Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I Need a Storm...A Brainstorm!

So I've started working on my next story and the basic idea and premise is really all I have at this point. I know and get my heroine. This is her story and I feel like I have a good grasp on who she is.

The hero...not so much. I know the basics of what I need to make him to set him up against the heroine, but I just can't seem to get inspired by WHO he is. What his growth will be. Hell, what his problem internally really is to be honest.

Likewise, I have no idea at this point about plot. Except they live happily ever after. LOL! Even though this is a paranormal story, I'm thinking it will be lighter on the whole "end of the world as we know it" stuff and way more focused on the romance and internal growth of my heroine. Again, this is her story and she's is who is calling for me to set her life to rights.

I've done numerous brainstorming techniques in the past week and just haven't hit on something that has worked yet. There's a whole lot of general advice out there, but not a lot of "here's what actually worked for me"

Also, I want to take the time to say ROCK ON to at least 2 other pirates who took the plunge with me and entered the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood's Golden Entry Contest on Monday! We all deserve applause for putting ourselves out there. So you can get a feel for my heroine, here is my entry which was limited to the first 50 words of the story:

So, I hope you don't mind that I'm using my day here to ask for your help pirates...what is your best brainstorming advice for a new story? What works for you? Do you normally start with a character and then build around them, or are you a plotter first and find the character as the plot develops? 

I have a presentation from 9:30-10:30 this morning, but will be asap to check comments! I hope you've got some great ideas for me - I need them!


TerriOsburn said...

First off, awesome first 50 and good luck you, Hellie, and Marn in the Rubies contest. Can't believe we won't know who won until Oct 8!

As to story development, I always get characters first. They show up in my head with names and a look and then tell me a bit about their story. Not a lot, but something to go on. Then I start digging.

I have character detail sheets which are great for getting to know the characters. Sounds like silly stuff. Who was their best friend in HS? Where did they grow up? Do they have any scars? Tattoos? But you'd be surprised how much they come to life as you fill in the blanks.

I also have three questions I got from a Larry Brooks blog (actually a guest blogger on his site) that fill in the big picture stuff. Great for learning their motivation and their goals. I'll send all this stuff to you tonight as I don't have it with me here at work.

And whoohoo for starting a new story!

MsHellion said...

I just love that little peek into the heroine--"the deadly one"--and know it would be exactly the sort of book I'd keep reading. I love the mythos, the tone of voice you convey (light but "dark" humor), and the promise that things are going to go wrong for someone if she's the deadly one of fate...because we all know that's what they do. *LOL*

I'm trying to think what I've done in the past. I've run into this problem with Adam & Eve, in giving them the right internal issues because basically I'm implying they're neurotic long before neuroses was acceptable. *LOL* But really, I've been reassured they're fine--I just need to write it, right--so I imagine you're in a similar fix. You're thinking TOO much almost.

In my current WIP, I had Brody as a professor doing research. Now at page 170, he's still a professor but he writes dime novels too. Things change. I think you just need to write a dirty book, letting the characters reveal themselves to you when THEY want to, not when you think you need to know...because I brainstormed Brody a LOT and proceeded and he still did this crap to me. I think you should pick something that inspires you a bit, to at least start flinging some words on the page, and then roll with it if it decides to hare off in another direction.

It will work out, I promise.

(I have detail sheets too. I have also recommended them, but I don't care too much for them in my own work because the moment I can't answer several questions, I feel like I flunked a test and stop writing. I do better with "improv writing" where I give the characters a situation and have them react to it, like a madwrite, though typically I usually have them react to something that might actually fit the story. No elevators. How they behave tells me a lot about them. Then I can start filling in some blanks about them that they wouldn't have told me. Characters won't tell you they're control freaks if you ask. But their actions will.

And finding motivation--I like to write their backstories. Where do they come from? What was their childhood like? Or actually, not the whole childhood--but pinpoint some vivid childhood memory for the characters and really write it out...because a lot of the time, that moment, will influence the rest of their lives. It's why so many "vivid" moments feature something from the teenage years. *LOL* Something AWFUL and Carrie-esque. *LOL* Pain motivates people. As long as they can feel, they will try to get away from pain.

