Tag Archives: Brainstorming


Story Ideas Part 3: The Lump of Clay

Last week,  I talked about how I come up with my story ideas, and this is one of the first lessons I learned as I started studying the art of storytelling and reading more advanced writers.

Part 1 Light the Fire

Part 2 Light the Fire

Before we begin learning to write, we think the value is in the story idea. It’s not. The value is added when the idea becomes a rich story with memorable characters and an emotional impact.

Giving a lump of clay to my 18 month old, and giving that same lump of clay to a sculptor would produce drastically different results. For one, my 18 month old would probably try to eat it. The sculptor would work the clay into something far more valuable than he started with.

The story idea is like that lump of clay. I could give a more accomplished writer the exact idea for a story, and she would execute it so beautifully,and people would love the story she wrote from the idea. I couldn’t take any credit at all. You might be thinking, but ‘you gave her the idea’. Sure, but it was her skill and talent that turned that little spark into a beautiful story, and for that, she would deserve all the credit.

In a way, that’s what we’re doing with Dragons. We’ve all taken the idea of a dragon and written a different story. It would work the same even with a more detailed prompt. Each artist would bring their own history, and their unique way of looking at the world, and write a different story.

It’s only when you get to the level where everyone has honed their craft that you see the difference an idea can make. The publishing world tries very hard to make sure we only see people at that level. That’s why we think the idea has such value because we don’t understand the process, talent, and skill it takes to turn that lump of clay into a beautiful statue.


Note: This post is part of the 31-post Ultimate Blog Challenge. I will be posting 31 times during the month of July, 2012. Since that is a ton of content, I made a page on the blog where you can see all my entries.


photo: http://potteryblog.com/2008/03/the-quarter-trick/


Story Ideas Light the Fire: Part 2

Yesterday, I talked about the very beginning of the process, working the Bow Drill. The next step is the Tinder Bundle.

Step 2: The Tinder Bundle

Again, from wikipedia: “Once the ember is formed it is carefully placed into a “tinder bundle” (a bird’s type nest of stringy, fluffy, and combustible material). Once the ember is in the tinder bundle it is then carefully nurtured and coaxed into flame.”

What I did next was analyze each idea and see what kind of story I could nurture and coax from it.

I wrote what Holly Lisle calls “The Sentence” for each one. As the term implies, this is a one sentence summary of the story. I won’t go into all the specifics because I don’t have the space and Holly does it so much better.

(I apologize for the continued plug for How to Think Sideways, but as you can see lessons from the course deeply impact how I plan.)

I had my sparks, and my sentences. Now I needed to start putting some details around the idea to see where its strengths and weaknesses were. I started to list out pros and cons. I decided to check the Saucy Ink boards, and I came across a post from the incredibly talented and helpful Tami Moore. She had posted a little synopsis form for us to use on our stories.

  • Setting :
  • Protagonist :
  • Antagonist:
  • Inciting Incident :
  • Outer Conflict :
  • Inner Conflict :
  • Stakes :
  • Twist :
  • What I love/Why I want To Write :

For each idea I had, I filled in the blank as best I could. This showed me immediately where the stories were strong and where they were weak. I tweaked the stories and then the real power of Saucy Ink was brought to bear. We all shared our story ideas and got feedback from each other on where they were. There is nothing better than another set of eyes to see the things you can’t because you too close.

Breaking Them Down

Almost immediately, I saw that my Indiana Jones story was a bit ambitious for the word count we put on our Saucy short stories, but I really liked it, and a character was starting to form pretty concretely in my head. I decided to shelve that one for a future NaNoWriMo.

That left my World War II pilot and my Millennial Kingdom story. My Millennial Kingdom story was still fairly muddled. The World War II pilot seemed to fit the length best, but it was almost too straightforward. I would need to figure out how to add some emotional, hard choices to it. Even though this appeared to be the right choice, something didn’t feel right to me. The World War II story felt the most tacked on. I could write the same story without the dragon at all, and it would still work.

The dragon needed to be integral to the story.

A Twist

Everything around you impacts you as a writer, and timing is key. I was at our Good Friday service, and one of our talented singers was performing a song called “Beautiful Exchange”.

An image formed in my mind. I saw a woman and a dragon bound in chains, as the chorus of the song said, “when only love could break these chains, you gave your life in a beautiful exchange”. I saw grey smoke come from the woman. It enveloped the chains of the dragon and broke them.

