Choose Your Own Writing Adventure – How I come up with Ideas

Often when I tell people I am a writer, they pepper me with questions, and during such discussions I’m often asked ‘Can I be in your book?’ or warned ‘You won’t ever write about me… right?’. So I figured I would blog about my writing process now that I’ve written for a while and can actually say how I come up with ideas, characters and situations as well as the metamorphosis they undergo even as I write and rewrite. And overall, as you will see below, I can make no promises, but even if I happen to write a little something about you, the odds are you won’t even recognize it.

First, something has to strike my writing fancy. Sometimes these ideas come from eavesdropping (OK, most times). Sometimes they are things that have happened in my life. Or sometimes they come from events that have occurred to friends, family, and acquaintances. “Hmm, that’s interesting.” I think. “I wonder how that would work or what if that happened to someone else, someone with this or that type of personality.”

With each idea, I take that situation and think about it, mull it over add many ‘what if’s. In fact much of the process contains ‘What if…”. It’s like a massive huge choose your own adventure novel. And it goes a little something like this:

Idea 1  – Overheard in a food court:

A sister’s neighbour’s roofer accidentally got an address wrong and no one noticed until everyone came home from work and the job was completed.

  • Ouch. That’s a huge mistake. What’s the fallout? What happened and what happens floats through my mind: Does he lose his house because of the botched job he now has to pay for, loses his wife, his family, his children? Why did it happen – was he exhausted because of a newborn or because he was having an affair. Was it even his mistake? What transpired when they all found out? Was a normally passive housewife consumed with rage? Did the roofer go out, get drunk and drive home only to cause a tragedy for someone else. What if, what if, what if…

Idea 2 – Overheard at a temp job:

A young couple travels overseas to Asia on a dream vacation. They break up mid trip and are forced to fly home on the same flight – with her parents.

  • This was from a male’s perspective. First I would change to a woman’s point of view, because I write mainly about women. Then I ask all sorts of questions: How did they break up? How did she feel? Who broke up with who? Why didn’t either of them change their flight? I would make them married and force them to sit together on the plane. With her parents. Is there a dispute on the flight? Maybe with her parents. Maybe she’s pregnant and no one knows. What if she’s relieved and has been having an affair the entire time? What if she was waiting to break up with him until after the trip? Travelling is a huge stressor on relationships. This is an intriguing for plot and character development to me. Hmmm….

 Idea 3 – While doing some data entry:

The last name Roach appeared before me.

  • I continued typing, all the while thinking – What if a girl was deathly afraid of cockroaches and suddenly the man of her dreams appeared with the last name Roach? Does she turn him away because of it, stay and never change her name when they marry? What if they bump into each other over and over again over the years and fate is trying to push them together? What if they have kids who go the Bob Marley way? ‘Hey roach, pass the roach?’ All these thoughts floated through my brain within seconds. Interesting…

Now: Marrying the three ideas, here’s the loose idea I’ve come up with:

  1. A married couple and kids are on a flight to Caribbean. She’s terrified of roaches, but married a man with the last name Roach. She never changed her name. (in all likelihood, unless I have a good reason for it, this might get dropped somewhere along the line – Although there are huge roaches in the Caribbean…hmmm…)
  2. Just before the flight, he gets a call about a roofing job gone awry. He owns the company. He works. A lot. “Workaholic” her wife says. They argue on the way to airport. His almost cancelling the trip was the last straw in their relationship (although honestly, in my mind he’s already changing into a big shot executive who never takes breaks and had grumbled constantly about the vacation he doesn’t want to take).
  3. But now they’re flying south. To the Caribbean. For a family wedding! And he hates her sister, who is the one getting married – just made that last bit about the sister up – fun really! Although I have no idea why they hate each other yet.
  4. No one knows they’ve just split. It slowly unravels over a week.
  5. Heck, maybe they’re in Jamaica, just to keep things even more interesting….

The possibilities are endless and obviously there are other characters and many scenes to sort out, but this is how it all starts.

