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Brandi_R
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Topic 77: Something New

In the New York Times article "From Finance to Fiction," author Stephen Frey writes about what seems to be a pivotal moment in his writing:

When I was a banker at Irving Trust, I wrote some murder mysteries. I sent them to Steve, who had always gotten A’s in writing. He didn’t like the first few. He was polite. “I am not sure they are going to make it.” he said.

Then it hit me. I had been writing murder mysteries that took place in Minnesota. Meanwhile the financial world was taking off and I was in it.

That realization led to his first book, The Takeover. He went on to write over a dozen more.

When you think of ideas for your writing, from what sources do you tend to draw? Your own life? The future? The realm of fantasy? Then consider what sources you’ve neglected. If you don’t write from your own life, what is there in your present or past that might make an intriguing story? If you usually write fantasy, what kind of story would you write if you set it in the real world?

Share your thoughts. If you’re feeling adventurous, try out one of your neglected sources of ideas and see where that takes you. Don’t forget to report back and let us know how it went!
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simple_girl
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Re: Topic 77: Something New

I do draw a lot from my own life but it is not just things that I have personally experienced. I get many ideas from my education. I took a womens studies class and I am currently writing a story about a girl who was physically abused by her father because that class talked a lot about violence against women.

 

I have never considered looking into the historic past or the future for ideas. I usually focus on the present but I would like trying that. I also write about what I am comfortable with and would like to try writing about something that might make me think outside of that zone.

"It is not what we say or feel that makes us what we are. It is what we do or fail to do."
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Dreamer4ever
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Re: Topic 77: Something New

I've done a lot of stories that are placed in the '40s, during WWII. Mostly I was inspired by that time and the strength of the people that lived through it. So my source is from pretty much everywhere.

 

Then I like to add in orphans. I think that that is partly from my own personal life, as I have four cousins that are adopted. But I've also seen stories everywhere that have orphans in them and it can be a very intriguing, touching story when you involve a child  that has been alone, and hasn't known love.

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them. --Mark Twain
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Capuchin
Posts: 250
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Re: Topic 77: Something New

The way I write is very different from the norm. Instead of saying, "today I will write a story about a nice girl who plays a trick on a boy without realizing the psychological trauma she's inflicting", I start with an image of a rustic tween witch changing her head into grotesque shapes. Then I have to ask why she's doing that. The ideas appear in the flow of words -- it's a pain response, she's pinching a pimple, she's naive enough to have believed a wizard boy who told her it's a liar's mole and she should squeeze all the bad out of it before it gets under her skin, her mama tells her the truth, she tells her friends about the lie, one of them knows a good way to get back at him . . .

 

Those ideas come strictly from my subconscious. Whenever I try to create a story based on a real-life experience, or construct one from a "this would make a good tale" inspiration, it always ends up a hack job. The transitions from 'I have to include this first' to 'this has to follow' to 'the next character has to have a mole' always end up wooden, stilted, and terribly, terribly obvious. It's like trying to steer a car by getting out and smacking the front wheels with a sledgehammer.

 

Now that the story mentioned above has been written, I can pick out the obvious sources for the ideas. Everyone grimaces when squeezing a pimple, and I went through that a lot because of severe acne. My two older sisters taught all me sorts of things (catch a bee and it'll make honey in your hand, rain is Angels' pee, cats like to have their tails bitten), so childhood lies are second-nature to me. The concept of a girl's prank damaging a boy for life is also within my experience (many people talk about being scarred in their youth, but they usually mean wimpy, emotional scars -- I still have the real kind scattered all over my body).

 

My ideas are often stranger than most because of my peculiar way of looking at the world. When I first heard the term: "the human condition," I associated it with similar terms, like "skin condition" and "heart condition." Buried deep in the back of my brain is the concept that everything which makes us human is diseased, ugly, and easily corrupted. 

 

Having both the normal and a skewed view of the world means an extra layer to my subconscious, and the gap between those plies is a breeding ground for ideas.

 

As I said, my way of writing is different from most, but what works for me is to leave the ideas to my subconscious and just let the words flow.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." -- Robert Heinlein
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Zack_Kullis
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Re: Topic 77: Something New

[ Edited ]

 


Capuchin wrote:

It's like trying to steer a car by getting out and smacking the front wheels with a sledgehammer.


Ah, Capuchin, that was very nicely written!!  Some descriptions just jump out and grab you by the ears and make you understand exactly what the author meant to say.  This is one of those.

 

 

When I write, I normally meld life experience (my own, or that of friends and family) with whatever ideas, desires, dreams, or fantasies that pop into my mind.

