Guest Post: Conception – Pulling Ideas out of Thin Air By Nicolette Stephens

I’ve been working on a series of writing exercises, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share the first in the series I’m calling “Quarks”.

Quark (noun: a theoretical subatomic particle.)

In physics, quarks are contemplated as being the building blocks of hadrons. Now, physics doesn’t really have much to do with creative writing, but quark is a great word to describe all the little bits and pieces that go into creating stories. Whether it’s flash fiction, poetry, novels or plays, telling a tale requires certain elements to complete it. Quarks take these elements and explore them in bite-sized chunks that, when put together, help you to understand and build a story from conception to the end.

In this guest post for Coffee n Notes, you’ll find some exercises for finding inspiration from the world around you and crafting stories even when you don’t feel inspired.

When you decide to tell a story, you’re making a decision to translate abstract thoughts into words that others will resonate with. Sometimes this is a fairly simple process, but often, writers find themselves at a loss.

There are many reasons why this happens, but mostly it’s ascribed to a lack of inspiration, fondly named Writer’s Block. There are a lot of different theories on what causes Writer’s Block, and even more, methods to get you out of it.

One of the most popular is that you may have run out of ideas. So in this quark, we’re going to look at where you can find inspiration, which are really just ideas pulled out of thin air.

Where to find inspiration?

Inspiration isn’t a whimsical fairy that strikes whenever she feels like it. Rather, it’s akin to a puppy, which can either be left to run wild and disappear after an interesting scent ignoring all your attempts to recall it or with training and patience, will become a loyal friend, responding faithfully to your commands.

As with puppies though, training inspiration is not a one-time task. It’s a continual process that continues with regular reinforcement.

When you are inspired to create something, whether it’s a piece of writing, art or a school project; it simply means that you’ve had an idea you want to make concrete. Thoughts and ideas are abstract, but when you use them to create something, you turn them into a concrete form that can be appreciated by others.

Good ideas are considered to be as elusive as inspiration, but in general, the only thing lacking in creating an inspired idea is a process that works the majority of the time. Not everyone will think and respond the same way to the same process – if you don’t believe me, just ask people how they interpret emoticons. While some of the expressions are universal, the way people use and interpret them are often very different.

The same holds true with processes designed to inspire ideas for writers. Writing prompts work fairly often, so they’ve become very popular with writers across the board. A Google search on creative writing ideas will give you a host of different resources you can use.

In this quark though, we look at something closer to home. Your immediate environment.

If you look around you at this moment, you are surrounded by objects, places, words, people and emotions.

Exercise 1 – Bits and bobs

In this exercise, I want you to list five of each of the above from your immediate environment as I’ve done in the example below.

Objects: Pencil box, owl statue, oil paints, handkerchief, yoga mat.

Places: Field across the road, shopping mall, neighbor’s driveway, abandoned railway station, lawyer’s office.

Words: Bottle, loquacious, train, noise, birds.

People: Shoppers, young child, train passengers, pedestrian, homeless man.

Emotions: Happiness, fear, curiosity, anger, grief.

You may find that you end up linking several of the categories without meaning to because your mind will automatically form associations between items. That’s okay, use the table and split them up in their categories, or keep them in the same row if you like the association between them.

Words and objects are very similar categories, but whereas objects are commonplace things found in your immediate surroundings, words can be anything you’ve seen, heard or thought about recently.

Wherever possible, try to apply your current environment to the list. Emotions, for example, may not be what you’re currently feeling, but maybe you’ve felt them in the last few days, or it’s something you imagine someone else would have felt when you saw them in a certain situation.

Your turn: List five of each… object, place, words, people, and emotions.

Exercise 2 – What’s the catch?

Ask who, what, where, why, when and how.

The object of this exercise isn’t to ask logical questions that can be answered with the most common response. Rather, it’s designed to engage the creative side of your brain.

So for example, don’t use “who” with the “people” category for your first round of questions.

Below is an example of a question phrased for one item in each category:

Object: Owl Statue.

Question: Where did the statue come from and why is it chipped on the corner?

Place: Lawyer’s office.

Question: Why is the exterior of the building so run down for what seems to be a profitable business, given that the car that’s always parked there is a top of the line BMW?

People: Pedestrian

Question: Where was he going in such a hurry that he didn’t see the car turning the corner before he stepped out into the road?

Word: Loquacious

Question: Who would use a word like that in an everyday situation and what do they do for a living?

Emotion: Curiosity

Question: What is it about curiosity that it seems to be as contagious as yawning?

Some of these questions may end up never being used – I don’t like the one I created about curiosity for instance, so I may try to think of something else to ask that gets me a response I’m excited about, but I will only do that later, when I’ve exhausted the answers to my first questions.

Your turn: Ask a question about each of the items on your list. You can choose one item from each category, or do it for all of them dependent on how much time you have available.