All the way home, I worked on figuring out more about the woman, and the dragon. Why was the dragon bound, why did the woman love him, how could her love set him free? Once I got home, I wrote down the brief synopsis like I had for the other three story ideas.

Another day went by ,and I tried to talk myself out of writing this story, but I couldn’t. It had grabbed me in a way the other story ideas didn’t. I wrote a quick outline/synopsis of the story and submitted to Saucy Ink. They generally liked it, but were concerned about a couple of details. The story seemed a bit heavy handed. What I wanted was a nudge, or a whisper. What I was writing was a sledgehammer or a bullhorn.

Step 3: The Fire Lay

“Once the tinder bundle bursts into flame, it is then placed into the fire lay.”

I tweaked the inciting incident, and started writing a first draft. This was scray to me because I had a woman protagonist. As you may have observed, I am not, in fact, a woman, and I have never written a story with a woman protagonist.

Over the next week, I wrote some each day and eventually finished with a first draft at around 8,300 words. That draft was the one I pulled back after one person got a look at.

The final draft I turned in for critique was 9,996 words.

I’m proud of the story I submitted and I got some wonderful critiques. I’m sure the next draft will be even better.



photo: http://www.practicalprimitive.com/skillofthemonth/tinderbundle.html

Note: This post is part of the 31-post Ultimate Blog Challenge. I will be posting 31 times during the month of July, 2012. Since that is a ton of content, I made a page on the blog where you can see all my entries.


Story Ideas: Lighting a Fire (Part 1)

The team at Saucy Ink is at it once again, hard at work on Volume II of the Saucy Ink Chronicles. This time around our theme is dragons.

I needed to come up with a story for this collection, and I thought it might be cool to show you how I come up with my stories. I like to use a metaphor of a man on a deserted island (that’s me) who needs to build a fire (that’s the story) in order to eat (one day, my elusive dream, to earn my meal ticket from writing).

Step 1: Bow Drill

Some people refer to this as brainstorming, but I like to think of it as working the bow drill. From that unquestionable fount of information, wikipedia, the bow drill “is an ancient method of starting fire without matches or a lighter. It uses friction to generate heat. The heat eventually produces an ember in the burnt sawdust. The ember is tiny, smaller than the head of a cigarette, and fragile.”

This is, to me, the perfect metaphor for the start of the process. I’m looking for a spark, most of the time nothing more than a character, a setting or a conflict. At this stage the idea is tiny and fragile, just like the spark created by the bow drill. These aren’t fully formed stories by any stretch of the imagination, but just enough to get to the next step.

I started on a Friday and set a goal to come up with three viable sparks before Monday. I employed the techniques I learned in Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course. If you’ve never taken HTTS, it is well worth the money, and I highly recommend it. I reviewed my mind maps and tried to think of every possible way to interpret the word dragon. Over the weekend, ideas started to come to me at different times.

I started to think about taking a different spin on the word dragon, something mechanical, or even a nickname. My love for Pacific threatre of World War II started to spin that into secret weapons, or a call sign. I did a quick check, and yes indeed, they did use call signs back in World War II.

Then I thought about a show I watched one time about finding a real dragon. Suddenly John Williams music started playing in my head, and I saw an Indiana Jones type adventure.

Then throughout Sunday, I was thinking of how to express my faith in the use of my talents and abilities. I don’t want to hit people over the head with it, but it is such a part of me that it comes out in everything. I asked myself how that should impact my writing. That led me to think about Revelations and End times which are some of my favorite parts of the Bible to study. Satan is referred to as a Dragon in Revelation, and after being chained for 1000 years, he is set free and people who have bee living under the reign of the returned Jesus Christ willingly throw their lot in with the adversary. This makes no sense to me, so I started thinking about ways to incorporate this into a story. A Dragon imprisioned for a 1000 years returning and turning a good king’s peopel against him.

It always amazes me how easy it is for me to come up with sparks, but maybe it shouldn’t. This really is the easy part. Working this fragile spark into a story is hard work, but without the spark, nothing is going to happen.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue with part II showing how I take this spark and turn into something that gets my story started.


photo: Bow Drill


Note: This post is part of the 31-post Ultimate Blog Challenge. I will be posting 31 times during the month of July, 2012. Since that is a ton of content, I made a page on the blog where you can see all my entries.