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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Author Ideas Notebook

Okay, so it's not just a notebook. It has a related box of files too. But overall I've got stuff sorted into separate folders. "Stuff" here means pages I've ripped from my old magazines or catalogs, where the people are so striking, hitting a chord with me.

When I don't have a fix on my lead character in my newest book, I can look through my Characters manila file folder and search out the ones who seem to want to tell their story at this moment. Then, where before I had no one visualized to populate my story, now I have more than enough vying to be the main character. A nice problem to have.

Same thing goes for other authorial topics. Here's my list of things I collect, set aside, waiting for an opportune moment to be put to use:
  1. Characters - See above discussion. If you just throw out magazines and catalogs, and aren't the pack-rat saver I am, then visit Pinterest. It hypnotizes me for days. I have to limit my visits for that very reason. I have one obit (somewhere) that reads like a Hollywood movie. That person really knew how to live each day. Inspires me in my real life as well as in my writing life.
  2. Character Names - I've bought like four baby name books that I need to completely go through and compile my list of favorite boy and girl names. I've also saved an old Louisiana telephone book to get some great Cajun names from. 
  3. Places - this can be a magazine travel article about a geographic location on a map or a photo of a house that strikes my fancy.
  4. Careers - give your readers a tale about someone with an interesting career.
  5. Great First Lines - I love these, amassed from my own reading or via an Internet search for same. Sometimes they can be inspirational. Sometimes they make me feel insecure as an author. Ha!
  6. Plots - Whether you subscribe to the one-plot theory or the thirty-seven plots or the seven or whatever, it doesn't hurt to have them somewhere handy to jog your brain. Try melding two. Try "upgrading" one with a new and different twist.
  7. Clothes - sometimes an outfit can spur me on when developing a certain character.
  8. Words - I'm a certified geek. I subscribe to two word-of-the-day offerings, plus I'm a copy editor with a daily relationship with Webster's. What can I say? Words speak to me. Single words even. So I keep three Brainstorming files. One is an email folder. One is a Word document. One is a physical file, in case the electricity or the Internet is down. These word entries can describe a person, a place, a mood, be used as a stand-alone title or part of a multiple-word title, not to mention in the blurbs and descriptions of my ebooks.  Have you ever played that game with your writing buddies where you each pick one word, then all the selected words are to be used in one 250-word piece, written on the spot in the next five minutes? It's totally fun. And so illuminating. Each short-short will be unique. Because each author is unique.
  9. Cars - I love cars of all vintages. So I save clippings of some. One, a picture of a Jeep, reminds me of this girl who drove past the DART bus I was riding to work. I don't have a picture to memorialize that, of course, but the Jeep does that for me. Even if I don't mention the vehicle in my latest novel, it helps me visualize the girl driving it. So I'm using it for characterization more than as a mode of transportation for my imaginary friends.
  10. Themes - I gravitate toward the emotional resonance of a theme. So I love to find these to help me nail them in my own writing.
  11. Emotions - I have a book regarding emotions and how to show them, plus lists of gradations of them, like anger, from miffed to murderous. Helps me to broaden my range of emotions expressed.
  12. Scenes - If I happen to overhear a wonderful conversation, I get it down. For later.
  13. Relationships - I save magazine articles touting relationships. I do have to weed through some cheesy ones to get to those that work for me.
  14. Psychology - I happen to like the psychological aspect of things, so I've saved my son's psychology textbook for my writing applications.
  15. Taglines - I save great ones to help me formulate one for each of my books.
  16. Favorite Movies - I have a growing list, but I have yet to see a pattern as to why I like these movies. You know, something the author/screenwriter did to engage me, which I should be able to reproduce in my own works. To me, they are all different and special in their own way, so I get lost in the magic and can't seem to work on a formula that defines my particular viewing pleasure (other than generics, like a happy ending, some humor, some romance, some action, some intrigue, yet something that won't leave me in bed that night with the lights still on).
  17. Favorite Books - Same thing here. I've been trying to find out the authors' magic touches in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and in Nora Roberts's First Impressions and The Fall of Shane MacKade. Again I get lost in the weave of the storytelling web ... which says something in and of itself.
