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Story Pacing: 4 Techniques That Help Manage Your Plot’s Timeline

As a writer of fiction, you want readers to open your book and become so absorbed they can’t put it down. It helps to be aware that so much of what happens when a reader picks up a book takes place in the subconscious mind. Readers don’t realize that it’s happening, and many writers don’t pay attention to it either.

One of those largely subconscious mechanisms is story pacing.

Story pacing is often ignored as an aspect of learning how to craft a really great story. A lot of writers don’t give it much thought, yet it’s a critically important writing technique and quite exciting to learn about.

In this post, we’ll cover story pacing in detail, and I’ll provide some crucial areas for you to work on in your books—to open up some doors you didn’t even know existed.

Story Pacing Opened My Eyes

One of the primary ways we learn how to craft story is from reading a ton of books, especially in our target genre. I’ve been an avid reader of suspense fiction for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a huge boost to my writing abilities.

So when I started writing thrillers, I felt fairly confident about my skills. I knew I had an exciting storyline, with intriguing plot points supported by well-developed characters and plenty of action.

That’s why I was so surprised when my mentor took a look at one of my stories and said: “It’s not a thriller.”

He told me I had all the right stuff for a thriller, but the pacing was off. After he showed me the same techniques that I’ll share with you in this article, I was able to give the story a better sense of urgency, shaping it into a solid thriller.

With the help of this post, you can do the same with your stories.

What is Story Pacing?

You may be thinking that story pacing is simply the tempo at which your story unfolds. True enough, on the surface. But the deeper reality is that pacing is the art of keeping readers engaged in your story and not letting them out. It’s what pulls them through to the end.

Here’s another way to think about it. In a ThrillerFest panel discussion on the topic of pacing, Lee Child said:

“Every book you’ve ever read has a timeline; it starts somewhere and finishes somewhere. Pacing is how you manage that timeline.”

He goes on to talk about how he writes the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow. Meaning he operates like a photo editor reporting on a tidal wave. The editor shows the wave coming in at a tremendous pace and then slows down the tape as it crashes into the seawall to intensify the impact and examine it in greater detail.

As writers, we have the ability to speed and slow the rate at which our readers consume a story. You can learn those techniques and master the art of pacing by structuring your story according to genre.

Pacing is Inextricably Connected With Genre

Being clear about genre is really critical to the reader’s enjoyment of your story.

To make my point, I’ll tell you about this little trick my husband likes to pull on me. Sometimes when we stop at a gas station, he’ll disappear inside and come out with a large cup and offer me the straw. Though I never know what to expect, I can’t help but form some kind of preconceived anticipation.

So maybe I’m thinking root beer or Dr. Pepper. I take a drink and—Yuck! That’s awful! What is it? And he might say it’s Squirt. Well, I like Squirt, but since it’s not what my taste buds were expecting, it disappointed.

It’s the same with genre.

Readers start a story with certain expectations, they want a particular type of reading experience. That’s why genres exist. To help readers make good choices about what they want to read.

Pacing is dependent on genre and genre springs from pacing. Like the chicken and the egg, you can’t really separate them. The genre you choose to write will dictate the story pacing and the way you pace your book will determine the genre.

Relationship between pacing and genre

If a reader picks up a thriller and the story doesn’t have fast pacing like a thriller should, they’ll put the book down or finish it in disgust and never go back to that writer’s work. Same with a cozy mystery or a slow-burn psychological suspense.

And the reader won’t even consciously register what was wrong with it. They’ll just know it disappointed.

Pacing in Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense

Let’s think of a story’s pacing like a theme park ride. When you visit a theme park, you know the kind of rides you want to experience. The ferris wheel is fun and so is the Tilt-a-Whirl, but they move at different paces. Story pacing is like that, too.

Use this analogy to take a closer look at how the pacing differs in thrillers, suspense stories, and mysteries. Each genre is a joy to read, but the experience each provides is unique.

Thrillers

Thrillers are roller coaster rides. You get in and strap down and then the coaster pulls slowly out of the station and starts chugging up that first hill. This is like character development, grounding the reader in the setting, and building the suspense.

By the time your reader is solidly inside the viewpoint character’s head and has learned to care about that character, we’ve reached the top of that first big drop and we plummet ahead on a wild ride of twists and turns with an occasional breather while the story builds to another thrilling drop.

Thrillers are made of fast-paced scenes.

Mysteries

Mysteries are more like the funhouse. They’re designed to surprise, challenge, and amuse with puzzles to solve and riddles to unravel. They’re more interactive than a thrill ride, inviting readers to participate in working out the clues.

We may have to work our way through a revolving tunnel or cross a crazy obstacle course. And there may be spurts of fast-paced activity, but the overall tone of the ride doesn’t have the frenetic qualities of a roller coaster.

Mysteries move at a moderate pace.

Suspense

We might liken suspense stories to the spooky rides where you ride on a track through a series of dark and mysterious passages, accompanied by scary music and lots of atmosphere.

Some of these rides are slow, drawing out the suspense, giving you time to worry and wonder about what’s coming next. Other rides move more quickly, giving you less time to recover from the unexpected each time you turn the corner.

Suspense stories vary in pace and run the gamut.

Pacing Influences the Reader’s Experience

As with most aspects of good fiction writing, intentional story pacing provides a quality reading experience. Proper pacing allows us to control what the reader thinks and feels. We do that in obvious ways, not so obvious ways, and some really subconscious ways. As I mentioned before, a lot of pacing is effectively a subconscious control system.

We’re going to look at the nuts and bolts of pacing, but unless you realize their purpose and understand the end goal, you won’t get full value from using these tools.

The way the page looks—sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, amount of white space—sends signals to the reader about how to consume the story. Page appearance is important in pacing a book correctly.

So, before we dig into the specifics, we need to cover an absolutely key component of successful pacing.

Form Follows Content

If you’re wondering how to structure your sentences and paragraphs, look at your content. What’s going on in the story?

What is the character thinking or feeling in that moment? What should the reader be experiencing? These are what will tell you how long or short to make your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.

In general, longer sentences promote slow-burn suspense while shorter sentences can create a frantic feeling of panic.  But the number one rule to remember in story pacing is this: form must follow content.

This means that what’s happening in the story should be reflected in the way it looks on the page.

If there’s a fight scene, or some kind of fast-paced action going on, the sentences and paragraphs should be short, clipped, and surrounded by white space. If your character is arriving in a new setting and taking it in, these descriptive passages will be slower, with longer sentences and paragraphs.

Flashbacks also slow the pace as you pull the reader from the active voice of the story into a more introspective vein.

Ask yourself what’s happening, and make your form fit your content.

Some people, when they hear the term pacing, think it means fast. And in suspense fiction, that’s often what readers want. But there’s nothing wrong with an occasional slow-paced scene if that’s what the content calls for.

