Tuesday, August 30, 2016

5 Tips for Giving New Life to Old Ideas

What do you do with old story ideas that seem like such great ideas at the time and then die on the vine? You know those stories. They come to you in the middle of the night or in the afternoon while you’re taking a walk and they energize you at the time, but then they seem to wither and die. You might even start writing the story in a mad rush and then enthusiasm flags and you forget about it until you’re going through an old notebook or cleaning out the files in your computer.

What can you do then? Delete the file? Throw out the old notebook you found it in? Come to think of it, why do those stories never get finished? Is it because they were going nowhere? I admit I have those type of beginnings all over in notebooks, scraps of paper, and the old computer files. Why do I give up on them? Why do you give up on them? Well, sometimes those story just runs out of energy. Sometimes they simply seem to hit dead ends. Maybe you didn’t think them through enough or perhaps the characters never developed into full-fledged people. Usually you will find you need both to really get the story moving forward and to keep the pages of written copy piling up. Here are some ideas for going back to those story ideas and bringing them back to life so you can finish them.

1. Re-think the story concept. Let’s face it—having a great idea for a character might seem like the perfect beginning. You can spend hours working on interviews with that character or developing the character’s inner feelings and outward traits, but unless you have a good plot to go with that person, you could still end up hitting that dead end. Did you come up a story worthy of your character? 
What is that character going to do with that great personality or all those emotional problems? The character still needs more than full development. You might have a wonderful person, but he or she still needs a plot to test his or her will. That character needs a story built around him or her to provide the person a reason for existing. Without the story you will reach a dead end with the character.
 2. Re-consider your charactersThe same is true of a wonderful plot idea. I love to cultivate ideas from news stories or develop intricate plots in brainstorming sessions with friends who agree that our idea can’t miss. Inspired by those ideas I might sit down and write a couple of chapters. Invariably I hit a dead end there too. Why? In this case it’s usually because I don’t know how the character will react to whatever is going on around him or her. In this case there is no fully grown character to face all those tribulations.
Just like the character needs a good story to go with him or her, the story needs just the right character to tell that story. Think about the character who belongs in that story, who will be challenged by the plot.

3. Consider an Old Approach or Character. Huh? That may sound strange, but sometimes all those story ideas need is a little further development. So why try to re-construct the wheel. Look through some of your old ideas of character profiles or plots. What kind of character do you need for that great adventure? A great warrior? Who do you need to solve the murder? A detective? Maybe you will find someone who wanted to write a story about just sitting there waiting for their story in your idea folder.
4. Think out of the box? Maybe you need to go in the other direction. If you have a character you want to write, why not pick something totally different for that person. Why not set down your everyman character who is going to be most out of place in a great adventure and force him to get through it. Make that character develop and grow over the course of the journey. Take a character who will be most uncomfortable in a plot and make the character work to prove he or she is worthy. 

5. Play the old “what if” game.  Take your characters and plots and start reworking those plot ideas in different ways.  Try out several scenarios until you find the one that is right.  Then get started writing. Often it just takes some extra thoughts to make a story start working again. 

So don't abandon those files of  old story ideas. They can still be useful even if you don’t use them immediately. And don't throw out those scenes you might have written on the fly. Sometimes you can rework them and put them into a story you are already working on. For that matter use one of those ideas in your WIP. Put your current character into that situation and see what happens.

 You never know until you try out giving new life to your old ideas.   

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

5 Tips to Writing Dialogue

 As writers we all know we will need to write dialogue sooner or later. We can't avoid it. People are going to speak in your books and that is what dialogue is--the characters having a conversation. Writing dialogue should be simple for writers. We all have to do it ourselves on a dialy basis and we have all read it. Dialogue should be simple to write, but when you get right down to it, there are certain rules and guidelines you need to follow.  Here are five easy tips to consider as you write dialogue.

