Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Photo credit: xololounge from morguefile.com 

Instead of dispensing advice this week, I'm seeking feedback from you, dear readers. This will be short but sweet because I'm heading to the Catskills with the family later this week, in part for my daughter to compete in an Irish Dance Feis. We figured we'd make a mini-getaway out of it.

I've been busily working on a productivity writing resource I hope to wrap up in the coming months. Among other topics covered will be brainstorming techniques. One that I haven't used much myself is listmaking, so I thought I'd ask you to share your experiences.

Answer any or all of these in the comments:

Do you use listmaking as a brainstorming tool when working on a new story? 

At what phase(s) of writing do you make lists? 

What kinds of lists do you make?

All thoughts/feedback helpful! Thanks!
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: xololounge from morguefile.com 

Instead of dispensing advice this week, I'm seeking feedback from you, dear readers. This will be short but sweet because I'm heading to the Catskills with the family later this week, in part for my daughter to compete in an Irish Dance Feis. We figured we'd make a mini-getaway out of it.

I've been busily working on a productivity writing resource I hope to wrap up in the coming months. Among other topics covered will be brainstorming techniques. One that I haven't used much myself is listmaking, so I thought I'd ask you to share your experiences.

Answer any or all of these in the comments:

Do you use listmaking as a brainstorming tool when working on a new story? 

At what phase(s) of writing do you make lists? 

What kinds of lists do you make?

All thoughts/feedback helpful! Thanks!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“Epistle” is a fancy word for letter or correspondence; coming from the Greek, it means “send news.”

Epistle brainstorming is a method in which you write imagined correspondence by a character or even between characters. Since it’s imagined, you can conceive of exchanges happening slowly, as with postal-service mail or rapid-fire, as with texting or instant messaging.

Photo: SRCHEN from morguefile.com
The goal is to get characters speaking in their own voices. It’s a great warm up for dialogue. It can also help you figure out how your protagonist would think through and interpret an event so you can narrate it in your protagonist’s voice.

Epistolary exercises might also help you brainstorm back stories. Sometimes the act of telling a story to someone else can help clarify which details are most important.

You can also use epistolary brainstorming to interact directly with your characters to develop plots that feel organic and emerge from who the characters are. Imagine you, the author, are instant messaging with your character in order to ask deeper questions.


Epistolary exercises

  • Write a letter describing a pivotal experience that changed a character’s life.
  • Write a text exchange between the protagonist and best friend explaining a major plot turn.
  • Write a text exchange in which one character tries to pump information from another.
  • Write a love letter that lists the beloved’s most loved characteristics and describes the time s/he knew that affection and admiration had become something more.
  • Write a text exchange in which one character tries to hide information.
  • Write a letter in which a character summarizes his/her entire childhood.
  • Write a letter in which a character summarizes the events that led him/her to make an important decision or life change.
  • Write a letter in which a character describes his/her family to another character who has never met them.
  • Write a text exchange in which you ask your character his/her reasons for taking a particular action or his/her feelings about events or other characters.
  • Write a text exchange in which you ask the protagonist what s/he thinks should happen in the story—how s/he would prefer to tackle the story problem.
  • Write a text exchange in which you discuss your revision ideas with the protagonist.
How might you use epistles to explore your characters and their opinions, attitudes, beliefs and voices?
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 Laurel Garver
“Epistle” is a fancy word for letter or correspondence; coming from the Greek, it means “send news.”

Epistle brainstorming is a method in which you write imagined correspondence by a character or even between characters. Since it’s imagined, you can conceive of exchanges happening slowly, as with postal-service mail or rapid-fire, as with texting or instant messaging.

Photo: SRCHEN from morguefile.com
The goal is to get characters speaking in their own voices. It’s a great warm up for dialogue. It can also help you figure out how your protagonist would think through and interpret an event so you can narrate it in your protagonist’s voice.

Epistolary exercises might also help you brainstorm back stories. Sometimes the act of telling a story to someone else can help clarify which details are most important.

You can also use epistolary brainstorming to interact directly with your characters to develop plots that feel organic and emerge from who the characters are. Imagine you, the author, are instant messaging with your character in order to ask deeper questions.