Good pacing is about choosing the appropriate speed to advance your reader through the plot. And that’s dictated by the genre, tone, and events of the story. “ Story pacing is about choosing the appropriate speed to advance your reader through the plot. And that’s dictated by the genre, tone, and events of the story. Tweet thisTweet

Feel free to throw out the rules of grammar if they get in the way of pacing and presenting the story. Fiction writing doesn’t always require full, grammatically correct sentences. Those rules exist to serve the story, and the story exists to serve the reader. Our job, as writers, is to serve the reader in the best way we know how. And sometimes that means breaking the rules.

Now let’s dive into the specific techniques used in pacing. We’ll look at four big ideas:

  1. Sentence structure
  2. Paragraph structure
  3. Scene and chapter structure
  4. Cliffhangers

Sentence Structure

The way you structure a scene’s sentences sends a message to the reader, usually on a subconscious level, about how fast to read. And the content of the scene will dictate the form.

Longer sentences, with lots of detail, tend to slow the pace and that’s perfect, if that’s what the content requires. Short, staccato sentences—even sentence fragments or single-word sentences with lots of white space in between—convey a fast pace. Machine gun dialogue—those terse conversations say, during a car chase—does the same thing. It speeds the pace.

Often, when there is physical movement in the story, the sentences will be shorter and when things are stationary, they’ll be longer. But that’s a generalization. Always base form on content. That’s really the only rule. Your job is to tell a story, and all the little pieces you use to do so should follow that story.

How pacing works in sentence structure

The energy of a sentence is in its kernel, subject + verb:

The woman screamed.

Sometimes you’ll need to include an object and indirect object:

The woman screamed obscenities at the burglar.

But keep in mind that any clauses you add will drain some of the energy:

The woman screamed obscenities at the burglar, cursing him for tracking mud on her Persian carpet, berating him for breaking the window.

Remember, that’s okay if it’s called for by the content. What’s going on, and how do you want the reader to feel about it? Also, be aware of rhythm. In your sentence lengths and structure, you’re setting up a cadence which conveys a certain kind of tone.

The best way to learn the structures, rhythms, and cadences of well-written scenes is to read a lot and seriously study those who have mastered your genre’s story pacing.

Action is content. If you’re writing an action scene, you can often get away with less detail and shorter sentences. Content calls for them.

But two people sitting and talking doesn’t usually qualify as action. For moments like this, to keep the reader tucked into the story, you need to use more rich, sensory details that spark emotions and opinions. Which means longer sentences.

This doesn’t mean that if the pace of the story is fast you need to leave details out. Remember, you must tell the story—everything the reader needs to get the full experience. But if the pace is fast, you must deliver the information in a more clear, concise fashion.

No matter what the pace, you’ve got to get the reader inside the viewpoint character’s head, experiencing the story through that main character—their emotions, opinions, sensory input, and perception of what’s happening in the story.

Are you picking up on the major theme of pacing? Content drives everything. “ Content drives the pace of your story—content drives everything. Tweet thisTweet

Paragraph Structure

When a reader opens a book and sees a lot of black on the page—long blocks of text—that sends a message that it should be consumed at a leisurely pace. Short paragraphs with lots of white space around them signals a fast-moving page-turner.

It encourages fast reading.

The way you structure sentences and paragraphs will influence your reader’s breathing and physical state to some extent. Even when not reading out loud, we tend to breathe in conjunction with the words on the page, and faster breathing leads to a faster heart rate.

Lots of short, punchy paragraphs literally make your book a page-turner because your reader’s eye devours them and quickly moves on. Yet, in some cases, a long, run-on sentence can leave your reader breathless, since there’s no place to pause and take a breath.

Normally-paced text varies in paragraph length. It might go from a four-line paragraph to a three-line paragraph, then five lines followed by two, and so on. About ninety percent of most books, except for climactic scenes, run along in this sort of pattern. It’s interesting to the eye and doesn’t contain lengthy, intimidating paragraphs.

This will vary by genre. Literary works will tend toward longer paragraphs, while genres such as action adventure and thrillers contain only sixty to sixty-five percent “normal” story pacing. This utilizes a lot more white space and shorter sentences and paragraphs.

Use the power of the paragraph. Especially with faster-paced fiction. Hit the return key as often as necessary. Set short, punchy sentences apart for greater impact when the situation calls for it. This is a powerful technique.

How pacing works in paragraph structure

To further explore how paragraph structure affects reader experience, let’s take an excerpt from the thriller-paced short story Kowalski’s In Love by James Rollins. In this first example, I took the liberty of restructuring the paragraphs to reflect normal pacing:

Modified excerpt from James Rollins

Now, see how it appeared in the published version:

Original excerpt from James Rollins

Do you see how the shorter paragraphs facilitate a faster pace? Notice how they give more impact to the short sentences, which stand alone in their own paragraphs.

Scene and Chapter Structure

When you write, your scenes and chapters should drive the story forward and accomplish story objectives. Where you break them should not be random, but based on content.

You should be aware, however, that readers can bog down if the chapters are too long. Most readers are comfortable with chapter lengths between 2,000 and 2,500 words. Shawn Coyne, editor and author of The Story Grid, calls these “potato chip” chapters because they’re short enough to encourage readers to indulge in just one more before turning out the light.

And then, just one more…

It’s also useful to vary the lengths of your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes to avoid falling into a monotonous pattern. It’s important to realize that readers have an instinctive sense of story pacing, and when the pacing is congruent with the content, it feels right. If something is out of sync, they’ll sense that, too.

For example, years ago, when I read Connie Willis’s WWII time travel book, Blackout, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I neared the end. Something was wrong. The pacing was off, and I realized my instincts were on target as the book came to an abrupt end—in the middle of the story.

The publishers had decided the book was too long and their solution was to chop it into two parts without any warning to the reader. I, along with thousands of other readers, was not pleased.

You want to do all you can to give readers confidence in your storytelling abilities. When they feel like they’re in good hands, readers will settle into a story and stick with it. Putting in the effort to get the pacing right will pay dividends in gaining reader trust.

Cliffhangers

Remember, the function of pacing is to pull the reader through the book to the very end. Cliffhangers are a vital part of that process and consist of scene and chapter endings and the openings that follow.

Cliffhangers don’t just occur at the end of a chapter where you decide to stop writing. They happen when you make the effort to build something compelling into that ending. Effective cliffhangers keep readers from putting the book down, bridge the gaps between chapters and scenes, and provide momentum.

Like links in a chain, the cliffhanger doesn’t stand alone. It connects to the next opening and incorporates techniques used in deep POV to ground the reader in the new setting and character, creating a seamless progression through the story.

For a detailed study on the crucial skill of writing cliffhangers, learn more from my post: Cliffhanger Meaning 101: What They Are and How Writers Use Them.