These are just a few examples that I overheard that piqued my interest that I probably wouldn’t ever use (although its all sounding more interesting as I added elements, truth be told). As you can see, it’s all one big Choose Your Own Adventure and by the time I’m finished with it, the situation is vastly different from any original I might have heard or experienced.

They all get muddled, thrown together and are melted down like chocolate into a gooey mess. Then as I work my way back up and mold them into the shapes I want and with each rewrite (this is because I’m a pantser and things change – too often), they alter, have additional layers and texture added like wafers and caramel and hopefully the end result is a delicious treat.

Characters are a bit different and are actually largely molded based on the ideas I’ve come up with and how I think different personality types would react to the situation I’ve created for them.

But I’ll save that for another post…

Spring Forward and Move

Moving in the spring should be mandatory. Motivation comes in many forms, but that pungent sweet spring air can induce a purging frenzy that even the most avid hoarder must struggle to overcome. Either that or they have olfactory issues, because really, who can resist throwing something out as soon as windows are yanked open on the first warm day of the year? Its part of the reason I would never survive somewhere with a year round static climate. I would end up with drowning in stuff.

You know, all the stuff I could never live without.

Like the half melted decorative candle left unlit since 2002, the beloved yet loathed pair of heels that pinch toes and spawn blisters the size of quarters that are overlooked in favour of a more comfortable pair, that purse so well worn it still contours to my body after gathering dust for a decade, the rollerblades, worn once, that left bruises, but thankfully no broken limbs. I even unearthed a tank top from a 1989 vacation and nail polish that might have belonged to my grandmother. You know, those cherished items that once meant something – the candle burnt during several girls night in, the purse and shoes worn back in my clubbing heyday, the nail polish instigating memories long forgotten and the rollerblades, well, who knows what I was thinking, except that getting rid of them is like throwing money away, and who knows, maybe I’ll use them one day. Wait, isn’t that the hoarders motto? Excuse me for a moment. Must chuck in bin. Now.

My new house is clean and sparkly and full of sunshine. My selective hoarding does not belong. I’m certain, even though my move is still impending, that I will float around in heaven, feeling lighter for the shed items. Until I have to clean the bathtub. And the fog will lift and I’ll realize how silly we were to agree on a house with no dishwasher or self cleaning bathroom to spare us more time.

Time which I could use to do useful things, like write again.

In my purge travels, I unearthed so many of my written musings, as far back as my youth when I thought I could write soap operas to recent drafts of my first, second and third novels. Yowzers. I’ve never stated it that way before – THREE NOVELS – even though they are all in various states of edit. Now I’m even more upset that they’ve been gathering dust on my desk all sad and lonely and frightened that they will never be flipped through again and now petrified that they will remain in one of those unpacked boxes one forgets about until the next move.

I must admit, their fear is contagious. I’m taking a detour on a divergent career path, one I’m hoping will afford me slightly more writing time in the long run but am resolved to return to them this summer, even in small bursts. I must. For my sanity really. These characters keep pinching me and jockeying for my attention. I’m actually a little afraid I’ll never get rid of them.

In the meantime, maybe if I keep throwing things away and keeping my new clutter free motto, I’ll have more space and time for the make believe worlds that co-exist in my head. But sometimes I worry it still won’t be enough. Does anyone know any of the upcoming winning lottery numbers?  Anyone willing to share?  No?  Fine. I’ll just enjoy my new shiny home and figuring  out which sunny writing corner sparks the most creativity. Until its time to purge and move all over again. But only ever in the spring.

The Good, The Bad and The Fancy – My E-Reader Experience

So I finally broke down and got an e-reader.  Well, actually, it was a gift, but I wanted one.  Really.  It was a necessary ‘evil’ for all the e-book review requests we’ve been getting over at Novel Escapes so we finally decided we were going to go the e-reader route.  Now that I’ve read a few, here’s my take on the paperless experience.