Exercise 3 – Seeking Answers

The third and final exercise is when you start the process of developing your story. Although the answers to the questions you asked in Exercise 2 are kept simple, they form the basis of your plot – the hook you use to reel in an audience.

There are different methods you can use to answer the questions, and it’s a good idea to switch between them regularly when doing these exercises. Sometimes you’ll find one that works really well, and it will become a habit to use that for everything, which may result in writing which follows a predictable pattern for readers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there’s not really a right or wrong in any form of art, writing included – but challenging yourself brings you out of your comfort zone and often inspires you. So don’t be afraid to try new things.

Below, I’ve used the question about the lawyer and a technique called word association to answer it:

Technique: Word Association. We’ve all played games where someone says a word, and you say the first word that pops into your head in response. This is similar, where each word builds on the last to slowly develop a story. When you run out of words, use the words you’ve come up with to piece together the full sentence.

Answer: Lawyer – criminal – defence – failed – arrested – innocent – broke. The lawyer is a criminal defence lawyer who failed to get his client acquitted. The client was actually innocent but went to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. The lawyer is broke which is why his business is falling apart.

Expensive car – gift – client – wife of client – actual criminal – secret. The car is a gift from his client – the wife of the man who was wrongfully convicted. The wife is the true criminal and is sleeping with the lawyer who was a good friend of the couple’s before their affair. He knows her secret and is beginning to reconsider his actions.

Your turn: Choose a technique and answer the questions you asked about your items in Exercise 2.    

This brings us to the end of Quark 1 – Conception. I hope you’ve found it useful and would love to hear all about your experiences working through the exercises.

Why don’t you share an example of your own in the comments below?

Nicolette Stephens Bio

Nicolette Stephens

Dreams and storytelling have always been a part of my life, and as a writer, I know the pitfalls involved in trying to publish. This led to the creation of Chasing Dreams Publishing, where I aim to help other writers share their stories.

There is nothing more exciting than seeing a story unfold on the page, and even more so when it gets published! After years working in the corporate world, I decided it was time to strike out and fulfill my dreams of writing full time.

On a daily basis, I’m inspired by people who chase their dreams (whether or not they’re related to writing), and this inspiration translates to my stories, workshops and writing groups.

Jozi Flash is a product of this inspiration.

About the book

Guest Post, Coffee n' Notes

It’s not quite the Gummi Bears, but it certainly bounces around a lot.

Jozi Flash 2017 combines the talents of ten brilliant authors with one gifted artist, to bring you a collection of 80 flash fiction stories across eight different genres.

From a children’s story about the folly of summoning dragons, to the horrors held in deliciously treacherous ice cream, the authors take you on journeys that weave fantasy and folklore together alongside practical detectives and everyday tragedy.

With stunning artwork prompts by Nico Venter, these South African authors have created an anthology that will leave you breathless.

Goodreads / My Book Review / Chasing Dreams Publishing

As always, thank you so much for reading ❤

GalitLet’s chat on:

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Guest Post: Unexpected, Exciting Developments By M. J. Mallon

I am thrilled to say that I have outlined the major events in Book Two in the series – The Curse of Time. So, if you haven’t read The Curse of Time Book One Bloodstone now’s the time to do so!

During this process, I stumbled upon a plot development idea that shocked me. I’d started writing the bare bones of the ending of book two and then POW it hit me. I can’t divulge what my idea is for fear of spoiling it for you, but I can say that it will take the story on an unexpected pathway into a potential book three.

This Kapow aspect of writing excites, empowers and intrigues me.

During the creative process of writing The Curse of Time Book One Bloodstone, I didn’t plot much at all. I wrote from a reservoir of my imagination. I had to restructure a lot, but this meant that TCOT is a highly imaginative concept.

My reviewers have been saying lots of wonderful things about TCOT.

Here are just a couple of review quote snippets:

‘This is a brilliant book for young adults interested in magic, supernatural, paranormal, fantasy and myth. I found it highly readable and the author’s imagination is phenomenal, as is the fluency of her language and the dazzling way she describes the curious events and characters in her story. I loved the idea of Esme, the girl trapped in the mirror.’

S C Skillman, author

‘The curse of time is a beautifully written book. I really enjoyed M.J. Mallon’s style of writing and the beautiful characters she created. Even though aimed at the YA audience I enjoyed it and found myself totally engrossed.

The story is almost dreamlike, very addictive and quirky. I loved all the references to crystals and the magical element. I was keen to find out the mystery linked to Amelina’s Dad’s disappearance and eventual reappearance. This is such a mixing pot of delights, you have gorgeous poetry scattered throughout, a girl stuck in a mirror and a magically enchanted paint set and this is the tip of the iceberg!’ Lisa, Book Addiction UK.

One of my subsidiary characters became far more important. In fact, she became one of my favourite characters.