How Form Follows Content

Lots of factors enter into your reader’s experience with your book. Some of them are out of your control. Is she tired? Hungry? Just a had a fight with her husband? There’s nothing you can do about any of those things.

But you should do your best to take control of the things you can. Like the way your story looks on the page. This has a tremendous influence on your reader, though most of it happens on a subconscious level.

To get a better idea of what I mean, let’s look at an example from Dean Koontz’s thriller The Whispering Room:

Excerpt from Dean Koontz

Do you see how these terse, tight paragraphs of dialogue convey tension and move quickly like machine gun fire? This makes for a fast pace and the form follows what’s happening in the scene, a rapid back-and-forth conflict.

Now let’s examine another example, this one from Bloodline by James Rollins:

Excerpt from James Rollins

The concise sentences and paragraphs communicate tension to the reader and encourage a rapid reading, eating up the page, leading to faster page flips. They are direct and sparse, hiding nothing of the bleakness of the scene.

Here’s a contrasting example from Jeffery Deaver’s novel The Blue Nowhere:

Excerpt from Jeffery Deaver

Deaver could easily have broken this block into multiple paragraphs. Why didn’t he?

I think he did it this way because the long, unbroken paragraph mimics the droning on and on of the little girl. It also reflects the viewpoint character’s blasé attitude about murder, burying it in a pile of words as if it’s something of little significance, highlighting its trivial aspect as just part of a game.

Remember to think about what’s happening in the story and how you can use all your skills to communicate that to the reader. It’s not just the words you use, but how you arrange them on the page that affects the way your reader will experience the story.

Improving Your Story Pacing Skills

The first step in mastering pacing is awareness. Once you become aware of the subconscious signals you’re sending your readers, you can practice and improve.

However, the best way to control the pace of a story is from your own subconscious, the back brain, the creative part. Not from the critical front brain. So how does that happen?

It’s important to keep learning, studying, practicing, and polishing your skills as a writer. But to make those skills really useful, they need to be internalized and become a natural part of your writing process.

Musicians practice scales and fingering exercises. Basketball players run drills on passing, dribbling, and shooting. Dancers spend hours at the barre, practicing the basic moves. They do these things so that the techniques are available to them in concert, in the middle of a championship game, or on the stage.

We make muscle memory by repeating the proper movements until they become automatic.

For writers, this involves reading first for pleasure. And then, when you’ve found a book that grabbed you and pulled you all the way to the end, go back and study it.

Analyze and practice until you’ve internalized the skill and it becomes second nature. The first step is awareness, then comes practice. Do these things on a regular basis and eventually, the techniques and information will pass from the front of your brain into the back of your brain and become automatic.

How about you? Did you learn something new you can apply right now to your writing? Tell us about it in the comments.

By Joslyn Chase

Source thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Always Have a Bagful of Exciting Writing Ideas

How intimately do you know the blank, virginal screen?

Do you have a love-hate relationship with it?

On the one hand are many writing options, waiting to unfold.

On the other, a dread of the unknown that freezes your fingers.

And always, that vast, nagging question: what shall I write about?

Take heart!

You’re surrounded by brilliant writing ideas waiting only for you to grab them and transform them into riveting pieces.

Whether you write a blog, fiction, or non-fiction, inspiration is all around you. Here are some ways to make your daily life an endless source of writing ideas.

1. Mix Up Topics

Interesting things happen when you choose a topic you care deeply about, and then combine it with something completely outside your experience.

For example, perhaps you are pro-life, with strong opinions about abortion. Let’s combine that with something you know absolutely nothing about. Say, motorcycles.

You could write a book about the member of a motorcycle gang whose girlfriend is pregnant. She doesn’t want the baby; he already visualizes it developing in her womb.

When the baby is born, she disappears into the smog, and the biker is determined to raise the child himself. He wants his son to experience the world as he never had the opportunity to do. So he sets off on a journey across the country with his toddler.

This can be a heartwarming novel, a hopeless tragedy, or even a comedy. It’s up to you. The possibilities are endless, even within this one scenario.

2. Be a News Hog

The news offers exciting possibilities.

Make a habit of reading about what’s going on around you, especially the slice-of-life articles. You can build on these stories, making them your own.

Some ways of doing that are:

  1. Imagine where the story could go next, and create a new ending of your own.
  2. Imagine alternative beginnings to the story. What could be the background of the characters involved?
  3. Change one major detail in the story. How would it impact the story? What new possibilities would that create?

Last week I read about two burglars who broke into a private residence and stole jewelry worth thousands of dollars. Did they get away with it?

No.

They were quickly apprehended because one of the felons was caught staring straight into the house’s security camera, revealing his unmasked face.

This seems to be an open-and-shut case. And yet, it made me wonder…

The burglars were obviously experienced. They broke into the house without a problem, and they searched it systematically for valuable goods. It was clearly not their first job.

So what caused the rookie mistake of not wearing face masks?

Could it be that the burglar caught on camera was distracted as he was making his preparations for the robbery, and so forgot to cover his face? What could have distracted him? Was it a subliminal desire to quit this dark line of work?

What made him go into house-breaking in the first place? And how did he feel when he looked directly into the camera, and probably realized he was in trouble? Why not try to deactivate the camera or find out where it was transmitting to?

Don’t get me wrong.

The true answers to these questions are probably boring: he was becoming overconfident after a long run of successful jobs and forgot to cover his face, or some such thing.

But the possible answers are much more interesting. I can almost feel the conspiracy thickening around this man.

Or maybe it’s a comedy of errors?

What would you make of his circumstances?

3. Capture Your Dreams

Dreams can be a fertile ground for inspiration. They are the essence of imagination run amok.

Your sleeping mind thinks up ideas that your waking mind might reject before you’ve even had a chance to register them.

These ideas can be precious writing material.

Your dreams are a gold mine, but so are other people’s dreams. When friends, family and strangers tell you about their dreams, that’s your chance to listen carefully.

A friend of mine received the inspiration for her entire novel from a dream her husband had. (Her story wasn’t based on his dream, but relied on the unreal atmosphere it created.)

Children’s dreams, in particular, are rich and free of filters. For example, your son’s dream about purple, diesel-drinking plants may inspire you to write the environmentally sympathetic version of The Day of the Triffids. How cool is that?

4. What If?

This is probably my favorite question ever. I turn to it whenever I’m out of ideas.

  1. What if time travel were possible? Where would my character go?
  2. What if three sisters decided to assassinate a tyrannical African despot? How would they do it?
  3. What if my husband decided that we should buy a motorhome and live on the roads for a year?

Try it!

Put together a long list of what-ifs.

There’s nothing more liberating for the imagination than that little two-word phrase.

5. Journaling—The Straight Way

Keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings and experiences can help you capture great ideas from your own life.

Write To Done has already covered this subject with two fascinating articles: How to Journal and 5 Ways Your Journal Can Take You Deeper Into Your Story.