  18. Quotes - I'm a quotaholic. I have my own ebook compilations of quotes (Volume Four coming soon). Each are about ninety or so pages long with maybe ten quotes per MSWord page, so I've gathered nine hundred pithy sayings within each offering, times the four volumes to date, or a total of 3,600 aphorisms that are all my favorites. I also subscribe to a couple daily quote emails too. I love quotes. They can summarize a life's philosophy or a theme or a plot-in-the-making or a conflict with just a handful of words.
  19. Archetypes - This list of various types also helps with character development.
  20. Enneagrams - Ditto.
  21. Astrology - Ditto. Plus gets into financial and social atmospheres too.
  22. My Happy Places - These are good for inserting into random scenes, like an overpass interchange, a movie theater, a farmer's market, etc. I just keep a running list in my physical Brainstorming notebook.
  23. Push My Buttons - This list is my particular collection of nemeses who I've had the misfortune to run across in my lifetime, such as manipulators, liars, con artists, bullies, coattailers (my own word to describe slackers who want to ride on the accomplishments of my hard work), scammers, judgmental people, yada, yada. Good for conflict ideas in the sagging middle parts of books.
  24. List of Interests - I have myriad curiosities, so my list of things that interest me continues on. I find it helpful in career hunting for my characters.
  25. Branding - Knowing about this helps with creating covers. I'm not a marketing guru, but I keep a few articles handy that help me out with this.
  26. Cover Art - I love the Amazon emails that depict covers. Some I like. Some I don't. I keep a folder on each to help me sort out what to use for my own book covers.
  27. The Best of the Best - I keep good notes of each writing book I've read and am compiling a Plotting Checklist for my own use, but I also plan to upload same to Amazon too. This won't encompass all the tips I've read and collected, but it will cover the ones most useful in plotting. Especially for someone like me. I'm actually a hybrid. I'm a pantster who, in general, has at least three or four of the seven main plot points figured out before I start writing a new book. Still, I've read enough about plotting versus writing by the seat of my pants to realize the final edit will be less onerous if I plot beforehand. Sold!
  28. Marketing - Again, not my expertise, but I save other authors' emails promoting their work. They all have their unique points, but they all also promote their work via emails. Good stuff to know.
  29. Formatting - I have a fellow author buddy who is no longer local and is (was?) a professional formatter, and she was kind enough to tell me that my layperson's formatting of my ebooks looked pretty good. She actually shared her time and expertise to walk a couple of us through her formatting process. Let me tell you, that is a tedious feat and involves downloading two (free) software programs. I'd have to relearn it all over again each season as I upload a new ebook. For my purposes, I'll stick with MSWord Styles and autogenerating tables of contents. When money is no object, I'll hire my friend (or someone she recommends).
  30. Bios/Blurbs/Descriptions - I've saved some tips on each of these, mainly dealing with SEO, that I've run across over the years. More updated info is probably on the Net. I'd suggest you search there for help.
  31. Hobbies - Make a list of those you enjoy or those you want to do more of or find out everything about. These are good to slip into a scene to add detail. They can even serve as your main character's occupation or for a secondary cast member's day job.
  32. Music - Songs can be so helpful to inspire a mood or even a whole book.
  33. Art - One writing class I took years ago had us searching the Net for artwork we loved that spawned a story to be told. Very appealing to me. I have an artwork folder that never ceases to invigorate me.
  34. Poetry - I'm a wordy novelist, so I'm amazed and stunned that poets can relay so much with so few words. But, there again, those are well-chosen words. Something we authors can make use of too. Of course, the two artistic expressions are different as well. While poetry can be all about the flowery prose and euphemisms and ethereal communication, that doesn't work so well in a fiction piece. In little smatterings here and there of five words or less, maybe ... But we live in the seven-seconds-of-attention generation. Readers can lose interest fast if explosions, murder, sex, etc., are not happening on each page.
  35. Cooking - I love to cook, especially when I have the time and the money. But we authors can parlay those things we love into our writing too. First it adds a layer of detail to our scenes. Second it nicely works into our writing the two oft-overlooked senses of smell and taste. I love Robert B. Parker's Spenser series anyway, but the nice touch that Spenser cooks is much appreciated and enjoyed.
  36. Voice - I'm currently reading a book released in 2003 entitled Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing by Les Edgerton, which I am enthralled with. I'm savoring every page, and so it's taking me longer to read this one as I learn, get inspired and take note of the homework assignments that I'll do when I reread the portions I highlighted. And there are many of those. Exciting stuff here. Makes me happy to be an author.
I hope I've encouraged you to create your own stash of go-to ideas. Want to share some of yours?

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

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