Using Story Forge for a jolt of creativity

Story Forge

Story Forge Idea Cards

Sometimes your brain gets stuck. Might be on a character, a plot point, or maybe your whole darned story. We all have our tools and techniques to get us past our sticking points or writer’s block, but let me introduce you to a new one: Story Forge.

Story Forge is a deck of custom cards. Each card has an idea on it like an occupation, a view, an action, or a role. The positive version of each idea is facing one way, and the negative faces the opposite way, so depending which way is “up” when you draw a card it will have a different meaning. It’s quite a bit like Tarot cards, if you’re familiar with them.

The instruction book comes with different layouts. You pick a layout (or make your own), deal the cards, and then ponder how they apply to your story. That pondering is the best part.

The cards are a creative tool, but the value comes from breaking you out of your patterns. If you deal a layout and then toss it away because it wasn’t what you wanted, you’re missing the point. Let the cards push you in a whole new direction, and really explore it. You may not use it in your final material, but at least you followed the path to see where it lead.

Writing a Film Noir short

We recently used Story Forge in our writing group. We dealt out a hand to the Film Noir layout, and several of us wrote a story piece around it. I included a key with the image (click the image to zoom in).

Story Forge - Film Noir

Story Forge – Film Noir layout (click to zoom)

It starts with a Betrayal, but there is a Manipulator at work. He wants a Disguise, and eventually a double cross comes to light by way of a Compulsion. And what Film Noir would be complete without a Tragic Outcome?

Definitely not my normal genre, but our whole writing group took the layout and each wrote our own story. The results were all wildly different. Just looking at the cards above, where do you think this takes place? Who is the protagonist? What is their occupation? One of the great things about this exercise is everyone will flesh it out their own way.

Get your own Story Forge

You can purchase your own Story Forge deck for $20. It comes with a wide range of cards, and a few blank ones so you can add in your own favorite items. Whether you want to just break out of a rut, need a source of new story ideas, or want help with writer’s block, Story Forge is a great tool to have around.

Next up on the blog – our stories from the above layout!

Paralysis of Analysis

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” (Harriet Braiker, American psychologist and writer)

For years I’ve had a recurring dream. I’m on stage in a concert arena drumming for one of my favorite bands. The lights are flashing. The crowd is cheering. And then on cue, we launch into some complicated instrumental break. It’s at this point that I look around and realize that I am not really in this band, and there’s no way I’m talented enough to play the sorts of things I find myself playing. My hands grow heavy, the song falls apart, and the crowd becomes an angry, screaming throng.

I can only guess what Freud would have to say about these dreams, but I’ve always viewed them as a sobering commentary on both my aspirations as well as my limitations as an artist.

In his collection of journals entitled Confessions of a Barbarian, the twenty-five-year-old Edward Abbey ponders the progress he is making on his first novel:

“At times I’m afraid to read what I’ve written, almost superstitiously afraid—and then at other times I do work up enough courage to hastily read snatches chosen at random. The effects are mixed—parts of the book seem hilariously funny, beautifully written, packed and quivering with life. And then I’ll read the same passage again, or another, and it will seem dead as junkyard iron, pretentious and false, weak, thin, spineless, empty and hideous.”

I think all writers who are honest with themselves can relate to these sentiments. We have a vision of what we would like our words to achieve, yet in the process of giving form to this vision, we worry that something has somehow gotten lost. We rework the material—often to the point of draining away its life—because we fear that we’ve missed the mark artistically.

At a certain level, these sorts of self-doubts may be healthy, for they spur us on to perfect our skills. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of talented writers whose work is in a perpetual state of revision, and they never seem to muster the courage necessary to submit their material for publication.

Speaking personally, I realized a long time ago that I may never be as skilled as some of my favorite authors; that level of talent is rare in this world. Yet I still have a voice, and I’d like to think that I have at least a few things to say that others might be interested in reading. Will these pieces be perfect? Probably not, but that’s okay. Like a diamond, it’s often those slight imperfections that provide the most luster.

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

Enhanced by Zemanta

What Are You Waiting For?

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, it’s a good news/bad news kind of thing.

The bad news:  no one has been posting and our poor little blog looks downright neglected.

The good news:  we haven’t been posting because we’ve been busy with other writing work.

Some of us are even stupefyingly close to that terrifying step.  The p-word.  Publishing.

It’s a saturation point basically.  When you finally finish that first draft, that piece that you know is a bona fide, honest-to-goodness, real writerly work; you’ve hit a milestone.  But it’s only one milestone on a many mile journey.

You have to rewrite it.  Maybe more than once.  You need to give it a line editing pass and get somebody else to line edit it as well.  Then you need to make those changes and maybe just give it another polishing draft.  Eventually, you have to decide if you’re going to stay in the comfy confines of endless reworking, or take the plunge and publish.

I decided to publish.

But here’s the thing, publishing and writing aren’t the same thing.  They’re intertwined, sure, but you quickly realize there are even more miles to go.  And you thought you were so close!

Don’t despair.  Help is out there.

