Friday, April 19, 2019

Ideas, Where Do Writers Find Them?

 Story Steps

For those of you toying with the idea of writing, I thought I’d share some of the steps I take before and during the time I’m writing a story. I had a page titled Story Steps on an earlier version of my website, but dropped it when I started blogging. This will be the new improved and expanded version of Story Steps that I hope will provide you with some ideas to use when you write.

A popular question writers field from non writers is “Where do you get your ideas?”

If you’re like me, your world is bursting with ideas. An overheard comment by a stranger, something you see during the drive to work, an article in the newspaper, an snippet of historical fact from a book, a family crisis.

Bam! You have the germ of an idea? Notice I used the word germ.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, germ is an initial stage from which something may develop, i.e. the germ of a brilliant idea.

Basically, we’re looking at a starting point, but what do you do with that germ?

Well, writers have an annoying habit of asking, "what if" – what if that empty plastic bag by the side of the road contains a dead body? What if I lost my job? What if the enemy has a code no one can break?

What if?

"What if" is a magical phrase that ignites a writer's imagination. Let me show you how it works for me.

Many years ago the girl friend of a neighbor’s son ended up pregnant. They were both young and wild and doing stuff they shouldn’t. Not exactly parent material. But the young man’s older sister, now she was married and in a stable situation. And unable to have children.

For the good of the child, the young unmarried couple asked the older married couple to adopt their child.

This situation became the germ of an idea for a book that blossomed into Feather’s Last Dance. Of course this germ needed lots of work because an idea needs to be big enough to keep readers (as well as the writer) interested for the duration of the novel.

Instead of a wild young boy, I thought what if the heroine is the rebellious teen who seduces the very nice boy next door?

What if she gets pregnant? What if she doesn’t want to ruin his life? What if she has the baby without his knowledge. What if she gives the baby to her sister who just happens to be married to the hero’s brother?

Talk about complicating matters.

On the sad side, I had to remove their siblings in order to put the biological parents together. Now they're six years older and the hero is a conservative banker who doesn’t believe the wild heroine is a suitable guardian. Probably because he discovers her fan dancing at a night club.

Now there can be a custody battle for the boy. If the hero is willing to go to court for custody of the boy he believes to be his nephew, what will he do when he discovers that boy is his son?

This is where I "found" the idea for a story that would hopefully grow into a novel.  Stay tuned for the next step in how I create stories.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Importance of the Written Word

I love to write. I have always loved to write. I wrote my first short story when I was in second grade. My ability to write well has helped not only me, but also others. As a student, it helped me earn better grades–my essay on moiré patterns meant a passing grade in physics. An article I wrote about a Federal Aviation Administration award for mechanics provided the impetus for two Alabama gentlemen to receive it. A personal essay published in the local newspaper gifted a wonderful woman with a day set aside in her honor by the mayor.

It has also prompted my readers to ask if I’d write another book about a character because they want to continue reading about him or her. While writing hasn’t made me rich and famous, it’s brought me a lot of joy.

The ability to communicate through writing is not going away. Right now, most of you communicate continuously via text messaging, but the truth is from the time you get up in the morning until you turn off your cell phone at night, you’re surrounded by the written word. Why? Because somebody had to write the ads you hear or read, the scripts for the movies and TV shows you watch, and the lyrics of the songs you listen to. Think about it. Someone wrote the text on the cereal box you opened this morning for breakfast.

There are few career paths that don’t involve some type of writing. Just to get a job usually requires a resumé. This written representation of who you are and your skill sets can mean the difference between an interview and a rejection. Many jobs require writing. Web designers not only design attractive websites, they also have to write content. Police officer, insurance adjuster, teacher, medical professional, civil servant– being able to communicate through writing is an important skill for them. Even mechanics have to write up what they did after they repair a vehicle.

Writing doesn’t necessarily mean writing a novel. It can take many forms.

One popular method of writing is journaling. People journal for many reasons–for fun, to manage stress, to solve problems, or to record personal thoughts and experiences.