Epistolary exercises

  • Write a letter describing a pivotal experience that changed a character’s life.
  • Write a text exchange between the protagonist and best friend explaining a major plot turn.
  • Write a text exchange in which one character tries to pump information from another.
  • Write a love letter that lists the beloved’s most loved characteristics and describes the time s/he knew that affection and admiration had become something more.
  • Write a text exchange in which one character tries to hide information.
  • Write a letter in which a character summarizes his/her entire childhood.
  • Write a letter in which a character summarizes the events that led him/her to make an important decision or life change.
  • Write a letter in which a character describes his/her family to another character who has never met them.
  • Write a text exchange in which you ask your character his/her reasons for taking a particular action or his/her feelings about events or other characters.
  • Write a text exchange in which you ask the protagonist what s/he thinks should happen in the story—how s/he would prefer to tackle the story problem.
  • Write a text exchange in which you discuss your revision ideas with the protagonist.
How might you use epistles to explore your characters and their opinions, attitudes, beliefs and voices?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book and Internet research can provide you will all kinds of wonderful facts and details, as well as stimulate your thinking about possible story events, locations, and people to inhabit your fictional world.

But this sort of research isn’t interactive. It also typically isn’t customized to your specific needs. Thus, you can spend a great deal of time wading through reams of information to get to the facts and details you truly need.

Many times you’ll get the very best information most quickly by speaking with an expert. A ten minute phone conversation might just save you from hours of trawling through page after page of useless information. And more often than not, an actual human being will have insider knowledge that will keep you from making embarrassing mistakes.

For example, a medical book might give you the correct terminology for a hospital procedure, for example, but that term is likely not the one bandied about among the hospital staff. Using the more formal term will make your information seem stilted and naive and could cause readers to lose confidence in your authority over your story world.

Finding experts

You need the right kind of expert who can speak to your story’s particular situation. Your family doctor might know the standard procedure for treating a broken leg, but his knowledge is likely limited to treatment best practices under ideal conditions. You know, in a clean, shiny hospital. But what about injuries in non-ideal conditions, when X-rays and surgery are not readily available? Your family doctor isn’t going to be much help—partly because he will fear opening himself to legal liability by dispensing advice that isn’t clinically defensible. Your better bet would be to find a military field medic, or a mountain climber trained in first aid—someone who has experience with non-ideal conditions.

A golden truth I learned in journalism school is that people love to be considered experts (well, eight out of ten; take into account a certain percentage of natural jerkiness in the general population). Start by approaching people you already know, and be as specific as possible with the kind of information you’re seeking.

Look! A plethora of experts! (Photo DMedina from morguefile.com)
Your friends and family just might surprise you in having a hidden expertise or life experience that would make them excellent resources to provide you authentic details. Staying curious when in social situations can yield amazing opportunities. The cousin seated beside you at your nephew’s wedding reception just might be a law enforcement officer, a Civil War re-enacter, a cancer survivor or oenophile. Even the charming flower girl might help you write a child character by getting you up to speed on youth culture today.

When you meet people, keep your radar attuned to where their interests, experiences, and training intersects with your story world and bravely ask questions. A simple request like “tell me about yourself” can turn a dull party into a research extravaganza.

I once got some amazing research done while at a church luncheon. I was seated by a friend who is a speech-language pathologist, and realized she might know something about speech problems in stroke patients, an element in my story. So I said, “I’m working on a story in which a grandparent has a stroke. What kind of speech problems might he possibly have?” That short chat was more focused and helpful than hours of reading. She knew in practice, not just theory, how patients behave and what the stages of recovery look like. That kind of information is pure gold.

This technique is great for those socially-demanding seasons when you shuttle from wedding to graduation to baby shower. Think about how your story might connect to every person you meet. Tap their knowledge and expertise as a professional, volunteer, hobbyist, or representative of an age group, family role, ethnicity or religion. And if the setting isn’t appropriate or convenient to have a useful chat, arrange for another time to interview them.

Your personal contacts might also lead you to other experts in their extended networks. The idea that every person on earth is “six degrees of separation” from any other person is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. Anyone you regularly cross paths with, from your mother to your plumber, likely knows someone who knows someone.

But don’t be afraid to take a leap and call or e-mail a stranger whose name you uncover while researching. The worst they can do is ignore you or say, “Sorry, I can’t help you.”

