Jilly: Tips for Creative Problem Solving

What do you do when you’re chewing on a problem, any problem, and you can’t seem to find your way to an answer?

I’m just back from a routine trip to visit my mum in Derbyshire. The return journey involves a minimum of six hours driving, closer to eight hours this weekend. It almost always results in some brainwave, useful insight about my WIP, or some other problem if Real Life is getting in the way of my writing.

I don’t consciously use my driving time to problem solve—I try to keep my eyes on the road and my wits about me—but somehow when my surface concentration is fully occupied watching the traffic, the deeper levels of my mind feel free to work on knottier problems.

I write sequentially, which means that I use each scene I write to provide the impetus for the next one. The good thing about my process is that the story grows organically. The downside is that when I hit a problem, I grind to a halt and spin my wheels. I can’t move forward until I resolve it.

Over the last few years I’ve tried various tactics to rescue myself when I get stuck. Here are a selection of the ones which work best for me, though your mileage may vary. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Hidden in Plain Sight

I’m currently working my way through draft 457,338 of my Regency romance.  Yes, I did say I was going to draw a line under it and move on a few months back, but I had some Ideas recently, so it’s an active manuscript once again.  The story’s hero was a spy during the wars and, though the fighting is over and Napoleon is safely tucked away on St. Helena, there is one last mission that must be completed.  Cue clandestine messages, secrets, and mysteries to be unraveled.

John Nagy’s Invisible Ink (spy-craft of the American Revolution) and Sue Wilkes’ Regency Spies have given me some good ideas about how to pass secret messages, hide information, and generally do things right under peoples’ noses without anyone being the wiser, but I’m always on the lookout for new and creative ways to do so.  I’m especially on the alert for ways that women could be involved in the process.

Naturally, I couldn’t pass up this article without a closer look Continue reading

Jilly: Which Story Would You Tell?

“Where do you get your ideas?” is supposedly the question most asked of successful authors.

I collect and hoard story starters from here, there and everywhere (Alexis grew from the juxtaposition of two fascinating anecdotes shared by my hairdresser), but my all-time favorite source is the BBC website.

Most weeks I stumble across something weird or wonderful that makes my brain fizz. I bookmark them in a folder called ‘story stuff’ and forget about them until I’m looking for ideas or inspiration or just something a little different to get the wheels turning.

I had one of those days today, so I took a stroll through my story stuff file. There are more than a hundred nuggets in there, but here are a trio of good ones.

A sci-fi classic: Continue reading

Elizabeth: Stroke of Luck

Michaeline talked about the intersections of creativity – all those wonderful and sometimes seemingly random bits and pieces that the Girls in the Basement send up – in her post on Saturday.    I’ll admit brainstorming explanations for one of her ideas, a gardener, who encountered a body buried beneath the forsythia, kept me happily occupied for hours this weekend.

Of course the last thing I need right this minute is a shiny, fun, new idea to distract me from what I am supposed to be working on.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I currently have an over-abundance of random ideas.  It’s not too surprising.  With all that is going on in today’s political climate – intrigue, collusion, unexpected developments, partisanship, protests – there is a seemingly unending source of material (as the late-night television hosts can attest).

I have overflowing notebooks full of ideas for stories.  I collect them the way my mother collected recipes and quilt patterns.  Like her collections, most of my ideas will probably never make it out of the notebook, but half the fun is catching them and daydreaming about their possibilities, even for a short while.

It’s hard to tell which ideas will stick Continue reading

Nancy: Love for the Long Haul

kiss-on-windowBecause most of us here on the blog write (and read!) a lot of romance, the week of Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to talk about that core component of a romance story: love. More specifically, believable, happily ever after (HEA) love.

I thought about HEA love this past week when Maria V. Snyder posted on her FB page about the need for Valentine’s Day cards for 25+-year relationships, cards along the lines of “you annoy me and drive me crazy but I’m still willing to put up with it” or “we worked hard to mesh and I don’t want to train anyone else”. Yeah, those aren’t quite the messages we tend to read or write in our romance novels, but they are tongue-in-cheek reminders that there are real-life HEAs.

Back in the fiction world, though, that ‘believable HEA’ part isn’t always easy to write, and doesn’t always resonate with readers. For example, Continue reading

Nancy: WU UnConference Lesson 2: The Decoder Ring

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Last week, when sharing some of the great wisdom imparted to me during the early November Writers Unboxed UnConference, I discussed the importance of theme as the heart of your book. This week, I’m going to discuss another essential element of your story: the decoder ring. Heart and a decoder ring. Makes sense, right? Er, perhaps I need to elaborate.

As Lisa Cron said many times during her workshops at the UnConference, when it comes to the story you are writing – the story your main character is telling – the character’s past is the decoder ring to the story. Quoting William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” OK, he wasn’t talking about your story or mine, in that case, but the famous line has been applied to the craft of writing by many writing teachers.

So how does this idea of the character’s past being part of the present-day story jibe with the admonition to stay in the now and not bog down your book with the dreaded backstory? Paraphrasing Lisa Cron, it’s not backstory that’s the problem; it’s poor usage of backstory. In fact, she argues, we not only want the pertinent parts of your characters’ backstories, we need them to understand who the characters are and why they react and behave the way they do. But how do you include backstory without throwing the reader (or the contest judge, in Jilly’s case) out of the story? Continue reading

Jilly: Series Title Help

Fighting TalkDo you have a spare five minutes to help me try to find the perfect word or two for the titles of my romantic fantasy series?

I had a brilliant time at RWA in San Diego and I’ve returned to the UK inspired and raring to get back to work on Alexis. Pitching the book was really helpful as it made me pause, take a step back, and make sure I had a clear vision of what story I wanted to tell, in Book One and also for the whole series.

I’ve written linked stories before, but this is the first time I’ve attempted a series with the same main characters and an over-arching plot-line. I have the bare bones of how it’s all going to work, and a bucket full of ideas waiting to be fitted into that framework, but I think it would help me a lot if I had a clearer vision of the books themselves, especially their titles.

So if you’re in the mood for a little brainstorming, here’s the brief Continue reading