Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brainstorming Techniques,

Img credit: Magic the Gathering
I intended this post to be an illustration of several (successful) techniques for brainstorming about novels.

I only really had time for two techniques, individual brainstorming, an offshoot of free writing, and the team idea mapping method.

These two techniques were successful in that they produced ideas. But they didn't necessarily give me all the answers to my questions directly.

Okay, so you'll need a magic writing totem:

Aww. Okay, next:

You'll need a pen or pencil, paper, a timer, and a few extra brains....

The steps:
-- If you know exactly what you want to brainstorm about, skip to #5.
  1. Think of a question you'd like to know the answer to. (Individual Brainstorming) In my case, I was at a complete loss even to know what I wanted to brainstorm about. I had a story notion, but no story or even real characters, no structure, no POV or setting or theme. My first question was: "What things might I want to brainstorm about (regarding this story notion)?"
  2. Set a timer for three minutes
  3. Write down everything that comes to mind as fast as you can. If your page is blank, write, My page is blank. Pictures, diagrams, hearts and emoticons--all this and more.
  4. Circle one of those new questions. Mine was about POV: "What are the pros and cons of keeping my POV character the same throughout installments?" I had already decided that the story should unfold in "episodes," though I didn't know if that meant chapters, short stories, novellas, or novels.
  5. Sit down with at least two other people. Begin the team idea mapping method.
  6. Title blank pieces of paper with your new question.
  7. Set timer for three minutes.
  8. Write down everything that comes to mind as fast as possible (see #3). Try to have everyone stay focused on the question, but straying is fine.
  9. Discuss.
  10. Pick a new question and repeat.
Eventually, you'll produce this...

At this point, you'll hopefully have wrangled up tons of ideas. Each iteration will spring from the last, like mental pathways branching and fracturing. 

It's a good idea, when there's a question with two obvious parts, to brainstorm each part. For example, Part 1: pros and cons of single POV; part 2: pros and cons of multiple POVs.

Otherwise, you might spin off wildly on one mental path without ever questioning whether that was the best path to be on in the first place. Also, keeping discussion to a minimum will help prevent evaluation apprehension, or rather, brainstormers feeling unable to produce new ideas that might be shot down by the group.

Again, with brainstorming, success isn't always about finding the "right" answer, but generating lots of possible answers via different minds.

As writers, we're forever stuck in one mind--our own. Brainstorming in groups wherein participants write down all ideas anonymously, good and bad, before discussion is proven by research to foster more creativity.

Last, it's also proven that providing incentives ($, cookies, kitties!) gives better results.

~~Anyone else have any tried-and-true brainstorming tips?
Untested techniques?
Arguments for or against?~~

In the meantime, happy brainstorming!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Brainstorming Techniques!

... Coming Soon.
Testing still in progress.
Meanwhile, hugs & kisses & loves & wishes!

Img credit: Magic! (the Gathering)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

O Christmas-book Tree!

Amber Plante tweeted this glorious idea a few days ago.
Couldn't wait to try it out.
 I'm in love.

From Amber's stream:
Isn't this she so amazingly creative??

Mine's a little shorter and squatter, true....
 But it has a bow! How serious is that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Narcissism: The Close Third

Ever received beta feedback like this?
"But what is your MC feeling??? Where is the EMOTION????"
Img courtesy of Christina Rowsell Blog
Sometimes, especially with active scenes in genre fiction, we get so caught up in story that we forget the story is coming from somewhere.

In the close 3rd POV, the story is coming directly from our main character. Who probably is (since God help us, aren't we all) a tad narcissistic.

Everything in our MC's world filters through her eyes.

That's where emotion comes from. Beyond direct or indirect thought, we have a pair of eyeballs, a set of five senses, a goal, a milieu of wants and desires and fears and agendas. This ripe interior architecture can provide the fodder for steeping a story's very narration in emotion.

Consider Anna. She's proceeding down a low-lit tunnel carrying a stuffed manila folder. In Scene 1, Anna's going for a job interview she really wants. In Scene 2, Anna's escaping a villain after stealing incriminating evidence.

 Scene 1:
Anna strode through the tunnel, mindful not to hurry too much, break a sweat, and ruin her pristine button-down. She blanched at her reflection in a silvery pool of water on the tunnel floor, illuminated by one of the few overhead lights. God, her hair. She nestled the folder in the curve of her arm, reached up to smooth the stray lock, and moved on.
Scene 2:
Anna slipped along the narrow tunnel, clutching the folder to her sweat-slick shirt. She choked on a gasp as movement fractured the darkness ahead. Under the glare one of those treacherous sparsely-spaced lights, she panted her relief. Only another pipe leaking. The movement had been her own reflection in a puddle of water. She crushed the folder in the crook of her arm and hurried on.
"Screaming Tunnel" by SweetlySick 
This isn't a case of muscular prose versus tepid prose. In the first scene, even the cliched "break a sweat" is intentionally mundane but excited. Job-hunting Anna sees everything in her world differently than in the second scene, and the narrative reflects that.

Moreover, characters notice different things in different mind states. If we'd tried a third scene in which Anna's walking home carrying a folder stuffed full of wedding prep info in a delirious ecstasy because her wedding is tomorrow, I bet you she wouldn't notice the low light or even the puddle/pool of water.

Sometimes, when a reader wants more emotion, it might be a good idea to step back and reenter the story through the eyes of the MC. What is she actually seeing? And how does she see it?

How can a narrative's very word choice -- not just verbs and adverbs, either -- reflect interior landscape?

Happy writing!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Synopsis Checklist

Graphic from College Hills
My #wipmadness goal this month is to write one of these devilish synopses. Before diving in, I did some fervent Googling and unearthed a wealth of helpful posts, from which I'll be lifting. Now to lay out my findings.

This is a checklist, not a how-to. Writers should follow-up by reading the cited articles. The two in blue are required reading, IMO. For simplicity, I'm using authors' initials. See References for details. 

Last caveat: The following relates specifically to the agent-querying package.

A Synopsis Checklist
  1. Format. 3-5 pages max; double-spaced; 1-inch margins; name, title, contact info on first page; last name, shortened title and page numbers on following pages, just like the MS. (JR) 
  2. Tense and POV. 3rd person present. As with queries, some synopses have successfully broken this rule, but in general, it's wise to play it safe. (MG)
  3. Purpose. Your synopsis should show... (JF) 
    • "That the author hasn't gone off in some weird direction that doesn't make sense or suit the targeted genre." 
    • "What makes your story different by how the plot progresses." i.e. Show key selling points.
  4. M.O. Modus Operandi. This nasty bastard  should...
    • Distill plot and conflict to major points, turning points, and characters readers care about. (JR)
    • Avoid character soup. (ST) 
    • Convey a sense of building doom and escalating trouble. (JH)
    • Keep tension alive. Use paragraph breaks as cliffhangers. (ST)
    • Mimic book jacket copy. (NB)
    • Entice. Read aloud, graf by graf, to a friend. Ask where it bores. (MG)
    • Be readable. Easy to scan? Lots of white space, no long blocks of text? (CG)
  5. Style
    • Simplicity. Plot level to sentence level, keep it easy to digest. (ST) 
    • Infuse the synopsis with your book's spirit and tone. Steal phrases indigenous to your story world. (See article by ST)
Final remarks:

On the one hand, relax. Most writers hate the synopsis, and most agents and editors do too. They'll be forgiving. On the other hand, this is a chance to show that your logic, character development, and world building is impeccable. Enjoy the chance to preen a little under the scrutiny and spotlight.

Good luck!