Creativity to the Rescue: Finding BIG Ideas

As a piggyback to last week’s BIG IDEAS post in our Master Your Craft Series, it occurred to me that many of our readers may still be struggling with their concept not being quite BIG enough to commit months or maybe years to writing a story. Or maybe you’ve only got a small nugget of an idea. So what do you do?

First let’s break concept down into bite size chunks.

Inciting Incident: The “what now” that sets your story in motion! This is the scene where something happens to cause the protagonists to change course.

Protagonist: A main character with specific characteristics.

Goal: What must your main character achieve in your story?

Stakes: What will happen if the protagonist don’t achieve his/her goal?

If you have these four ingredients, you can write a logline.

Standard logline: When/After {INCITING INCIDENT OCCURS}, a {PROTAGONIST} must {GOAL}, or else {STAKES}.

But what if you don’t have all those ingredients? Well, it’s going to be difficult to write a story! You need a creativity boost!

There’s been much written about how to maximize your creativity. Basically, you need a method for opening your mind to jiggle loose new ideas. Physical Movement often helps or sometimes a nice long bath does the trick. Sometimes we get ideas through serendipity, like from dreams or watching people, or by cross-pollinating ideas by watching the news or enjoying art. Writing prompts can help too, but sometimes you have to go grab creativity and force it to work for you.

Creativity tricks for writers:

  • Apples to Apples Game: No, I’m not asking you to play it! But you can use the game cards to help you generate ideas. There are 749 red noun (person, place, thing, or event) cards, 249 green adjective cards, and some blank cards.

Example: Say you’ve got a main character {a quiet young boy who’s ignored by his busy family}, but that’s it.

Easy! Pull out three adjective cards and three noun cards and start making some connections. Let’s pretend you get Demi Moore, The Great Depression, and NYPD for your nouns and Scary, Mysterious, and Hard-Working for your adjectives.

So obviously, a story where Demi Moore is the goal, inciting incident, or the stakes is a little bit too weird. But you see the words scary and mysterious and you might remember that Demi Moore was in the movie Ghost. Then your mind starts to pull the other words together to form a bigger idea. Let’s try inserting some of this into the standard logline structure.

After {moving into an old house in New York}, {a quiet young boy who’s normally ignored by his family} must {convince his family that their new home is inhabited by a ghost}, or else {STAKES}.

Okay, this isn’t perfect and I wouldn’t pitch it to an agent, but it’s got your brain working, which was the goal. I ran out of steam with those cards. I didn’t use them all and some of them were just used to generate other ideas (Demi Moore=ghost, NYPD=New York, The Great Depression=the time period just before their house was built). Also, I’m not done. I don’t have STAKES yet. So pull another set of cards and see what you come up with for the stakes. If you completely hate the idea, start over and draw more cards or move on to another trick.

  • The Dictionary: Just turn to a random page, close your eyes, and point to a word. Repeat this until you have an assortment of words to work with and fill in the blanks just like you did with the Apples to Apples game.
  • Magnetic Words: Every writer has those magnetic words that speak to them. (Heck, one of my favorites is the word “magnetic.”) Keep a list of your magnetic words in a handy spot (like a favorite journal or an easily accessible file) and use those to fill in the blanks just like we did with Apples to Apples.
  • Misfortune Tellers and Tarot Readings: Author John Claude Bemis has great creativity exercises on his website that can be used to help fill in the blanks for your logline.
  • Talk it out: Once you’ve used the ideas above to come up with your best possible BIG IDEA, talk it out with a friend or family member. See if they think you’ve come up with a BIG IDEA, or maybe they can help you make it BIGGER!

Happy Writing!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

Master Your Craft: The Big Idea

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll  discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. (For more information, see last week’s intro post.) This week, I’ll discuss The Big Idea.

So you’re ready to write a novel. You’ve got a character, maybe a scene, a vague idea of the plot…you’re ready to sit down and start writing, right?

Not so fast.

Even seasoned writers can be fooled by a Shiny New Idea. So before you dive into drafting, take some time to test your book-to-be and make sure your new idea is also a Big Idea.

