Archive for September, 2008

Mining Experience for Story Ideas

At five, I already loved reading and the written word. I recall making the decision to become a writer while walking atop a stack of books I’d made into a “fort.” “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a writer,” I said, and let that intention direct the rest of my life.

 

Becoming a writer happened many (I’m not telling how many) years after the life-defining decision made as a five-year-old. Though not obvious to me at the time, life experiences were preparing me to assume the role of writer. Or was I subconsciously choosing the experiences I would need in the future? You be the judge.

 

When other responsibilities lessened, I was able to change my life style to support becoming a writer. I returned to school and took language and speech courses. To support myself, I worked in a part-time sales job paying more per hour and requiring fewer hours than many other jobs.  My plan was to earn a degree in English and then look for a job as a writer.

 

Between semesters, I took a temporary job in the Chicago Loop. While traveling home on the commuter train, I had a conversation with a woman who knew a woman who wanted to leave her job as a magazine editor and was looking for a replacement. After several phone conversations, the appointment was made. We met the publisher in his building at South 16th and State Streets in Chicago. It was one scary neighborhood.

 

The location was the least of the problems. Phil, the publisher, informed me that the magazine was going belly-up and with his current editor finding another job, he thought this a good time to bail out. I wasn’t giving up that easily. We chatted. I mentioned my successful sales experience.

  

He grew attentive. “Will you sell advertising in addition to editing the magazine?”

  

“Yes.” I replied.

 

We shook hands on a one-month trial period. I worked 60-hour weeks selling advertising, writing two columns and assorted features, and editing. The first month we broke even. the second month we made a profit. I stayed two years, and never returned to school. When I last checked, about five years ago, Transport Fleet News was still viable. 

 

I broke into writing because I had the right experience at the right time for the position.

  

Writing around life experiences enriches the story, cuts down on research time, and encourages the suspension of disbelief by the reader.

 

My first romance, Love’s Reflection, is the story of a love-besotted scientist who creates a robot in the exact image of his unrequited love interest, a film superstar. The inspiration for the story came from a training program I wrote for a Fortune 50 corporation, “Introduction to Programming Robots.” The robot in my story is a hot, red-head with legs up to…. The robot who inspired her creation is an 18-in. tall, one-armed, headless machine. The lone arm seemed little better than useless to me. It moved in slow and jerky increments. When I learned the mathematical equation that turned the robotic movement into a smooth motion, I knew I had to write the story of the highest evolution of that sorry-looking machine.

 

My second romance, Eternally His, will be released in February 2009. It tells the story of a Ghost dressed in a Victorian bridal gown who is haunting a bridal salon. It also is a product of a life experience. I worked part-time as a bridal consultant when I returned to school to study language and speech. 

 

Writing about difficult life experiences can help relieve angst and anger. It worked for me. A lawyer ripped me off. I realized it was futile to fight the lawyer on his own turf–the courtroom, so I wrote a story in which I achieved revenge. It was purchased by the first literary magazine to which I offered it. I got rid of my anger and made a sale.  The story, “Of One Stem,” can be downloaded free at http://carolnorth.com/stories.htm.

 

All experiences are valuable. Sometimes the difficult ones are there to “kick” you into another place in life. J.K. Rowling was a destitute, single mother until she wrote the first book in the Harry Potter series. Today she is a billionaire.

 

What are your experiences? How can you turn them into publishable stories? 

Note: This post originally appeared in NovelSpot.com during August 2008 when I was a guest blogger.

Making the Shift From Tech Writing to Fiction

When I expressed an intention to write fiction, I was warned it would be difficult, and perhaps impossible, to make the switch from technical writing to writing fiction, because the left hemisphere of my brain was obviously dominant. Writing fiction, I was told, required a dominant right hemisphere. In researching the subject, I read an opinion by a learned man, who said  we’re literally two thinking beings residing in the same body. Reading his comment caused me to worry that in pursuing fiction I would end up stuck in some tortured place between the right and the left hemispheres of the brain and couldn’t get back into either. Or maybe my personality would change and I wouldn’t recognize myself and neither would my family and my friends. I gave up the absurd idea that I should write fiction.

The idea wouldn’t give me up. The little girl inside kept knocking on my mind and whispering, “Fiction. Fiction” I reconsidered. After all, I was used to being warned that misfortune would befall me if I pursued some “crazy notion.” I was warned when I returned to school to study language and speech that I wouldn’t be able to support myself through writing; I would be homeless; I would starve. I proved them wrong, and had supported myself on income from tech writing for more than 10 years.

I tried fiction again; wrote some awful material. Even I knew it was terrible. Whatever is worse than writer’s block–I had it, but never when doing technical writing. “They” were right. I was left-brain dominant and my left brain wasn’t going to easily give up control of my mind.

One day, I was thinking about fiction and staring at a blank computer screen when my right hand started doodling on a pad of paper. It drew a circle and I wrote a character’s name inside, then drew another circle and another and another. I wrote a word inside each circle. More circles. More words. When done, the words created a personality and a physical description for the character. That was my break-through experience, the first time in years the right hemisphere dominated my brain.

Using the words inside the circles as a base, I wrote a scene, gave the character lines and a look. The result was a two-dimensional, repressed Pinocchio. I needed a plan.

After cajoling my right and left hemispheres into working together harmoniously, I researched and made a list of the elements of fiction, including narrative, introspection, dialogue, setting; description, point-of-view (POV), story arcs, tags. At the local bookstore, I gathered writing technique books, lots of books, until I had checked off each of the elements on my list.

One-by-one, I learned the elements. When learning dialogue, for example, I wrote dialogue only until I could get inside a character’s head and write in her personality and rhythm. When I learned point-of-view, I described settings in first and third person, and became obsessive about eliminating head-hopping from the vignettes I wrote.

The technique hardest to learn was how toexpress emotion with only words. This was also the most important, because fiction is emotion. In addition to reading books, I made a list of emotions and the senses, the six senses because I write paranormal stories.

After feeling comfortable with the elements, emotions, and senses, I allowed myself to write a 5,000-word short story. It was quickly acquired by a publisher. Although the prep work took a year or more, I saved time, money, and disappointment by waiting to send queries until I wrote a publishable story.

I learned that technical writers and novelists all use both the left and right hemispheres of their brains to create their particular types of writing. The novelist creates a plot, a left-brain endeavor. The technical writer creates charts, document design, graphics; that’s right-brain territory. Today, I write technical material and fiction with equal ease and writer’s block is a distant memory

Note: This post originally appeared in NovelSpot.com during July 2008 when I was a guest blogger.


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