Sabrina Shields said...

Sorry - my presentation ran late but it went so well that I'm thrilled!

Terri - thank you. I'm excited for this bright shiny new story but I've never created a "world" before and usually it's the plot that comes to me and not the characters so this goes against what I've done before.

Sabrina Shields said...

Hellie - Thank you for the kind words on my opening. I hardly ever share anything I write - I feel like I'm still too green and I must be overlooking obvious crap writing.

Loved the idea of writing the backstories. That is definitely one idea I'm going to try.

MsHellion said...

Love the thing you shared on Facebook--the Robin Hart thing, sorta looking at the big picture? I love that. I've printed out my manuscript in tiny print single space before to have a "whole" copy and do line edits, but never thought to use it that way. MUCH BETTER IDEA!

TerriOsburn said...

What thing on FB? What did I miss??

MsHellion said...

TerriOsburn said...

Thanks! I'll check that out here shortly.

P. Kirby said...

I had an interesting revelation while thinking about the fan fiction (grrr, sigh) this morning. I'll get to that in a sec.

My usual brainstorming consists of having rambling conversation with myself and typing it out as it goes. The result looks sort of like this:

So Eric has declared war on Vharshaem. Theo knows. What's Theo going to do about this? His advisor wants him to declare martial law. Theo doesn't want to; he doesn't want to treat his own people like criminals. But martial law will makes things more difficult for Kelly and Eric as they sneak into the city. So yeah, martial law, make it happen.

This can go on for pages and a lot of backstory gets fleshed out this way.

But...initially, my characters show up rather fully formed (from where, I don't know) and I develop them on the fly, by writing their interactions.

Re: the revelation. A) I'm dialogue driven. Dialogue is my strong point (I've had enough agents and others tell me this, so I can say it with a degree of confidence.) So I usually write key dialogue and then build a scene/action/description around it. So it's really important that my characters start yapping at each other right away. Writer's block happens when they stop talking. Or when the dialogue goes from Whedon-esque to George Lucas.

B) If (big if) I'm in the zone, my characters are talking, and I'm writing deep POVs with plenty of scene setting, the narrative has a strong tendency to gift me with McGuffins and other devices to build the plot. E.g., with the ff project, I realized this morning that a silly little background detail, written for sh*ts and giggles, could be tied into the main plot.

This was a great help on the original fic projects, because it reminded me that I've probably got similar things going on earlier in the story, things that can get me "unstuck."

That probably makes no sense. My point is, I just have to start writing my characters' story, even if it's just a seemingly nonsensical scene where they're watching TV together.

Janga said...

Yay for the contest entries! Good luck to all the pirates.

Sabrina, I find Donald Maas’s books helpful with this kind of issue. In one of his books (I’ve forgotten which one), he suggests

1. Picking a time and place, a character, and a problem.
2. Brainstorming.
3. Moving each idea you brainstorm in the opposite direction.

For example:

Time: just past noon Wednesday
Place: on a boat
Character: Tamryn Kendrickson
Problem: She just caught her boyfriend cheating.

Idea: The boat is sinking, and she can’t swim.
Predictable: She’s rescued by a hunky billionaire who takes her to his yacht where they have hot monkey sex.

Reverse: The boat is sinking, and T’s a strong swimmer. She swims to a shore and calls her BFF.
BFF takes T to a remote cabin for recovery and planning time.
BFF leaves on European business trip.
Boat is found, T is missing, cheating ratfink is suspected of killing her.

Ok, the example is ridiculous, but it demonstrates, I think, that reversing the direction gets the ideas flowing much faster than going with the predictable. It works for me anyway.

Writing prompts work for me too. I love A Writer’s Book of Days because it has wonderful prompts. The last one I used was “Write about being in bad company.” I got a new character and found a new dimension to my heroine from that one.

TerriOsburn said...

