has a huge impact on the experience of the reader. Even with the same plot, setting, and characters it can seem to be a different story. I am going to play with these in one small scene.


First, we have to come up with a scene. Just an intention and an obstacle should work.
A man is trying to catch a trolley, but it starts moving away from him.
Now we have to write this for the first time in some tense, voice and point of view. In English there are 16 tenses, around 6 different points of view, and at least half a dozen different types of voices you can use.
I am not going to worry about whether this is simple, continuous, perfect, or perfect continuous tense for now, and I am going to ignore the future-in-the-past tense. This leaves us with the past, present, and future distinctions.
Voice and point of view are highly intertwined. This can be true with tense as well, but a little less so. You can use a characters voice, st…

Writing Contests - A Note on the Ground

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MasterClass has a contest going for their Zine, based on James Patterson's class. I have decided to enter. There are basically two requirements; 1) it has to be between 500 and 2000 words. 2) it has to be based on "a note on the ground."


In writing you can begin basically wherever you want. You can have a plan or you can not have a plan. I prefer to have somewhat of a plan. Should I start with character, setting, or plot? I think any of them can work well. As a default I would consider plot the most important, followed by character and then setting. I want this to end happy, so I will begin happy, then it will get not happy, and finally it will end happy. A classic double reversal. Maybe something like this.
A man writes a note and is happy, then he goes to deliver the note and is unhappy, then (for some reason) he is happy again.
That sounds like a decent framework for a beginning. There are a few different directions I could go with that. Let's see how some of them …

Generating Ideas for Writing - Pulling from History

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Sometimes, many times, life is stranger than fiction. In a story things have to make sense. They have to go together and there have to be reasons for things. In life, that is not always the case. When looking for inspiration it can be useful to look at what real people have really done.


Some of my favorite characters from history are Benjamin Franklin, Casanova, Alcibiades, and Theodore Roosevelt. Stories can and will be told about their lives 'till the end of time (human existence). The interesting characters in history make such a large list that you cannot possibly read all of their stories, but you can take from the ones that you do know.
It is famously known that George R. R. Martin based the idea of A Song of Ice and Fire on the War of the Roses. I watched a lecture recently where Brandon Sanderson used the example of Hannibal crossing the alps with elephants. Change the context and you can keep coming up with great stories. A general crosses the alps with elephants. A gener…

Generating Ideas for Writing - Starting with Character

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Hero, anti-hero, villain, superhero, good guy, bad guy, femme fatale, evil genius, mad scientist, reluctant hero, etc. etc. There are a lot of boxes that we have to put people in, and that's because we find people interesting and important.

There are many ways to generate ideas for stories. Recently I have been starting with very basic plots and then building them up, adding what I need. One of the things that I need to add are characters. You can also do this in exactly the opposite way. You can start with a character and give them a plot. Today I want to explore coming up with interesting and intriguing characters. Where when you hear a very simple description you say, "Tell me more."
A lot of people seem to like to start by deciding a character's gender and age. I don't want to do that, because those aren't very intriguing to me, they can be added in later. So . . . what do we do instead? I am going to start by looking at their role in the world.
I think …

Experiments in Writing - Changing the Viewpoint and Tense of "Replay"

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Deciding the viewpoint that you are presenting and the tense that you are presenting it in is a big decision. To a large extent I don't really think about it, I just go with whatever feels right, but that is probably not the best way to do it. Today I am going to play with changing the viewpoint and tense of the beginning of Replay by Ken Grimwood. Let's see how it goes.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.
The first line is just amazing, I love it. It is in third person past tense. I am not even sure I can write in third person omniscient, so third person is third person limited for me. I haven't read Dune, but I know a lot of people like it and that it is in third person omniscient. Maybe I will experiment with it at some point. Let's see what happens here though.
First Person Past I was on the phone with my wife when I died.
That is a very interesting perspective, I like it.
Second Person Past You were on the phone with your wife when you died.

How to Read for Writing - The Prologue of "The Revenant"

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Why do we read? Usually I read because I want to know something, and sometimes I read because I want to be entertained. More recently, however, I read because I want to see how it was written, and it is a different experience.

Many writers espouse slightly different philosophies on reading. Stephen King says that you should probably be reading about as many hours a day as you are writing. Brandon Sanderson says that your first read is for plot, and your second read is for character. These are all just personal methods and suggestions, things that work for individuals. But, I have noticed my own reading changing. I want to see what works and what doesn't and why. Ayn Rand in her book The Art of Fiction presents a very simple format for this. First ask, "Do I like this?" Then ask "Why?" I may expand on this somewhat and ask, "How could it be better?"

Today I am working with the prologue of The Revenant. I have watched the movie and I really like it, bu…

Writing a Short Story - A Single Reversal and a Tragic Ending

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Things are goin' good, till they end bad. That seems to be the essence of a lot of Greek tragedies, but the focus and time is spent on the bad part rather than the good. Let's make a little one of our own. 

I think it can be hard to start a story out in a "good" place, where everyone is happy and everything is going well. The story really starts when that is not the case. But, the task I have set necessitates that we start in a good place. So . . . how do we do that?
As long as our style is good our readers will give us a little time. This fluctuates a lot, some people will read half of a bad book, some people will stop half-way through the first paragraph if they don't like it. My tolerance keeps decreasing as I get older. At one point I would read entire books that I didn't really like, but now I only check from one to four paragraphs. If those aren't good, I move on. So I want to get my story started pretty fast, else I wouldn't read it myself.
In…