How story ideas happen and what to do about it

Today I want to talk about story ideas—- my ideas, your ideas, anyone’s ideas. To do this I will talk about my most recent story idea as an example.

The idea happened like this: I thought about how a space station would get started. A really big space station that will one day have thousands of people living on it. Maybe even a million.

I expanded: some people would want to live on the space station to operate a business of some kind. But what about lower level laborers? Someone needs to sweep the floors, or move boxes of cargo from docked ships to the station  and such.

I thought about the station administrators who were responsible for finding such people. And how they would have to mold such workers, along with other station inhabitants, into a community.

I decided the administrators would be Chinese, and atheists. Scientific atheists. And their worker pool would be speakers of the German language, and Catholics. Why Catholics? I decided my atheist administrators would want to use Christianity as an instrument of social control. They wanted workers who could be pressured into obeying the more socially useful of the Ten Commandments, like Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal.

But Christianity isn’t about being good, it’s about having a relationship with God. And the priest brought in to control the faith of the new workers is more interested in winning souls than in aiding administrators.

OK. Now, the first step in turning these random ideas into a functional story is to write things down. So I picked out a nice new composition book for the project.

I already had notes for what I call the Destine universe and so I set my story there. That’s how I came up with the name of the space station. Or space city. Tiberius Base. And, yes, it is named after James T. Kirk’s middle name.

I had been reading K. M. Weiland’s books Outlining your Novel and the Outlining your Novel Workbook, so I started answering questions from the workbook into the composition book.

I found that the basic story when written into a short description sounded dull, so I added a love subplot and a troublesome-aliens subplot that raised the stakes on the main plot— if my main character failed to build a viable community on Tiberius Base, the base might have to be handed over to some aliens who were claiming it.

So, that’s how I got one idea and how I’ve been developing it. Have you had any good writing ideas lately? Tell us in a comment, if you like.


Some coming attractions:

Wednesday: Worldbuilding Wednesday blog hop is on.

Saturday: I will be sharing a recipe for low-carb/ketogenic Dutch Baby Rolls that I have been working on.

Creating alien languages in #Worldbuilding

Recently I found again some notes I thought were lost on some alien languages I was creating for one of my WIPs. I thought I’d write a little about how I create alien languages.

Why even create alien languages? Well, your alien characters need names. As do places on your alien worlds, and alien concepts. Creating alien-sounding words is better than naming your aliens Tom and Bill.

How I do it is I pick out 2  real languages, such as Indonesian and Dutch for my language for the alien Lizard race, and mingle them.

For example, I pick a word from Dutch, slang, and a word from Indonesian, ular. I take the front half of a word from the one language and combine with the back half from the other. I come up with ‘slar.’ Reversing the process, I come up with ‘ulang’.

I like ‘ulang’ better than ‘slar’, so ‘ulang’ becomes the native Lizard name for the Lizard race. I randomly add ‘-in’ to it to form the plural, so ‘Lizards’ is translated ‘ulangin’. So— the ulang language has a plural.

I make a list of something like 15 Dutch words and 15 Indonesian words and create a list of some 30 words in Ulang-pa, the Lizard language.  They include some of the following: Alliri, sendeen, beggup, sangwaam, gunerg, hoopala, kefd, sednig, baper, and hoepi.

Any time I need name an Ulang character, I pick a word from the list to be his name. If I need a word for a concept, I pick one from the list— such as ‘sendeen’, which means an Ulang tribe or sept.

If I wanted to create words and phrases in the language, I have to make some decisions about the words of Ulang-pa— the nouns, verbs, adverbs and pronouns. And if there are any useful affixes that Ulang-pa uses. We already seem to have -pa for ‘language of’ and ‘-in’ to mark the plural. I then pick out words from the list and assign those words meaning, and can use the words to form phrases and sentences in Ulang-pa.

