Let Me Tell You a Story #27: Too Many Plot Bunnies

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With a completed series behind me and a NaNoWriMo novel draft I’m not ready to tackle rewriting, I’m stuck firmly in Plot Bunny Land. I have seven WIPs at the moment with drabs of story notes, partial scenes, and the vaguest of character sketches and outlines–they range from a mere 581 words to a fat-bunny size of 5,941.

I’m still writing nearly every day, but over the past few weeks I’ve added a few hundred words at a time to four of those seven bunnies.

I have no idea what to write next.

Each one is appealing to me, in one way or another, or I wouldn’t be writing them in the first place. I’ve got ghosts in a library, reunited old friends (two takes on this one), geeks in love, lesbian witches, a werewolf shifter pack with a family structure instead of the debunked Alpha/Omega nonsense, and a man belly dancing on a bar. They’re all fun.

But I don’t know where any of them are going. The downside of being, in all major ways, a pantser.

So today I’m brainstorming ways I can choose between these fluffy little rabbits and focus on just one story to write.

  1. Continue as I am, adding to each story as the ideas come, until one takes over naturally. PRO: doesn’t force me to choose. CON: getting one project finished will be extremely slow.
  2. Pick one at random and force myself to write it while ignoring the others. PRO: might help me get my work ethic (and word count) going again. CON: higher risk of burning out on a story midway through.
  3. Spend some time developing a rough outline for each one, then choose which one to work on based on whatever feels more complete/inspiring. PRO: will probably lead to the most informed choice and best first draft. CON: does not at all play to my strengths and will involve a great deal of work up front before making a decision. PRO #2: at the end of whichever project I pick, I’ll have still outlines and notes assembled for the rest of them.

Given that it’s the middle of September and I’m about to go on a week’s vacation (yay!) I’m leaning towards #3, despite it not being my usual style. If I take the next six available weeks before NaNo starts, I can probably work up a reasonable plan for which story to choose and be ready to write a draft of it in November.

Wish me luck, my lovelies. I think I’ll start this afternoon.

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Writing Homework #11: Prep a Name Master List

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Every author handles choosing names differently, but speaking for myself, it’s often a struggle. Consulting baby name websites and lists of the most popular names in a given era are great places to start, but I often find myself wading through tons of blah names without feeling inspired.

What struck me lately is that I keep meeting people with fantastic names that I wish I could use. I can’t–not in full, anyway–but there’s a way around that.

If you’re like me and you have a notebook on you at nearly all times, simply write the name down for later. (Not in front of the person, that would look weird!)

But for the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to draw names to work with from a pool. Head over to IMDb and find a favorite show or movie, then click through to the full cast and crew listing.

I’ll be pulling names today from Stargate SG-1. I miss that show.

To keep this small, I’m going with ten, though a master list you could make as long as you want to start, and keep adding to it whenever you find something new. My only criteria at the moment is to pick a name I like, which is vague–maybe the first name is pretty or the last name is one I haven’t heard before or the two just sound good together.

  1. Amanda Tapping
  2. Andy Mikita
  3. Charles Correll
  4. Jonathon Glassner
  5. Jacqueline Samuda
  6. Claudia Black (okay I picked her because I’ve loved her since Farscape, I confess)
  7. Gillian Barber
  8. Karen van Blankenstein
  9. Kevin McNulty
  10. Jennifer Calvert

So, realistically speaking, we authors can’t/shouldn’t use any names as they come. If I write a book where the main character’s name is Amanda Tapping, even if the story has nothing to do with any Stargate elements and the character looks, sound, and acts nothing like the actor…well, you get the situation I had last year when I read The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. And also, if Amanda Tapping found out, she might not be pleased.

So, it’s time to break the first names free of the last names and do some rearranging. On my first pass, I got these shiny new names, all perfectly usable:

  1. Karen Tapping
  2. Jonathon Mikita
  3. Gillian Correll
  4. Jennifer Glassner
  5. Andy Samuda
  6. Kevin Black
  7. Amanda Barber
  8. Claudia van Blankenstein
  9. Charles McNulty
  10. Jacqueline Calvert

My criteria for rematching the names was simple. Everyone had to be shuffled, and I wanted them to sound good together. Which made me wonder what that means, so it’s time to take a look.

