Writing Prompts

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Create a world from a picture.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or so I have heard. Occasionally I find myself at a loss for how to proceed in a given story, and I have found that sometimes a little writing prompt can help to get the creativity flowing again. Sometimes it involves looking at websites that offer writing prompts for those truly in need of inspiration (this includes me far more often than I’d like); sometimes I set up “what if?” scenarios in my head, and try to write my way into or out of the situation I create (Once I successfully got myself off of an imaginary deserted island); But the type of writing prompt I enjoy the most is the simplest: find a picture and write about it.

I find a picture to be the easiest way to get into the heads of my characters. I can more easily develop them if I can relate to them. I am more easily able to relate to them if I can visualize them. Or, at the very least, their world. This photo gave me a bit of inspiration earlier today, because it shows a world that is easy to create, to imagine; a world of two levels.

The first level is the easiest to see. It is a world of rooftops. Bridges and walkways connect the tops of the buildings, allowing a society to exist that may never need to visit the world below. Airships fly so close above the people, that they can almost reach out and touch the hulls of the ships as they pass overhead. It is not such a stretch of the imagination to envision lush rooftop gardens, forming lovely parks for those that live up above to spend their days, enjoying the fresh air. It is an existence available to those that can afford it. Tycoons and politicians overlooking the city, quite literally. It is an enviable life. However, this type of lifestyle belongs only to a privileged few. For the rest of the city, a darker existence awaits.

On the ground is the undercity. The laborers, the impoverished – they live here. It is a perpetual dusk, due in part to the shadows of the buildings that tower above them. Thick black smoke from factories contribute to the darkness of the world below. Men go from home, to work, to the local pub, and finally back home each day, their only respite from their bleak existence in the bottom of a mug. Women that can afford to, stay home, venturing out into the noxious dark to purchase the goods needed on a daily basis. Those that cannot afford to stay home go to the work houses each day, toiling away at machines from dawn to dusk.

The sooty fog that persists in the undercity obscures the poorly maintained buildings, the illicit activities of those not fortunate enough to find a legitimate means of earning a living. Law abiding citizens keep their heads down, try not to draw attention to themselves. What law enforcement there is spends most of their time following the more suspicious characters that stick to the alleys and quiet streets.

Those that live above are blissfully unaware of the suffering of those that live below. They don’t see the thick smog that flows through the streets below, nearly a liquid, it is so thick. No, the people above see themselves as living so high in the sky that they are looking down at the clouds below them. It is an existence that is to be envied, and they cannot imagine any other type of life.

The visual of the picture gave me some great ideas for stories, I may actually use a couple of them as I continue writing. Does anyone have any other writing prompt ideas they use when they need to help get the creative juices flowing?  I’d love to hear them.

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Autumn and Catching Up

I left the apartment this morning, and the chill in the air told me that without a doubt, fall has finally arrived. After a sweltering summer, it is nice to finally have that crisp fall air hit me as I go out each morning. Between work and apartment hunting, my late summer and early fall look to be keeping me on my toes. As I put my laptop in the back and hustled into the front seat, I sat back and planned my day. I knew that more than anything today, I wanted to get in some solid writing time. First on my agenda is a blog post; then I will get back to Victorian times and deal with a certain captain and her loyal, if not completely law-abiding crew.

I intended to get some blogging done last week, as I spent three days in Rochester and Buffalo New York for the yearly manager’s meeting that my manager sets up. Although we were in meetings all day, my evenings were free, without my other job. My original goal was to post a bit each evening after the day’s work was done. Well, that did not pan out. I was so exhausted when I got back to my hotel room that I promptly passed out. So three days, and no new blog posts.

That said, I was able to sit down and do a little work on my various projects when there was some downtime. I didn’t make a ton of progress during that time, but I had a few ideas, and was able to get them down on paper, and into my computer before they flew completely out of my head. Thankfully.

The ongoing theme in my life is trying to complete that which I have started. To that end, I have branched out a little bit. I gave myself a little birthday present in the form of the iOS version of Scrivener, which is now downloaded onto my iPad. Between that and my sorely underused Dropbox account, I am now completely mobile with my writing!  I played around with it a little bit over the course of those three days, and after a little bit of a learning curve, I think I have the syncing down pat.

