Monday, October 26, 2020

A Simple, Single Thought

             Beginning writers are always asking how others come up with story ideas. I know it’s a question I used to have all the time when I first began fiction writing. But even as I was asking that question, new ideas for stories were always popping into my head. What I learned was that as a writer you need to be ready for them and open to them. One of the things I have always enjoyed doing is listening to other writers and how they get their story ideas. From best selling authors to beginners, I always perk up when I hear someone say, “I got the idea for my story from…”  That is the bottom line.  We all get our story ideas from somewhere. Those ideas can come from even the smallest things around us – even just a sentence

My mother presented me with a great story idea just from one line that I never forgot. She was a born story teller and the one story she loved telling over and over was how she met my father. She was a girl just shy of her teen years sitting on a fence post watching the cowboys at work on her uncle’s ranch. She took one look at my dad and told her cousin, “I’m going to marry that boy one day.” Needless to say, my dad wasn’t interested in some kid who kept following him around and playing tricks on him to get his attention. It took years before he ever noticed her beyond her peskiness, much less showed any attention.

            But that little story always stuck with me, so of course, I had to use it in a story, which became the background for one of my first romances, Home Fires Burning. While it sometimes seems easy for me to come up with story ideas, taking them from quick lines seems to be a good way to begin working on a premise.  I took another idea from a quick line – “women don’t belong in…”   That line was given to me by more than one man in the sports field when I wanted to become a sportswriter. First, “women don’t belong in the press box,”  and second “women don’t belong in the locker room.”  Whether it was true or not, I got to use it when writing my romance, Love on Deck.  (the good news was that I did get into the press box at more than one place and I did get into the press area of more than one baseball team.)  But breaking ground rules is not the point here. The point is that there can be story lines and ideas developed from even something as small as one line.


It can also be as simple as a walk in the park. That was how I came up with the idea for my book Deadly Messages. It began with a long walk along the sea wall in Vancouver, BC  I was supposed to meet my sister, who walked much faster than I did, at a certain point. I would take a short cut across the lawn  while she walked around a scenic point. The idea occurred to me, we were in a strange city and what if she didn't appear? These were the days before cell phones so I had lots of crazy ideas as I sat on a park bench waiting. The result was a story idea!

Recently I began working with a couple of friends on a new story adventure and as we were tossing out ideas, I realized that it’s those quick one line items that can work great at developing stories.  Just talking about a storyline with your friends, your family and throwing around ideas can help you discover a new idea for a scene or for a plot point. They can help you discover a new character.

The ideas don’t have to be perfect. They may not even be what you want when you first come up with them. The secret is to let them percolate in your brain. Think them through and consider the good points or consider the characters who might work for that particular idea. Sometimes it’s the character who will give you the idea. Is there someone who either infuriates you or excites and energizes you? What is it about that person that sets you off in a particular direction. Plots often come from characters or characters come from plots, but either way, the ideas around both don’t just explode. Often it takes a little bit of thought to make them work. You just need to open your mind and let them in.  

            Story ideas, characters and situations are all around us and as long as we remain open to them, we will find them. Or they may find their way to us. Just as my dad eventually realized that crazy little mouthed kid wasn’t going away and he realized she was actually amusing and clever, you can find that story ideas can be floating around you. All you have to do sometimes is stop, listen and look. Take the time, and then go for it!

Monday, October 19, 2020

Getting Out While Staying Home

    One sad result from these days of isolation has been the inability to attend writing conferences.  personally I have always loved writing conventions from the first RWA convention I attended in 1983 aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach. To me they have always offered a great opportunity to connect with writers of all kinds -- from those who are best selling authors to those who are just starting out. They are the perfect place to socialize with others who are in the same creative and searching boat. 

