Where do good ideas come from?
Do lightbulb moments really happen, or do we turn concepts over in our minds for a long time before finally settling?
Do you find yourself stumbling over many ideas are once or do they only arrive occasionally, perhaps when you least expect them to?
Picasso may have said that great artists steal. Do you agree? I’m not sure. Often I come up with what appears to be a killer idea but I soon discover it has been done before. This can be disheartening. Would you find it a problem that your idea wasn’t completely original? Maybe the originality doesn’t have to be in the main plot points. Perhaps the originality of your story can appear in nuances of your style and the way the characters interact; perhaps adding a spice to a familiar formula.
What gets your idea engine going?
English is a fantastic language for a writer. There synonyms aplenty, different words for the same thing, meaning at any moment you can add a little spice to your writing.
But should you?
When is it appropriate to flex your English language muscles? Surely not in a blog. Blogs are best kept simple and to the point. You don’t score points for coming up the most obscure synonym.
What about in your stories though, is flowery language ok there? Or should you be economical and precise? Clean, if you will. Neat and tidy. Short sentences. Less of those darn adverbs. No complicated synonyms. Clarity, that’s what you want. Write what you mean. Mean what you write. Don’t butter it up.
I think that both approaches can work. Who you are writing for is important to consider. What you are writing is as well. If you’re working on an epic fantasy novel it might make sense to use a sprinkling of elaborate language. Then again, it may not. There is a grey area the size of the entire human population’s frontal lobe here.
What are your thoughts on simplicity of language? Do you sweep through your first draft and eliminate all adverbs and sentences longer than ten words? Or do you plough through, adding a few adverbs and a few elaborate synonyms?
Picture this scenario. Six long months you’ve spent adding intricate detail to your fantasy or science fiction universe. Minor characters have backstories that could fill a novel. Planets, kingdoms and economies have extensive histories and politics that could fill several weighty volumes.
Then you begin writing your novel. Maybe you just can’t wait to explain to your readers why everything is the way it is in your universe. But wait, what about story, about plot, what about the novel itself? You can’t just write a novel about the history of your universe with no coherent plot can you?
Exposition is a conundrum, wrapped in an enigma, salted slightly, baked for about ten minutes and then glazed with honey. Explaining what’s going on is probably quite helpful to readers on occasion, but how much is too much?
Imagine a scene between your protagonist and an old acquaintance he or she has some beef with. Maybe their story is quite complicated. However, here it would explain why that acquaintance shrugs and dips into their coat to retrieve a sub-machine gun before firing a clip at your helpless protagonist, right?
How much do you explain what’s going on? Is exposition something you avoid at all costs unless absolutely necessary? Or, like me, do you often find yourself writing five paragraphs on the state of galactic affairs in the middle of a scene where your character has just cut themselves quite badly shaving?
Is this a problem encountered more by those who spend a lot of time creating new worlds for their novel’s setting or do people basing their book down here on lowly Earth get the problem too?
So what is it?
For me, writer’s cramp is half way down the road to complete writer’s block.
Like a stitch you get when running, it can vary from the mildly irritating to the mind bogglingly painful. I would describe it as the feeling that what you are writing is going nowhere in a hurry. When you start to feel that the words you’re putting onto paper make about as much sense as a torpedo firing kettle, I think you’re approaching writer’s cramp. When you are struggling to make the scenes you are writing intense enough, that’s nearly writer’s cramp. When you have writer’s cramp, that’s writer’s cramp.
Also, it may be some form of wrist affliction. But don’t quote me on this.
What can YOU do about it?
I have no idea.
In the past I’ve found that the niggling cramp turns into full blown writer’s block before I can even come up with some way of overcoming it. My characters lose their voices, the world I’ve created collapses like a soggy cardboard set and I pretty much feel like yelling at the wall until things start to make sense again.
However, all that I’ve heard about this mysterious malady I’ve just invented leads me to believe that one of the most effective ways of getting rid of the symptoms is to keep on writing. Yes, that’s right. Just keep going. Ignore that tiny voice that says the dialogue you’ve just written couldn’t be more cliched if you literally consulted the Giant Book o’ Cliches. Block out the thought that the action you composed two minutes ago was more flapping than Mr Bean in a swimming pool. Just keep going. At some point everything will start to feel a bit normal again.