 

For me, it is important to somehow incorporate something that I have experienced into whatever I may be writing.  That way I will have an easier time painting a picture of the emotions, characters, surroundings, and climates.

 

As an example, I lived in Brazil during the early 90's.  I vividly recall a Saturday morning when I was standing on the balcony of my small fourth floor apartment.  The street below my balcony was just a few blocks from the central park of the city, and was normally full of traffic.  That morning, however, the street was full of hundreds of communist flags.  The communist party was very active in that part of Brazil, and the country had just impeached their President.  For a person that had grown up being VERY apprehensive about communism, it is a disquieting and scary thing to see your street full of people shouting communist slogans behind a sea of undulating red flags.

 

Because of that experience, I can recall those feelings, as well as the visual of hundreds of golden hammers and sickles floating in a sea of red, and perhaps write about a character's nerve being challenged while he/she was confronting hostile communist forces. 

 

Taking what I know, what I have felt, witnessed, and experienced, is kind of like a soup stock.  I really should not make a soup out of stock alone, nobody would want to eat it.  But if I can add the meat, vegetables, spice, herbs, and other good stuff that is the imagination and creativity of a writer, then hopefully I will be able to make a soup that people will want to eat.

 

 
Message Edited by Zack_Kullis on 04-14-2009 12:10 PM
Sic volvere Parcas...
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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 77: Something New


simple_girl wrote:

I do draw a lot from my own life but it is not just things that I have personally experienced. I get many ideas from my education. I took a womens studies class and I am currently writing a story about a girl who was physically abused by her father because that class talked a lot about violence against women.

 

I have never considered looking into the historic past or the future for ideas. I usually focus on the present but I would like trying that. I also write about what I am comfortable with and would like to try writing about something that might make me think outside of that zone.


Classes are a great source of inspiration! It sounds like you use what you're learning to support the characters and conflicts you're writing about. That's a great way to write with confidence. I find I often put myself "in the way" of education--seeking to fulfill those curiosities. Sometimes they result in stories.

letterpressfiction.blogspot.com
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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 77: Something New


Dreamer4ever wrote:

I've done a lot of stories that are placed in the '40s, during WWII. Mostly I was inspired by that time and the strength of the people that lived through it. So my source is from pretty much everywhere.

 

Then I like to add in orphans. I think that that is partly from my own personal life, as I have four cousins that are adopted. But I've also seen stories everywhere that have orphans in them and it can be a very intriguing, touching story when you involve a child  that has been alone, and hasn't known love.


Yes, those sound like intriguing topics. Can you say a bit about how you incorporate details from outside sources into your fiction? What about others? How do you integrate the information you pick up into your fiction? Does the research simply help you better imagine the world? Or do you find you run into details you need but don’t know and have to track them down?

letterpressfiction.blogspot.com
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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 77: Something New


Capuchin wrote:

The way I write is very different from the norm. Instead of saying, "today I will write a story about a nice girl who plays a trick on a boy without realizing the psychological trauma she's inflicting", I start with an image of a rustic tween witch changing her head into grotesque shapes. Then I have to ask why she's doing that. The ideas appear in the flow of words -- it's a pain response, she's pinching a pimple, she's naive enough to have believed a wizard boy who told her it's a liar's mole and she should squeeze all the bad out of it before it gets under her skin, her mama tells her the truth, she tells her friends about the lie, one of them knows a good way to get back at him . . .

 


That's such a lovely description of your creative process. I find even when I approach a story from a source or idea, that I enter the story from this very perspective. I have to think about character and desire. Otherwise, the "idea" can take over and make for a much less interesting--and human--story. It sounds like you have a process that works well for you. It can be fun to go back and track "where" something came from after the fact. 

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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 77: Something New


Zack_Kullis wrote:

 

 

Taking what I know, what I have felt, witnessed, and experienced, is kind of like a soup stock.  I really should not make a soup out of stock alone, nobody would want to eat it.  But if I can add the meat, vegetables, spice, herbs, and other good stuff that is the imagination and creativity of a writer, then hopefully I will be able to make a soup that people will want to eat.

 

 
Message Edited by Zack_Kullis on 04-14-2009 12:10 PM

A great comparison! It sounds like real life experience really anchors your work. Do you find the end result resembles your life and world in substantial ways? Or does the end result stray rather far? In other words, how much of each ingredient ends up in the soup? 

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Capuchin
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Re: Topic 77: Something New


Brandi_R wrote:
I find even when I approach a story from a source or idea, that I enter the story from this very perspective. I have to think about character and desire. Otherwise, the "idea" can take over and make for a much less interesting--and human--story.

