Dec 272013

By Nobilis

For the past few months, I’ve been posting techniques for generating ideas. Now it’s time to talk about these ideas from a different angle, because sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of ideas, but an overwhelming number of them, or a really great one that won’t let you focus on anything else (…for example, the other great idea you had earlier), or an idea that starts out strong but threatens to evaporate as soon as you examine it more closely. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to beginning authors, getting a Great Idea can be a productivity-destroying monster—and if you’re going to be a successful author, you need to know how to tame it.

The danger of the Great Idea is insidious. It tempts you to work on it immediately. It distracts you from last week’s Great Idea that isn’t yet finished. It wants all of your attention, now, and won’t let go until you give it what it wants. And the last thing you want to do is kill it. After all, you’re a creator! Ideas are the seeds of awesomeness. Without attention, an idea dies. You forget the details, and bit by bit it fades away unless it’s fed.

So, given that you neither want to let your new Great Idea consume your entire brain just yet, nor do you want to snuff it out, what do you do? The way I tame this beast is to open a zoo. For me, it’s a classy little notebook, one of the expensive ones with the elastic to hold it closed and a ribbon for keeping my place. Other authors have files on their computers, or even a box full of slips of paper or index cards. The form is not as important as the function and the discipline in exercising it.

The discipline is this: When you get an idea, write it down. Plot ideas, setting ideas, character ideas, all of them must be written down with your chosen method. Record all the details you can think of, and then put it away and go back to working on your main project. This way, you have given your Great Idea enough attention to survive until you can come back and decide whether it’s actually worth working on.

Because that’s the other danger of the Great Idea. Sometimes, the idea just isn’t as great as it seemed when we thought it up. Maybe it’s cliché, just another brooding vampire in a world that’s got too many already. Maybe it’s all horns and no teeth, and it doesn’t lead you anywhere interesting. The important thing here is that you can’t tell what kind of idea it is until you’ve had some time away from it.

…Which brings us to the second important function of the idea zoo. With some time apart, you can come to the idea with a fresh perspective, and really have a good look at it. That’s why I don’t read through my idea notebook until I actually need an idea—which can often happen in the middle of writing something else, when I need to spice up a character, or a setting, or introduce a plot twist. The idea zoo is a great place for concentrated inspiration.

And someday, you’ll fill up that idea notebook. Well, okay, not if it’s a file on your computer, but even so the size will eventually become unwieldy. When that happens, here’s what I do: When the book is full, and I’m finished with one project and ready to start another, I get myself another notebook, and lay them open side by side. I go through the full one and look over each idea, first by just reading through the whole book, and then more carefully, considering the ideas one by one. As I pore over each one of my Great Ideas, I consider not only whether or not it belongs in the new notebook—because not all of them will be judged fit for preservation—but also whether it fits in well with other ideas. I’ll cluster them together when they seem like they might be compatible.

If there’s anything better than a story with a Great Idea, it’s a story with two or three Great Ideas. Or more.


Here’s your freebie story idea for the month:
A woman decides to get even with her cheating husband—by seducing his mistress away from him.


Twitter: @nobilis


Dec 182013

By Nobilis

This may come as something of a shock, but watching TV and movies, and playing cinematic video games, can be of use to an author. These kinds of media can help you generate ideas, decide which ideas are the good ones, and develop them into stories.

Some of you are shaking your heads right now. “TV is stupid,” you say. “Video games are a waste of time. I’m much better off spending that time writing.” Meanwhile, some of you are perking up. “You mean I can veg out in front of the tube without feeling guilty?” And some of you are rolling your eyes, muttering “Well, of course” under your breath (yes, thank you, mister and missus know-it-all, here’s your gold star. Now read along anyway).

So here’s why sitting and watching the screen is good for your writing: First, it will improve and maintain your cultural literacy. Second, it will introduce you to new, unforseen characters and situations. Third, it will motivate you to write better stories.