Here are some of the questions we Pennies ask ourselves at the dawn of a new idea:

  • Do I have passion for this story? This might seem obvious, but a novel takes a while to write, and it’s crucial that you have a deep and abiding passion that can sustain you. Another way to ask this question: Is this a story I must tell the world, or is it just a story I’d like to read? I wrote 20,000 words of my current WIP before realizing that one aspect of my story just wasn’t interesting enough to me to push me through all the research I needed to do. I’d love to read that original idea, but it isn’t a story my heart longs to tell.
  • Do I feel urgency to tell this story NOW? I have an entire file of story ideas. Some of them are really cool! But none of them are begging me to tell them right this second. That sense of urgency is another indication that this is a Big Idea.
  • Do I have a vivid protagonist with an overarching goal? In other words, who is your main character, and what does he or she want? Can you hear his or her voice? This is the foundation of any story, and if you don’t have this, it’s going to be so much harder to spin a full novel out of your idea. I’m not sure The Hobbit would have had such enduring power if Bilbo hadn’t longed with his entire being to be back in the Shire.
  • Can I visualize the entire story arc? Often the beginnings of our ideas are just the flash of a character or a scene. But of course, novels need more than one brilliant scene or one fascinating character. Take some time to consider where your story is going. What sets off the action? How does the MC change as the story progresses? What peak conflict will push your MC to the end of the story?
  • Can I write a logline for this story? If you can write a pithy pitch for your idea before you write a word of the story itself, chances are you’ve got the makings of a Big Idea.
  • Are others excited when I tell them my idea? How do your CPs react when you tell them your pitch? Are there “oohs” and “aahs”? Or are they asking questions and offering “what ifs”? Other writers are especially good at recognizing Big Ideas, and if they’re not sold, chances are you have more work to do. And it’s pretty important to get feedback at this stage, even though we can all be very protective of our fledgling stories. Our agented Pennies have reported sending slews of new ideas to their agents only to be told that none of them quite pass muster as is. Most of the time, this just means you need to do the work of fleshing out the idea and finding a unique way into the story. But it is way better to learn this before you write 60,000 words.
  • Is there a market for my idea? Although this question can put a damper on your Shiny New Idea excitement, it’s really important to do this research. Don’t be the author trying to sell a dystopian after the market flood of apocalyptic fiction!

Sadly, some story ideas are flawed from the get-go. Stubborn writers can spend years working on stories that will ultimately go nowhere…and a lot of that heartbreak can be avoided if you take a few days or weeks to really road-test your story first.

And if you can answer “YES!” to all these questions? Congratulations! You’re still not quite ready to write, but you’re one step closer to seeing your Big Idea become a Big Fat Novel.

(Need help coming up with a Big Idea? Check out this earlier Winged Pen post about creative cross-pollination, this one about writing prompts, or this one exploring where ideas come from, to get your creative juices flowing.)

Come back next Wednesday where we’ll discuss Main Character Development.

Brandon Mull’s Creative Juices

Brandon Mull writes for boys using his relentless imagination and his scouting experience.

He has written Beyonders, Fablehaven, and Five Kingdom among others.

Mull says in an interview with Tori Ackerman, “I wanted to go to a world where there was a lot to discover, but still light and fun.”

If Brandon Mull’s series appeal to every demand of one’s imagination, it’s because the author wanted his worlds and characters to be fresh and new.

With so many retellings inspired by legends and folklore, authors who bravely come up with new worlds are harder to find. Kids are drawn by the novelty of his worlds.

For example, Brandon Mull came up with mysterious castles in the air and jumping swords. Even if the sword is a valuable weapon in one world, it is useless in another. Brandon Mull came up with very distinct worlds within worlds. That’s why the books are reminiscent of framed stories like the Arabian Nights. Each episode brings new discoveries and surprises.