The multilingual dictionary pictured above, ‘The Concise Dictionary of 26 Languages,’ is the book I used to create the Ulang-pa  language. But it’s not the only source book I have used. When I created a language for the alien Menders, I used ancient Greek and ancient Egyptian as my 2 languages.

I use for my reference book for Greek the book ‘Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible’, which contains a dictionary of all the Greek words used in the Protestant Bible.  For ancient Egyptian, I have a book on the ancient Egyptian language I bought at the Egypt museum in San Jose, California, when I was a teenager.

The Mender language is somewhat more developed. I have a list of male and female given names, and a list of 24 names of noble Mender houses. I also have a few Mender words, some of which are derived purely from the ancient Egyptian language. There is ‘saret’ meaning ‘philosophy, theology, wisdom, science’ — a key concept of Mender culture. I have ‘ireepat’ for ‘prince’.

Some of the constructed Mender names I currently have are Epes, Oktsep, Mavret, and Hapas, all male names. And Reri, Meketi, Netari and Yatros, all female names.

The idea of using two different real languages and combining them the way I do is to try to be able to create a set of unrecognizable alien words that have a similar ‘flavor’. Since each alien language has a different set of two languages at the source, each alien language will have its own set of characteristic spellings borrowed from the original languages.

Creating languages, not necessarily for fictional worldbuilding purposes, is a hobby of its own. Invented languages are usually called constructed languages or planned languages. Some famous constructed languages are Volapuk, Esperanto and Ido, along with lots of others, created for international communication. Other invented languages, such as Tolkien’s Elvish and Star Trek’s Klingon, are the intellectual property of their creators and cannot be used without permission.

Asperger Syndrome writers: how to write social interaction

If you go to an online group for writers and creative people with Asperger Syndrome, one common topic is whether an Aspie writer can write scenes of social interaction well enough to pass muster. After all, we have a deficit in social interaction skills in real life. We commonly miss nonverbal cues and that can make a social interaction go wrong. So how can we write social interaction?
One factor is the fact that we actually have social interactions all our lives. We may not fully understand them, but neurotypical people also have social interactions they don’t fully understand. Every time we interact with another person, they have things in their head that affect the interaction— and they may not reveal even important things either verbally or through nonverbal cues.
But the most important reason we Aspies can write good fiction, including social interaction scenes, is that it is FICTION. And social interaction in fiction is governed by rules.
Social interaction in fiction takes place in the form of scenes. Each scene in a work of fiction has a purpose— it advances the overall plot in some way. And each character that acts in a scene has a purpose in that scene. He brings an agenda to the encounter.
For example, take the first scene in the novel ‘Gone With the Wind.’ In the first scene there are three interacting characters— Scarlett O’Hara, a sixteen-year-old Southern belle, and two of her many beaus, Brent and Stuart Tarleton.
It seems like an ordinary social call, but all the characters start off with agendas. Scarlett prides herself in being a popular girl with lots of beaus, and she doesn’t want to lose any one of the beaus to the other girls. She flirts with the Tarleton twins even though she has no intention of marrying either one, since her heart is set on her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes.
Brent and Stuart want to rise in Scarlett’s estimation and become the chief members of Scarlett’s string of beaus. They probably have a vague idea that in time one or the other of them will propose marriage to Scarlett and she will accept. But the boys haven’t thought far enough ahead to even figure out that they can’t BOTH marry her and that this fact is likely to lead to a future conflict between the brothers.
Brent and Stuart have an immediate goal in the scene. A barbecue at the Wilkes plantation will be held the next day. There will be dancing, and the boys want Scarlett to promise them as many dances as socially possible.
Scarlett doesn’t want to give the boys the encouragement of too many dances. She has lots of other beaus she wants to dance with. And she wants to spend time with Ashley, the man she believes is her One True Love.
The Tarleton boys have a secret, though. They’ve previously visited the Wilkes plantation and were told a secret: Ashley’s cousin Melanie Hamilton will be at the barbecue, and the Wilkes family intends to announce the engagement of Ashley to his cousin Melanie.
Brent and Stuart think that revealing this will get them what they want— Scarlett’s attention. Girls like to know secrets, and they love hearing gossip about who is getting engaged, especially when they hear it before it becomes common knowledge. Surely this will win them lots of dances and attention from Scarlett at the barbecue!
But because Scarlett loves Ashley, she is distraught. It can’t possibly be true! Her attention has turned firmly away from the Tarleton boys. She absently promises them dances and other attention at the barbecue, but then she leaves without inviting them to dinner, which would have been common good manners.