With all the opportunities that epublishing offers, getting your work out there is pretty close to DIY.  You’re taking on a lot of the tasks that a publishing house would handle in the old model, but I think that’s a good thing.  You have way more control of how your final product and brand come out.  Who wouldn’t want that kind of power?  But there’s no question it’s also intimidating.  What to do?

Get help of course.

Jeff Moriarty, the guy that runs this blog, has quite a few different irons in the fire.  One of those irons is ePublish Unum that he started with Evo Terra.  Last summer I attended one of their live seminars that gave sort of a broad overview of how digital publishing works.  It was great stuff, but the real powerhouse is The Quick and The Read.

This is a web-based, six week course for writers to take you from finished work to published author on Amazon.com.  Yes that is challenging, but it is also totally doable.  It’s online, so you’re not limited by location, but you still get a live class/lecture once a week (How does that work?  Hey, these guys know their digital stuff).  You learn what to do, why to do it, and most importantly, how to do it.  They give step-by-step breakdowns on formatting, cover design, sales copy, and that all important publish button.

I took the course and can’t recommend it enough.  A lot of this was new territory for me, truly starting from zero.  But, as promised, I went from a final draft that I wasn’t sure what to do with, to a real live eBook.  I’ve been taking some time to set up a digital support system for when the book comes out.  My own blog, a website, that sort of thing.  I’m on track to publish the first week of June.  Watch for West of Dead:  A Nathaniel Caine Adventure on Amazon!  Hey, might as well give myself a plug while I’m at it.

So, take the plunge.  You can publish you’re writing.  Don’t say “just one more draft”.  Don’t say “it’s not long enough”, or “it’s not good enough”.  Above all, don’t say “I don’t know how”.  That’s just not an excuse anymore.

Enhanced by Zemanta

If you love words, watch the History of English

One reason I love writing is because I love playing with the language itself. I enjoy finding that perfect word, twisting it in a strange way, or otherwise crafting something original. English is amazingly maliable, and is constantly incorporating new words and evolving how old ones are used. It’s been like this throughout its history, with even the standardization of spelling being a fairly recent development.

If you share my interest in the wordification of English, I strongly encourage you to watch this great video series from the Open University on the History of English. There are ten videos, each over a minute long, spanning from the Anglo Saxon invasions through English’s evolution as a global language.

The first video is below, and the rest of the fabulous History of English series is on OU’s YouTube channel.

 

The Passive-Aggressive Comma War

I'm reading August 10th, free, at Sideshow: Th...
Image by rachelkramerbussel.com via Flickr

I made the mistake of volunteering to write grant proposals for a small, local, non-profit organization.  I have a little background in what a grant needs to say, and I enjoy writing, so it seemed a natural fit to make a contribution to a worthwhile cause.  Like every new experience there was some learning involved, most of it in the frustrating, irritating and regretting category. 

After figuring out how to overcome the first hurdle, how to request money for administrative costs when foundations are loathe to donate money for just that reason, and then learning to maneuver the Giant Charity Dollar Consolidator’s computer system, I thought my task was largely accomplished.  Until I ran into the Comma Queen, the underpaid, highly detail-oriented program coordinator of this unnamed local non-profit.  That’s Program Coordinator with a Capital P, Capital C as I was reminded in the first round of edits.  She also declared that a comma should be inserted in every series of nouns before the ‘and’ — papers, pens, and pencils. 

Whereas I was under the impression that particular comma style had been retired sometime in the ‘70’s and was no longer the standard.  After the third editing round-about, late the night before the grant deadline, I threw up the white flag and added in the last of the missing serial commas for the Comma Queen. 

Once the dust settled from our Passive-Aggressive Comma War, I decided to seek out who was right, me or the Comma Queen.  I found an old high school grammar text book, a 1965 edition of the Modern Grammar and Composition which is clearly marked THIS BOOK IS THE PROPERTY OF THE STATE.  The three students who were issued the book from 1966 through 1968 had signed their names on the front inside cover, the last being my brother-in-law.  Why it’s on my bookshelf, at a distance of a thousand miles, two states and  four decades, is a mystery to me.  Nevertheless, it served my purpose even if it is a crime of possession that hopefully the State of Texas never discovers.

Well, round one goes to the Comma Queen.  The text clearly showed that a comma is required before the ‘and’ in a series.  That was in 1965.  Unconvinced, I sought out more current sources of expertise and it turns out the series comma is an either or situation.  In journalism, the series comma, or as it’s referred to by some, the Oxford comma or even the Harvard comma, was dropped for expediency.  In literature it’s still the standard.

I was satisfied with a draw in the Passive-Aggressive Comma War.  However, after reading more about it, I must admit there are times when that extra comma makes for better clarity.  Example — I owe my life to my two brothers, Chloe and Lucy.

My brothers aren’t named Chloe and Lucy.  The intent was to identify three subjects, not two with subsequent names.  It’s misleading without the series comma.  There are lots of other examples on when the series comma is necessary. And, some claim, for consistency sake, it should always be used.

So now I’m going to have to sit down with the Comma Queen and show her the difference, when it’s needed and when it’s not.  Maybe then we can sign a treaty, calling an end to the Passive- Aggressive Comma War.  Hopefully negotiations will be concluded before the next grant proposal comes around.

Enhanced by Zemanta