  1. Make your characters sound different. Nothing is worse in a book than having all the characters sound alike. First of all, it is not realistic. Listen to the people around you. No one talks or sounds just the same. So how do you do that? How can you make them sound different? Again, listen to the people around you. Notice the different ways they speak and then use that in your story. Just as an educated teacher is going to sound very different from a high school student, a duchess or duke in the past would have spoken very differently than the kitchen maid.
  2. Keep in mind your character’s sex.  There has been a lot of talk about the differences in how men and women speak. Many writers I know say men are much more blunt in their language than women. They’re more used to giving orders or just expecting their wishes to be carried out. I’m not sure that works anymore. Many women can be just as blunt as men and are just as forceful. But pay attention to some of those small differences as you write and keep in mind possible differences in how men and women sound.
  3. Don’t get too carried away with dialects.  This is one I have had to watch myself. Overusing dialect can sometimes make it difficult to follow a story. Look for ways around the overuse of dialect. You don’t want to completely get away from it, especially when setting stories in certain times and places, but don’t over use it to the point of turning off the reader.
  4. Don’t forget your tags.  Tags come in several ways. They are the simple – she said that follows the line spoken. They can also be used to tell how the sentence is spoken. She shouted is definitely going to be different that a simple said.  But you can also over use the tag too. Watch out for falling into the trap of using said on every tag. Sometimes you can do without any tag at all. And at times you can use an action tag that tells how she said something. 

“Don’t go in there!” The use of the exclamation point and even the warning can tell you she is probably sounding anxious or perhaps shouting. You might not need a tag here.

  1. Don’t lose sight of who is speaking. Sometimes in a group of characters speaking you do need tags after many lines to indicate who is speaking. If you have three or more people you need to make certain that the reader knows who is saying what. Again, this can be handled with an action tag at times, but don’t let your readers get lost in long periods of dialogue without making certain they know who is talking.

If you are uncertain about whether your dialogue is working, read the passages aloud. See how your characters sound and then let them keep on talking.  



Monday, August 1, 2016

5 Tips to Setting Your Story Mood

This past weekend I attended a workshop on making video trailers for fiction books. Having spent so much of my life mixing words and video in TV news and public relations, I was intrigued. I know how to put together a news story visually and features that show a story or person, but how do you make a trailer that would show visually what a book was about?  Part of it has to do with showing the mood of the story.  That got me to thinking about how to show some of that mood inside the story itself.  Here are five tips to consider as you write your story to show location, mood, and ambience. These can all make your story stronger.

1. Consider the setting. This is self explanatory.  If you're writing a dark, gothic type story setting it in an old, dark castle or house seems natural.  But what if you're writing a dark story that is set in the tropics, or on a summer vacation?  Use that setting to make the case.  For instance, that bright tropical setting can hold lots of dark, hidden secrets in either glaring sunlight or in unusual shadows in unexpected places.  A dirty alley where the heroine gets lost as she goes home from the sun drenched beach with plenty of shadows and perhaps a scary stranger can set the mood for a darker future to come.

2. Look for just the right words to set the stage for the mood. If you're setting the story in the middle of winter, go beyond just describing the cold, make the characters feel it with chilled hands, frosty breath, numb fingers, or cold rooms.  Bring the cold even into the heart of a warm house or car, and then make the characters feel that coldness from their skin to their souls.

3.  Show contrasts. Use contrasting imagery to make the shadows darker, the light spots brighter. Take the reader from one extreme to another so that when the mood shifts, the reader's mood can shift with the story. Light moments mixed with dark can shift the mood as well.  Think about the difference of a green mountainside as compared to the charred, emptiness of a burned forest.

 4. Consider sounds. Just like with mood, light and temperature, remember the sounds that can set the mood and tone of a book.  In one of my stories I'm trying to catch the feel of a summer morning. Out of nowhere I suddenly heard a video my sister made at sunrise while walking the Colorado plains. She was trying to capture the morning sunrise and did video as opposed to still shots, but when I heard the birds as the sun topped the edge of the horizon, I had what I was looking for. Describing what I heard in that video helped me craft that early morning scene.

5.  Don't be afraid to experiment.  Play with the scene and try writing it in several different ways and then see what makes it most effective. Do you write it in first person? Does it work better from a certain character's point of view? Does it make it better if you describe the scene or if you let the character give their own impression?

All these methods can work and can help you capture the setting which in turn will make each story unique.  Good luck!

Getting off to a Fresh Start

At the beginning of every new year don’t we always look at different ways to start off fresh? We want to make our resolutions or set goals ...