These will set you on the road to journaling success. And great story ideas.

6. Journaling—With a Twist

What if you hate journaling? What if you think your life isn’t interesting enough to write about?

Well, make your life more interesting!

What is a writer if not an astute liar, at the end of the day?

Start with the truth—always a good place—and then embroider.

Suppose you stood in a long checkout where the sales person was rude and obnoxious. In truth, you may have done nothing but await your turn, bear it, gather your groceries, and leave.

But what would you like to have done?

Don’t write the truth. Fantasize, fabricate, lie. Re-create yourself as a character you’d like to read about.

And think how surprised and impressed your children or grandchildren will be when they discover your journal!

Life is full of opportunities. Don’t let them pass you by!

Try one of the exercises above and see where it takes you. Make it a habit to do a few exercises every day and you’ll never again lack writing inspiration.

What do you do when you’re looking for fresh writing ideas? Share in the comments, please, and help inspire others as well!

By Tal Valante

Source: writetodone.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Storytelling Exercise: Three Acts

Today’s storytelling exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills, which is filled with fiction-writing exercises that impart basic techniques of storytelling. Today’s exercise is from chapter forty-five. It’s called “Three Acts.” Enjoy!

The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective ways to outline or analyze a story and its structure. The three acts are as follows:

  1. Setup
  2. Conflict
  3. Resolution

In the first act, the plot and characters are established, and we learn what the central conflict is. It’s roughly 25 percent of the story, but this is a guideline, not a rule.

The second act is the longest of the three acts, usually about 50 percent of the narrative. In the second act, the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits a boiling point.

Finally, the third act resolves the conflict. The third act is usually about 25 percent of the story.

Study:

Choose five stories you’ve read, and break them into three-act structures by identifying the setup, conflict, and resolution for each one. Summarize each act in just a few sentences.

Practice:

Create five story premises, and quickly draft three-act outlines for each one. Use a single sentence to describe each of the three acts. A couple of examples are provided below.

Natural Disaster:

Act I: A natural disaster is impending.

Act II: The natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. The other half struggles to survive.

Act III: Earth’s survivors rebuild.

Romance:

Act I: A teenager from a prestigious family falls in love with someone from the wrong side of the tracks.

Act II: The couple tries to hide their relationship, but eventually they are outed.

Act III: The teenager is forced to choose between love and access to the family’s wealth and support.

Questions:

Why do you suppose the three-act structure is universally applicable to almost all forms of storytelling? Would it be possible to write a story with no setup, or with the setup at the end or in the middle? What happens if the three acts are rearranged? Can any of the acts be left out of a story?

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

25 Story Starters for Writing Fiction

Are you a storyteller? Do you want to be a storyteller?

If you’re interested in writing flash fiction, short stories, or novels, then you’re going to need lots of ideas, especially if you want to write professionally.

Some of us have too many ideas; others don’t have enough ideas. Maybe we have a solid idea for a story, but something’s missing. We need to spice it up by adding subplots or characters. Maybe the setting or story world isn’t rich enough. Perhaps your story lacks theme.

Story starters are a great way to get ideas for writing stories, but they can also be used to generate ideas for improving stories that are already in the works.

Story Starters

Today, I’d like to share twenty-five story starters. You can use these story starters to inspire a new story or to breathe new life into a story you’re already working on. Use them to write whatever you want — flash fiction, short stories, or a novel.

  1. We all know about conspiracy theorists. They believe the moon landing was a farce. Come up with a new conspiracy that theorists rally around. The public thinks they’re crazy, but are they?
  2. The world is run by politicians, but sometimes, ordinary people get caught up in political drama and intrigue. What happens when a bike messenger, a restaurant server, and a daycare teacher get unwillingly drawn into the affairs of state?
  3. Technology has developed at a splitting speed over the past century. Before we know it, every house will be equipped with a robot and a virtual reality system. But what happens when a couple of kids venture into the wrong area of the virtual reality and get stuck there?
  4. Witnesses to crimes can find themselves in grave danger, which is why there are protection programs for such persons. But what if the witness decided to join forces with the prime suspect? What does the witness get in exchange for false testimony that acquits a terrible criminal?
  5. Take a look at the world we live in. In some places, life is pretty good. But in other places, life is difficult for most people, especially where there’s a lot of inequality, poverty, and oppression. What if an oppressive culture used war or the media to spread itself around the globe? What would that look like, and would we ever overcome it?
  6. After a family moves into a new house, one of the kids looks for a hiding place to stash some secret belongings and discovers a panel at the back of a closet. Assuming it leads to the attic, the kid removes the panel only to find a window that looks into a world populated with magic and monsters.
  7. Two politicians are in a heated race to win a critical election (governor, president, etc.) and through negative campaigning have become arch enemies. But their kids go to the same college and have fallen in love. What happens when the relationship is revealed in the media?
  8. All the evidence in a brutal, premeditated murder points to one primary suspect, including footage from security cameras. The problem is that there’s no motive, and the alleged killer insists on his or her innocence. Who committed this heinous crime?
  9. While working on a more fuel-efficient space shuttle that will transport tourists to and from the moon, one engineer stumbles into a way to make faster-than-light (FTL) engines a reality.
  10. A stranger comes to a small town that hasn’t seen a new resident since the town’s youngest child was born sixteen years ago. The stranger rarely leaves his or her formerly abandoned home except to buy groceries and strange supplies from the local home improvement store, and the townspeople think something’s not right.
  11. Step back in time hundreds — or perhaps thousands — of years. The leader of a small tribe is butting heads with the tribe’s healer. Meanwhile, a powerful neighboring tribe is infiltrating their territory.
  12. Inspired by Jurassic Park, a biological engineer is committed to recreating dinosaurs. While researching ancient dinosaurs, the scientist stumbles into evidence that fire-breathing dragons once soared over the land and decides to recreate those instead.
  13. While representing an accused killer, the attorney falls in love with the client, partially because he or she believes the accused is innocent.
  14. Teenagers love to rebel and experiment. But what happens when one teenager’s antics end up on video and go viral? Bullying and humiliation ensue.
  15. After working hard for decades, the main character has finally managed to retire and purchase a condo on a small, tropical island, where he or she intends to write a novel. But strange things start happening — things go missing, there are creepy noises, and our character feels like he or she is constantly being watched.
  16. For centuries, humans have wondered if we are alone in the universe. The answer finally comes when aliens arrive. But it’s a time when tensions are high between the nations of Earth. Will humanity unite, or will some nations form an alliance with the aliens?
  17. A young couple believes their fairy tale has finally come true and they will live happily ever after. They are recently married, have good jobs, just bought a home, and there’s a baby on the way. But the fairy tale seems to unravel as secrets and lies begin to surface.
  18. When a foreign operative embedded in the CIA disappears with loads of government secrets, all hell breaks loose. But is this operative truly a foreign spy, or is it a citizen intent on blowing the cover off of government corruption?
  19. A mid-sized tourist plane crashes on a remote deserted island, killing all but a handful of survivors. Rescue is on the way until a devastating storm arises, barring access to the island. Now these urbanites must learn to live off the land and with each other.
  20. After serving a ten-year sentence for a heinous crime she didn’t commit, a former college student gets a new identity and becomes a private investigator intent on exonerating herself.
  21. A group of teenagers spends a summer day on a scavenger hunt in the woods just outside of town. When they reconvene to name the winner of the hunt, one of them doesn’t show up and cannot be found.
  22. When a kid finds out both parents are out of work and the family might have to move in with the grandparents, he or she decides to solve the problem by starting the modern version of a lemonade stand — an online enterprise.
  23. One couple’s nasty divorce leaves their two young children in the custody of their grandparents. Will the couple put aside their differences to get their children back?
  24. Dreams come true when a foster child is finally adopted. But the child’s new family is filled with secrets, and he or she begins to suspect that it wasn’t a chance adoption after all.
  25. The main character receives a strange inheritance from an unknown deceased relative: a key ring with no keys on it. Unusual events occur whenever the key ring is present.