That reminds me of something I heard decades ago -- when an editor asked a science fiction author if he could write a story about airplanes, the response was: "No! Stories are about people."

 

I think it's probably because of my background in reading and writing sf that I concentrate more on characters than on the underlying ideas -- if you focus on the hardware, you'll end up writing a tech manual instead of a story that can draw a reader in.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." -- Robert Heinlein
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Zack_Kullis
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Re: Topic 77: Something New

Thanks for responding Brandi!!

 


Brandi_R wrote:
Do you find the end result resembles your life and world in substantial ways? Or does the end result stray rather far? In other words, how much of each ingredient ends up in the soup? 

 

Those are good questions.  I find that the similarity between my experiences and life with what I write is really dictated by the type of writing I am doing.  For example, when I am writing something in the paranormal arena, or something that is fantastical, there obviously needs to be a fair amount of imagination.  But, having said that, I try to write about things that I have experienced in some way.  I try to use as much personal experience as possible because it is much easier for me to go into minute detail about surroundings and feelings if I have been there.

 

I have been very fortunate in that I have had an extremely wide range of experiences across a few countries, here in the US, and through work.  What I have not experienced can be deduced and imagined. 

 

The end result of my writing would be like Frankenstein's monster, hopefully minus the "abby" normal brain part!!! (I had a little Young Frankenstein flashback there)  Seriously though, it does tend to be body/story parts from various places and experiences mixed with other parts from imagination and fantasy, and hopefully all brought to life with a zap from my computer.

 

Writing is SO much fun!!!

Sic volvere Parcas...
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surferartchick
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Re: Topic 77: Something New

I do write from experience. We all know the old adage, write what you know.  In some instances, though - it’s not always an option, i.e. space exploration from me, an earth dweller.  Since I write mostly science fiction I find that most of my characters have attributes that are similar to people I know, common threads that we all deal with, and situations that I’ve gotten into over the years.

 

All though I have to say, my best stories come from dreams that I have no control over.  Matter of fact the novel I’m writing right now is stolen directly from my wacko dreams.  Proof that soda/sugar before bed is a good thing!

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Dreamer4ever
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Re: Topic 77: Something New


Brandi_R wrote:

Dreamer4ever wrote:

I've done a lot of stories that are placed in the '40s, during WWII. Mostly I was inspired by that time and the strength of the people that lived through it. So my source is from pretty much everywhere.

 

Then I like to add in orphans. I think that that is partly from my own personal life, as I have four cousins that are adopted. But I've also seen stories everywhere that have orphans in them and it can be a very intriguing, touching story when you involve a child  that has been alone, and hasn't known love.


Yes, those sound like intriguing topics. Can you say a bit about how you incorporate details from outside sources into your fiction? What about others? How do you integrate the information you pick up into your fiction? Does the research simply help you better imagine the world? Or do you find you run into details you need but don’t know and have to track them down?


 

Actually, I have to be totally honest with you, I've never been very good with the details of those stories. I mean, I will get to a spot in my story where I go "Wait! Did they do this back then?" And next thing I know I'm searching and searching through all sorts of info on different websites and I'm not finding what I need.

 

I really do have to get myself into it because otherwise I'll find my resource very dry and I won't read it. When I do read it it does help me to see the world of that time and the way it affected everyday life for those people.

 

I think one of my biggest problems is finding the right sources. Other than Wikipedia I have trouble finding ones that I trust and provide me with the details I need.

 

Thanks for replying, by the way!

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them. --Mark Twain
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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 77: Something New


Capuchin wrote:

That reminds me of something I heard decades ago -- when an editor asked a science fiction author if he could write a story about airplanes, the response was: "No! Stories are about people."

 


That's a great anecdote--and a perfect way to sum up the heart of fiction.

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Brandi_R
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Re: Topic 77: Something New


Dreamer4ever wrote:

 

Actually, I have to be totally honest with you, I've never been very good with the details of those stories. I mean, I will get to a spot in my story where I go "Wait! Did they do this back then?" And next thing I know I'm searching and searching through all sorts of info on different websites and I'm not finding what I need.

 

I really do have to get myself into it because otherwise I'll find my resource very dry and I won't read it. When I do read it it does help me to see the world of that time and the way it affected everyday life for those people.

 

I think one of my biggest problems is finding the right sources. Other than Wikipedia I have trouble finding ones that I trust and provide me with the details I need.

 

Thanks for replying, by the way!


That's a good point--it can be difficult to know what sources to trust. Purdue University's Online Writing Lab has a great write up on this if you're interested: "Evaluating Sources." As to finding the information quickly and avoiding "dry" reading, that's a whole different story!

letterpressfiction.blogspot.com