Today I’m over at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about writing prompts – two-to-three-sentence ideas to get your imagination firing and your fingers flying over the keyboard. (Or your pen waggling, if that’s more your thing.) Please drop by , say hi, and join in the conversation! 🙂
As I blogged about a couple of months ago, I’m a big Pinterest user. I have almost 2000 pins, and Pinterest has started suggesting pins I might like based on my boards. I think it might also be based on what I’ve pinned recently, which can end up in a spiral of me pinning what they suggest, so they suggest more of it … but since most of that is either Doctor Who or Firefly, I don’t mind too much. 😉
One of my boards is on writing. Originally it was just funny writing quotes, including motivational posters, but recently I’ve expanded the definition to include the occasional inspirational quote.
But most of what Pinterest suggests for this particular board are actually writing prompts, which got me to…
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Something has happened to me. Something that is both a good thing (from the point of view of my craft) and a little unnerving. Also probably inevitable.
You understand, I’ve always done it. But it’s getting worse.
I’m talking about the part of my brain that views people I meet in terms of their potential to be characters in a book. (Only new people, not ones I’ve known for ages. Friends and family, you are safe. Mostly.)
I write young and new adult, so this phenomenon happens primarily when I’m talking to young people. I suppose I should be grateful it’s not every single human being I encounter.
I first noticed it when I met the girl renting the house next door. I say “girl” but she’d be a NA character — maybe mid-20s. She was tall, fit and blonde, with an elegant Celtic-knot tattoo across both her shoulders and several piercings (that I could see). Polite, tanned and gorgeous. She struck me as someone who’d get on with Melaina, the main character in Lucid Dreaming, like a house on fire.
I don’t go out of my way to eavesdrop on the conversations next door, but let’s just say that if they’re in the yard talking when I’m hanging the washing out, I can’t help but overhear them. And I have a lot of washing.
Does that make me a bad person?
Another example was a week or so ago. I went into a telecommunication shop to buy a dongle (don’t laugh — yes, I know it’s a funny word!). The staff were all in their early 20s. The one who served me had this amazing auburn hair that I assume came straight out of a bottle. The other girl was plump with a very pretty face. The third was a tall guy, broad across the shoulders, with a mop of sandy curls.
They were chatting away, including me in the conversation, and I could feel the “muse” part of my brain taking notes. The auburn-haired girl would be the main character, with the other two her best friends (and the plump girl, like Samwise Gamgee, would be the real hero). The boy would have a secret crush. All I needed was for a brooding vampire to walk in the door and it would’ve been perfect.
Unfortunately all we got was a shaggy fellow asking for directions to a rival telecommunications shop. If he was a brooding vampire, he hid it well.
I do the same thing with songs now too. Which is silly, because most songs have a romantic theme, and I don’t write romance. And when I see a spectacular weather phenomenon or breathtaking view, I start thinking about how to pin it down with words on a page.
For those of you who are writers, do you do the same thing?
I while ago I reviewed the children’s picture book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore. My son got it for his fourth birthday, and I loved it — it’s such a sweet metaphor for books as a source of healing after disasters.
Then my boy wanted to see the short film on which the book was based, so we watched it together. In the video version, the other subplot, about Morris rediscovering his muse and getting his own book to “fly” (a metaphor for not sucking) is more prominent and just as beautiful.
It’s fifteen minutes long, but well worth your time.
ALL OF THE FEELS, YOU GUYS!
I think the single most common question authors—especially very successful authors—get asked is about their sources of inspiration. The question is almost a stereotype now. And a lot of them reply along the line of, “The real trick is making them stop!”
I used to not understand this answer. I spent a lot of time toying with ideas, usually for high fantasy novels, but never getting far because the well would run dry: the ideas I had felt derivative, or paper thin.
It wasn’t till I said “hell with it” and started writing anyway that I discovered the truth. Like writing skill, the ability to come up with story ideas—for me at least—is like a muscle. The more I write, the more I come up with ideas, the easier it is. I suspect a lot of other writers are the same.
Getting to the point where I had an idea with enough weight for an entire novel was a long process, though. I started out, like a lot of people, writing fanfiction. I wrote some short stories in another writer’s fantasy world; it felt easy to me, because the worldbuilding had been done. This was in the days before the internet was huge (don’t laugh!) so the stories were published in the author’s “official” fanzine and distributed via the post. Old school, yo. *poses*
Then I wrote two or three novella-length stories that were another type of fanfiction: the type with famous people as characters (no, I won’t say who). But the stories were my own. These novellas were about 25k words each; when a friend pointed out to me that if I’d put that amount of effort into real fiction I’d have a novel, it was a sobering realisation. And a motivating one, too. It showed me I could do it, whereas before I’d thought I couldn’t.