To be honest, I’m not into journaling, but I think that’s because I’ve always written fiction stories and essays. My writing helps me manage stress, solve problems, and record personal thoughts and experiences. These may be developed in a humorous essay or become a scene in a story. In my recent release, Butterfly Bride, the heroine tries to gorge herself on chocolate bonbons. When she takes a big bite of the first one, she discovers there’s half a worm in the remaining piece of candy.


This didn’t happen to me, but it did to my mother many years ago. She had helped herself to some of the candy in a Valentine box my boyfriend gave me. Imagine her distress when she discovered half a worm in the a piece of chocolate left in her hand! She also faced a dilemma: admit she’d been eating my candy or stay quiet and let me eat a worm. I’m happy to say, she came clean and I tossed the box of candy.

A pretty box on which a writer had listed the types of chocolate included, the ingredients (not including the worm), a Valentine’s Day quote, the name of the company who made the candy, and the weight of the candy.

Monday, February 4, 2019

What My Dogs Taught Me About Story Characters, Part 2

In the previous blog, I discussed the profound effect childhood experiences had upon our two dogs. To recap, Toffy was locked in a small room as a puppy, probably smacked for minor puppy indiscretions, and fearful of stern male voices. Bandit, on the other hand, had no idea anyone abandoned him. He was cosseted and loved from puppyhood. He saw life through a completely different lens than Toffy.

Remember, internal conflict should be based on the character’s past and how he or she deals with life. Although not all types of fiction require emphasis on internal conflict, it behooves a writer, especially a writer of romance or character driven stories to create characters with strong internal conflict.

For example, the romance in a story needs internal conflict, but the character’s internal conflict exists with or without the romance. In other words, Toffy will always be frightened of small rooms whether or not she has loving owners. Unless something bad happens to Bandit (and no, it didn’t), he will always be trusting of humans.

In a romance, the hero triggers a confrontation with these inner demons for the heroine, and/or vice versa. For the romance to succeed, the character needs to grow and change into someone who has learned a lesson that frees him or her to love.

Now I’m not suggesting you overload your characters with crippling psychological baggage, but you do need to search their lives for major events that have shaped them into the persons they are when your story begins. These character-forming moments should be the linchpin of their motivation throughout your story.

Let’s look at my recently released novel, Butterfly Bride. The germ of this story came from a passage I read in Lawrence Stone’s book, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500 - 1800. He describes a typical arranged marriage between two young people. The groom was not complimentary of his bride and soon left for a tour of Europe that took him away for several years. Upon his return, he failed to recognize his own wife at the theater.

Stone doesn’t delve into the situation any deeper, but the wheres and whys of this situation gave me a plot with many possibilities for external conflict. It didn’t give me any internal conflict so I dug into the lives of the heroine and hero to discover their internal conflicts. What would they be like at the beginning of the story? How would they change by the end so that they could fall in love with each other?

In other words, what psychological baggage do they have when the story starts and what psychological baggage do they have when the story ends?

Hope, the heroine, lacks self-esteem and self-confidence because she is less attractive, overweight, and stammers while her sister is a confident beauty. Her marriage aspirations are few. She sees herself married to a nice, probably older, gentleman.

Kit’s parents divorced, something almost impossible to do in Regency England. The scandal sent his mother to Scotland and his father into a spiral of drinking and gambling. Poverty has dogged Kit throughout his youth, but he hides behind arrogance and pride.

When his father loses a wager, Kit honors it even though it means marriage to a young woman he’s never met. Hope’s father offers him a future: marry Hope and leave immediately for Canada and learn about the shipping business. Kit accepts his soon-to-be father-in-law’s offer of financial help.

He’s gone for seven years and returns to discover his child bride has blossomed into a lovely woman—who has filed a petition to annul their marriage. I don’t want to give away all of the story, but this is a romance with a “happily ever after” ending. Hope and Kit resolve their internal conflicts and grow into being capable of loving themselves and each other.

If Butterfly Bride were a literary novel, the ending might not be as happy for our protagonists. What if, like Toffy, Kit could not shake off his past. What if he were unable to come out from behind arrogance and pride to love Hope?

This is why I prefer romance.