The books are movie-driven with episodic adventures, as well as dialogue-driven. Short, snappy episodes do not mean that the plot is less complex. Obviously, there is a lot going on, but each episode is a new adventure bringing on new characters, even late into the story. The ideas are big, but the way things are explained are simple and accessible. Heroes are driven by the moment, by their instincts rather than by their experiences, but they always come up with smart, creative, and resourceful solutions. Yet, in these fast-paced stories, dialogues go on and on for pages without being boring. That’s because dialogues are used to describe the worlds and their mechanics. They are fascinating.

Brandon Mull says in an interview with Book Zones Boy’s Life, “Scouting has significantly helped my career as a professional writer. To create stories, I need details, and my experiences in Scouting helped me learn at least a little about a wide variety of things.”

Mull’s epic fantasies bring to life ordinary kids who survive by their wits in wild worlds. Kids can easily identify to courageous and tenacious heroes. Mull manages a large cast of characters, realistic endeavors, and honest characters with a strong sense of right and wrong. In Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth’s job is to protect magical creatures contained in a reservation. The sense of danger is always present. Characters are sacrificed. Miracles happen too. Treacherous characters make the lives of the heroes difficult. The reader roots for heroes who do not hesitate to take risks, calculated or not. Not only the pace is fast, the adventures constant and the creatures interesting, but also the main characters barter with each other all the time. Their relationship battles between love, hate, and teasing. Many Brandon Mull’s characters challenge each other verbally, adding tension and fun to the chapters. Kendra reflects at the end of a Fablehaven’s adventure, “Many of her experiences here had been dreadful. […] Life would seem so dry after the extraordinary events of the past couple of weeks.”

All in all, Brandon Mull attracts kids by appealing to their sense of adventure and curiosity. The kids want to know what creatures or monsters are in the book. They know they will be surprised. They also appreciate things that blow up, things that get punched, new creatures, cool little guys, things taken from the mythology and from the pop culture, and non-stop action. The quick, dynamic plots sustain little introspection, but they explore new ideas for kids, out loud. Brandon Mull’s stories are a delight because they are full of imagination, conflict, tension, extreme measures, driving motivations with high stakes, and quirky heroes with weaknesses. It’s a new epic that’s tailored for boys and for kids who dream of quests and new worlds.

Resources:

 Brandon Mull’s website. http://brandonmull.com/

Writing Excuses.http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/19/writing-season-2-episode-2-how-to-write-for-children-with-brandon-mull/

Writing Excuses. http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/27/writing-excuses-season-2-episode-3-characters-with-brandon-mull/

20 Thrilling Books for Kids Who Like Percy Jackson. http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/books-for-kids-who-like-percy-jackson/

♥♥♥

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc at Novel Without Further Ado.

A follow up on Twitter or Pinterest is always appreciated.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Creative Cross-Pollination

Cross-pollination: the transfer of pollen from one type of plant to another type of plant of the same species, often by insects or wind.

When you’re working really hard on a writing project, tunnel vision can creep in. It makes sense. Your life is busy, the publishing industry is slow, and you need to finish your book yesterday. So if you have time to do anything, you focus on books written in the genre and age-group that you’re writing for. You follow writers, editors, and agents in that specific field. And while some of that intense, single-minded focus is absolutely necessary, I’m going to encourage you to be open to cross-pollination.

Cross-pollination for plants is necessary for their survival. Some trees, such as willows, depend on it because willows don’t have male and female plant parts on the same tree. For other plants, cross-pollination ensures that the successive offspring are diverse, robust, and potentially more likely to survive changes in the environment, such as drought.

In order to create books that will stand out in the marketplace, I believe it’s necessary to open yourself up to influences outside your literary ‘gene pool.’ Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games is a case in point. In an interview, Collins noted that she’d read the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur when she was eight and it had stuck with her. And then,

One night, I was lying in bed, and I was channel surfing between reality TV programs and actual war coverage. On one channel, there’s a group of young people competing for I don’t even know; and on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting in an actual war. I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way. That’s the moment when Katniss’s story came to me.

Collins had already absorbed a literary precedent (Greek myths). Her open mind then took in a story of children in war (journalism/non-fiction) and a story of children in a competition (reality TV): those disparate sources came together to create a literary work that was compelling, complex, different—and an enormous success.