The Good:

  • I was shocked to discover that the pages actually look like book pages so I actually feel like I’m reading a book.
  • If I’m out somewhere and unexpectedly finish a book, I don’t have to worry whether I remembered to pack a second one ‘just in case’. I also have plenty to choose from in my own personal library or can buy something new from the bookstores at my fingertips. My love for trolling book stores will never cease, although I find myself more and more picking up the recommendations of many of the bookish types I follow online now, and it just flows that I would download a title before I forget it or have time to go out and buy it.
  • Saving trees as well as room on my bookshelves for those books that really deserve the space and that I’ll actually read again.
  • As someone who is at times excruciatingly sensitive to scented things, I don’t have to fear a book that might have a particular smell that sets me off which happens from time to time. Most people don’t notice, but I do. I believe it’s the ink and newspaper print is the worst offender.  Its been years since I’ve read one and I love that I can go online to get the news anytime without subjecting myself to sinus issues.  But I digress…. I suspect I don’t want to get to the bad…

The Bad:

  • Sorting out how the hell to get books onto my ipad. (Naturally they posted a linky AFTER I spent hours trying to figure it out). Fortunately this applies for review copies only and won’t apply to the masses.  Still, it was most aggravating and detrimental to the initial experience.
  • I now have several book apps, specifically because of the incompatibility of Adobe and Apple (see my netgalley experience above) in addition to ibooks, Kindle and Kobo because, well, I guess I like to have it all.  The downside to having so many apps for my books is that I don’t have one location for all of them and can’t stare at my collection and I have to remember what books are where or troll each app for them. Ok, I admit, I haven’t amassed a library just yet.  I have plans though, great plans… And one day I’ll figure out how to get all the lovelies together again.
  • I neglected to bring my ipad along when it was frigid and snowy one day, figuring I didn’t need it.  Murphy’s Law dictated otherwise and there was a teenie bit of car trouble during which I would have had time to read. Now the pretty little machine sits permanently in my purse if it’s not in my lap, rain or shine, potential to read or not. Period.
  • I can’t advertise the lovely books I read anymore to other patrons on the subway. This could also be filed under ‘good’ if such cover is one I’d rather not parade in public, which really is rare, but has occurred.
  • I can no longer read in the bath.  You have no idea how upset this makes me.
  • My novels and reading time are now fused to the interwebs and distractions like email, Facebook and Twitter abound.  ‘Nuff said.

The Fancy:

  •  The Bookmarks! I LOVE them.  It’s weird. They’re not fancy, or pretty or mark the page in any way, but they record my reading in a way I’d never even contemplated doing myself.  It logs every single time I click the tiny bookmark and counts pages and sessions. I can see exactly what date I picked up a book and when I finished and how many pages I got through in each session.  This is proving fascinating to me.  And I really have no idea why – or if this novelty will soon wear off. But in the meantime, I love it and if that makes me weird, so be it. #bookgeek
  • The Notes! As a reviewer (and writer) I can make notes on what I’m reading with each click of the bookmark (or notes, depending on the e-reader). Now this may gunk up my above noted reading ‘stats’ if it’s connected with the bookmark, but is ever so helpful to mark passages, make notes and have them compiled in one place for when I write my review.  Sadly I’ve never really made notes for my reviews before. I should have, but with a decent memory and lazitis, if something really stuck out that I needed a reference to, I, *gasp*, dog-eared the page. But now I just type away my comments and look back at them when needed.
  • The dictionary.  I just hold my finger over a word for a second, press definition and just like that it appears.  No need to Google it or dig out my door-stopper dictionary.  ibook also has the option to link to Wikepedia.  Awesome.
  • Interactives.  I have yet to explore this possibility due to a lack of time and a fear of adding yet another procrastination tool to my arsenal, but the fact that it exists gets it a fancy label. The possibility of interacting with other readers reading exactly what I am at the same time I am? And I can stay in my pj’s, not have to leave my house, won’t have to entertain on my turn or worry the book club discussion will veer off the topic of the book? It kind of boggles the mind really.

Overall Opinion:  Two Thumbs (Way) Up.

Will I ever give up on paper books? Nope. I’ll be totally prepared for the zombie apocalypse with my favourite paperbacks.  But in the meantime I’ll swing both ways for a while.