You can see that it would not require lots of knowledge of real world social interactions in order to write a scene like this. Only a knowledge of what each character in the scene wants— and you, the author, gets to decide that.
Now, you will note that not everything in the scene is normal and typical of social interactions of the period. It is odd for the Tarletons to be chasing the same girl, and it’s odd of Scarlett to accept the brothers both into her circle of beaus. It’s also odd for Scarlett to forget her manners and not invite the boys to stay for dinner. But readers accept that. People don’t always live their lives according to the etiquette books. Because the characters have goals, and they act to further those goals in the scene, their behavior is accepted.

The scene, the first in the book, serves the purpose of introducing the main character, Scarlett, and the major threat to her happiness— her love is apparently about to marry another. This situation is central to the major conflicts of the novel right until the end.

So for writing effective scenes of social interaction, it is more important to know writing rules than the rules of real-world social interaction. And most Aspies with an interest in writing will be able to learn those rules by reading books like James Scott Bell’s book ‘Plot and Structure’ which will help you learn to create plots which follow the three-act structure, which in turn will help you to write valid scenes.


Blogs I’m reading:

Dawn Witzke: Review: A Pius Man by Declan Finn   –  I just finished reading Dawn Witzke’s book last night. An intense dystopian novel with a Catholic touch. And here she’s reviewing Declan Finn’s thriller A Pius Man (Pius like the popes of that name) which basically shoots up the Vatican but in a Catholic-friendly way.

Josephine Corcoran: Ignoring blog commentsJosephine tackles the topic of how the blogger should respond to certain types of blog comments, particularly those on very old posts.

A look at the July/Aug Writer’s Digest ~ Celebrate

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This is a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop. If you don’t know what Celebrate is, go here: http://lexacain.blogspot.com/2015/01/celebrate-small-things.html

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest. Why, when it costs money and I have so little? It’s because I see myself as a professional poet and writer, and reading a magazine about my profession is, well, professional.

This month’s issue was exciting for me because it gave the winners of the 2015 WD Poetry Awards. The winning poem, ‘Inheritance,’ was a dreadful villanelle about the author’s mother’s mastectomy bra. But the shock-feminism probably put the poem ahead of those with more literary value. Because being a SJW (social justice warrior aka left-wing fanatic) trumps things like talent.

I thought of entering a poem of mine in this year’s WD poetry contest. Though my poems rarely have mastectomy bras in them so I probably can’t win. Though I have just the poem in mind for the contest, it’s called ‘Christ in the city’ and it’s got a woman in it who can fold tortillas into cranes (the bird kind not the heavy machinery kind.)

More important for me would be to get out another poetry submission to Scifaikuest, which published a haiku of mine in February. And perhaps another to Chiron Review which published one of mine not too long ago. Since I am planning a book on how to write poetry, I think I need more poetry publication credits that are not from the late 1980s.

Celebrate:

I have a number of things to celebrate for this week’s blog hop. Number one, duckings! Arsenic, a lady duck of mine, was found sitting on a nest full of eggs. I needed to move her and ducks stop setting if you move them. So I popped the 10 eggs in the incubator and yesterday they hatched out— all 10! This NEVER happens. I guess mama ducks are better for hatching eggs than incubators are.

Another celebration is that I am back writing poetry again after a couple of months of not doing it. I’m even going to submit some poems to Scifaikuest  later today. I was looking through my files and saw a few that might be just the thing for them. So, everybody, wish me luck on that!