Have you ever used story starters or writing prompts? Where do you find inspiration for writing fiction? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Storytelling Exercise: Tone and Mood

Today I’d like to share an excerpt from Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises, which helps beginning to intermediate storytellers develop fiction writing skills. This exercise is from chapter sixty, and it’s called “Tone and Mood.” Enjoy!

Tone and Mood

Tone and mood give a story a sense of atmosphere—how a story feels—its emotional sensibility.

Atmosphere is often established through a story’s setting: An old abandoned Victorian mansion beneath a full moon on a windy night can elicit a dark and creepy atmosphere. However, tone and mood can also come from the characters. A clumsy, awkward character can evoke a humorous tone for a story. And events can shape a story’s tone and mood; consider the difference in tone between a story about a star athlete making it to the big leagues versus a story about the effects of war on a combat veteran.

Tone and mood may also be driven by a story’s genre. For example, the identifying feature of horror is that it’s scary. Romance is romantic. Any genre can be infused with comedy, although there is little humor in a tragedy. An adventure story can be lighthearted or terrifying; a science-fiction story can be thrilling or cerebral; a mystery can be grim or gritty, or both.

One author might use a consistent tone throughout all of their works. Another might use different tones for different projects. And some authors use multiple tones in a single story: A suspenseful scene can follow a funny scene, or a tense scene can follow a sad scene. The tone can even change within a scene: A light or casual moment can turn grave in an instant. A changing tone affects the rhythm of a story, giving it emotional and atmospheric cadence.

Sometimes tone and mood develop naturally from the story’s characters, plot, and setting. Other times, tone and mood might be unclear, and it’s up to us, as authors, to establish a story’s emotional atmosphere.

Study:

Create a simple outline of about five chapters from a novel you’ve read, and then write a couple of sentences describing the tone throughout these chapters. Then scan through the text, and mark any changes in tone. When you’re done, review the story’s structure through the lens of tone. What is the overall tone? Can you detect a pattern? How do the tone and mood change as the story builds up to its climax, or do they remain static?

Practice:

Choose two descriptive words for how your story will feel—its tone and mood. Here are a few examples: lighthearted and adventurous, dark and humorous, or mysterious and contemplative. Create a quick sketch for a story, including at least three characters, a setting, and a one-paragraph summary of the plot. Be sure to include details about how the tone and mood will be established. For example, a dark and humorous story might be set in a mortuary with a fumbling, silly protagonist.

Questions:

What effect does tone have on readers? Can tone and mood be used to strengthen a story’s characters, plot, or theme? What are some ways authors can communicate a story’s tone and mood throughout the narrative? How is tone related to genre, or are they related? What happens when the tone and genre are contrasted (humor within a horror story)? Do you prefer stories with a consistent tone and mood throughout, or do you prefer a story that takes you on an emotional ride, moving through a range of tones and moods?

 

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Develop Your Best Novel Writing Ideas

Writing a novel is no small task. In fact, it’s a momentous task. Some writers spend years eking out a first draft, followed by years of revisions. And that’s before they even think about the grueling publishing process.

In other words, you’re going to spend a lot of time with your novel. So you better love it. No, wait — loving it is not enough. You have to be in love with it. You have to be obsessed with it. Committed to it.

It’s normal to lose interest when you’re on your tenth revision, but if you’re losing interest in your plot or characters while writing your first or second draft, the problem might not be you or your novel. The problem might be that you tried to commit to something you didn’t love. That’s never a good idea.

For many writers, the trick to sticking with a novel is actually quite simple: find an idea that grips you.

Get in Touch with Your Passions

Before you chase every crazy idea into the ground, stop and take a breath. Think about what moves you: books you couldn’t put down, movies you’ve watched dozens of times, TV shows you couldn’t stop talking about, and songs you played so many times, you’re sure they have bonded with your DNA.

By identifying your passions, you can figure out what makes you tick, and that’s a great start to your quest for novel writing ideas that you can really sink your teeth into.

All your past and present obsessions hold the clues to your future commitment to your own novel. Pay close attention to your preferences for genre, theme, setting, style, character archetypes and above all — emotional sensibility. Make lists of what you love about your favorite stories, and soon you’ll see the shape of your own novel start to emerge.

Generate and Gather Plenty of Novel Writing Ideas

Once you’ve made some general decisions about the novel you’re going to write, it’s time to start generating specific ideas.

Of course, the best novel writing ideas come out of nowhere. You’re on your hands and knees scrubbing the floor and suddenly that big magic bulb over your head lights up. Or maybe you have so many ideas, you don’t know where to start. It’s even possible that you’re aching to write a novel but are fresh out of ideas. Your mind feels like a gaping void.

Actually, story ideas are everywhere. The trick is to collect a variety of ideas, and let them stew while you decide which one is worth your effort. Here are some quick tips for generating ideas:

  • Hit the bookstore or library and jot down some of your favorite plot synopses. Then rework the details to transform these old plots into fresh ideas for new stories. Try combining different elements from your favorite stories. And use movie synopses too!
  • Load up on fiction writing prompts and develop each prompt into a short (one page) summary for a story.
  • Harvest some creative writing ideas from the news.
  • Grab a subplot from your favorite movie or TV show — a story line that wasn’t fully explored — and make it the central story problem.

Create a stash file for your ideas. It can be a folder on your computer or a box you fill with 3×5 index cards. You can also write all these ideas in a notebook. Just make sure you keep them together so you can easily go through them.