    I have always suggested writing conventions to other writers as well. To me they are appealing because they’re the place where  normally quiet and more introverted groups gather to study craft. Writing can be a lonely profession and most writers prefer it that way.  We are often more used to sitting in a room alone and doing our writing. When you’re dealing with a whole convention of  people who are more comfortable sitting in a room alone, it can be easier to connect because so many of us are sitting in a corner watching everyone else…

    That’s why I enjoy writing conventions—even for an introvert, it’s easier to approach someone else or even a group of people who might be or are probably feeling just as uncomfortable. We don’t mind sitting alone at the bar at these conventions because there’s a person alone next to you who is probably feeling just as uncomfortable. The bottom line is if you do strike up a conversation with the person next to you, you’ll probably discover that you have a lot in common – the need to write. Not only that, whatever you decide to do -- just keep sitting there or talk, well, those around you  understand. Actually, most respect your silence unless you choose to talk. I often find that if you start talking to that other alone person, before long you find you have a lot in common… the need to write.

    This year we’re all sitting alone in our rooms writing, but our forced isolation has also opened up a whole new world. Technically, we’re all sitting alone at that bar as we join the various rooms as conventions are held virtually. While I was unable to attend one of my favorite conferences, Left Coast Crime in San Diego, which got cancelled at the last minute, I have been able to enjoy other, virtual meetings and now a virtual convention.

    This weekend I attended Women Writing the West which was conducted as a virtual convention and it was a new and fun experience. I presented my Plotting Wheel session from the cozy confines of my home office, sitting at my desk. My companions were Molly and Chewpie, the cats who normally hang out around my area. Molly insisted on making a guest appearance, which seemed a common theme among other writers attending.  A number of cats and dogs made virtual appearances.

 I have to admit I am enjoying these virtual meetings. In some ways it’s easier to chat as we sit and wait for the next session to start. So many of us are isolated that we’re excited when we get some of that outside interaction we’re no longer getting on a regular basis. Our local writing groups aren’t meeting or are meeting virtually too. If you haven’t tried meeting virtually it’s a good way to keep from a totally forced isolation. Virtual meetings are a way to connect and the best thing is we get to see all of us who are at the meeting. We get to connect with others we might not have gotten a chance to talk to at the last writers’ meeting.

These days of virtual meetings and conventions also present an opportunity to attend sessions we might have missed due to time constraints. They give us a chance to  connect in person with others and to get to hear challenges and issues we are all facing during these months when we are more isolated than ever.

The isolation is also having an effect on the ability and opportunity to write. I suggest looking to find ways to make that work for you as a writer, rather than lamenting lost opportunities. Not being able to go out has meant the chance to pick up on old work that needs editing or polishing that has been ignored or the opportunity to finish a story.

 It also can present time to take a refresher class on an element of writing or to work on research for a story you might want to write. Those openings are out there now because many groups are having to go to virtual meetings so traveling across town or the inconvenience of a time period can be solved by recording a meeting and playing back later is solved.

My entire point here is that this is a time  we can find new opportunities to get more writing done, but don’t let that mean you can’t still socialize with other writers. Look for those virtual opportunities and still connect with other writers. Use the time we are inside to find new writing subjects or to still connect with new and different types of writers.

While I just attended and spoke at my first virtual convention, I know it won’t be the last. I’ll be looking for other, new opportunities to connect with other members of the writing community. This week I'll be conducting a class at Savvy Authors on Pitching, and please watch for the new book on pitching that will soon be available on For more information on plotting, please watch my website and for more details. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Bright Ideas for Dark Days

 Let’s face it. Sometimes we need a new way to look at life—whether it’s looking in or looking out. These days it’s  a fun way to brighten up living quarters or brighten up the day. We’re getting ready for those darker days of winter, but we’ve already spent a good amount of time inside and unable to do the things we normally do in the fall.  Whether it’s because not being able to drive through the mountains to see the fall colors because of fires or restrictions due to Co-Vid, these are unique times for all of us and we still need those things that bring us joy.

