Wednesday, May 25, 2016

An Idea is Just the Germ of a Story

Writers are often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer is easy: ideas are all around us.

You discover them in what your read, what you hear (writers are notorious eavesdroppers), in what you see, and so many other places. But an idea is not a story. An idea is the germ of a story. It's what gets you asking, "what if..."

The next step in the process is creating character(s), a plot and a story location. There has been argument over which is more important--character or plot. In my opinion, they're equally important. You can't have one without the other.

For instance, you want your main characters to have substance, not be paper cutouts. Readers can relate to a realistically portrayed character. So how do you do that? You give them lives. You describe them, their characteristics, their personalities. Many readers are turned off by two much description. Some want no description of a character so they can employ their imagination as to the character's appearance. My feeling is it's your story. Their imagination may not match your vision. That's why I prefer to describe my key characters.

Others will quote Elmore Leonard's famous 10 Rules for Good Writing, citing Rules 8 and 9, which tell you to avoid detailed descriptions of characters and not to go into great details describing places and things. The important points are "detailed" and "great details." He doesn't say don't describe. Read Leonard to see how he subtly introduces characters and place, so aptly we feel we'd recognize the character anywhere and know the place even if we've never been there.

So you don't want to give them everything about your character in one lump. Introduce details gradually throughout your narrative.

Now, as to plot, this is the narrative of your story. It introduces the crime, the detective, the investigation, discovery of the motive(s) and, eventually, the identity of the culprit. Some mysteries disclose the identity of the killer at the beginning, but I think that takes the fun out of the story for many readers. Most like to try and outsmart the writer, determining the identity of the criminal before it's disclosed by the writer. Traditionally, mysteries started as this type of puzzle, providing clues through the narrative to lead the reader to the conclusion. Being the sneaky people we are, we throw in red herrings (misleading clues) to throw the reader off the track as well as sub-plots to add a little more substance to the story.

This is how an idea becomes a story.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

(My guest today is Carol Crigger, author of the wonderful China Bohannon Western series and other novels in a variety of genre. Welcome, Carol. The floor is yours.)

“What inspires you to write? “This is often the second question I’m asked when I speak about my writing. The first is  usually “Where do you get your ideas?” Third asks “What is your process?”

All three questions, as you might guess, have multiple answers, but today inspiration is on my mind. With me, music is often a flash point. So here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts on the subject..

Writers say in order to write, you need to sit your butt down in front of the computer and peck away. And that’s true. It just isn’t necessarily the whole story. Inspiration is a funny thing, you see. I’m pretty sure what catches the imagination of one person may well leave another cold.

For instance, I couldnt write a song if my life depended on it. It takes more than a couple dozen words for me to tell a story. How do lyricists, or poetsand the two are often one and the samedo it, anyway? How do they put together words that can take over your mind and, even years later, put you right in the middle of a memoryor a storyjust by hearing a few bars of the song. They are a special kind of writer, for sure.

Truly though, sometimes it’s the singer who makes the rhyme. Listen to Adele! She can bend words to fit like nobody’s business, and in the most heartfelt way possible. It makes me laugh.

It’s funny how a tune can get in your mind. Earworms, right? Only for this purpose, it’s not quite the same thing. You don’t need to know all the lyrics of the song. All you need hear is one certain phrase and it’ll catch you up and form a whole story in a matter of seconds. Or a whole book. Isn’t that amazing? From just a few simple words and a tune?

I don’t rely on music as much as I used to. I guess I’ve gotten more businesslike over the years. But more than twenty years later the song Lightning Crashes by the band Live, puts me right into a science fiction story I wrote that featured a child bitten by a spider. The bite morphed her into a monster, even though she fought the venom.  The story never  got published, but I still like it. Maybe I should find the CD and listen again as I try for a rewrite.

Counting Crows has helped along a couple of my books, including the first book of my Gunsmith Series, In the Service of the Queen, which got the title from the song. Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty account for more than one of my books, as well. Natalie Marchant helped with another, and . . .well, you see what I mean. All it takes is a few words put together in just the right way.

A lot of people say they listen to classical music as they write. A different kind of inspiration, I’m sure. Some prefer jazz, or maybe even opera. As for me, I need only to hear the part of the song that grabs me. Once properly inspired, I turn the music off. I like silence when I write, when I can hear my own words telling the story, and my characters talking to each other.

BIO: Imbued with an abiding love of western traditions and wide-open spaces, Ms. Crigger writes of free-spirited people who break from their standard roles. In her books, whether westerns, mysteries, or fantasy, the locales are real places. All of her books are set the Inland Northwest. Her short story, Aldy Neal’s Ghost, was a 2007 Spur finalist.  Her western novel, Black Crossing, won the 2008 Eppie. Letter of the Law was a 2009 Spur finalist in the audio category. Four Furlongs is her latest release.