Falling in Love with your Story Again

I hate my novel.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/goddess-arts/ (license=CC BY-NC 2.0)

Many of you pursuing your NaNoWriMo dreams may understand, just past the half-way point, that your lovely story has turned on you and become an albatross hanging ’round your neck.

“What happened?” you may ask. Nothing, really. This is supposedly a normal phase of writing experts describe in countless books to amateurs like me. Keep writing and the love will return.

I disagree. When my pink and wrinkly ‘baby’ was first born, umbilical cord severed with the words “The End”, I marveled at how it’s intricate subplots came together to form this testament to perseverance.

Now the pretty is gone. I’ve reworked my outline, coaxed the characters to speak in turn, as well as patched so many plot holes that the whole thing reeks of Bondo.  It has reached the ‘terrible twos’ and become a monster that won’t stop crying for attention, turns everything I feed it to crap, and scampers off to get into mischief whenever my back is turned.

Where has the love gone?

When first conceived, my story was a world I imagined arising from the devastation of losing our digital way of life. Instead of the gloomy zombie filled post-apocalyptic tales saturating today’s markets, we didn’t surrender our humanity at the first sign of trouble and people banded together – not just to survive – but to reconnect society through shared moral values.

I think this is what the so-called experts meant by “theme”, but it is hard to tell when their nebulous term is applied like baby powder to every story element that chafes as you write.



Take Home Quiz:

Go over your story and describe why you fell in love with the idea of it enough to write it in the first place. Go ahead and be sloppy- I won’t grade you on spelling or grammar.

Use this description as a reference while you write/revise your work. The plot, characters, even setting may change as you go, but keep this picture in mind as your baby grows and it just might survive long enough to become ready for the world one day.



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The “Spark” of Creativity is Unleashed, Part One

Last post, I introduced the Spark Project, currently completing Round 6. I submitted a short story to my assigned partner, Marty McGihon with the understanding that I would take one of Marty’s paintings and write a story. I’ve jotted down a couple of notes to explain how I arrived at my final work, but you work differently that I (which is the point of the Spark Program – use what you’re good at and see how others do their thing.)

Life Isn't Always Easy

Painting by Marty McGihon

I started with Marty’s picture, “Life Isn’t Always Easy”, which I studied from every angle until I saw an image that I felt I could use. If you turn the picture so that the dark edge is across the top like I did, you may see a woman with a blue face wearing a red shawl on the left hand side. There appears to be a tall yellow cliff on the right with a red waterfall and some green brush in the center. Where the woman’s hands would be are two reddish orange circles that I imagined were her palms filled with magical fire.

A short amount of research (wikipedia) revealed Morgan Le Fay, a legendary Irish sorceress that would make an excellent subject to write about. The only problem was finding a unique setting. For that, I used the yellow cliff and saw the possibility of setting this story in the old West, where orange and red cliffs abound. More research revealed that there was a mass migration to the Americas in the late 1830s due to a potato famine, which I could use to explain why she would have left Ireland to come to the old west.

This project was quickly becoming too big for a mere 1500 words and I sought a reasonable way to cut it down a bit. I discovered that the primary entertainment of the time was the “dime novel” which serialized the exploits of the time. You can find real text from the old dime novels online (which I did courtesy of the Stanford University Libraries collection) and hopefully I’ve captured their essence in this tale.

One thing that I really enjoyed was trying to capture the dialogue and pacing of the dime novels, as well as incorporate Irish/Gaelic phrasing gleaned from a sampling of Celtic folklore. If there are any errors, they are due to my haste or deliberately placed to not anger supernatural entities that typically wander the internet looking for trouble. Without further ado, here is my finished story submission…

THE LA FEY SISTERS, or Eyewitness to a Sorcerous Showdown
Chapter One: High Magic on the High Plains

Before you ask, there is no Chapter 2 (yet). I suspect there will be more in the future and if I do write them, I will put them up right here for you to read.

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How to Unleash Your “Spark” of Creativity

Yesterday marked the beginning of Spark Round 6 and I’ve given permission for another soul to dig into one of my precious stories to find inspiration of a sort.

What’s this “spark” thingie, you ask? Where are my manners – the Spark Project is a volunteer collaboration between artists and writers to produce new works based on your partner’s contribution. Created by Amy Souza in 2008, this event is held once a quarter and is open to writers and visual artists of all kinds.

This is my first time participating, so it is still a bit early to say how much this will help get my writing juices flowing. I am definitely inspired to write and the 10 day deadline doesn’t leave much room for my usual time-wasting antics (this blog excluded.)

I’ve got my partner’s artwork, so I guess it is time to start getting creative. I can hear the ol’ inner monkey sharpening pencils even now. Wish me luck.

