Michaeline: One More Thing You Need To Start a Story

A little girl offering root beer syrup to a young woman in black.

Older and wiser, but still obsessed with root beer. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

If you read Saturday’s blog post, you already know three elements you need to get your story started: a character, a setting/situation and finally, another character to play against.

The final thing you need to get the ball rolling is an inciting incident. You need the spark that sets the whole ball of wax on fire, and starts it rolling toward the finish line.

Yesterday, I talked about Rachel, who is producing illegal root beer on a spaceship. She is up against Ms. Pratchett, an atmosphere engineer who is disturbed by the sudden increase of carbon dioxide in the air – and she isn’t very fond of exploding bottles of semi-alcoholic liquid in the cabin next door. Plus, she hates the smell of root beer. It reminds her of an old Chinese remedy her mother used to force down her when she was under the weather.

In this case, the inciting incident is pretty easy to find. In fact, if you put your mind to it, I bet you could think of several. The first one I thought of was having the carbon dioxide detector go off in the middle of the night, awakening both Rachel, the fussy Ms. Pratchett, and the entire ship.

But hold on a minute! The first idea MIGHT be the best idea, but then again, it might not. It would be better to brainstorm at least a half a dozen ideas – things start to get very interesting around idea 12, they say.

So, here goes:
2. The captain calls Ms. Pratchett into his office, and orders her to investigate (strengthens Ms. Pratchett’s position, but a lot less exciting than an alarm going off).
3. A bottle of soda explodes, and Ms. Pratchett must investigate. (I do like a good explosion.)
4. Change the perspective: Ms. Pratchett is the hero of this story, and Rachel is an evil rule-breaker. (This is worth exploring: the villain is often the hero of her own story in a good book. This could deepen Ms. Pratchett’s characterization, and who knows? Ms. Pratchett, or Susie as we come to know her, might be the real hero.)
5. There’s no root beer yet. Susie Pratchett finds Continue reading

Elizabeth: Cold Starts and Fresh Starts

Stories waiting to be told

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is getting that first sentence on the page.  There is nothing quite as demoralizing as staring at a blank screen, fingers poised over the keys, with a mind completely devoid of any creative thought.  Diana Gabaldon refers to her approach to combating this common writing problem as her cold start process, which she discusses here.

This week on the blog we’ve been discussing our own cold start processes.  In their own posts Justine, Nancy, and Jeanne each focused on their cold start processes for existing stories.  Many of their steps, like re-reading what was previously written, making sure to have a story-plan in place before even starting to write (spreadsheets and planers and outlines, oh my!), and working up a scene skeleton (with characters, beats, goals, etc.) echo some of methods I’ve used in the past, with varying degrees of success, depending upon the story in question and the amount of effort I’ve been willing to expend (day jobs can put a real crimp in one’s creative inclinations).

There are, however, two things I’ve consistently found helpful when I’m really focusing on writing. Continue reading

Jilly: Calling All Dog-Lovers – Help Needed, Please!

Calling All Dog-LoversI have a problem, and I’d appreciate some brainstorming help.

I’ve never had a pet. I won a goldfish at the fair when I was four, and once I looked after the school gerbil for the holidays, but that’s my limit. As newlyweds, my parents had an English bull terrier who was essentially their first child, and who died horribly in a freak traffic accident. They adored him, and they were so devastated by his death that they flatly refused to consider getting another dog, no matter how my brother and I pleaded. At eighteen, I moved to London. After university we lived in a tiny attic flat and I got a job that required me to work ridiculous hours. It was a challenge to make time to eat, sleep and occasionally catch up with my husband. A pet would have been out of the question.

Fast-forward to 2015. I’m working on Cam and Mary’s story, and I’m in the first draft discovery phase. I’m letting the story unfold as it will and as I left for RWA, out of the blue my Girls (mustn’t call them Muses!) sent up a new, important secondary character. Let’s call him Starman, because that’s the placeholder name I gave him to begin with. Starman is English, in his late 20s, a fashion designer who’s been living and working in Switzerland with his older, richer (male) lover for the past six years. They have a terrible falling-out, and Starman finds himself back in London with no job, no money, nowhere to live and worst of all, he has to leave his dog behind.

Starman is shell-shocked at the break-up of his relationship and white-hot furious at being cut out of a business built on his talent and hard work, but he’s heart-broken about losing his dog. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Help Wanted

help_wantedSo, as we may have mentioned a time or two on the blog, this is a busy week for the Eight Ladies. The RWA conference proper kicks off on bright and early Thursday morning, but there are plenty of things to keep us busy beforehand.

As you read this, some of us are doing some sight-seeing, some are meeting with friends, and others are taking the opportunity to enjoy a Broadway show before information overload hits.   I’m taking advantage of a cozy little nook here in the hotel to harness the energy from all the writers descending on the city to do a little work on my manuscript.

That’s where the “help wanted” comes in. Continue reading

Nancy: Top Five Favorite Things About Writing Retreats

A writer in desperate need of a retreat.

A writer in desperate need of a retreat.

As Justine told you last week, the 8 ladies converged on Arizona for a writers’ retreat this past weekend. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of writers’ retreats, as I posted here and here. This particular one was super special as I had only met two of the other ladies in person before this week, so this was my chance to meet and hang out with and just generally enjoy the time with the whole 8LW crew (including Michaeline via the magic of the interwebs!). But whether I’m retreating with the ladies or my small critique group  or my larger (former) writing group, wonderful things happen at these get-togethers. Today I’m sharing my favorite ones.

5. Binging on snacks/wine/decadent things of choice. Okay, maybe indulging sounds better, but whatever – this is what happens when you bring together writers and chocolate and coffee and wine in an atmosphere where calories don’t count. Don’t judge us – this writing gig is hard work and we need to fuel our brains. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. Continue reading

Michille: Brainstorming

"Activity conducting" by Gwaur - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Activity_conducting.svg#mediaviewer/File:Activity_conducting.svgBrainstorming is a technique to boost creativity popularized by Alex Osborn in his 1948 book Your Creative Power. He held group-thinking sessions in his advertising agency and saw a significant improvement in the quantity and quality of ideas although some research has actually disproved the idea that group brainstorming generates more ideas than individuals working alone. In my day job, I am a Facilitative Leadership trainer, which is a framework used in business to get maximum appropriate involvement from stakeholders. We taught brainstorming techniques and interventions for groups to help generate ideas and legitimize all the participants’ contributions. Continue reading

Kat: Brainstorming 101: What We Did Right

Last week I promised that today I would be posting a ‘she-said, she said’ brainstorming session that features Jeanne Estridge (friend of 8L and McD alum) and her story, The Devil She Knows. Instead of posting a transcript of that actual session verbatim (lots of boring stuff in there), we decided to use outtakes of it to show what we did wrong and what we did right.

Looking for the “big thing” or the clever thing isn’t necessary when brainstorming. That was lesson number one. Sometimes it’s the everyday actions—done cleverly—that can drive the story. Another thing we found was this: never dismiss anything. All is fair in love and brainstorming and the exchange below proves it. Continue reading