Let me introduce you to Esme.

Portrait of Esme – Copyright artist Carolina Russo – https://yesterdayafter.com/

Imaginative Developments: Mental Health and Entrapment

  • I had an idea to write about a girl trapped in a mirror and Esme became that girl. I realized she needed to be more interesting and defined. I struggled with this for some time. Then, during the writing process, I had a Eureka moment – I decided to link the mirror girl Esme’s imprisonment to mental health.

Mental Health is a form of entrapment. A person who is suffering from mental health problems isn’t free. They are unable to live life to the full as fear anxiety, depression and mental health issues hold them back. Esme is that person. She is a prisoner in the mirrors of Amelina’s house and she is also imprisoned by her mental health issues. Esme is a victim of a curse but prior to her imprisonment, she had also been stuck in a vicious circle of self-harm.

Esme became the character I longed for – a character with huge potential for truth, hope, and discussion. I now have so many ways to portray her and…

The reader will be able to see her journey throughout the series.

Will Esme recover from her self-harm?

Will she escape the imprisonment of the curse?

Will I be able to help Esme feel good about herself?

Esme’s character will allow an open and frank discussion on the crucially important topic of mental health/self-harm/depression/anxiety which matters so much to me.

Esme also features in book two, with an emphasis on recovery and hope along with all the original cast of book one.

Imaginative Developments: Crystals

  • Wow, I just love them. I have a lovely collection at home. So it’s no surprise that there’s a magical crystal cottage in The Curse of Time. But, this haven of beauty, light, and magic isn’t open to everyone. No way! It’s strictly by invitation only. My main protagonist, fifteen-year-old Amelina Scott is allowed to visit but will Ryder creep in? Wait and see… There will be some amazing developments with regard to the cottage in Book Two. Expect twin doors…

Imaginative Developments: Tattoos and Art

  • Tattoos. This is hysterical. What can you do with tattoos in a fantasy novel? Perhaps you can cover your villain with them. Hey, maybe you can bring those tattoos alive, and link those black tattoos to shadows. Perhaps you can take this further and make them smoking hot! Interesting… Now, how cool is that?

Just imagine what fun I can have with tattoos in future books… Oh my!

(I have a thing about bringing art alive and this is also portrayed in the Creature of The Cottage.)

Portrait of The Creature – copyright artist Carolina Russo – https://yesterdayafter.com/

Imaginative Developments: Clocks and Rollercoasters

There are three wonderful Chronopage clock creations invented by Dr. John C Taylor, OBE http://www.johnctaylor.com/who I had the pleasure of meeting in September 2017.

The magnificent grasshopper lives in King’s Parade in Cambridge, and features in Book One. The midsummer Chronopage showcases a mythological fly and the dragon Chronopage is, of course, a dragon. Look at that pearl on the dragon’s tongue! I can’t wait to write about the mythological fly and the dragon in the next two books in the series.

In the meantime, I have plans for the grasshopper to come alive and get up to a bunch of mischief in Book Two.

Aren’t they stunning?

http://johnctaylor.com

And … there will be an epic rollercoaster in Book Two and some riddles…

If you like fantasy, adore Dr. Who (like I do,) I hope you will give The Curse of Time a try.

Don’t forget to check out Marjorie’s Interview and Book review 😀

As always, thank you so much for reading ❤

GalitLet’s chat on:

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Guest Post: Where Do Story Ideas Come From? By Bridget Nash

Hello everyone, I hope you are all well 🙂

Today for the first time ever, I am doing a guest post. So grab a cup of coffee (or a yummy drink of your choice) and sit with us while we host the wonderful author Bridget Nash, author of Players.

Say hello to Bridget Nash…

Where do story ideas come from?

The easy answer is human imagination. Humans have been telling stories for as long as there have been humans. Sometimes I like to think that storytelling around a campfire started out as a game called “Who Can Tell the Best Lie?”

I’m a horrible liar actually, but I still love to make up stories. It entertains me. I lay awake at night and make up stories and then I go to sleep and my brain keeps making up stories as I dream.

Players was my first completed novel since I was in the eighth grade. That eight-grade manuscript is still laying around somewhere, probably in a box in my parents’ basement, and I hope if anyone ever discovers it, they don’t know I wrote it.

I started a great number of novels over the decade between Meet the Jacobsons (yes, it was really called that) and Players. Some were fantasy, some were adventure, some were coming-of-age. All of them died a few chapters in.

The idea for Players rolled around in my brain for quite a while before I actually put pen to paper. That’s literally speaking, by the way. I wrote the entire first draft of Players by hand. The first little bud in my mind was fed by my obsession with Elizabethan players. I loved the idea of traveling bands of players, rolling in rickety wagons filled with costumes and makeup. It seemed magical how they must have stopped to camp for the night, maybe in between villages, built a fire and rehearsed scenes. I wondered what the villagers thought as the traveling players rolled into town. Was there disdain and secret wonder? Did mothers tell their children to stay away from them? Maybe small children peeked from behind their mothers’ dusty skirts as the caravan rolled by, enchanted by the mystique.