Many of these new names share sounds. “Gillian Correll” has the Ls, “Andy Samuda” the Ds, “Jennifer Glassner” shares the -er ending, and “Jacqueline Calvert” doubles down by sharing both the L and the hard C.

In the names that don’t share sounds, the rhythm of stressed syllables flows well. The hardest on the mouth is probably JON-a-thon mi-KI-ta, but it’s not terrible, and maybe that character will go by Jon instead.

There’s nothing stopping me from rearranging the first names again to switch up the ones I don’t like quite as much, but some of these names are already forming characters in my head. “Claudia van Blankenstein” is a Gothic Romance heroine name if I’ve ever heard one. “Charles McNulty” could easily be a teenage introvert whose parents insist on calling him Charles even though he’d want his friends to call him “Charlie,” if only he had any. (Poor Charles!) “Amanda Barber” would make a great real estate agent, with easy-to-spell-and-remember name gracing billboards and bench-seat ads all around town.

Go forth, my lovelies, and make yourself master lists of names, so when you’re tumbling through your draft and suddenly you need a real estate agent, you have a name ready to go.


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Writing Homework #10: And Then the Murders Began

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I’ve been seeing a post floating around on Tumblr a lot recently. “Take the first line of a novel, and add And then the murders began.

It leads to some really funny outcomes, as one might expect. Take the first line of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. And then the murders began.

Or Jane Eyre:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. And then the murders began.

Or one of my most beloved classics, I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith:

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. And then the murders began.

So your writing assignment, this time around, is to grab a few books off your shelf (or look up a list of famous first lines, if you want some classics,) choose a first line, add the bit about the murders, and use it as a prompt for a flash fiction piece. If you end up using a line from a story you know well, you can adapt it to incorporate the murders; or you can just use the two lines as the start of an entirely new story.

I haven’t had the time yet to write my own–still slogging through WWNTR formatting–but expect my version sometime in June. Have fun and keep writing!


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What Do You Listen To While Writing?

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I can’t stand absolute silence when I write. I have to have some kind of sound in the background–an open window on a rainy day is my favorite, but I don’t live in a climate of eternal rain.

I have trouble writing to any music with lyrics–my singing training basically makes me sing along in my head–so I’m sometimes jealous when I see other writers post their superb writing playlists that match a certain mood or story. Those are fun to listen to when I’m doing other things, but they just don’t work for me when I write.

Back in college, I relied heavily on remixed instrumental video game music from my favorite games. I think I wrote an entire NaNoWriMo novel just to stuff from Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. (Thank you, OverClocked Remix.)

As my video-game playing decreased, though, I moved on to other sources. Rain is always going to be one of my favorites, and I used to listen to RainyCafe a lot, though with the cafe sounds turned down or off–I’m not a coffee shop person, I find that many people moving around too distracting. For a more relaxed mood, I also like Jazz and Rain, which, as you might expect from the name, is jazz music and rain sounds.

My newest favorite, though, is myNoise. Many different soundscapes are available for free, all with adjustable sliders for the individual sounds that comprise them; and many of those also offer a calibration mode, where you perform a brief test to determine your personal levels across different frequencies, then save it to apply to the offered sounds.

Today, though, I finally donated $5 to help support the site (since I like it so much) and discovered how many more soundstreams available to donors! (A one-time donation unlocks these for life, though continued support is of course an option.) I’m not being compensated to advertise for the site, I’m just impressed and want to share.

What other sound resources are out there? Which ones do you find yourself using again and again? Leave your favorites in the comments and I’ll put together a master list!

Save Every Word You Write

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When I got into art journaling last year, I found myself hungry for new media. I had some craft acrylics leftover from old projects, I had plenty of paper and fabric and yarn, but I wanted more. Lots of the journals I saw and admired used watercolors.

I had some old tubes from a set I bought on a family vacation. I don’t know how I always ended up with new art supplies on vacations, but I did. I hadn’t touched them since high school, so at least twenty years ago, and I didn’t doubt they were damaged, but I still had them. Rather than buying a new set, I decided to rescue them.