How can we find some of that joy when we’re limited on so many levels? For a writer that can mean a lot of different things:

  1. Try a new genre. I think I’ve issued that challenge in the past, but there is always something fun about trying a different genre, whether it’s writing science fiction when you normally write romance or trying  romance when you normally write mystery.
  2. Look for new ways to research. I have to admit I miss those days of being able to spend endless hours at the library, but you can find so much information online or simply by getting out and driving in your neighborhood. Are there places you’ve driven past that you never took the time to fully watch or learn about? Call around to various places and look for information you’ve wanted to know or haven’t had time to learn in the past.
  3. Call a friend and get new information about how they are coping with these dark days or just chat and catch up. You’ll never believe how many new ideas you might come up with. Ask them for ideas, or even indulge in some fun gossip. 
  4. Do what my brother is doing and re-decorate! He is having a good time not only rearranging the house but looking for new material to make by constructing a home shop. He figures that will give him plenty to do in the winter months when he can’t get out and do his normal bike riding or hiking.
  5. Look for new interests. This is the slow time to indulge in those things you always wanted to complete it try, but never had time to do. That can even mean going through old pictures or organizing them.  I have to admit I had a great time going through my old pictures of visits to the Denver Art Museum which included a wonderful gem and jewelry show, which included a diamond snake and and gold lizard., a Dior retrospective and the works of Monet. 

 But these are not all  tough days. I have had some fun events Going on too. Some of my books are getting a new look at Amazon and the covers are great. I will have an update on that next week. I also have my first virtual conference coming up.

So yes, we are all going through some quiet days and the unlikely end is still not in sight, but we can use the time to either get new story ideas or work on old stories.  I’ll look at doing that next week.  


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Writing through Tough Times

 These are tough days for all of us, but having  a deadline can make life even more tense. Try having two or three. Yikes! Deadlines were a part of my life for years. Working in a television newsroom with a daily deadline that didn’t allow for a delay was both a curse and a blessing. It taught me to have to think fast, and it taught me to get my writing done or it probably would never see the light of day. Today’s news stories are not useful tomorrow afternoon. 

Having and using that mentality has gotten me through the past few weeks as I worked on a new fiction book, finishing up editing it for submission, having two non-fiction books that needed  editing and working on a class that needed editing to remain timely.

As I set out to write on this week’s blog,  I thought about those days of daily deadlines and how knowing I had to get things done kept me going despite the daily stress.  The work had to be done and I had to summon the words to write my stories.  These days we are all under a lot of stress and it occurred to me perhaps it might help other writers to go through how we can all get through this by using our creative juices. 

Yes, we all feel the frustration of the times, which can lead to fear and anger. Many of us are feeling lonely as we try to get through days without our normal visits with friends or going out to eat or socialize with friends. 

Many people might feel anger over how things are being handled or things we can’t do. 

It’s a good time to look for other outlets for our frustration and anger. What better time to look for either new writing outlets or look for new genres to try. Put that frustration into your writing by making a new beginning. For many years that Creative writing during low times kept me going to face my daily news output.

Here are some ideas for you to try to keep your writing going:

1. Re-read old favorite authors or if you are writing yourself, pull out old manuscripts and see if they can be changed or salvaged. Sometimes a good editing job can be all that is needed.

2. Try a new genre—either by  reading something new or writing in a new genre. Sometimes that can open you up to a whole new style. Study up on the genre and get to know it and if it might work for you. Then, simply sit down and try writing in it. Not only might you find a new love, but you might also sharpen some of your old writing skills that you haven’t been using.

3. Dig out your own old writing. Was there a story you once loved but didn’t finish? Is th/ere some new way you can work the storyline that wasn’t working when you first set out to write the story?

4. Try creating a new character —either for a story you’re writing now or one you may ant to write in the future. Look for a different way to create that character and then go for it.

5. Take a writing class. Yes, if you’ve been writing you should know what you’re doing, but why not try a review of writing techniques. There might be something you’ve been wanting to learn but haven’t had the time. Why not take it now. It might not only get you through the current tough times but it might refresh your knowledge or give you new ideas for  a story.

6. Do research for a story you’ve been wanting to write. Though you might not be able to visit a library or a location this is a wonderful time to get online and look up all those details you were going to get back to later. 

Don’t let the current tense times get you down. You might even write up a scene with one of your characters utilizing all the frustrations you are currently feeling. Let them suffer and perhaps solve a problem. Then you can rejoice with them. It might make your day a bit brighter and give you a scene for a story.

Good luck and let’s keep on writing

A Writing Quest

With the cold days of winter in the rearview mirror and spring taking a firm hold, it's time to look forward to all the reading we want ...