Pat - I don't know where they come from either, but mine also show up fully formed. I often wonder where they were hanging out before I got them. Like maybe they were pestering another writer who ignored them too long so they tried their luck with me. :)

Janga - I've never tried either of those tactics but I like them. Especially the first one. I have a Donald Maass book, but it's one of the many I've never read all the way through.

Maureen said...

I really can't wait to get out of the Kia dealership and use my keyboard to comment....grrrrr! I have things to say and the phone don't cut it!

Sabrina Shields said...

Pat - What I love about your brainstorm example is how simple it is. Maybe I'm getting too caught up in trying to find the "right way" a writer does it and I just need to start simple.

Sabrina Shields said...

Janga - that is an excellent sounding exercise!

Have to admit I haven't read any of the Maas books yet. Might need to remedy that.

MsHellion said...

I saw a Maass book the other day that I *ALMOST* bought and will be doing so on Amazon very soon. Writing 21st Century Fiction.

I thought of Mo when I was flipping through it because he was talking about genre bending and how things are more fluid in a way. And he referenced a ton of YA novels and techniques and looks GOOD.

Though I see Amazon has been dinged about something. WTF. This book was FINE at the B&N store I saw it at!

Sabrina Shields said...

Chance - Tell Pickles to hurry up with her beauty routine!

Marnee Bailey said...

I'm not sure I'm going to be much help. And sorry I'm late, I had a birthday party today. (Kids out of school for Yom Kippur.)

I usually learn the most about my characters from actually writing the plot. It's only at about the halfway point that I go, hey, I'm getting a handle on this guy/girl.

But, that's crappy advice.

SO, I'm going to go look at the book recommend and read the Robyn DeHart thing on FB like everyone else.


MsHellion said...

Marn, it's not crap if it works for you. She's asking what works for us. For you, character comes more out of plot rather than plot out of character. It boils out the same; it just depends on how best your mind works at analyzing the picture, right?

So for you, you examine the plot and figure out what kind of character would tackle this, why would he tackle this, etc, etc.

Sabrina is asking us for whatever we got. This means she's desperate and will try it all. It's ALL GOOD.

TerriOsburn said...

I envy those who get the plot first. I'm a hundred pages into this WIP and realize I'm not sure there's any plot at all. I mean, there's the Romance plot, but not much else. Yet. Maybe that will show up soon.

quantum said...

I think it must be very difficult to brainstorm on your own.

I remember some very productive scientific brainstorming sessions. The action starts when someone raises a problem that seems to have no easy solution.

the perterbation expansion diverges and actually every term in the series is divergent .... help!

A budding Feynman notices that by rearranging terms the infinities can be made to cancel leaving a convergent result.

A budding Dyson whips out his calculator and declares that the result agrees perfectly with experiment.

The subject of Quantum Electrodynamic Renormalisation is born!

My point is that you need the germ of a story before brainstorming. It is then the interaction of minds that makes for a useful outcome. Someone raises a question, someone else comes up with a 'What if' scenario. Then the genius of the meeting comments that the wrong question is being asked. When pressed he formulates a better question and so it goes on.

The first 50 words look interesting but I think that we need more info about Asia's world and the three fates before interacting minds can be much help. LOL

TerriOsburn said...

Look at Q going all bilingual on our arses. Not sure what language he switched into there but I'm sure it means something.

And he's right (in the part I can read) that we need more info from Scape. What do you have so far and then maybe we could throw some questions or ideas your way. (Why didn't one of us think of this sooner??)

Maureen said...

Ah, Pickles looks so nice now! I should never let her get so dirty...

Now, what works for me... The big what if stuff. I start with a world and how a character interacts with a world, how the world influences who they are and what they're limitations are...then start to push against those limitations.

None of this is very specific, but that is pretty much how I work. I do like to start with a general 'how the world works' set up. Just start rambling about the world...real world/make up world...what works for the characters, what works against them...a bit of who they are and what they want...then just dive in.

When I go back and look at those ramblings, I'm always interested in what I kept and what I tossed out as I went along... Stuff changes.

And that is something that I have to just get out of the way for.

Maureen said...

Q - I love the idea that the wrong question is being asked!