Searching for the perfect match…

As far as I can tell, searching for a new job in this electronic age has mutated into something resembling online dating.  Both go a little something like this…

1. Create profiles on multiple sites.

2. Make yourself as interesting and witty as possible, but have enough key words that you’ll be easily scanned.

3. Exaggerate your talents, interests and history.

4. Remove offensive photos from your Facebook page.

5. Try not to reek of desperation.

6. Wait…

7. Get spammed.

8.  Get a nibble!

9. Pray it’s the perfect match.

10. Spend hours preparing for a brief meeting to see if it’s mutual.

11. Wonder how much they exaggerated and whether the encounter will end with benefits.

12. Wait some more…

13. Tweak your profiles.

14. Debate whether to follow-up.

15. Get rejected.

16. Spend countless more hours trolling online and sending electronic interest notices.

17. Change it up and go to a meet and greet. Rotate tables every five minutes.

18. Debate whether you’re too picky. Ask your friends.

19. Give up hope…

20. Until that one magical meeting or until a friend, an acquaintance or a random connection turns up a fabulous prospect and voila, something falls in your lap.  And just like that you stumble into something and laugh at all those wasted hours you’ll never get back.

I’m still working my way down the list folks. Anyone who might hold the key to #20 and has a wicked job I should hear about, I’m all ears!

New Year’s To-Do List

A hangover is no time to start going to the gym and falling off machines or attempting a diet and missing out on McDonald’s greasy hash browns. It never mattered what my New Year’s resolutions were, I always crumbled on day one. I strongly suspect the hangover effect, but whatever the cause, starting another year as a failure made me miserable, so I long ago abandoned the notion of resolutions. However as 2010 came to a close and I reflected upon all the changes and upheaval in my life, I decided there were some things I wanted to accomplish in the new year.

The 2011 To-Do List was born. There’s no priority ranking on what has to come first, nor do they all have to be accomplished this month. Hopefully this way they’ll stick.

So, here it is, my list of 2011 earth shattering to-do’s. You can all hold me accountable now..

1. Figure out a source of income – the year of writing has ended.

2. Exercise – Dancing with my niece doesn’t count.

3. Rediscover the fruit and veggie food group – AKA: Eat healthier. 2010, the year of eating like crap, is over…

4. Start some volunteer work.

5. Finish all edits on Book#2 and submit to agents. *sharp intake of breath*

6. Move.

7. Continue reading and reviewing as much, if not more over at Novel Escapes.

8. Continue this personal blog with at minimum one entry per week.

Clearly I’m delusional and think there are 30 hours in each day.  Hopefully I’ll be able to sort it all out.  In the meantime I will focus on 2010’s mid-year resolution to actually write a novel and dwell on just how much I accomplished:

I started in June. I wrote 70,000 words in two months. I’ve since edited those words twice, resulting in a growth to 95,000. Then I started a NaNoWriMo novel, finishing just over 50,000 words in the month of November.  I wrote close to 150,000 words in 2010.  Apparently, if I put my mind to something I can accomplish it.

Now, who wants to remind me of this when I lose it during the insanity I have planned this year?

Crossing the NaNoWriMo Finish Line

I did it. I somehow managed to pound out 50,325 words in 29 days.  I finished or as the official NaNoWriMo term is:  I WON!  You really don’t win anything except writing software discounts, bragging rights and a badge to display such as the one on the right.  Look, isn’t it pretty!  But I digress, distracted by my shiny badge, a reminder of all the hard work, of every one of the 50,325 words I wrote, and of all I learned along the way…

Learning Curves:

I still have a lot to learn.

Each word I put on the page improves my writing.

Avoid dating during NaNo because something fabulous will inevitably happen.

Write more than the daily target in case of unforeseen circumstances.

Crappy words are the only ones I can write when I’m exhausted.

I still marvel at what flies from my fingers and onto the screen and often wonder where it all comes from.

I have a flabby middle. Again. Hours of work will be required to edit it into a six pack.