Cultural literacy is very important to an author, especially within their genre. Most authors are aware of the need to read widely, but reading is only part of our modern culture; television, movies and the internet are also very important. There are two reasons for this: One, you will be aware of currents and commonalities running through the minds of your readers—and may recognize that they’re also running through your head—and you might decide to tap into them. On the other hand, if you see a cliche that’s getting way too much attention, you’ll know to avoid it.

We can’t be everywhere, and we can’t meet everyone. And while we’re often best off using settings and characters from our own lives,
sometimes those aren’t sufficient. If you’re enjoying a wide variety of media, however, some of those characters you’ve seen walking around on your screens, and the locations in the background, will stick with you. And while you don’t want to copy them, having them tucked away in your subconscious will help keep the creative well from running dry.

Finally…some of this media is just plain stupid. The plots are formulaic, the characters wooden, and the dialogue stilted. You’ll
shake your head and shout at the screen, “Hell, *I* could have written a better story than this.”

And then you will.


Here’s your freebie story idea for the month: There’s a famous musician, who had a bunch of hits in the eighties and nineties, who invites promising new artists to his home in the country to record a web series with him. He’s a friendly dude, real laid-back, but when a disaster traps him in the house with his band, his crew, and the special guest, he becomes a good deal more agitated, and desperately seeks a way to send them home. This isn’t just because he’s reluctant to be housebound with his guests; it’s because he has a secret. Thanks to an ancient family curse, on nights of the full moon he turns into a gorgeous, sexually insatiable succubus.

Nov 252013

By Nobilis

As I mentioned last month, the theme I’ve decided to pursue on this blog series is ideas, where they come from, and what they’re worth. Ideas go through a process; they are inspired, they are worked, and then the results are either discarded or displayed. In all of this, my friends play a vital role.

I spend a lot of time on social media. Probably too much…maybe. Because chatting with my friends on Twitter and Google Plus is where I get most of my inspiration. My twitterfolk and google circles are full of fun, kinky people that love to flirt and tease and joke. Not a week goes by that a conversation doesn’t spark something in my imagination.

For example, this past week, a conversation got running on “friend-flashing,” that is, briefly exposing boobs or booty to friends rather than lovers; people talked a bit about good flashes they’d gotten, or given, and that sort of thing. And in the middle of that, the phrase flashed itself in my imagination: “Flash Club.”

And there’s the beginning. The seed. It immediately sprouted, giving me a setting, characters, and a situation ripe with fierce passions. I never would have thought of it just sitting at home staring at a blank computer screen. It was like a crystal dropping into a supersaturated solution; it catalyzed a reaction that made amazing things happen.

I was immediately full of energy. I was going to write this thing and write it big. At the first opportunity, I opened a new file and banged out a quick five hundred words. “Yes!” I thought to myself, “This is happening.”

And then ran into a wall.

What the hell happens next? Where am I going with this? The inspiration I had gotten was imperfect. It gave me a situation, but a situation isn’t a story. It’s the most important ingredient for a story, but those ingredients don’t really cook unless you apply some heat. There has to be some energy there, something that makes things happen, and I didn’t have that. It was tremendously frustrating.

This, for me, is what writer’s block looks like; it comes from not knowing where I’m going, not having a plan, not having an ending or even a middle in mind. I needed to find that before I could continue, and it was killing me.

So, I went back to my friends.

This time, though, it wasn’t the big hodgepodge of Twitter and Google Plus. I sent out a few IM’s to my fellow creatives, to see who had time for a little chat. A few frustrating hours later I was able to get on the phone with Lulu. If you had been listening to the conversation, you probably would have laughed; I said that I needed her for inspiration, but I was doing ninety-five percent of the talking. Sometimes, she could barely get a word in edgewise. I explained the idea, where I was with it, what I had written, and what was missing.