What kind of expertise would help you write your story?
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 Laurel Garver
Book and Internet research can provide you will all kinds of wonderful facts and details, as well as stimulate your thinking about possible story events, locations, and people to inhabit your fictional world.

But this sort of research isn’t interactive. It also typically isn’t customized to your specific needs. Thus, you can spend a great deal of time wading through reams of information to get to the facts and details you truly need.

Many times you’ll get the very best information most quickly by speaking with an expert. A ten minute phone conversation might just save you from hours of trawling through page after page of useless information. And more often than not, an actual human being will have insider knowledge that will keep you from making embarrassing mistakes.

For example, a medical book might give you the correct terminology for a hospital procedure, for example, but that term is likely not the one bandied about among the hospital staff. Using the more formal term will make your information seem stilted and naive and could cause readers to lose confidence in your authority over your story world.

Finding experts

You need the right kind of expert who can speak to your story’s particular situation. Your family doctor might know the standard procedure for treating a broken leg, but his knowledge is likely limited to treatment best practices under ideal conditions. You know, in a clean, shiny hospital. But what about injuries in non-ideal conditions, when X-rays and surgery are not readily available? Your family doctor isn’t going to be much help—partly because he will fear opening himself to legal liability by dispensing advice that isn’t clinically defensible. Your better bet would be to find a military field medic, or a mountain climber trained in first aid—someone who has experience with non-ideal conditions.

A golden truth I learned in journalism school is that people love to be considered experts (well, eight out of ten; take into account a certain percentage of natural jerkiness in the general population). Start by approaching people you already know, and be as specific as possible with the kind of information you’re seeking.

Look! A plethora of experts! (Photo DMedina from morguefile.com)
Your friends and family just might surprise you in having a hidden expertise or life experience that would make them excellent resources to provide you authentic details. Staying curious when in social situations can yield amazing opportunities. The cousin seated beside you at your nephew’s wedding reception just might be a law enforcement officer, a Civil War re-enacter, a cancer survivor or oenophile. Even the charming flower girl might help you write a child character by getting you up to speed on youth culture today.

When you meet people, keep your radar attuned to where their interests, experiences, and training intersects with your story world and bravely ask questions. A simple request like “tell me about yourself” can turn a dull party into a research extravaganza.

I once got some amazing research done while at a church luncheon. I was seated by a friend who is a speech-language pathologist, and realized she might know something about speech problems in stroke patients, an element in my story. So I said, “I’m working on a story in which a grandparent has a stroke. What kind of speech problems might he possibly have?” That short chat was more focused and helpful than hours of reading. She knew in practice, not just theory, how patients behave and what the stages of recovery look like. That kind of information is pure gold.

This technique is great for those socially-demanding seasons when you shuttle from wedding to graduation to baby shower. Think about how your story might connect to every person you meet. Tap their knowledge and expertise as a professional, volunteer, hobbyist, or representative of an age group, family role, ethnicity or religion. And if the setting isn’t appropriate or convenient to have a useful chat, arrange for another time to interview them.

Your personal contacts might also lead you to other experts in their extended networks. The idea that every person on earth is “six degrees of separation” from any other person is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. Anyone you regularly cross paths with, from your mother to your plumber, likely knows someone who knows someone.

But don’t be afraid to take a leap and call or e-mail a stranger whose name you uncover while researching. The worst they can do is ignore you or say, “Sorry, I can’t help you.”

What kind of expertise would help you write your story?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Photo by clarita at morguefile.com
If you’re suffering from serious stress, so much that stringing sentences together feels impossible, try taking a purely visual route to writing. Pick up your favorite writing utensil and doodle instead. It can be a wonderful way to brainstorm elements of your story.

The images don’t need to be great art. Go as silly or serious as your mood dictates. The goal is to get in touch with your the intuitive part of your mind. The jury is still out regarding whether certain kinds of creativity are consigned to a particular side of the brain (studies now challenge a right brain/left brain dichotomy when it comes to artistic, musical and literary skill), but research has consistently shown that drawing can improve memory, increase intuition, reduce stress, and raise levels of helpful brain chemicals. So, let's draw!