Also celebrating that I’m making a batch of bone broth today— it takes 48 hours in the slow cooker but is well worth it. And it’s inspiring me to do a major cleanup of my cluttered kitchen because I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the bone broth!

So, what are you celebrating this week?

How to Braaains! Storm your Zombie Novel

GIRL-Z-My-Life-as-a-Teenage-Zombie-zombie-bookWant to write a cool zombie novel? Great— but first you will have to plan a number of things so your novel will be unique and interesting both to zombie fans and to others.

There is a preliminary step before you begin your brainstorming. READ ZOMBIE NOVELS. It doesn’t help if you have watched every zombie novel that has ever been released, or if you watch every ‘The Walking Dead’ episode over and over again. Novels are different. Read those.

If you don’t know of any zombie novels, try some of these:

Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie by C. S. Verstraete
Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator by Karina Fabian
World War Z by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks)
INFECtIOUS by Elizabeth Forkey

OK, with your reading done, it is time to get started with the brainstorming. Get out your writing implements, set a timer for an appropriate amount of minutes, and start brainstorming on one or more of the following:

  • The rules of your zombies— how do they function, how do they behave, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Your zombie infectious agent— where did it come from, how does it work, is it a virus, bacterium, prion or other, is it natural, alien, or the result of germ warfare, and what is it called?
  • Your world before the zombie epidemic— like our own or different? In what ways?
  • Your survivors— what are they like? Typically in horror fiction the characters are somewhat traditional people leading somewhat normal lives— think of Rick Grimes and family from The Walking Dead. This makes their struggles more compelling to us than would be the struggles of gay male prostitutes or Colombian drug lords. Though the gay male prostitute and Colombian drug lord might make interesting sidekicks for a Rick Grimes character.
  • Your villains or opposing forces— government, political extremists, or just the zombies?
  • Your survivors’ weapons and survival strategies— think of Daryl Dixon’s crossbow and his hunting skills. (Another ‘The Walking Dead’ reference.)
  • Your survival location (if your characters are not nomadic throughout the novel.)
  • Difference: in what way is your zombie fictional vision different than others you have read or watched? In what ways is it similar?
  • Genre: Zombie fiction is not all horror. ‘Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator’ is a comedy, ‘Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie’ is juvenile fiction (YA), and “INFECtIOUS” combines the zombie apocalypse with the Evangelical End-Times Apocalypse in an original way. What genre or genres is your novel going to be?
  • Why do you what to write a zombie novel? What is it about a zombie novel that really appeals to you? And don’t say that zombies are popular and your novel will sell if it has zombies in it. You have to be inspired by the topic to make a go of it. (For example, I’m quite obsessed with ‘The Walking Dead’, it is one of my ‘Special Interests’, and when the season is running you don’t want to hear all the minute details of each episode that I analyze to death.)

Please give us feedback in a comment— do you have any other ideas for brainstorming a zombie novel? Is brainstorming a technique that works for you? And, who do you think that Negan killed on The Walking Dead?

One Simple Step to help you Write and Market your Novel

WritingFictionforDummies

There is one thing you can do that will give you help in the process of writing your novel, helping you keep on track and not meander off into tangents. This same thing will also provide you with the best book marketing tool you could hope for— one that will help you and your readers get others interested in your book. And it will take you about an hour of your time.

This magic writer’s tool is a simple thing called a storyline— a one-sentence summary of your novel. Like this one: “A girl telepath in 1869 Texas must fight like a man to protect the survivors of a crashed alien spaceship.” This is the storyline of my current WIP, Sky Machine over Texas.  (Yes, it’s a Western with aliens and a spaceship in it.)

This storyline is meant to arouse the curiosity of potential readers, and warn people that hate Westerns and science fiction and girl heroes and telepaths that this is not for them.

Here’s another storyline. “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the Apostle Paul.” This storyline is from the novel Transgression, written by Randy Ingermanson, who also wrote the storyline.