There were easy things I could have put into that missing slot. Someone who shouldn’t, falls in love. Someone who shouldn’t, discovers the secret. But those were too easy, too facile. They’d lead to a same-old-same-old story. What else was there? Most importantly, what could happen that was inside the situation? And in that conversation, I found it; the newcomer is the disruption. The newcomer plays their game better than anyone who’s already there.

And I was off.

That’s where things sit at the moment I’m writing this blogpost. The story remains far from fully formed, but I have found my way past that block, with Lulu’s help. I am quite certain that I have everything I need to produce a manuscript with beginning, middle, and end.

But just because I will have an ending doesn’t mean I’ll be done.

At that point, I’ll be recruiting a few more of my friends; beta readers that I trust to tell me just where my story sucks. And it will, because every newly-minted story sucks. But I’ll cover that in another essay; the important point here is that my friends figure strongly in that process as well.

And now for the News from Poughkeepsie, where I toss out an idea that may spark something for you:

Elves, as originally imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien, and imitated in epic fantasy ever since, are noble folk associated with magic and immortality. What happens if that immortality has a price? What happens if immortality is a mantle that prevents aging and disease, but also means the elf cannot procreate? And what if that mantle can be put aside, once, in order to regain fertility, but give up one’s life? What kind of society would that create, and what stories could be told about those people?

Oct 292013

By Nobilis

Writers can be very protective of their ideas, especially when they’re new. And why not? When we get an idea, a really good idea, we get excited. A really juicy, really original idea makes us feel special, makes us feel smart, makes us feel like writing! And that’s an awesome feeling. And a valuable one.

And writers can end up doing some mighty silly things to protect that idea, like refusing to show it to anyone. How is anyone supposed to evaluate a book if they don’t know what the big idea is? Agents, editors, publishers, beta readers, all of those people need to hear about the idea if they’re going to work with a writer. Writers also tend to get upset if another book (or movie, or TV show, or whatever) gets published that uses that idea, or something close to it.

Here’s the secret that veteran writers quickly learn, but sometimes forget: Ideas really aren’t that special. We get them all the time. Once you’ve figured out how to get the idea engine started, it cranks them out much faster than anyone can write them! What’s valuable about a book is the same ratio of qualities to which Edison attributed genius: 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration. It’s the work we put into a story that makes it special, not the idea that inspired it.

One of my favorite writers, Mur Lafferty, had a blog for a while called News from Poughkeepsie. On this blog, she posted story ideas that were cool, but which she simply didn’t have time to develop. She invited writers to use those ideas any way they saw fit, just throwing them out there for anyone to use. After a time, another author, Jared Axelrod, took up the banner and started posting his own ideas as well.

The thing is, though, the lesson of News from Poughkeepsie is learned pretty quickly. “I get it!” the readers say, “Lots of ideas. Lots of great things to write about. But I want my OWN ideas.”

I understand.

In future blog entries, I’ll share some of my tools and techniques for priming the creative pump and getting my ideas flowing. I’ll talk about places where I find inspiration, methods I use for picking worthwhile ideas and leaving others aside, and how to get from an idea to actual written work. After all…that’s where the real value is.

And because the ideas are piling up around here, I’ll hand you one of the juicier ones:

BDSM stories often assume that people come in particular types: dominant or submissive, sadist or masochist, straight or gay or bi, etc. and that the trick for finding true sexual fulfillment is to find the person that fits perfectly with one’s existing sexual makeup. But people aren’t that rigid. Many people are perfectly capable of adapting, learning, growing, changing in response to circumstances. What if a dominant—one who has only ever been attracted to submissives, has only ever wanted to dominate them sexually—finds himself inspired to submission by another dominant? This may sound like a familiar story, but this particular dominant isn’t a switch; he’s not discovering a previously unrecognized desire and finally letting it loose. He’s changing. And that change comes about as a result of the trust and respect he has uniquely for her. He’s still just as much of a dominant as ever with anyone else, but with her, it’s different. Wouldn’t that be pretty damn hot?


Twitter: @nobilis