Watercolors 2

Some of the colors were fine, like the cadmium yellow and red, squeezed out of their tubes as easily as if they were brand new. Some, like the burnt sienna and black, were stubborn and gooey–I had to slit their tubes open with a blade and scoop them out.

The worst, the white and crimson, had completely dried out–I peeled the slit tubes away from them like wrapping paper.

But I can still use them. Add a little water, and presto, it’s still paint.

Where am I going with this?

Save everything you write.

Every plot bunny. Every imagined scene without a story attached to it. Every line of dialogue or descriptive phrase cut from a piece during editing. Save all of it.

Your words don’t lose their power with age anymore than my watercolors did.

Every time I sit down to edit a first draft, I make a new file called “Deleted Scenes.” Anything that gets cut ends up there. Does any of it make it back in later? Not usually, but a joke from one of those deleted scenes in What We Need to Survive is now in a different scene in the forthcoming What We Need to Rebuild, where it works much better.

The joke didn’t get cut because it was unnecessary, or even because it was bad–it got cut because the whole scene needed to go, and there wasn’t a place for the joke anywhere else in the book. Turns out, two books later, it found a home.

Save everything you write. You don’t know when you might need it again.

Letting Your Mind Wander

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I was lying in bed, still half-asleep, my brain jumbled with random images from the dream I’d had.

I remembered seeing a window decorated with paper snowflakes. I thought about how badly mine used to come out when I was a child, because the scissors were never sharp enough.

Okay, so use an X-acto knife.

I’ve done plenty of work with a blade like that before, but I remembered even with the sharpest blade, my hand would shake or slip, and the paper would tear.

(Here’s where it gets weird.)

How does a cutting edge actually work?

In the obvious physical sense, it’s a fine (ie, sharp) object that a force acts upon to insert itself between two parts of another object, separating them. Like putting my hand into water, but in a more permanent form–the blade pushes the two parts to either side of it, but unlike water, solid objects can’t rush back together like it never happened.

But even the finest knife edge still has thickness, so my brain spiraled down to thinking about it on the atomic level.

Atoms are mostly empty space. Matter is mostly empty space–we perceive it as solid because those mostly-empty spaces have rules and properties about how they arrange themselves, and our senses are orders of magnitude too dull to notice the atomic trickery going on.

So on the one hand, it makes perfect sense that a sharp blade could slice through something easily, pushing all those tiny parcels of empty to one side or the other.

Then I realized the blade is mostly empty space too.

That’s when I got out of bed and made myself a cup of tea, because visualizing an X-acto knife made of hardly anything at all was too taxing for my sleep-muddled brain.

As a writer, I believe it’s important to give your mind time to wander down these odd little paths. Is this pseudo-revelation I had about atoms immediately useful to a story I’m writing? No.

But could I use it to inform the personality of a future character? Absolutely. I can already picture one–a young man with perpetually disheveled hair and an air of constant distraction, because he’s busy thinking Deep Thoughts and when he comes up with one, he realizes someone’s already had it, someone’s already figured that out, and he needs to read more widely and study more things so he can finally have New Deep Thoughts.

And I could play it straight and let him be serious, or he could be the weird one everyone makes fun of. Depends on the story.

So make a habit of daydreaming. Let yourself travel along unknown ideas to their inevitable conclusions, be they weird or obvious or downright foolish. Write those ideas down, if they amuse you, like my atomic X-acto knife did.

Give yourself permission to be strange, sometimes. It’s fun.

Flash Fiction#5: Limninal Spaces

At the laundromat, the lights are always on, and one dryer is always running.

I’ve taught myself not to let it bother me, the same way I taught myself not to be afraid of the spider, the one under the banister on the stairs leading up to my apartment. She never moves. Familiarity breeds contempt, or in this case, it dulls fear.

I am not afraid of the dryer that is always running. I am not afraid of the spider.

These things are always true, and if they are ever not true, then I might be afraid.

The laundromat isn’t empty this Friday morning. It almost always is–day-jobbers, nine-to-fivers, do their laundry on the weekends, or sometimes in the evenings. Most of them in their own home washers and dryers, too, probably.