Let Your Novel Writing Ideas Marinate

Some ideas are so enticing, you can’t wait to get started. If you’re writing a poem or a piece of flash fiction, then have at it. If things don’t work out, you’ll lose a few hours or maybe a few weeks. But imagine investing months or years in a novel only to realize your heart’s not in it. Try to avoid doing that by letting ideas sit for a while before you dive into them.

The best ideas rise to the top. These are not necessarily the bestselling ideas or the most original ideas. They’re the ideas that are best for you. Those are the ones that will haunt you, keep you up at night, and provoke perpetual daydreams.

These are the ones worth experimenting with.

Experiment to See Which Novel Writing Ideas Can Fly

There’s a reason people test drive cars and lie around on the beds in mattress shops. When you make a big investment, you want to feel right about it. You can’t know how a car will drive until you actually drive it. And you can’t know how a bed will feel until you relax on it for a while. And you definitely can’t know what your relationship with your novel will be like until you experiment with it.

In truth, the experimental phase is when you start writing the novel — just like the test drive is when you start driving the car. But you haven’t committed yet. You’re still open to the idea that this is not for you. This might seem like I’m nitpicking over semantics, but you’ll find that discarding partially written novels wears on you after a while. If you play around with your story with the understanding that you’re experimenting, and if things don’t work out, you can always walk away without feeling guilty or like you gave up. Go back to your idea stash, and start tooling around with the next one.

How do you experiment with novel writing? I’m so glad you asked. There’s a lot you can do. Start by brainstorming. Sketch a few characters. Poke around and see what kind of research this novel might require. Draft a few scenes. Write an outline. If you keep going through these motions and can’t shake your excitement, then you are finally . . .

Writing Your Novel

At this point, you’ve already started writing your novel. But suddenly, you’re not just writing a novel. You’re deeply, passionately, obsessively writing your novel. If a couple of weeks go by and you haven’t had time to write, you miss your characters. When you get stuck on a scene, you simply work on some other part of the story because you’re so obsessed. You have to fight the urge to tell everyone about how the story is coming along. Your trusted buddy, whom you bounce ideas off of, is starting to think you’re taking it all too seriously. “Maybe you should watch some television a couple nights a week,” he says, looking concerned.

This is a story that’s captured your full attention. And that’s a good sign that it will capture the attention of readers. You are ready to commit.

Many (or most) of your novel writing ideas might end up in the trash or in a bottom drawer. But every one of them will be worth it when all of that idea generating, planning, and experimenting finally pays off. Every idea that doesn’t work will pave the path to the idea that will set you on fire.

So no matter what, no matter how many ideas come and go, no matter how many drafts you discard, never give up. Just keep writing!

By Melissa Donovan

Source: writingforward.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Write a Short Story: Free Tutorial

Short stories were once the training grounds for the best writers in the world. Writers like Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, and Stephen King learned the craft of writing through short stories before they published their first novels. Even though short stories have gone out of favor, they are still the best way for writers to learn the craft quickly.

In this free tutorial, you will learn why short stories are important for aspiring writers, how to write a short story, and how to submit your short stories to magazines and get them published.

Ten Steps to Publishing Short Stories

This effective tutorial will be conveniently delivered to your email inbox in ten manageable chunks. You’ll also get links to helpful resources and professional services. Here are the topics we’ll cover:

 

How to Write a Short Story

Everyone needs a little kick in the pants every once in a while. If you want to write but have been struggling with the discipline to do it, this tutorial will help by providing practical challenges given with a dose of inspiration.

Get Published

Thousands of literary magazines exist today to publish up and coming writers like you. This tutorial will help you discover those magazines and submit your short stories the right way so you can get published sooner.

Source: thewritepractice.com

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25 Ideas for Your Author Blog

By Bryn Donovan

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: Writers hear it all the time—“Oh, you should start a blog.” Not a bad idea, but the hard part is knowing what to blog about. Bryn Donovan visits the lecture hall today to share some ideas on just what to do with our authors’ blog.

Bryn Donovan earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona, and in her day job, she’s the acquiring editor for Hallmark Publishing. She’s published novels both as Bryn Donovan and as Stacey Donovan, and she’s also the author of 5,000 Writing Prompts and Master Lists for Writers. She blogs about writing and positivity at bryndonovan.com.

Take it away Bryn…

When I first began my blog a few years ago, two friends of mine, my husband, and my sister-in-law were my only readers. Writing posts would sometimes feel pointless, but I told myself Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.

Now I have over 3,000 subscribers, and I get 4,000 to 5,000 people a day reading my posts because they found them in an online search or on Pinterest. It’s the main way people find out about me and my writing.

One thing that keeps some people from blogging is that they’re not sure they’ll be able to think of enough things to write about. In my book 5,000 Writing Prompts, I included 500 ideas for blog posts. Here are twenty-five ideas, most of which aren’t in the book, geared specifically for author blogs. I hope you like them!

25 Ideas for Blog Posts

1. Share ten weird facts about yourself. This is a classic for a reason. It’s a great first post…and it’s fun to do after people think they’ve gotten to know you, too.

2. If you’re trying to decide between a few different photos for the official author photo on your blog, ask people to weigh in. This is a great first or second post for a blog that gets people engaged and connected with you.

3. Can’t decide what story to write next? Share the ideas you’re considering and ask people to vote.

4. If you’re writing a horror story, write about haunted places or scary incidents. If you’re writing a mystery, write about a real-life unsolved mystery. If you’re writing a romance, share your favorite romantic scenes in movies.

5. Write about ten of your favorite books of all time.

6. Near the end of December, write about the best books you read in the past year.

7. Share your “dream casting” for your work in progress: choose an actor for each character in the story.

8. Share photos of your writing assistants—that is, your pets—and ask others to do the same. People love showing you pictures of their cats and dogs!

9. Post a roundup of your favorite public domain quotes about reading and writing.

10. Share your writing research! If you’re setting a novel in Chicago, post a list of movies set in Chicago. If you’ve learned something interesting about medieval weaponry or scientific breakthroughs, tell everyone about it.

11. Post a list of all the weird things you’ve Googled as a writer. It’s funny, and it may make people curious about what you’re up to.

12. Share a mood board of your work in progress: put together a grid of nine images that express the feeling of the story.

13. Invent and share a recipe for something easy, like a sandwich or a cocktail, inspired by your work in progress. Maybe you could create a few for various characters!

14. You can also create recipes, cocktails, or “mocktails” based on fictional characters you love from a TV show, book series, or movie…especially if you’re writing something in a similar vein.

15. Write about tropes or plot lines you love as a reader or a viewer. (For instance, I personally love any story that features strong bonds between brothers …and I love amnesia stories. We all have our favorites!)

16. If you’re a struggling writer, share your best dirt-cheap recipe or your best tips for being frugal.

17. Share the results of a personality test you took, and ask people what their type is!

18. Or share the zodiac signs, Myers-Briggs types, or enneagram types of the characters in your work in progress.

19. Write about a trip you’re planning or a goal you’re pursuing, and ask for advice.

20. Share your favorite writing tools: the best pens, journals, software, books about writing, and websites (like this one!)