Exercises

Doodle floor plans and maps of your settings
Doodle building exteriors from your settings
Doodle interiors of important rooms
Doodle images of key scenes as panels in a storyboard
Doodle a key scene or image from an unusual angle
Doodle characters in their most typical pose and expression
Doodle a range of character expressions
Doodle characters’ wardrobes
Doodle favorite things for each character
Doodle family portraits and family trees
Doodle key memories for your characters
Doodle tattoos and graffiti your character might choose or create
Doodle characters’ dreamworlds
Doodle characters’ pets or livestock
Doodle chapter header images

Have you ever used doodles to brainstorm? Which visual brainstorming (aka doodling) exercise might you try? 
Tuesday, July 08, 2014 Laurel Garver
Photo by clarita at morguefile.com
If you’re suffering from serious stress, so much that stringing sentences together feels impossible, try taking a purely visual route to writing. Pick up your favorite writing utensil and doodle instead. It can be a wonderful way to brainstorm elements of your story.

The images don’t need to be great art. Go as silly or serious as your mood dictates. The goal is to get in touch with your the intuitive part of your mind. The jury is still out regarding whether certain kinds of creativity are consigned to a particular side of the brain (studies now challenge a right brain/left brain dichotomy when it comes to artistic, musical and literary skill), but research has consistently shown that drawing can improve memory, increase intuition, reduce stress, and raise levels of helpful brain chemicals. So, let's draw!

Exercises

Doodle floor plans and maps of your settings
Doodle building exteriors from your settings
Doodle interiors of important rooms
Doodle images of key scenes as panels in a storyboard
Doodle a key scene or image from an unusual angle
Doodle characters in their most typical pose and expression
Doodle a range of character expressions
Doodle characters’ wardrobes
Doodle favorite things for each character
Doodle family portraits and family trees
Doodle key memories for your characters
Doodle tattoos and graffiti your character might choose or create
Doodle characters’ dreamworlds
Doodle characters’ pets or livestock
Doodle chapter header images

Have you ever used doodles to brainstorm? Which visual brainstorming (aka doodling) exercise might you try? 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

photo by deegolden at morguefile
If you're heading out on the road (or air or sea) for some much-needed rest and relaxation, you don't necessarily need to lug along your laptop to keep your hand in your writing. Just grab a small notebook and a pen, and you can easily use you leisure travel time to build a repository of details for use in a current or future project.

One of the most fun things to research through observation is setting. If you plan to set a story in your vacation destination, then any and every detail you can record will be useful. But even if your story world is quite different from where you're headed (i.e. science fiction or historical) you may find that observing real-world settings helps you think through key aspects of world building.

Pens ready? Here are some key things to observe and take notes on.

Topography


  • What's the lay of the land? Is it smooth and flat? Undulating with small hills? Mountainous? 
  • What is the quality of the ground? Rocky? Dry? Sandy? Reedy? Swampy? Muddy? Covered with sharp, stiff grass? Full of manicured lawns? Meadow-like? Lush fields of crops? Densely forested?
  • What bodies of water are nearby? Ocean? Sea? Lake? Pond? River? Stream? Creek? Wadi? Swamp?
  • What features of the land do you find most striking for positive or negative reasons? Gather sensory details about how they look, feel, sound, smell, and (where appropriate) taste.

Weather


  • Does the area have distinct seasons? What signs do you see to indicate that? 
  • How much does the temperature change in a given day? 
  • How humid or dry is the air? How does that make your skin and hair feel? 
  • What sorts of storms do you encounter? How does the air feel before, during, and after the storm? How does is smell?
  • What do you like and dislike most about the weather in this location? Gather sensory details about how the weather feels, sounds, looks and smells. 

Architecture 


  • What is the mix of public buildings? Mostly national chain stores, unique boutiques, or struggling mom-n-pop shops? Many office buildings or many factories? How diverse are the houses of worship? How well-kept are the schools?
  • What do most homes look like? How can you tell the prosperous neighborhoods from the poor ones?
  • In what era were most of the buildings built? How do older sections differ from newer ones?
  • What unique features seem adapted for the environment? (i.e. screen porches in buggy places, homes on stilts in flood-prone places)
  • What color schemes do you see most often? What kinds of furniture?
  • What buildings best represent this place? Snap some photos and gather sensory details of how the buildings look, feel, smell and sound.