I see the man slumped in the hard plastic chair at the far end of the room, but I don’t greet him. His chin is on his chest. His eyes are closed. If he’s not asleep, he’s faking it well.

I walk along the wall of machines, peering inside each for stains. You never know what sort of dirty laundry other people are washing.

I choose the fourth washer, measure the detergent into it, and load my clothes. The steady hum of the tumbling dryer near the sleeping man breaks, punctuated by the high rattle of metal on metal. He’s drying something with zippers, though the rest of the sounds are muted, rustling, like pillows being punched.

I start my wash, the plink of the quarters as they fall through the slot into the collection bin providing a tinny counterpoint. Looking over my shoulder, the man hasn’t moved, undisturbed by the noise.

There are chairs that face him, and chairs that don’t. I brought a book to read–I always bring a book to read, because leaving the laundromat to do other errands in town is just asking for your clothes to vanish into thin air. But I don’t know where to sit, if I’m not alone.

Facing him, he’ll distract me from my reading, even if he never moves. But he will. My eyes find the timer on his machine–twenty minutes. He’ll be done, packing up his clean and dry clothes, before mine are even finished in the washer.

The idea of facing away from him makes my heart stutter.

I settle with my back to the opposite wall and manage to read three pages before I can’t help studying him.

Young, barely out of his teens, maybe, though some people just look younger in their sleep. No older than I am, anyway. Dark hair, wavy and disheveled. Eggshell-brown skin liberally peppered with deeper freckles, clustered over the bridge of his nose and fading out across his cheeks. White tee shirt with some logo on it I didn’t recognize, red zippered sweatshirt, tattered jeans.

He raised his head, opened his eyes. They were entirely white, like pools of milk. “You’re staring.”

The words I tried to say in apology came out as a squeak instead.

He laughed, then cocked his head and studied me in turn. “Wait, I know you.”

“No.” I’d remember this man, if I’d ever met him before. “You don’t.”

“I dream about this place, sometimes. Sometimes you’re there.”

I wanted a mirror to raise between my face and his, so I could look into it and be sure I was still me. Not someone he knew, someone he’d dreamed about. “I’ve never dreamed about a laundromat, or about you.”

“Course not.” He stood, shoving his hands in his pockets and rolling his shoulders in a stretch.

I saw feathers behind him on the wall, cream edged in red. I blinked. Blank wall.

One hand stretched out toward me–I hadn’t seen him take it from his pocket. “What’s your name?”

I touched my neck, my hair. I still felt like me, but I didn’t answer.

His hand dangled at his side again. He shrugged. “Someday, you’ll tell me.”

The buzzer on my laundry dinged, and I whirled to face it. It hadn’t been half an hour yet. The man’s laundry still tumbled in the dryer.

I turned. He was gone, and the dryer that was always on, wasn’t.

I shuffled through transferring my wet clothes to a dryer–not the one that should have been running, but wasn’t–and the room held its breath. Not me, not mine, but the air was so still.

I fed in the quarters. A hand touched my shoulder.

The white-eyed man held my wrist, keeping my raised hand from his face. “Sorry I startled you.” He actually sounded sorry, but my heart didn’t start to drift down from the contact high until he let go. “Can’t always be sure where I’ll appear.”

“What?”

“Never mind. When you’re done, want to grab some coffee?”

I stepped back and found myself pinned by the dryer. “No. No, thank you.”

“Right.” He turned and stepped away, leaving a scent in his wake, a sharp blast of air flavored with salt and pine and dampness. Then he turned back to me with an eager, boyish smile. “Tea?”

As if coffee were the problem, not the invitation. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing.

“That’s better.” Whatever he’d meant to say next, he stopped, turning his head to the window. “Rats. Gotta go.”

I blinked, and he was gone again.

I leaned against the dryer until my bones rattled in sympathetic vibration, wondering if I’d been hallucinating, wondering if he’d reappear the next time I moved. A crack of thunder boomed through the sky, shaking the building, and I went to the window.

A storm was moving in from the south, but in the pale brightness of the northern sky, I saw the shadow of an enormous bird, circling in the air before fleeing ahead of the rain.