Sabrina Shields said...

Okay so here's some info...

Heroine is Aisa - She's the cutter of the thread of life and 1 of the 3 Fates.

While her sisters have the joy of bringing babies into the world, and deciding the type of life every person is given, she's the sister who is really the world's only real weapon of death.

In this world I envision it as totally modern but with those who know of the gods - I'm building the world based on Greek basics but twisting it for myself.

So, Aisa feels separate from her sisters. She's the most hated of the gods and the most feared. While her sisters have enjoyed their dalliances, she's never shared a single moment with a man interested in her. No one would dare. She's deadly you know!

She also is overwhelmed by what her lot in life is. She hates who she is and the whole being immortal and having to do this for all time thing is getting old.

She finds herself withdrawing from her family, frequently going within her small shell of a world.

I do know most of the Gods choose to live on Earth in this world. It's a choice they can make, but Aisa is tormented by seeing all the wonderfulness of Earth and Life and how she has to tear people away from each other.

For the hero, he needs to be a mortal taht she is supposed to cut his life line. Somehow, I'm going to make him either become immortal to be with her, or she will become mortal. I was leaning to the latter, but I feel that might be the easier way out for my heroine. It seems too easy and predictable to allow her to not be who she was born to be...

I need her growth to be her accepting herself - which is as the deadly fate. Not her walking out on it...

Okay I'm writing a ton - Let me let you play with that and see if that gets any ideas perking...

MsHellion said...

Well, being we've all been burned by this--this is your story and you've made the hard tough decision that she needs to accept/love herself and what she does--and therefore not leave it. Or if she leaves it, it's for a different reason, a better reason. So that's established.

So basically you need to see the lighter side of death...or the good side of it. You could play with things like,

1.) she refuses to cut lines on people and they remain in suffering--because just because she refuses to let them die, doesn't mean they aren't continuing to die--they're just suffering. So she makes a super long line for an old lady...but the woman has dementia. That can't be good. Or a child who was already sick, she won't cut the line, but they're miserable, wishing it wouldn't go on any longer...

2.) She must come to see she's providing a service. And forgive herself because she never chose this life. Doable.

3.) You get to do the cliche of "it's not about the moments you have but the moments you live"--she can see that it doesn't matter how long she lets people "live their lives" if they're not living, you know?

She may feel injustice that someone got sick who has potential and lives life every day vs someone who pisses away their life. But she didn't create disease. She just administers death. That's what I see. She pulls the plug. But if the patient is braindead, aren't you doing the patient a service?

HOWEVER, I don't know if your character DOES administer that might not be where you're going with that. *LOL* This is just probably how I'd play it if it was in my bright, shiny little hands. *LOL*

Absolutely no idea about the hero. But I'd probably make him REALLY sick. But really perky--so she wants him to live as long as she can...but it soon becomes not an option.

MsHellion said...

And if I've stepped over the line again, burn this comment above...or I'll burn it.

Maureen said...

Well, you could start by reading Judi's Almost a Goddess books and see how she dealt with the immortal/mortal thing with her three muses. (A lot of cheating and taking the easy road...but they were light-hearted romances, so that made sense.)

I know when I've dealt with immortality or the nearness of it with characters, I often have them completely aware of the mixed blessings... Those you leave behind, the connections that break, the bitterness of watching those you love age before you... But their friends and loved ones see it as a blessing for their children and descendents... The couple in question will be there to help and protect their descendents...

And ditto what Hel's said about the whole death is necessary thing. I'd rather see her accept her job and understant it...

Sabrina Shields said...

Hellie - excellent tips! One thing about me is that I'm very open to criticism and to real line with me...except the ones I put on myself about being too scared to share.

My first instinct to your thoughts:

#1 - To me this could almost make it even worse for her....which makes it the perfect build to her black moment.

#2 - I think this is a given that it has to happen.

#3 - YES - I've been trying to work on what my message is - what is it I want to weave as a "moral of my story type thing" and I keep coming back to things centering around living the life you're dealt to the fullest. Especially surrounding loss of loved ones. Still working that out but, totally works with your #3.