This last weekend I was able to close out three chapters that have been bugging me on a couple of my projects. I am now just past the half-way point in Mademoiselle Durand and the Dead Man’s Map. While I enjoy the project, it has been causing me grief since I first typed the sentence “The falcon circled the mast of the Morning Star, keeping a watchful eye on the deck below.” I also spent some time working on my untitled science fiction project. That one is fun to write, but I am having a few issues getting my characters to where they need to be for the climax of the story.

So now I leave you, readers, so that I may continue with my creative writing pursuits. Until next time!

 

BOOM! I’m on a Roll

This post will be short(ish) and sweet. I’ve been in a little bit of a writing slump as of late. Not necessarily because I don’t have any ideas, but rather, I do not have much free time to write. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been able to sneak in a couple of hours of writing time. It’s not much, but it is a start.

Mademoiselle Durand and the Dead Man’s Map has just re-hit 30,000 words (part of the whole ‘it’s been done before’ episode I referenced a little while ago). It was a satisfying feeling, and I have promised myself No more massive changes – until I reach the editing phase, at least.

This story is shaping up to be a bit more complicated than its predecessor. It has an A plot and a B plot! I’ve got two teams from the ship on two different islands, having two separate adventures; I even have figured out how the two plots will converge in the finale. Mostly. But I still have time to work out the particulars while I’m working on the writing.

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My mysterious island inspiration…or my fantasy vacation getaway location.

I have been inspired, of late, by some classic Victorian adventure fiction. In particular, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. No, there will be no Dinosaurs or fantastic creatures involved. however, I’m aiming for a sense of “otherness” for the island locales. I like the idea of unexplored islands, and the secrets they might contain, within the confines of an adventure story. I have a couple of ideas I’m fleshing out in the story right now, and I’m excited to share them once the story is finally finished.

Despite the setbacks that life has thrown my way lately, I remain determined to get at least one story out before the end of the year, two if I set my mind firm in the task of completing my projects. I am now off to continue writing a bit before bed…after I gaze at tropical islands for a few more minutes.

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Sunday Musings: Outlining, Productivity

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Planning or pulling it out of my...

Scenario: I am sitting at my desk at work,  and the system has crashed. I am contemplating all of the things I could be doing. There are still taxes to be done (I know,  I am awful.  But it’s hard to get anything done when you work two jobs). I could be putting my hours and expenses together for my other job, but I left that information at home. Or I could be sitting at home,  staring at my computer monitor –  or as I like to call it,  writing.

So I am sitting here with my small notebook,  scribbling down ideas for my WIP.  I am not much of an outline,  but I am resigning myself to the reality of my situation.  I am dangerously close to writing myself into a corner. So now I am carefully going through the entire plot and actually outlining and plotting!  And I am finding that I don’t totally hate it.

I have been an improviser when it comes to writing. Most of the time my best laid plans get thrown to the curb the second I start writing.  My characters have this nasty habit of taking on a life of their own.  I want Character A to keep watch while Character B breaks into the villain’s office to hack into his Computer. Character A decides she doesn’t want to miss out on the action,  so now no one is keeping with,  and both protagonists are investigating.

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I am no outlining master

However,  there are merits to a basic outline.  Which is where I am now. Not specific actions,  but ideas for goals for each scene, and of course,  the end goal for the entire story.  It is allowing my characters the freedom to do as they please,  as long as they follow the bread crumbs to the final outcome that I want to occur. Because sometimes you have to show your characters who is the boss. Who knows, maybe they’ll do what I want this time.

I’m also revisiting ways to remain productive and motivated.  I was researching some apps to help me set,  and keep writing goals. There seem to be a lot out there,  and I am at a bit of a loss as to which ones are any good. I have downloaded a couple,  but none of them have really been too helpful.  For the writers out there,  do you use any software for keeping track of your Writing goals (writing time, word count goals,  etc.)? Which ones do you recommend?

My final thought of the day is, thank God I brought my Kindle today.  At least I can catch up on my backlog of reading. Maybe I can finish something and write up a review. That should make the day a little more interesting.

Organizing my Cluttered Mind Part 2: Keeping My Stories Straight

      Continuing on from my last post, I have been trying to maintain some semblance of organization while writing. I am a note taker, sometimes to the point of obsession. However, when it comes to keeping those notes organized, I am guilty of complete and utter failure. In the past I’d have three or four different notebooks on my desk, loose sheets of paper I stashed in my pockets, and my research folder on my laptop.

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Not my desk, but a close approximation.