I can meet deadlines I’ve created myself even when there is an overabundance of distractions available.

Turning off twitter and my iphone and attaching to my ipod increases my productivity.

Writing the first draft is energizing compared to how drained I’ve felt while editing over the last couple of months.

If I put my mind to it, I can crank out more words per day than I ever dreamed possible.

I need to pack up and change locations when I get stuck.

Coffee via an IV is worth considering.

Stocking up on favourite snacks is imperative. A shortage during a momentous scene could mean disaster.

Walking helps unfreeze characters or plot jams.

I need to consider some more plotting and not just pantsing around.

I’ve learned never to underestimate how difficult this challenge is. I’m grateful and lucky not to have been working this month. I doubt I would have been able to finish if I had been. Hats off to everyone that started NaNo with other commitments, regardless of crossing the finish line.

Anything’s possible when you dare to dream and take a leap of faith…

A massive THANK YOU to all the NaNo support from family and friends, both in person and online.  Now if you’ll all excuse me, I think I’m going to go sleep for a week.

Romance and the First Draft

Exploring new characters and allowing them to unfold when cocooning up with a first draft shares some striking similarities to the sparks of a new romance. I’ve discovered myself in the odd position this month of coming face to face with both.  Of course a romantic interest vaults into my life mid NaNoWriMo.  It couldn’t happen any other way in this crazy thing I call my life, and I’ve found it interesting to see how many parallels there are to writing the first draft as the pantser I am and floating along in the initial stages of a new romance.

There’s something exhilarating about a new beginning, a fresh start, a blank slate or page.  Past mistakes can be forgotten, hopefully learned from, and a new path can be forged ahead. It’s always a risk, pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, head to head and heart to heart, but faith in the possibilities allows for a seat on an intoxicating ride.

The thrill of discovery, an inexplicable energy and adrenaline rush as everything begins to unfold astonishes. Incessant daydreaming, obsession and fascination take over. Everything else falls by the way side. Focus on anything else, near impossible. There are long, over-caffeinated days and late night whispers. Food dissolves into an afterthought. A goofy grin dominates as the bubble remains impermeable. Friends and family wonder where you’ve gone and even if present, you’re a million miles away.

Tiny details and personality quirks present themselves. Exploration of likes and dislikes lead to unanticipated surprises and delving to uncover further layers. Self discovery and reflection lurk along with an understanding that there may need to be some editing or tweaking later to ensure everything fits properly. But it doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters in those initial moments.

Swept away in bliss over the potential of having started something incredible, trust and terror walk along a tightrope in tandem.  You never know exactly where things are going to go but maybe, just maybe, you might stumble upon something spectacular and not just another heart breaking toss in the slush pile.


***Any plotters want to weigh in on this??? I’m curious to see if you feel any differently!

Writers Need Not Venture Out

I knew it existed. I’d heard about the amusing things people have found and had checked it out before, but today I discovered Google Maps Street View’s potential.  For writing.

It went a little something like this:  Two characters were strolling along a street I was vaguely familiar with. I knew they were approaching a park, but wasn’t sure how much further they had yet to travel.  I needed to know if it was feasible. The map told me it was. I kept clicking and suddenly I was looking at the exact location I wanted to write about. I had pictured a park bench in the vicinity and voila!  Not only was there one, but several!

I’ve been well versed for some time on the use of google for fact checking missions, naming characters, and anything else I need to find on the fly, but this revelation was both thrilling and petrifying at the same time.

It was fabulous because in two seconds I had the information I needed and could continue my scene without having to jot a note to check it out later.  I didn’t have to drive down for verification.  It wasn’t like the entire novel took place there, just a short scene and on my screen was a panoramic view with rich detail to choose from. Not only was this fantastic, but I realized I don’t have to stalk a neighbourhood trying to take stealth pictures of houses I find interesting. I can note the address and have a peek when I get home or whenever I need it. I can only hope the house doesn’t get torn down before I need my description or that any additions or unique details weren’t added after the google photo was taken or I’ll have to start all over again or rely on my memory.