Writing a storyline is step one in the Snowflake method of novel writing. You can read about the Snowflake method here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/  or you can buy the book above, Writing Fiction for Dummies, which provides information on the method.

How does a storyline help you? As you write, the storyline will help you decide which potential scenes are a part of the story, and which are not. (The second Snowflake step, the 3-Act Structure of your novel, also can keep you from wandering off and writing scenes that don’t help your story and will have to be removed in revision.) Having a storyline helps, because writing it will help you understand what the story is about.

The storyline is also your most essential marketing tool. You have to learn to rattle it off along with your book title. (“Sky Machine over Texas? It’s about a girl telepath in 1869 Texas who has to fight like a man to protect the survivors of a crashed alien spaceship.”) It’s the answer to the question “What is your book about?” Don’t mention your book without it.

Most authors don’t write storylines. If they are traditionally published authors, maybe someone from the publisher will write a good storyline for them. Most likely, they will write a bad or misleading storyline, or each person working for the publisher will make up a bad storyline of their own. If the author provides his own good storyline, all of these people will use that, instead.

Indie and small press authors have even more reason to write their own storyline. It’s great to use it in your back cover blurb, because then your most enthusiastic fans will use your storyline when they tell all their friends what a great book it is and why they must buy it and read it at once.

Some of the rules of the storyline— it’s best to be shorter and simpler. You usually only need mention one or two characters. The part of the plot that you reveal should be an important or central one. Don’t mention characters by name (unless they are the Apostle Paul, who’s kind of famous), use a description— ‘a rogue physicist’, ‘a girl telepath.’

If you are a writer, have you written a storyline for any of your books? Please share it in a comment, and include a link to where one can buy the book in question. (No more than one link per comment, besides the link-back to your blog, but include all the storylines you want, it will help other blog readers learn how to write storylines.)

 

“Knitting patterns” for creating fiction #writing #AtoZChallenge

KWhen I was a child, a kind neighbor, Mrs. Young, taught me to knit. Later, when I was a bit older, I bought some how-to-knit booklets from Kmart’s yard department (they had one back then.)

That’s how I learned to follow knitting patterns— sets of instructions on how to knit a certain garment in a certain size. If you followed the instructions to the letter, even an inexperienced knitter could do good work. And the more experienced could adapt the pattern and be creative.

Fiction writing has its own ‘knitting patterns.’ One from the past is the Lester Dent Master Formula, which pulp author Lester Dent used to write short stories which sold. Another is the more modern Snowflake method, which is usually used to plot novels.

A fiction pattern is ‘borrowed structure’ for a novel or short story. All fiction needs structure. ‘Plotter’ authors do it by writing an outline, ‘pantsers’ do it all in their head. The formula simplifies the process for creating a story with structure for either type of writers.

“But won’t using a formula make my story formulaic?” No. “Formulaic” stories are dull, tired, predictable stories made by would-be authors who just grab at trite, done-to-death plot elements when they don’t know what to do. Such fiction can come into being with or without the use of a formula, an outline, or the three-act structure.

Using a pattern thoughtfully can help you to create a more original story. The secret is to not take any part of the pattern as Gospel.

For example, working on my ‘space western’ novel, the Snowflake method, Step 3, would have me write in the three-act structure. But I’m not sure I know the ending for sure yet. Or even the middle. I’m more of a ‘pantser’ than an outliner. So I just put SOMETHING sketchy down, and worry about the middle and ending when I get to it.

As a writer with Asperger Syndrome, I suffer from something similar to ADHD, and thus I find it difficult to write anything longer than a poem without the aid of a ‘knitting pattern’ for writing. It’s a way of working smarter, not harder.

I am experimenting with using the Lester Dent formula to write a 6000 word short story. I will be sharing more about that project here as I go through the steps.

Lester Dent Fiction Formula: http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html
Snowflake Method: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

This is a post in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Yes, I’m behind and I’m doing the wrong letter today. But I’m still doing it. Go figure.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com