     In my last post I mentioned that I have been using Scrivener in an attempt to become more organized. I have been using each project I’ve created in this software to house all of the research, links and photos I’ve gathered for each project.

     For the most part, I have only written one-off stories up until last year. Recently I’ve been in sequel/shared Universe mode. Two of my projects are closely related, so I decided to try and create a single file to keep track of what is going on in my stories. After doing some research on Scrivener templates, I downloaded a story bible template from here.

     I went through the template to see if it would fit my needs. It fit when I was looking for more or less; so I started using it, adding or subtracting elements as needed.

     The first thing that I did copy over my reference information that crossed over between the different stories. For example, I made a master timeline of all of the events that have occurred in each story, as well as events in the past that help to establish well known facts when in the universe created. I also created folders for the two different series sharing this reality. In those folders I put all of the character profiles, location profiles, and the synopsis for each of the stories in those series.

     I like the fact that now as I progress through each subsequent entry into either series, I will be able to reference any necessary information by simply referring to my story Bible, rather than trying to figure out which story I need to reference in order to get the information I need. I must admit that in the beginning I was afraid but I was going to be spending more time keeping track of my story Bible than I would be writing. But I’ve been spending no more than five or ten minutes at the end of each session updating any new information if needed.

     I’m also a writer that seems to receive inspiration for my stories at the least convenient times. In the past I would attempt to carry my notebook around with me and jot down any notes that I felt I needed in order to remember what came to me so suddenly. Using Evernote, and sometimes even my phone’s note taking app, I don’t have to worry about looking for my notebook to jot down my ideas. Most of the time I only use these apps to jot down notes: possible locations for a story, ideas for characters or backstory, and especially names for characters. I am horrible with names. So in the event that I think of a name I really like, I jot it down – or more accurately, type it into my smartphone. then when I get home, all I need to do is elaborate on those ideas within my story file.

     A couple of times, inspiration has led me two ideas that needed to be written down and greater links. Sometimes these passages how complete enough to go into my draft. When that does happen, transferring that information over isn’t all that difficult.

     As always, I’d love to hear from you:  how do those writers working on one or more series keep your storylines and characters organized for continuity purposes?

Writing Rituals

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I spent several hours last night writing. I started with a quick blog post, to get the creative juices flowing and then followed that up with some time on one of my current projects. It was strange, after the post here, I just started typing in the story, and before I knew it, I had written a little over 1,100 words.  I was quite pleased with the progress. Most days I’m lucky if I have the time or inspiration to write 500 words.

This got me thinking. I know that when I write something other than one of my projects, it does seem to help me to maintain a longer writing session. Usually I’ll write a little in a word file – what happened at work, or things I would like to accomplish. It seems like if I get my real-world concerns down on paper (or in a document), I am able to focus more on the task at hand and worry less about what else is happening in life.

I have a few writing rituals that get me in serious writing mode. If I don’t perform a few of those rituals, I can still write, but the more I don’t have done before sitting down to work, the less focused I am, and my writing session ends up much shorter than usual.

I always have to have my notebook by my side. My notebook is the home of all of the little notes I jot down. I have a horrible memory, so if I get an idea for one of my stories, or for a new project, I grab my notebook and scribble it down. The notebook was where I jotted down my idea for Captain Drayton’s funky eyeball, and where I initially decided to change my rough idea for a pirate story into something that fit more into fantasy (at that point, I had not decided to try steampunk).

I also have web pages open at all times, so that my research is available immediately. I use scrivener for my writing and organizing, so I have a special folder in each of my projects where I put information as well. I mainly use this for photographs for inspiration, as well as storing all of the links I use for research. In the event that the project is something I want to publish, I’ll also store the links to the store pages for those stories.

There has to be something for me to drink/snack on as well. If I am really in the zone, I will forget to eat or drink, at least for a while. I become a bit obsessive when I’m writing. It is too easy for me to get lost completely in my project, and I won’t even realize what time it is until something distracts me from the writing.

It seems like my little rituals each help individually, and if all of them are performed together, my productivity is greatly improved. If I can continue to write like I did last night, I should be finished with this project in no time. Then I’ll just need to come up with a name, get a cover design I like, edit, edit, edit, and it should be ready to publish.  It’s still a lot of work, but I am looking forward to finishing another project, and getting it out there for people to read, and hopefully enjoy!

For the writers out there:  Do you have any special rituals or habits that help you clear your mind so that you can focus on writing?  Or are you among the lucky that can sit down and write with no problem?  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.