So I revisited one of the novellas, and took an extra element of an old (non-fanfic) short story, threw them in a pot, and stirred. Then I started from scratch with the ideas born from this mix. The result was Isla’s Inheritance. The only element from the original novella fanfic that has carried across is one of my original (non-famous) characters: Isla’s cousin Sarah.
And once I finished Isla’s Inheritance, that seemed to open the floodgates on my subconscious. Ideas for a sequel, and another beyond that. Another urban fantasy idea (now finished). A solid fantasy/Steampunk concept (outlined). And other, half-formed ideas.
These days it seems like whenever I hear a story on the news, or am talking to a friend, part of my brain is turning what I’m hearing over and looking at it from all sides to see whether there’s a kernel of a story idea there. I can see why writers call that their muse. I think of it more as part of myself—but a part I have very little control over. As my friend Stacey Nash describes in her latest blog post, it seems to have a mind of its own.
I’m curious though—do you find it easy to come up with story ideas? Has that always been the case, or have you had to train yourself/awaken the muse, like I have?
I came a little unstuck in drafting my current work in progress last week. The WIP is an urban fantasy, like my last two, but this time it’s for adults rather than young adults. Anyway, I was working on a fight scene and, halfway through drafting it, I drew a giant mental blank as to what to do next. My muse basically stormed off to her trailer with a sassy flick of her hair and a rude gesture.
The problem I had was that I was working with a non-traditional bad guy (rather like an evil flying jellyfish), so its attack options were pretty much limited to striking out with its tentacles. And my leading lady, Melaina, wasn’t using any weapons either.
I had a whinge about it on Twitter and my tweep Pippa recommended I buy Rayne Hall’s ebook, “How to Write Fight Scenes”. I’m almost halfway through reading it (a lot of the chapters are about types of weapons, for example, so they are interesting but not directly relevant to my current scene). But it managed to get me unstuck.
I’d worked Melaina’s combat weakness into the book already, but emphasising it a little more in the scene established the stakes, which is important if I want the readers to be cheering for her as the underdog rather than having a little snooze. For example, in typical Hollywood fight scenes I tend to get bored and start thinking about something else—because the scene usually involves a lot of stunts but no real sense that it advances the story, and no real risk to the protagonists.
The other problem was that, given Melaina was fighting unarmed, I needed to have her use the environment. And my initial description of the place where the fight takes place built up the atmosphere but didn’t really include any features she could use as weapons. So last night I went back and added a couple more things that she could use—including the “weapon” she used to strike the killing blow.
She killed that flying jellyfish good! 😉
I think it’s easy for writers of speculative fiction—where their characters are magic users of one stripe or another—to forget that all magic needs to have a cost to the user. Otherwise, the magic users become overpowered demigods. And where’s the fun in that?
I always thought writers who talked about their muses as though they were people were being self-indulgent, using some of that artistic license that is one of the tools of the trade. In “On Writing” (yes, I go on about that book—I just re-read it over the break), Stephen King describes his muse as follows:
“He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.” (The full quote is here.)
I’ve seen my stories take unexpected turns—but I thought it was just that, as you were writing, you saw better options.
Then two experiences changed my mind.
The first was when, more than halfway through drafting my previous novel, there was an entirely unplanned kiss between two characters. One of them did something a little bit clever that the other didn’t see coming, and the other, in an excess of exuberance, gave the first a hug that suddenly got all romantic.
This was particularly awkward given that the kissee had a significant other.
I knew the kisser was interested, of course. But I never in a million years thought he’d make the first move. SURPRISE!
The other instance was more recently. Some of you may recall me having a whinge about not knowing which novel idea I wanted to pursue next: the fantasy (fully plotted out) or the urban fantasy (no plot whatsoever). I’d decided on the fantasy; I borrowed books to do research, so I could start my world-building, and was all good to go. Excited, even.
Then, one day driving home from work, I had the basic plot structure for the urban fantasy land in my head like someone had dropped a load of bricks on the car. I lay up half that night thinking about it. I couldn’t let it go for days, walking around like I was sleepwalking (I probably was, given the laying up all night!).
It only stopped when I gave in and started the other manuscript instead.
My conclusion from all of this is that my muse, whoever she is, isn’t a bloke smoking cigars in a basement. I don’t know where she lives or what she looks like, but she wears combat boots (for stompin’ ideas into my recalcitrant head) and probably has a battered and super-trashy novel featuring a love triangle tucked under one arm.
Is your muse personified? Has he or she pulled stunts like this on you?