21. Ask people what their three proudest accomplishments are…and share yours, too.

22. Post pictures of book covers you love.

23. If you ever happen to be in the very fortunate position of having two different choices for the cover of your next book, and you love both of them…ask people to vote. They’ll love it.

24. Share photos of the place where you do most of your writing. Maybe add photos of other writer’s spaces and studios. Ask their permission first, but if you’re linking to their blogs, they’ll probably love it.

25. Write about the top ten authors you admire in your genre. You don’t have to ask to link to their blogs or websites. They will definitely love it.

Whether you’ve just been thinking about starting a blog, or if you already have one, I hope you found something here to inspire you. If you’re a blogger, please share your advice for others in the comments—I’d like to learn from you, too! Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

Never have writer’s block again.

Source: janicehardy.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

100 Story Ideas

Here are 100 story ideas you can steal right now. And if that’s not enough, generate your own with the Idea Engine, or peruse these lists of scene ideas, flash fiction prompts, and writing prompts.

Story Ideas

Write a story about…

  1. A character with an addiction who discovers that they’re someone else’s addiction.
  2. A historical character who travels to the present day and causes chaos when they steal back something that originally belonged to them.
  3. An alien species that lands on earth but is only detectable through literature.
  4. A world where every other person is born with wings and the history of how this came about.
  5. A magical object that teleports into the hand of anyone who thinks about it, and the difficulties this causes for its owner.
  6. A character who’s seeking justice for a murder they committed but can’t prove.
  7. A faustian musician who’s trying to resurrect a dead musician so they can jam together.
  8. A character who’s trying to win back their partner who ran away with their best friend.
  9. A spirit animal’s quest to choose their human.
  10. A mythical drug that’s at the root of someone’s family tree.
  11. A fountain pen collector who’s found murdered, and the murder weapon is a fountain pen that was rumoured to have belonged to a famous historical figure.
  12. A teenage boy who dreams of marrying a(n alien) princess.
  13. A wedding planner who bears a secret grudge against happily married (or engaged) couples.
  14. The history of a family who are committed to resurrecting an ancient art.
  15. A character whose obsession with entomology threatens to unleash a plague of biblical proportions.
  16. A group of archeologists who discover the ruins of Atlantis on a newly-formed volcanic island.
  17. A knight who spends five years trying to break a spell cast on him by a witch, only to slowly fall in love with her.
  18. A character whose family and friends believe that they are a mythological figure resurrected, even though they don’t believe it themselves.
  19. A sailor who is shipwrecked on an artificial island-kingdom owned by an eccentric billionaire who has been presumed dead for ten years.
  20. A character making friends while waiting for a hurricane to hit the hotel where they’re staying.
  21. A graveyard that’s besieged by the souls of those who were buried outside its walls.
  22. A bookshop that’s the last refuge of a group of fans of an unusual (and very specific) genre.
  23. An occultist who develops a sudden interest in science.
  24. A vintner who mans an interplanetary expedition to solve the mystery of a grape blight.
  25. A dragon who’s in love with a rain deity and wants to find them the perfect gift.
  26. A guest who begins to suspect that they’re not the only guest.
  27. The founders of a town where the average IQ of the residents is abnormally high.
  28. A warrior who discovers that their clan has been at war for centuries because of a typographical error that may have ben deliberate.
  29. A magical world where all of the magic turns out to be an elaborate illusion.
  30. A teacher who takes attendance and finds that there’s an extra student in their class.
  31. An innkeeper who hires a magus, a troll, and an elf to guard their secret recipe, but finds they’ve put their trust in the wrong people.
  32. A blind date that’s interrupted by a guardian angel.
  33. A psychic tour guide who organises tours that help people turn their lives around.
  34. A painter who travels to another planet in search of a rare pigment.
  35. A character who discovers a strange calendar which appears to prophecy important events in their life.
  36. A teenager who has to choose between two very different schools.
  37. A builder who specialises in magical doors, extensions, and passages.
  38. A character who gets trapped in their memory palace and has to find a way out in order to save someone else.
  39. A character who accidentally discovers the world’s best pencil and spends the rest of their life trying to keep it secret at all cost.
  40. A goddess who wakes up and finds that her religion has been abandoned, and sets out to seek the cause, and convert people back.
  41. A miner who hits a vein of a strange new rock and becomes a target for a government agency that wants to keep the discovery a secret.
  42. A florist who sends flowers to a wrong address and initiates a chain of events that leads to two people meeting and falling in love.
  43. A country where citizens vote AI into leadership, rather than people.
  44. A character who is obsessed with perfecting their life story by travelling back in time to correct mistakes or flaws.
  45. A character who has to fall in love with someone from an enemy clan in order to lift a curse.
  46. A book critic who is writing their first book but becomes paralysed by the fear of receiving vengeful reviews.
  47. A character whose job is to create treasure hunts, but who finds themselves on someone else’s treasure hunt, and ends up discovering an old coffin.
  48. A knitter who unravels a ball of yarn only to find it stained with blood, and helps the police investigate a possible murder.
  49. A character who is afraid to leave their house, but needs to travel to see a loved one who is critically ill in hospital.
  50. A character who steals what they think are the questions to an exam, and finds that they’re actually an application form for a secret, mythical order of scholars.
  51. A protest that’s staged as cover for a huge heist.
  52. A character who regains their sanity through chess.
  53. The history of the most valuable dress in the world.
  54. A character who discovers a secret message on a bottle of shampoo while showering, and is driven by curiosity to investigate it.
  55. A peace treat that’s signed on board a dirigible over no-man’s-land, and the people who fought for it.
  56. A wealthy character who goes on a daytrip with a poor, homeless person, and switches places with them without realising.
  57. Two people who fall in love but come from planets where time runs very differently.
  58. A character who is the “chosen one” and discovers that they were the one who created the prophecy.
  59. A society that’s organised according to an ancient symbol that they’ve misinterpreted.
  60. A character who learns that the omens in their life are created by beings trying to guide them from another dimension.
  61. A character who finds a baby abandoned in a bus shelter and embarks on a roadtrip with a wet nurse to try to find its parents.
  62. A time-travelling antique dealer who steals their favourite author’s writing desk.
  63. A detective who has to overcome their fear of flying in order to investigate the murder of a flight attendant.
  64. A character who is biologically attracted to danger.
  65. A character who is preparing to go through a rite of passage that involves death but not resurrection.
  66. A character whose lover breaks up with them and then secretly follows them for a decade.
  67. A gamer who has to rescue a real princess.
  68. Two characters who leave to seek their fortunes in order to get married.
  69. A rock band that tours the world and investigates crimes.
  70. A psychologist who’s trying to hide their agoraphobia.
  71. The crew of a spaceship that have been trying to find their way back to their home planet for centuries.
  72. A vampire who gives blood rather than drinking it.
  73. A private letter that falls into the hands of an influential leader and changes their outlook on life.
  74. A character who learns that their parents were guilty of a terrible crime, and sets out to collect evidence against them.
  75. A character who has been living as a recluse for many years, and learns that the people of a nearby settlement regard them as a guru, and have written books and made films about them.
  76. What Romeo and Juliet get up to in the afterlife.
  77. A character who stumbles upon a strange machine that their science teacher has been building in the school basement, and decides to help.
  78. A character who reads their first book at the age of 81.
  79. A character who awakens an ancient mythical beast while scouting for a movie location at a remote monastery.
  80. Another planet’s space race.
  81. A tattoo artist who helps a detective solve murders that involve tattooed victims.
  82. Two lovers who are separated by a bridge that can’t be maintained much longer.
  83. A fortune teller who becomes a suspect in a murder when it’s discovered that they foretold the victim’s death.
  84. A retired hitman who resolves to atone for his work by saving people who are being targeted by their former employer.
  85. A world where the gods of several pantheons join forces to eradicate their worshippers.
  86. A character who is addicted to seeking out experiences of extreme solitude, and their eventual “healing”.
  87. A memoirist whose distinction between their life story and the life they’re living begins to dissolve until their friends stage an intervention for them.
  88. A diplomat to the fairy realm whose task is to negotiate a trade agreement.
  89. A decorator who becomes increasingly convinced that the owner of the house they’re working on is trying to cover up a murder, even as they fall in love with them.
  90. A character who works on a telephone helpline develops a relationship with one of the callers, and arranges to meet them only to be stood up.
  91. A doctor investigating a rare disease that they specialise in who discovers that it’s artificially engineered, just as they begin to show symptoms themselves.
  92. A character whose job is to clean up people’s imaginations.
  93. A world where the people develop space travel in order to communicate with their deities who live on another planet, but find that the gods have vanished mysteriously.
  94. A character living in a nursing home who wakes up one day to find themselves inundated with fan mail.
  95. A character whose commute lasts a lightyear.
  96. A character whose fear of missing out drives them to establish a surveillance network.
  97. A character who has a fascination with all kinds of forgery, and how this interest will eventually lead to their death.
  98. A film star who is actually two film stars.
  99. A society that encourages and rewards mistakes and failure over success.
  100. A writer who’s trying to give up their writing addiction.