I probably have it all wrong, but players from the time of Shakespeare captured my imagination and wouldn’t leave.

I wanted to write about traveling players but the problem was I didn’t want to write a period piece. My brain wouldn’t let it go, though. So, lying in bed at night, I would play around with the construction of a modern world with traveling players. I know there are theater groups that travel, but I wanted players in wagons, spending dark nights around blazing fires, going through life with an air of mystery.

I don’t remember when exactly I landed on dystopia. I love a good dystopia although I had read only a couple at that time in my life. I didn’t realize there were so many lovers of dystopia out there or so many dystopian stories!

I think people like dystopia so much because we fear oppression. Whatever side of the political spectrum someone is on, oppression is this looming possibility, even if we disagree on how it might come about. Dystopian stories allow us to explore that fear and then close the book, tyranny captive between the covers.

The dystopian world of Players isn’t blatant. In fact, most citizens live with the belief that they are in a utopia. That’s how oppression happens in my mind. It isn’t some dictator who swoops in and starts making edicts. Oppression can inch in so slowly that people don’t realize it’s there until there’s no easy road back.

I seem to have digressed. I made a dystopia to create a world in which traveling players of the Elizabethan sort could exist in all their mysterious glory.

Some people know that I was a reporter for a newspaper before I decided to stay home with my daughter. Part of my beat was covering school board meetings and, as you can probably imagine, school board meetings aren’t usually the most exciting events. It was during an executive session that I began writing Players. In an executive session, the board members go behind closed doors to have a private discussion before they come out and make a public vote. Sometimes these executive sessions can last hours.

If I’d had a smartphone, I probably would have just played Words With Friends instead of starting to write a novel while I waited for the board members to come back into the boardroom. I didn’t have a smartphone and the boardroom had quickly become the bored room. So I wrote what was then the first line of the story: It wasn’t that his life was boring. It was that it was so boring he thought he might die.

That is no longer the first line of the book but it is the initial sentiment of the protagonist Ryan’s view on his utopian life. I honestly don’t know if the story would have started the same way if I hadn’t started it in a moment of sheer boredom. But I can say that if it didn’t start that way, it may have become a completely different story. I don’t outline when I write novels. I tend to know the basic plot, and usually the end before I start, but I like to see where the characters take me. And if you’ve ever written fiction, you know that characters tend to have free will and the writer just kind of nudges them. Some writers nudge them a lot harder than others. Everyone has a different method.

Players lived in various notebooks, traveling around with me in life, for quite a long time. It was mostly scrawled late at night by the light of my bedside lamp. When I finally finished it, it sat. The handwritten manuscript was in a small suitcase I’d found at a garage sale in the corner of my bedroom. Eventually, I felt sorry for it. Mostly because my handwriting is completely illegible and there was no point of getting the story out of my head if no one but me could read it.

I typed out the manuscript and finished it, the second draft, several years after I’d started the first draft. It’s not finished though. The world of Players is still very much alive in my mind and, some people will be pleased to know, a sequel to it is my next project. I’ve already started, but I seem to have misplaced the notebook…


About The Author

   Bridget Nash was a newspaper journalist who received several Associated Press/Oklahoma Press Association awards for both writing and photography, before starting her own small portrait photography business. She now stays home with her daughter, contributing to the news world on a freelance basis.

   Players is Bridget’s first novel but ever since she could hold a pencil, she has enjoyed writing as a recreational activity. As a child and a teen, she could often be found outdoors with a notebook and pen, listening to the birds and the wind while making up her own worlds on paper.

When she isn’t writing or taking photographs, Bridget enjoys reading and watching sitcoms simultaneously. Her favorite books are Frankenstein, Jane Eyre and A Ring of Endless Light. Bridget lives in a very small Oklahoma town, along with her husband; her daughter; two dogs, Trevor and Penny; a border collie named Taban; a cat named Taylor Swift; and a fancy rat named Sheldon.

About The Book – Players

Players, Bridget Nash

Ryan Scribe is eighteen and has it made.
He lacks nothing and doesn’t even know anyone who lacks anything.
Then he hears a beautiful actress say, “Truth is often stranger than perception,” and he begins to look at his world with new eyes.
All it takes is one wrong question and he is swiftly banished from the only home he’s ever known. Forced to join a band of traveling players, stage actors who look like they could have stepped straight out of Elizabethan England, Ryan begins to question his life, his country and everyone around him. Can he really trust a group of actors? Will his questions land him in even more danger?

On Goodreads


As always, thank you so much for reading ❤

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