And you are exactly right - she doesn't create or give them the disease. She just ends the life. She's always thought that made her the worst of her sisters, but I see sister #2 having a worse story - she's the one creates everyone's "lot in life" meaning how they live, what obstacles they face, if they find love, etc. that sister is the sickness dealer.

Sabrina Shields said...

Chance - I've read and loved Judi's Goddess books. I might need to go back and reread them.

I see this as darker and snarkier (hopefully!) but still light on end of world, etc.

Totally agreeing that it really is the way to go to make her accept her job and even embrace it.

Now I just need the plot line that makes her do that - and I know it really is going to be in the story with the hero. Who he is and what he needs from her and her from him....

Holy cow I need GMC!

MsHellion said...

But you just told us the GMC!

Goal: find a job that doesn't make her miserable
Motivation: Because she's miserable killing people
Conflict: If she doesn't kill people, they linger and suffer more, world falls into chaos.

Simple, easy to remember.

Internally her stuff is going to be very similar. She wants to find love, but she doesn't want to be's almost like she has parallel paths of discovery. If you want love, you have to be willing to be heartbroken; loss is always inevitable. She can't take responsibility how people are living their lives--if they're living to the fullest or not--she has to come to see that's their Free Will, even if she is the Fate that cuts the cord.

At least that's how I'm imagining it, philosophically...yes, no? Maybe?

P. Kirby said...

Chiming is late....but...

Dude, your character is really cool. I love the idea of a kind of anti-hero heroine. I mean she's basically motherflipping Death. (Death, btw, being one of my favorite characters in Gaiman's Sandman comics.)

In the Fables series, Jack stuffs Death (cloak and sickle death, not Gaiman's) in magical bag so as to rid the world of, uh, expiration dates. Like most of Jack's hijinks, this goes really poorly. In fact, he can't even slaughter a chicken for supper because it just runs around perpetually alive with its head cut off.

Point. Death is necessary, so as Hellion said above, Aisa could have a kind of It's a Wonderful Life moment, where she sees how f*cked up things would be without her.

The whole immortal falling in love with a mortal schtick has loads of potential angst. I'm actually got the same issue w/the fan fic and two novels. With the fic, I'm going for happily for now, but with the other two, I'll have to resolve the issue with the mortal aging. (One story doesn't have a HEA, so technically, I don't.) But that's definitely something to consider.

P. Kirby said...

Also, another thing to consider it that Aisa is an immortal. Presumably she's been around a looong time. So even though she may look like a young human woman, her thought processes are going to be anything but. This could make for a lot of interesting interactions, points of miscommunication, etc. with the mortal hero.

I find that the tendency when writing characters like Aisa, is to forget that they've been molded by centuries, maybe millennia of experience. Obviously, they need to be relatable, but OTOH, with this kind of character, you have a lot of leeway when it comes to ethics, etc.

TerriOsburn said...

I love what everyone is throwing out here but I have one plea. I vote that the hero NOT be sick and she NOT know that he's going to die a sudden death. At which moment she'll have to cut his line. It's the senseless deaths that have to be the tough ones.

How or why they are thrown together during your story, I don't know. Unless he's a coroner. Or a funeral director. Those might be fun. Does she have an every day human job? (You might have told me this before but I don't remember.)

If their regular jobs cross and they have to do with death and he doesn't know she's death and she doesn't know he's going to die, then you have one hell of a black moment.

MsHellion said...

Ha! I love P.Kirby's point about her personality and "ethics" at times due to how long she has lived. It'd be a funny quirk to give her, if she's quoting from stories that happened in Troy...she'd be a little out of touch. Or if she tries to do things to be "more in touch", by watching SEX IN THE CITY or FRIENDS and it screws her up even more in proper behavior with people.

I'm trying to figure out how to resolve this "happily" without cheating necessarily. *scratches at head* Are people reborn? Does she have a mentor or a "father figure" more powerful than her? Is it even possible for her to give this job to someone else if she wanted once she realizes all this stuff? (i.e. once she's giving up the job for the right reasons, it can be given up? That sort of thing.)