Feel free to use any of these story ideas. Transpose them into different genres, and replace words or clauses to generate even more stories.

Source: eadeverell.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How to Get Story Ideas From Unexpected Headlines

No, this is not a how-to for creating fake news. It’s a prompt that opens a never-ending well of ideas for any fiction writer. I’m talking about how to get story ideas from headlines in the news. Try it out today and see what happens!

How to Get Story Ideas From Headlines: 4 Steps

A few years ago, I read a startling headline in a back section of the Sunday newspaper. It said “Man Likely Padlocked Himself in Bag Found in Bathtub.” I blinked twice, sure I had misread something.

Even after I read the article, I still couldn’t believe it. I was grieved for his family and friends, but I couldn’t help but see the possibilities for inspiring fiction. I wondered how it could even be done?  As a claustrophobic, I wondered, why?

This situation and article were surely stranger than fiction, but it prompted so many questions. Turns out questions are at the heart of great fiction, and you can use headlines to develop ideas all day long. Here’s how to get story ideas from the strangest news headlines.

1. Find Headlines

The first step in how to get story ideas from headlines? Look for headlines.

Find a newspaper and scan through the headlines. You don’t have to read entire articles to find inspiration from their titles. I have found that for fiction, I prefer to search anywhere but the front page. I usually know too much already about the events that make the front page, and I’m after something that prompts new questions, ideas, and worlds.

Look until you find a headline that immediately floods your mind with questions. Headlines that prompt a “Why” and “What if . . .” response are best. Some from today’s headlines:

Workers Unearth Mystery Buried in SC School

Family Car Parked at Charlotte Douglas [Airport] Was Filled with Ants. They Want an Explanation.

Parents Brawl During Youth Football Handshake Line

I found all of these headlines in about five minutes by looking up regional or state newspapers and clicking on the “local” tab.

2. Ask Questions

Once I find a few headlines that scream for exploration, I make a list of the questions one prompts. Again, I spend no time reading the article; I’m only mining the headline for ideas. Here are some questions I wrote down for my headlines above.

Workers Unearth Mystery Buried in SC School: The wording of this headline fascinates me. Buried IN school? Like inside a wall? What were they digging up? Were children present? What is the mystery? Who will solve it? Is it valuable and might need protection? Is it linked to an old legend or cold case?

My only question for the ant-filled car was, Did you fumigate it and what did you use? (I can’t seem to get rid of some ants here, so I might be a little caught up in my own problems to fully explore this one.)

For the parent brawl, I want to know about the relationships. Who started it? Was it between parents on the same team? Was it a mixed group of men and women? Who broke it up? How much irony can you pack in one scene where adults fight while kids shake hands?

3. Flip the Genre

Once you have a good set of questions for several headlines, choose the one that is most compelling. Some of my example headlines lend themselves easily to certain genres.

The “mystery unearthed” might well be mystery, suspense, or horror. The ants could be science fiction or magical realism (Did anyone else think of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ants from One Hundred Years of Solitude when you read that headline?). The parent brawl might be realistic fiction or the beginning of a crime fiction piece.

Identifying genre can be a short-cut to creating fresh ideas, simply because you can flip or twist what is expected.

What if the mystery unearthed isn’t suspense but a romance? What if the car full of ants becomes a witty children’s book instead of the horror story it appears to be? Maybe the parent brawl isn’t the beginning of a true crime tale but the opening to a space opera story where irony beams people into an antigravitational state. (I think I might have gone too far on that last one — I’m out of my depth).

4. Apply Story Principles and Write

Once you have those questions and a possible genre, identify your main character and give them a strong goal. Throw things in the way of getting what they want, and force them to act.

The story might go somewhere completely unexpected, but that’s the fun! I’ve had students write two to three stories in different genres using the same headline to show them how inspiration can go anywhere they want.

Stranger Than Fiction

Oh, and the guy in the duffle bag? Turns out he was a spy, but they reported he did indeed lock himself in the bag. Hmmm . . . I have a few questions.

(Yes, I apologize for my morbid insensitivity at reading about a man’s death and trying to spin fiction from it. I’m not fit for polite company. May he rest in peace.)

Real life might be stranger than fiction, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint when you are looking for story ideas.

Have you ever read any headlines that inspired a story? Share in the comments.

By Sue Weems
Source: thewritepractice.com

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