And hey, those crappy scenes and poor dialogue you just wrote, well, you can just sort it out later. Or there is always backspace, right?
Do you get writer’s cramp? What strategies do you use to cope with it? Do you charge on ahead of recoup? Perhaps have some tea and a scone and come back to it later?
Let me know, because my strategy doesn’t always work. Hell, read this blog post! If I tried to write any more bizarre similes my head would implode like the half constructed shell of a Ford Focus 40,000 feet below sea level.
Here’s a problem I’m encountering a lot lately.
Overly complicating my plots into oblivion.
I come up with so many twists and turns that I end up twisting back in on myself and falling over.
So I’m wondering, is the old and cliched phrase ‘keep it simple stupid’ something to consider when coming up with the plot for a novel?
Am I hamstringing myself by making too much of the plot when all I want to do is commit some bloody words to paper?
What do you think about this? Is creating an overly elaborate plot a good thing or should you try to streamline it and keep it as easy to follow as possible, perhaps adding some spice of complexity later on?
Around five years ago I came across a little internet page.
What stood out most for me about his advice was this:
They reckon you have to write a million words of fiction before all the pieces fall into place.
One million words.
That’s around four thousand blog posts, three hundred and thirty three short stories, thirteen novels or about a million one item shopping lists.
I doubt I’ve managed to write a million words yet. I’ve not exactly been counting, but I’m sure that magical number hasn’t been reached.
I like that piece of advice because it brings into focus the fact that writing a few words on the back of a receipt doesn’t make you Charles Dickens. Being able to write a few words doesn’t mean you are a writer.
Communicating an idea in it’s simplest form does. Telling a compelling story does. Creating believable characters does. Showing instead of telling does. The self discipline to keep going when you’re running into a wall does.
And those things take a lot of work to get right. You can’t close your study door, write two hundred words, crack your knuckles and expect a publisher to snap you up. An artist may spend years refining their painting style. It is no different for a writer.
We are artists after all. We may use thousands of words instead of paintbrushes and paint to create our masterpieces, but we are on the same road.
Perhaps it does take a million words to start getting them in the right order.
What do you think?
There are only two kinds of plotters, according to James Scott Bell in Writing Great Fiction: Plot & Structure.
There are the NOPs and the OPs.
If you don’t outline your story before the writing stage, then you are a NOP, or a no outline person.
Those that do outline, to varying degrees, are known as OPs, or outline people.
These acronyms were created by Bell.
For last year’s NaNoWriMo I didn’t outline a thing, instead I just wrote without thinking about the destination, discovering the story as I went. The results were somewhat messy. From what I’ve read of it, there are numerous large plot holes and many pointless scenes.
Then again that’s what editing is for, right?
For a couple of the ideas I’m working on now I am outlining before I start writing. For some ideas it’s as simple as coming up with how the three acts will progress, for others it has become as complex as producing detailed notes on each individual scene. In one case I’m creating a novel ‘outline’ written in the present tense which describes everything that happens within the novel without being the novel itself.
The last one probably is a little too much, but I’m curious, do you outline your plot before you start writing?
In the book I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Bell recommends that you:
be true to yourself, but try a little of the other guys’ method. You may be delighted at what you come up with.
What do you think?
In his brilliant book On Writing, Stephen King says that to become a writer you must do two things. You must read often and you must write a lot.
Over the years I’ve found reading to be far easier than writing. Examining words already written, already scrutinised, already perfected by an artist’s keen eye is far easier than producing your own.
But one does not simply read their way into writing.
So, here is this blog, made on a whim. If I want to write then I have to commit words to paper. And what better place than the internet eh?
I’ve called the blog The Montage Writer because I envision, if you will, time moving by far faster than in reality, me tapping away at the keys of my laptop like a demon possessed by Red Bull, improving my craft in hyperreal increments.
If only it was that simple.