Guest Post & Review

Head on over to Lisa’s Writopia to read Lisa Binion’s wonderful review of The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn! The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn: A Review

And while you’re there, check out my guest post/interview on Lisa’s blog: Mythology and the Character of Erica Flynn – Sara Marian Guest Post /Interview

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Friday Exercise – Pantheon

I feel like throwing out a purely-for-fun exercise today.  Maybe someone will get something out of it (maybe I will), or maybe it’ll just be fun.  Fun is never a bad thing, though, right?

If your main character were a member of some ancient pantheon of gods and goddesses, what would he/she be the god or goddess of?  Which pantheon would he fit best in – Greek, Hindu, Egyptian, or some made-up fusion…?  What symbols would her temple be decorated with?  What animal would represent him?

The character I’m currently working on, I’d probably put in a made-up pantheon, and he’d be a minor trickster god of luck, brotherhood, and woodlands.  A god you want to stay on the good side of, as he thinks he’s exceedingly funny when he’s bringing down bad luck on someone.  I’m calling the birch tree and the otter as his sacred symbol and animal representative, respectively.  Why an otter?  They’re clever, slick, deceptively charming, and adaptable.  That’s why!

Research

Research is a constant writerly debate in my household.  My husband will go to incredible lengths to avoid doing research for his writing.  I love research, although I have an odd relationship with it.  I research heavily for fantasy, but I’m horribly intimidated by the idea of researching for any kind of mystery or historical fiction, which is why I don’t write either of those genres, although I read both (preferably combined!)

That contradiction aside, why the heck would I do research for fantasy?  To my husband, especially, this is incomprehensible – fantasy is the perfect setup, as far as he’s concerned, because he can just make everything up and not worry about how things work in the real world.  I understand that sentiment, since I write (and read) partly as escapism from reality.

But it’s so exciting to do research for fantasy novels and stories!  It’s not that I can’t come up with ideas and inspiration just off the top of my head for fantasy, but finding out things I don’t know about history, food, inventions, other cultures, religious rituals, animals, etc. gets me thinking about things I might otherwise overlook.  Sometimes I’ll come across an idea and reverse it entirely, but even that reversal wouldn’t have come about if I hadn’t found the idea to contradict in the first place.

Some of the things I’ve learned more about while doing research, I would probably never have thought to read up on if it hadn’t related to my story, but I’m always glad to have found out new information.  As a writer, the more you know about anything, the richer, more varied, and more interesting your basis for stories and characters becomes.  It’s like you’re collecting resources that are then, literally, right at your fingertips.

Because of my writing, I read up on a lot of psychology theory – especially Carl Jung and William James, both of whom were also passionately interested in literature and philosophy.  Some of their writings on those subjects have, in turn, expanded my views on fiction, both as a reader and as a writer.  I’ve read up on the historical impact of technology on society, the history of various inventions, traditional foods and drinks of places I wanted to inspire my settings, mythology and legends that cross all over the globe – and now all of that information is at the back of my mind every time I sit down to write.  If you want to be inspired, keep your brain well-stocked with ideas it can put together, pull apart, reverse, or just plain use.

That’s my philosophy on research, anyway.  Oh, and I’ve also become addicted to olives thanks to research, but that’s a side effect you may have to watch out for if you’re reading up on the Mediterranean.  Hah!  That’s one reason to write what you love – if you’re interested in something to begin with, “research” is a great excuse to obsessively read about it, and if you’re researching a place’s cuisine, it’s a great excuse to eat a lot of tasty food (and drink coffee spiked with brandy, if your subject of study is Italy).

10 Ideas About Ideas

10 ways to come up with ideas for stories (when you aren’t feeling inspired):

1.  Writing exercises.  There are many excellent books and websites full of them.  Keep some on hand!

2.  Listen to the conversations of strangers.  People say some crazy stuff!  Even when they say “normal” stuff, it’s interesting sometimes to “pretend” more about them than you actually know – basing it off of the way one talks to the other and vice versa.  Are they relatives, friends, co-workers, romantically involved…?  Make up a context for their dialogue, imagine a conflict or dilemma they could be facing.

3.  Research something.  Have you always been interested in learning more about the RAF’s role in WWII?  Or the history of the police force in your city?  Or the new developments in neuroscience?  Or how a bourbon distillery works?  What a day in the life of a timber wolf entails?  Read up on it.  Go on a tour appropriate to your subject.  Check out websites and forums.  Learn how to do something new.  You never know what new information will spark an idea for a story or a character.  Museums of all kinds can be stellar places to find unexpected inspiration.

4.  Brainstorm with another writer (or two, or three).  Just throw ideas out, have fun, and write down notes when anything exciting comes up.

5.  Think of things that bug you in movies and books – specific types of plot holes, stereotypes, or character inconsistencies…pet peeves you have about how OTHER people write.  Write something better!  Did the movie in question have a great idea for a bad guy, but the storyline left him falling so short of his potential as a character that you wanted to throw the DVD case across the room?  (*cough*  Nothing specific in mind there, noooo….)  Write your own bad-ass, and give him a story he can really shine in.

6.  Read some mythology or fairy tales (not the Disney versions, folks, I’m talking about the old, dark, disturbing stuff here – Hans Christian Andersen and prior).  Public domain plots, themes, and characters you can use to get ideas for your own, original stories.  I’m not saying “write fairy tales”; it’s just interesting to play around with the ideas, and some of the themes are powerful and deep-rooted in the human psyche.

7.  If you have ANY ideas for a story or character you want to start working on, but don’t know where to start, make a list.  10 things you know about your character.  10 things you know about your setting.  10 things you know will happen in your story.

8.  Free write.  Sit down and just start writing whatever you’re thinking, and keep writing without stopping for 10 to 15 minutes.  Stream of consciousness, without worrying about punctuation, spelling, or any kind of correction.  After your time’s up, if there are any phrases or ideas or even word combinations you like, highlight ’em or underline ’em.  Keep free writes together in a folder, and flip through when you’re looking for ideas.

9.  Brainstorm using Tarot cards or I Ching wands.  Facade.com has various types of divination readings available online.  You can use the readings to come up with characters and character interactions, conflicts and obstacles for your protagonist, strengths and weaknesses of characters, and story events.  Like reading mythology and fairy tales, this has the benefit of bringing strong symbolism into your work.  Just be sure not to be too heavy-handed with it.

10.  Do something else creative.  Doodle, color, listen to music, finger-paint, play with Lego, cook, do a craft project, improv on the piano for a while, whatever.  Whatever other creative outlets you have, pick one and do that for a while.  Don’t STRESS about coming up with an idea for a story.  Relax and let it come to you.  Sometimes, like a cat or a kid, all it takes is you ignoring it to do something else, and your story suddenly wants your attention.