So go ahead, blur the lines. If you write MG fantasy, read PB non-fiction. Read biographies, like the one that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create Hamilton. Read manga and a book of obituaries. Go to the circus and think about writing. Listen to podcasts about the past. Learn a new language, do something you used to do when you were younger, sing in a choir. Take in the ballet, watch a documentary, visit an art exhibit or an ethnic grocery.

I think most writers do this very naturally; but this year, one of my goals to cross-pollinate more consciously. I’ve set aside pages in my journal where I’m listing the disparate things that spark something for me. Interestingly, the more I do this, the more I see.

So, be the bee. Blur the lines. Stay open to the wind.

I’ll be tweeting cross-pollination inspiration under the hashtags #amwriting, #creativity, and #crosspollinate, as well as on my blog. I hope you’ll join in with what inspires you.

This week’s inspiration: a man devotes himself to sculpting espaliered trees.

 

Further reading:

Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist and his blog

Jessica Crispin, The Creative Tarot

Cheryl Klein, The Magic Words

 

IMG_1617 GITA TRELEASE writes YA fantasy. She was born in Sweden and has lived in France, Italy, and the United States. In her former life as a college professor, she taught classes on fairy tales, monsters, and Victorian criminals. Along with her artist husband, teenage son, and Maine Coon, Gita divides her time between a boarding school in Massachusetts and the wild Maine coast. Her current project takes place during the French Revolution: hot-air balloons and gambling, decadence and dark magic. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Creativity is Messy. Get Over It!

Maybe the hardest part of creativity is to face the critical eyes of others. We have been raised to see organization everywhere, respect schedules, be on time, be logic, put things where they belong, put things in boxes. Although there is a lot of value in being organized, there is also a lot of value in creativity, in being messy. No one more than writers and artists know that.

St.Sebastien,_1989
By Milena palakarkina (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] , via Wikimedia Commons
Artists, and true innovators in art, publicity, marketing, engineering, etc., defy this basic rule: organization is everything. Learning to be creative, to use intuition, imagination, and being able to express emotions are part of every successful businessperson and writer’s toolbox.

Creativity is messy, yes. So get over it!

My kids know this.

I know this.

You know this.

We might forget it sometimes.

When my homeschooled kids have been peppering their little creative workshops all over the house and we have our hands covered in paints and goo and we juggle with parts and pieces, sometimes it feels like too much.

But what we tend to forget is that their minds are working hard. Kids need to be messy, just like us. Often we insist that they be organized and clean. If we only knew what a little dirt can accomplish!

Things are not what they seem, especially in art.

Your mind, as a writer, will go every which way. Let it!

Your mind at times will go through rollercoasters and your feelings will be all over the place. Let them!

It’s good for you.

You can always warn others that you are in your creative mode, and that won’t be forever. We need to be like that to get to the bottom of our creativity.

Look at the beautiful things we can create with a piece of wood and wire!

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Image by Mikelvaras (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It looks messy at first sight, but flash a good light over it in the right direction, and look at the wonderful organization!

Creativity is messy, yes, and for everyone who wants to be successful, it’s a patchwork, a mosaic that comes together harmoniously in the end.

The secret of creativity is: Do not see yourself through other people’s eyes.

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By couscouschocolat (Flickr: DSCF0509) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Do no see yourself as a puzzle builder just because it’s more organized. The problem with puzzle builders is that, if you miss a piece, you will be stuck.

Heard of writer’s block?

Picture yourself as someone who organizes his or her own hodgepodge. Be messy, at first: scatter around you notes and sketches, ideas and combine what does not go together at first glance. Then find the logic streak and build on it.

Build a mosaic.

Mosaics are made with random pieces, but they do make beautiful artwork, don’t they?
Allow yourself to be messy, then put all the pieces at your disposal, and find the harmony, your harmony. Be on your way to success.

___________________

Sussu

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc to read more writing articles at Novel Without Further Ado and follow her on Twitter. Your support is always appreciated!