Friday, March 26, 2021

Brainstorming Shift

 I usually write my posts on Thursday evenings after the day job. Yesterday, however, the evening was spent getting the first round of Covid shots for the DH and for me. 

No problem, I told myself. I'll write it in the morning. 

We can all plainly see that did not happen. I have symptoms - relatively mild, but symptoms nevertheless. As a morning, it's also been a cluster that resulted in the horrible death of a member of my yard community (a black racer snake who likes to hunt around the foundation of the house). Buried him/her in the garden in a sunny spot. Going to miss seeing 'my' snake.

Brainstorming is generally a solo activity unless I have access to another writer who is as character-driven as I am. I like brainstorming for others. I like having others brainstorm for or with me. But it's not generally something I seek out unless I get stuck. Since brainstorming is about shifting how you think about a story, I find it useful when I'm staring at the same sentence for days on end. I don't always or even often take the suggestions giving in brainstorming sessions, but picking up ideas isn't the point. For me, the point is leveraging other people's ideas to pry my thinking out of the rut it fell into. That, for me, is the job of brainstorming with other people.

The rest of the brainstorming happens solo. Need to be able to hear those little internal voices and give them some space.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

My brain is a lonely storm

So, brainstorming. Aside from being a weird word -- seriously, say it out loud and try to visualize the thing you're saying... see what I mean? -- the concept is also, for me, a little fraught. 

I love talking about other people's stories, sometimes helping them get to the next step, and then watching them sail off to implement all the great ideas they came up with just by talking it out. And sure, I've tried to replicate that sort of thing for my own writing. I've attended brainstorming sessions with local writers' groups, and even some smaller, less formal sessions with my own critique partners. But in the end, we all sit down at a table or something and they look at me and say something like, "So, what's your idea?" or "What do you need help with?" and instantly, I don't even know how this happens, but my idea becomes garbage. Like, I'm so embarrassed by it, by the weird stuff my brain thinks up, and I know it's boring and there's no saving the story, so I mumble something dismissive and try to move the conversation on to the next topic, usually someone else's story. More solid ground.

Let me be clear: my failures with getting brainstorming help are entirely my own. The support structure around me is lovely and encouraging. I just... I think maybe brainstorming with others requires a level of confidence that I haven't achieved yet? Something like that. 

Until I get there, all storms take place inside my own little brain. I would of course love to hear your take on a better way to bottle this particular lightning.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Braaaains! Erm, Brainstorming


What is my brainstorming process? Do I solicit opinions? Do I drag trusted coconspirators through the twists and webs of my weird? 

Mostly, no. 

I will bounce the idea of which project(s) to pursue off a friend or two, but when it comes to the stories themselves, that's not a group-think thing. It's not because I think I'm some sort of fantasy genius; it's more that my author-voice is rooted in how I conceive and farm the story. I need to be able to roll around and bury myself in my imaginary dirt without permission or supervision, or feeling like I'm intruding on someone else's turf. Even though I'm a skeletal plotter, I return often to the landfill of my imagination for the details of the story. 

For me, story ideas usually start with a protagonist, two or three supporting characters, a couple of climactic moments, and an emotional challenge. From there it's figuring out magic systems, the presence of creatures, and the environment. Then comes the tricky bit, the plot. 

Now, I do love to participate in brainstorming other people's ideas or just brainstorming with friends for shits and giggles. Makes me a fine hypocrite, I suppose, but what's not to love about a lengthy game of What If? It's a great way to learn more about my friends. And, who knows, I might even track a little dirt home.  

Monday, March 22, 2021

Group or no Group?

 so the quetion this week is do you write alone or do you brainstorm?

I write alone with the sole exception of when I don't. Most times I find I prefer it that way, but there are occasions when I get feedback from a very select group. this has only to do with the fact that, for me,  the writing process is a matter of personal taste. 

When I collaborate, which I often do, is the exception to that rule, of course. 

But mostly it's just me. 

Of course, to prove me a liar, I'm working on collaborative projects with two different people right now. 

Your mileage may vary.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Magic of Group Brainstorming

Hello all and happy spring!

At the SFF Seven this week we're asking: What’s your brainstorming process? Do you come up with ideas by yourself or do brainstorm with someone else?

Me? I don't preplot because I can't. My ideas all come to me pretty much in the course of writing. Some of them come from daydreaming about the story, but the real flow comes as I write. A lot of the time, that's the ONLY way the story flows. 

The salient exception to this is that I love brainstorming with author friends. There are few things more fun for me than brainstorming a world or exits from sticky plot solutions with other creative brains. And I have just as much fun working on their stories! It's a real truth that, for whatever reason, an outside mind can almost always see the story more clearly than we can our own. I can tell other writers how to "fix" their stories and have zero ability to find solutions to my own. And vice-versa. 

Especially when trad publishing wants me to tell them something about the plot before I actually write the book, I turn to my friends. I can usually say who the characters are and I can describe the situation they're in - and then my brilliant author comrades take it from there. It inevitably changes when I write the words, but they are true lifesavers in giving that much-needed perspective.

Brainstorming for the win!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Making it Personal: Backstabbing Best Friends


Our topic for the week is all thanks to the Ides of March and legendary backstabbers. Who's the best backstabber in fiction?

Dear people, I give you Fernand Mondego.

What a jerk, right?

