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Inspiration: Mining Subjects Close to My Heart

I grew up trout fishing. But I will never be able to capture the river like Norman Maclean.

I once toiled as an innkeeper. But my experiences were nothing like described by John Irving.

inspiration

Inspiration Comes From Experience

I am a product of the American West and my inspiration comes from those people. I take inspiration from their stories and those subjects are close to my heart.

When Tom Booker stopped at a remote four-corners somewhere between Nevada and Utah, I was there. Nicholas Evans reminded me I had been at that crossroads a few times. I understand the loneliness of a desert valley surrounded by a ring of mountains.

I have this great idea for a novel set in Paris, but I have never been there. I struggle to place my characters at a corner cafe I have never set foot in. The story lies flat because I can’t put any description into the place.

Irving wrote about the feeling he had as a child. The deeper context comes from the adult. Maclean also wrote about his family, his childhood, and the pains of adulthood. All wrapped up in these stories are bigger images, but the writers mined subjects close to their hearts to arrive at the wider story.

It is better to stick to subjects you understand and attempt to create deeper meaning. Your experiences fold together to create a grander tapestry. Would it be impossible to write the Paris story? Likely not, if I visited the Arrondissements and smelled, tasted, and wondered.

Stories come easier when the milieu can be seen by the author. Otherwise, a lot of research must be done. Inspiration comes when the writer can just tell the story. Place is easiest arranged when the writer already sits there.

What do you think? Can a writer create a place they have never visited? Or, do you have to experience it first to obtain inspiration? Leave a Comment below.

 

 


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Finding the Character’s Pain

Sunshine and rainbows. We all would like to have a life free of stress and full of sunshine and rainbows. A life of bliss only leads to trouble. There is no excitement, no drama, no life.

Writers need to run as quick as they can from sunshine and rainbows. At least when developing a story everyone will want to read. Can the main character end up in a land of beauty and peace? Sure. Just don’t plan on writing a sequel.

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Courtesy Pixabay

Pain, wounds and disaster are what we need to strive for when writing a good main character. Give a character pain and a past full of strife, trouble, and challenges. Allow them to triumph. And then smack them again.

Wounds provide the best motivation to overcome an obstacle and move the story forward. Give your characters a reason to fulfill a basic need for love, faith, understanding, and belonging. Make this character pain so intense they must do something to overcome it.

Pain and suffering also suggests your character has a basic flaw that leads them to more pain. A character weakness that they must hide or tackle in order to move the story forward. Allow the character to show they have the strength to overcome their weakness.

The whole goal is to make the story move from scene to scene. The best way to do this is by finding the pain.

What are your thoughts about character development? Post your comments below.

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Character Introductions: Backstrom

Bones is one of my favorite police procedurals, although not as dark as the richly-disturbing Criminal Minds, with humor, well-written characters, and charm.

Last night, Bones writer-producer Hart Hanson brought to life Detective Everett Backstrom, a Fox-TV series titled Backstrom based on a Swedish book series by Leif G.W. Persson.

Backstrom has a bit of a House feel to it, with the lead character, played marvelously by Rainn Wilson (The Office), and full of wonderful writing. For instance, we immediately understand Det. Backstrom has problems, quirks, and a biting humor. Continue reading Character Introductions: Backstrom


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Pantser Plotter

There are two camps of thought: the people who listen to the muse and write by the seat of their pants and the people who write an entire book-length outline prior to starting to write.

I prefer to combine the two, without writing an entire book-length outline. Let me explain my thoughts on this debate.

Pantsers argue they are free to listen to the story and the characters. It is a muse-centric approach, with the characters exploring the milieu and wandering about discovering the story. All fine and well. It is interesting how a story can take on a life and allow a writer to document scenes and fill in the story.

Plotters say there is no way a story can take shape without a road map: it requires a structure to allow the characters to face their inner and external conflicts. The characters are forced to face their fears. Plotters like to know where the story is headed.

Here is my take: Pantsers need to outline and Plotters need to be open to just writing.

In my experience, without an outline I have twice been abandoned by my characters in the second act. They exhibit attention deficit disorder and climb out of the book. The characters say “well, that’s all I got,” and the story sort of fizzles out. I’m rewriting “Fish Tacos: Or How I Went To Mexico to Save My Soul” because the main character started bitching about his past and failed to get off his butt. Sure, I’m the writer, it is my story, but I let the character dictate where he would go and when he would get there. Believe me, if left to his designs, the main character would still be sitting in the desert waiting to move.

So now I plot everything: short stories; novels; non-fiction; and, screenplays. I give the viewpoint characters a purpose and a timeline to meet. I challenge them to face their demons. I gift them happy successes. By the time the story ends, they see their doubts, obstacles, challenges, and growth.

In some ways this is the perfect way to write by the seat of your pants: the story structure lets them wander about, as long as they meet their deadlines. So I guess I’m a Pantser Plotter . It seems to be working.

How do you plan your projects? Do you outline or just let it flow? Leave a comment below.

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