Maybe this won’t work after all, which could be a good thing because it’s petrifying to have this tool at my fingertips when I already sit and slog away at my desk for hours.  I could have used a drive, a walk and maybe another coffee…well, maybe not the coffee, but I definitely need to get out of this chair more often.  It frightens me because now that I realize the potential of this, I worry about overusing it.  Google’s Street View could make my writing stronger, especially with descriptive details, but it also has the potential to make it weaker.  Staying sedentary without getting out for some air and seeing real people, not just all my tweeps and facebook friends on my coffee breaks, could stifle my creativity. They say that you can’t write if you don’t live, if you don’t get out and experience life and if I’ve learned anything from my youthful soap opera attempts compared to what I’d write in that area now, I’m pretty sure that saying is accurate.

There’s also the problem that a picture doesn’t convey much about the atmosphere of a location, the people found there and it obviously doesn’t activate any other senses, but with a little imagination, a few smaller scenes could be crafted with its assistance. I probably won’t turn to it – I hope I won’t turn to it – if I need an overall assessment of an area I want to focus on.  I can imagine using it as a starting point, to drum up ideas, find interesting locations or to research something quickly like I did today.

I’m probably the last person to discover this, but there it is.  Writers need not leave their houses anymore. We can remain in our seats until our backsides expand to the size of them instead.  Hmmm, maybe it’s time to look into the gym.

I’m a Pantser

In the writing world, a Pantser is someone who doesn’t plot.  Yup.  That’s me.  A few characters start whispering to me in the middle of the night, usually nattering over the ones I’m already sharing a private moment with.  I flip the notebook beside my bed to a blank page and start scribbling.  I tell them to be quiet until I’m ready for them.  Sometimes they’re persistent. Sometimes I’m able to ignore them. Mostly they all just live in harmony for a while until I’m ready to tell their story. Apparently this is normal. I checked. A frantic tweet revealed multiple replies of confirmation.  I wasn’t going crazy.  It was good to know.

The new project I’m working on for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing month which occurs in November where the goal is to write 50,000 words in the month. You can find me and follow my progress here) follows a couple of characters that started chatting when I was half way through the third edit of my last project (it can get VERY confusing with all these voices in my head). At some point as I write I think I’ll never come up with another idea and fret about what I’ll do if I don’t. So far it hasn’t happened.  I’m hoping it hasn’t just been luck.

I was ill prepared for NaNoWriMo. I almost decided not to participate. It was my first attempt and I wanted to try plotting to ensure I’d finish with 50,000 words instead of daydreaming much of the day (which is work a writer must do I’ve learned from fellow writers over the last year, and I must say, I love this part of the job). I also wanted to finish the third edit of my current project before I started a new one. I wanted to start this blog. I wanted to be able to have a social life during November. I wanted to be prepared, but the flu struck me in early October and as November 1st loomed, I almost bailed. With some not so gentle encouragement from my little brother, I decided to go for it. I rushed to finish the 3rd draft but by 9pm on October 31st I realized I wouldn’t make it.  I pushed it aside the following morning and embraced my new characters hoping I’d be able to go back to it in between, provided NaNoWriMo was going well.

So, I had two nameless characters and a general idea until 11:44pm October 31st. THAT”S how much of a pantser I am. My first scene popped at 11:45pm and I jotted notes and sat down with my coffee the next morning to hammer it out.  Then I had to figure out the next scene and then the next.  Some took longer than others and a long walk today helped sort out a few things, but now that I have a bit more of a grasp on my characters, the ideas started flowing this afternoon. I already have my scenes for tomorrow laid out and I’m hoping they’ll lead me to the next ones and can’t wait to see what my characters will say or do tomorrow that will surprise me. Maybe they’ll make me laugh which I find the most baffling of all.

I don’t think I could take this thrill away from myself and plot it all out. I love the slow discovery. I’ve always liked surprises though. I’ve never understood finding out the sex of a baby before it’s born, so maybe I don’t want to know the end result until I get there for the same reason. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that I’m a pantser after all.