Mo, I'm curious--what constitutes "cheating" to you? Me, I think it'd be making the human immortal and not having him die at all. And even if you had him come back after he died, I might think that was a little too precious too. You know? For me, I think the switch would be she could give it up to be mortal--but now she understands there's no control over how long either of them would live, she'll still be heartbroken, but it would still be worth it because of how they lived--or is that too hokey?

MsHellion said...

I vote that the hero NOT be sick and she NOT know that he's going to die a sudden death. At which moment she'll have to cut his line. It's the senseless deaths that have to be the tough ones.

Oh, brilliant!

MsHellion said...

I'm having the most fun ever! *LOL*

Maureen said...

How did Judi cheat? Didn't deal with the big issues with any realistic angst. Like we're immortal and falling for a guy who will die. Or the three muses had lived centuries and though they looked young they were really ancient. Just the deeper questions were asking.

Maureen said...

You know, the questions that modern romance readers would poke about. Though it really fit Judi's label...

TerriOsburn said...

I like the idea of her having to choose to be mortal. She hates this job and having this control, but what happens when she becomes mortal and has NO control?

But then as a reader I'd be fine with him becoming immortal too. I think you can make that work either way. But you'd have to bring her around to accepting her job isn't horrible and serves a purpose.

There could be something in the mythology that would explain him becoming immortal. I don't know enough about it to guess though.

Maureen said...

Scape is squabbling with cyber space and asked me to post for her...

You guys rock! This is so helpful for both discovering where I want to take the story as well as what doesn't feel right.

Please keep it coming!

I'm headed to my 2nd job and will be home at 8pm to check back in. This has been so helpful and I'm feeling so much better about my heroine an her story. :)

Thanks for making me feel like she might just be interesting after all.

More later so I'm not on the phone typing.

TerriOsburn said...

This is the kind of story that's fun to brainstorm about. So many options, twists, and turns. Though I don't write paranormal, this making your own world and rules stuff is what would draw me over. Not being hemmed in by reality makes this fun.

Sabrina said...


Sabrina said...

HA! phone and ipad both sent my comments for the past hour into cyber space. Success with the laptop!

Pat - excellent advice about the age thing. My thoughts exactly. She's lived a long time and seen so much - not only is she very "mature", but very jaded about life and its choices as well. She's begun to think of it as humans not having any choices at all, but in this world I'm goign to set it up that men make choices that affect the 1 of 2 ways their fate can go...kind of a secondary moral of the story thing.

Sabrina said...

I'm so glad you guys are having fun helping me - I really appreciate it!

Terri - it's so interesting to me how 2 people can look at a story from totally different viewpoints. I always felt having her choose to be human was the easy way out - having her walk away from what she was born to do.

But I can see it the other way too now.

What keeps coming to mind for me is what does she need to go through to grow? What does her ultimate realization need to be? Right now, I'm really feeling she needs to learn to accept her own "fate" the way humans do everyday without knowing it.

MsHellion said...

So instinct says "immortal"--stay with it. Though I think we've repeated that at least fifty times. *LOL*

In my opinion, I think tests comes in 3's. So if she needs to draw the conclusion about life being about the moments you live, et al, you need to have 3 tests that help her draw this conclusion. Stuff that builds on each other.

And again, the realization you have, you're feeling, that should be the one you write toward. If it stays the same, awesome--it's a great thought; if it morphs into something similar but different, also awesome.

One of the other tips I've been given by CPs that I found awesome to try is to identify the 3 things your character would never do. Then make the character do them. Usually that causes the growth needed.

TerriOsburn said...

That reminds me. This is one of the things I was going to send you. The three questions.

Also, maybe she needs to realize that what she does (end lives) is not a reflection of who she is.

Sabrina said...

Excellent final point Terri and thanks for the link!

Hellie - thanks for makign me trust what I'm feeling. There for a bit though, I just wasn't "feeling" strongly in any direction. Today has been so helpful in helping me get excited about how I think things should go.

Thank you all! I'm off to check out these links. Be back!