I have ridiculous love for The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I've been taken with the tale since I was a teen and am currently working on a fantasy novel inspired by it. When the movie with Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce released in 2002, you can imagine my delight. Though the story and characters had been changed pretty drastically, the essence of the original work remained. And I LOVED IT. Still do. I will never turn down an opportunity to catch a viewing, and I'm re-reading the book this year, too.

In my opinion, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the best revenge tales ever written--if not THE best. However, the betrayal in the film felt even more severe than in the novel. How? Why?

Because Fernand's character received an excellent revision, IMO.

In the film, Edmond and Fernand are best friends. In the book, the young men are merely acquaintances (Fernand is Mercedes' cousin). Because there's no personal history between the men in the book, the knife of Fernand's betrayal, though still buried deep, doesn't strike the reader's heart quite so sharply. 

Until I prepared for this blog post, I'd known the villain in my novel was missing something, some detail, some WHY for his dastardly behavior, but wildly enough, even given how much I adore The Count's tale, both film and book, I couldn't put my finger on the issue. Last night, the answer hit me.

The deception is awful, but it's not personal enough. It doesn't cut to the bone.

I even recalled some old writing advice I'd read and stored in the cobwebby corners of my mind: MAKE EVERYTHING PERSONAL. MAKE IT HURT. The stakes, betrayals, loss, etc. will affect our characters and readers much more if raised to that next degree--the emotional degree.

It was like a lightbulb went off in my brain, though I felt dim for not having seen the answer before. Thus is the writer's life, I suppose. Betrayal hurts more when committed by someone we believe loves us, or at least a person who possesses some level of loyalty and familiarity. This also affects the villain/protagonist relationship across plot points, because the game totally changes when a character is up against someone they know well--or thought they knew well. There's soooo much writers can do with this type of conflict, so many twists to explore. It's FUN, y'all!

So, if you're wondering how to amp up the conflict in your tale or if something feels off, examine the emotional layer. Is the conflict personal? Can you revise and dig deeper? Don't be afraid to try.

Remember: If Dumas can benefit from a revision, we all can ;)

Friday, March 19, 2021

Ask Not Who the Villain of This Piece Might Be

So many lovely villains to choose from. Scary aliens bent on destroying humanity - never mind that they have good reason. Magical creatures no one quite understands being invited to cohabitate human bodies and minds without any thought of the consequences - though, in that case, who's the real villain? The magical creatures invited in? Or the idiots who do the inviting? Then there's the mythical creature drawn from her native land to the New World as the stories about her spread into territories she'd never dreamed. 

But my very, very favorite villain is whoever my hero happens to be in whatever I'm writing at the time. Yes, most of my heroes and heroines have nemeses to face, but each hero and heroine first has to face themselves. And most of the time, when they do, they see the face of what they hate and fear staring back at them from the bathroom mirror. I made a heroine face down her distrust of others and of herself. I made another face down her envy and sense of inadequacy. Yet another had to overcome prejudice. The hero in the book I'm working on now has to figure out hate. 

I like characters who are their own worst enemies. Initially. I expect them to start catching clues pretty quickly, but not all at once. Change is a process and I want to see it. If I don't, I won't believe that the characters have grown enough to defeat whoever or whatever is their ultimate stumbling block. 

I've got a lot of love for that moment when a character looks at nemesis and sees themselves reflected. That 'oh shit' realization never gets old.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

What Makes a Perfect Villain


my son's picture book Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker The Galaxy Needs You open to the illustration of Ray and Kylo Ren fighting with their lightsabers drawn

Villain [vil-uhn] noun: a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime.

This week we’re talking about the most dastardly characters, those cackling antagonists, those thorns in our hero’s sides. If they’re done well we love to hate them. And my award for Favorite Backstabber goes to Kylo Ren!

If you’ve been hiding in the dark side, Kylo Ren is from StarWars and fills the role of villain against Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And in these movies he’s identified as being neither Jedi (the good guys) nor Sith (the baddies). 

Wait…I named my top villain as one that’s neither good nor bad?!?


I believe there’s good and evil in each one of us and it comes down to the decisions we make each day that determine what type of person we are. We are all our own hero, but I know there’ve been times—I worked as a manager for five years—when I made choices I believed were the best course of action that made me a villain in another’s story. 

That’s why Kylo Ren is the most dastardly, perfect villain. He represents us and our struggles to choose the right path. As you watch The Force Awakens you see him face these tough decisions—hoping he’ll choose the right one—but you don’t feel totally confident that he will. 

Your villain should be part of, either physically or in spirit, every plot point in your story.

And that’s good writing. That should be our goal as authors, to craft a villain that’s vital to the plot. Your villain should be part of, either physically or in spirit, every plot point in your story. No, you don’t have to think up a super complicated reason why they do what they do. You should be able to answer/write what drives your antagonist in one sentence, not in pages of backstory. 

If you’re feeling stuck in your WIP or struggling with a book idea that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, check out your villain. Make sure they’re more than an evil genius who wants to take over the world. Or if that’s their thing, then also give them a tangible reason on a smaller scale. We’ve all heard about humanizing the antagonist to capture the audience in order to deliver a solid punch when the hero wins the day, so be sure add in some depth, but not so much that it overshadows your hero. 

Did this give you any ideas on crafting your current villain? Do you have a fave antagonist that inspires your writing?