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New Short Story Published Online

Just in time for Halloween, I am pleased to announce that my horror story “In the Shadow of the Oak” is online at the Absent Willow Review – October issue. Please head over and give it a read!

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Missed Opportunity

Here’s a tip for all of you who write stories – double check the submission requirements!

I finished my entry for the  NewScientist.com flash fiction contest and found the “This contest is closed for submissions” page when I went to send them my latest masterpiece.  It turns out that I misread the closing time in the rules.

As I promised in an earlier post, here is my entry.


“There’s no fish, Grandpa. Probably hasn’t been any here since before I was born.”

“Hush up and watch your line.”

“Who’s going to hear us?  We’re floating in the middle of the Pacific with not another soul around.”

They sat in silence for a while, watching the brightly colored bobbers dance along in the wake of their converted deep sea cruiser. The water this close to the processing platforms was deep blue and free from the debris that choked most of the ocean’s currents.

“Can we head back soon? I’m supposed to meet up with Terry and the others online at 3…” He started pulling his fishing line in.

“Patience, young man. A little time out here with me won’t kill you.”  The old man dug around in the cooler at his side.  “Sandwich?”

“Sure.” The young man unwrapped it and took a bite, dangling the pole off of one leg.

“Your Grandma used to make me sandwiches just like these for my lunch.  Those days, of course, the garbage in the water was so thick you could just about walk across it from one boat in the recycling fleet to another. There was lots of work to be done cleaning up the mess, but I always found time to toss the ol’ pole in the water.”

The old man looked out at his bobber and tightened his line a bit with the oversized reel. “There was good money in recycling,” he reflected. “Not like these days.”

“Dad says he’s thinking about making the switch to algae farming next season, you know, follow the money and all that.”

“What do you think?”

“Who cares? As soon as I’m done with school, I’m gone… hey, did you see that?”

He pointed toward the water where one of the bobbers dipped below the surface and popped back up.  “Oh, jeez!  What do I do, Grandpa?”

The old man smiled and set down his pole to help the excited youth.  After years of patience, his wait was over.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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15 minute writing drills

This last three day weekend promised to be a boon to my halted writing, but deciding on where to start proved near fatal.

I’d spent the last couple of weekends nibbling around the edges of my novel rewrite by creating index cards for each of my plotted scenes that still needed writing. On each card was the setting, POV character, some lines about the conflict and goals, and the following scene. All seemed ready for writing, but I still faced the dreaded blank page.

This lone condition is both my writing nemesis as well as my favorite part of writing. It can only be vanquished by sheer force of will, an external deadline, or a crazy exercise I picked up during the 2007 NaNoWriMo.

How does this miracle work, you ask?

Fifteen Minutes

Fifteen Minutes

Simple. Set aside 15 minutes of time when you can work without distractions, choose your topic or scene, and begin writing non-stop until the buzzer goes off. Do not waste time with editing or punctuation; you can fix errors afterwards. Just write what you feel works best, even if you never use the material in your finished story.

Based on this technique, I am proud to say that I have four text segments to start my unwritten scenes. I don’t know what or how I will continue from where each segment ends, but now the page isn’t empty.

The next time you find yourself staring down a blank page; try it. It cannot be worse that not writing at all.

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Writing Fiction from my Iphone

Last Thursday on my way home from work, I decided to try writing my short story submission from an earlier post. I dug through my backpack for something to write it on, only to discover I’d not packed my Alphasmart 3000 (my preferred method.)

When I write, I constantly fight the urge to go back and correct my errors. This can often lead to spending too much time with the “eraser” and not enough “pencil” on the paper.

My AlphaSmart helped in that it only showed 4 lines at a time. If I don’t look up when I’m typing, potential distractions go by and I stay in author mode longer.

I see the same benefits when I enter these blog entries from my iPhone. The auto-correct feature catches a lot of my usual blunders up front, which also helps keep thw words flowing.

So when I found myself staring at the blank sheet of notepaper, my heart sank a little and I went to the internet to see what other iPhone app writers were using. Nothing leaped out as a cure-all and I reminded myself that every minute spent online was one that did not produce words for my story.

I opened up Notes (a default notepad app) and jotted down a quick note to check for more apps later. My inner monkey started jumping up and down, banging his hairy fists on the old Royale typewriter he used to compose great works of literature. I looked around to see what excited him and realized what I was doing- writing a short piece on my iPhone!

For a monkey that doesn’t seem to get out much, he’s pretty smart.

I finished my first draft of the flash fiction on the ride home. I sent the “note” to my email, where I could cut-n-paste it into my favorite word processor and was ready to edit in less that two minutes.

Conclusion: stay simple, the best tools have more than one use, and always listen to your inner monkey.

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