Culture


  • What kinds of cuisine are offered at restaurants? Ethnic? Fancy? Unhealthy or healthy? Generous portions or stingy? Is food generally expensive, mid-range or dirt-cheap? 
  • What foods do locals love most? (A grocery store visit helps here)
  • What do the locals do for fun? 
  • What activities seem most advertised and supported? Sports? Arts? Shopping?
  • How do the locals dress? Are they fashion-forward or backward? Do they seem to spend a lot of time on their appearance or very little? What sorts of outfit would fit in or draw stares?
  • How do the locals interact with one another and with visitors? Are they chatty or standoffish? Polite or brusque? Easygoing or high-strung and rushed?
  • What's the prevailing mood of the local population? Do they seem happy and hopeful? Angry and annoyed? Discouraged and listless? 
  • What features of the local culture do you find most striking? Snap candid photos of everyday activities and gather sensory details about how foods smell and taste, how venues look, smell and sound.


What do you  most enjoy observing and learning about in new locations?
Tuesday, July 01, 2014 Laurel Garver
photo by deegolden at morguefile
If you're heading out on the road (or air or sea) for some much-needed rest and relaxation, you don't necessarily need to lug along your laptop to keep your hand in your writing. Just grab a small notebook and a pen, and you can easily use you leisure travel time to build a repository of details for use in a current or future project.

One of the most fun things to research through observation is setting. If you plan to set a story in your vacation destination, then any and every detail you can record will be useful. But even if your story world is quite different from where you're headed (i.e. science fiction or historical) you may find that observing real-world settings helps you think through key aspects of world building.

Pens ready? Here are some key things to observe and take notes on.

Topography


  • What's the lay of the land? Is it smooth and flat? Undulating with small hills? Mountainous? 
  • What is the quality of the ground? Rocky? Dry? Sandy? Reedy? Swampy? Muddy? Covered with sharp, stiff grass? Full of manicured lawns? Meadow-like? Lush fields of crops? Densely forested?
  • What bodies of water are nearby? Ocean? Sea? Lake? Pond? River? Stream? Creek? Wadi? Swamp?
  • What features of the land do you find most striking for positive or negative reasons? Gather sensory details about how they look, feel, sound, smell, and (where appropriate) taste.

Weather


  • Does the area have distinct seasons? What signs do you see to indicate that? 
  • How much does the temperature change in a given day? 
  • How humid or dry is the air? How does that make your skin and hair feel? 
  • What sorts of storms do you encounter? How does the air feel before, during, and after the storm? How does is smell?
  • What do you like and dislike most about the weather in this location? Gather sensory details about how the weather feels, sounds, looks and smells. 

Architecture 


  • What is the mix of public buildings? Mostly national chain stores, unique boutiques, or struggling mom-n-pop shops? Many office buildings or many factories? How diverse are the houses of worship? How well-kept are the schools?
  • What do most homes look like? How can you tell the prosperous neighborhoods from the poor ones?
  • In what era were most of the buildings built? How do older sections differ from newer ones?
  • What unique features seem adapted for the environment? (i.e. screen porches in buggy places, homes on stilts in flood-prone places)
  • What color schemes do you see most often? What kinds of furniture?
  • What buildings best represent this place? Snap some photos and gather sensory details of how the buildings look, feel, smell and sound.

Culture


  • What kinds of cuisine are offered at restaurants? Ethnic? Fancy? Unhealthy or healthy? Generous portions or stingy? Is food generally expensive, mid-range or dirt-cheap? 
  • What foods do locals love most? (A grocery store visit helps here)
  • What do the locals do for fun? 
  • What activities seem most advertised and supported? Sports? Arts? Shopping?
  • How do the locals dress? Are they fashion-forward or backward? Do they seem to spend a lot of time on their appearance or very little? What sorts of outfit would fit in or draw stares?
  • How do the locals interact with one another and with visitors? Are they chatty or standoffish? Polite or brusque? Easygoing or high-strung and rushed?
  • What's the prevailing mood of the local population? Do they seem happy and hopeful? Angry and annoyed? Discouraged and listless? 
  • What features of the local culture do you find most striking? Snap candid photos of everyday activities and gather sensory details about how foods smell and taste, how venues look, smell and sound.


What do you  most enjoy observing and learning about in new locations?