80 – Brainstorm!
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I definitely have crutches as a writer. For example, my first instinct when I’m coming up on my short story deadline is to just write a murder scene. I’m not going to get into what that says about my psychology, it just is what it is.
Early on in the Bradbury Challenge, though, I decided I wouldn’t let myself rely on my crutches. The entire point was to stretch my creative muscles. I’m still trying to find the exact niche, my narrative voice. I think I’m about 78% there, so this may change in the future, but for now, I’m just looking for ways to expand.
So, I can’t let myself use my consistent go-to’s, yet. In the future, I might decide to specialize in one type of story or another. It seems like a good way to perfect one aspect of the craft. But, for now, it’s intentional chaos up in this joint.
It also serves another purpose. I post all of my short stories on MABrotherton.Com. There is a list of them available at MABrotherton.Com/the-bradbury-challenge/, you can go there and check them out. I don’t just post them there because I have a hard time with the concept of selling anything with less than 5000 words. I’m treating them as a bit of a pilot program.
I put them out on the blog and see which ones people comment on. So far, I’ve been pretty surprised by which stories have gotten the most feedback, too. Since my main series is an Urban Fantasy, I assumed my readers would respond to that type of story more. Granted, I haven’t put very many of them up there yet, but I just figured it would be that way.
I was wrong.
So far, the biggest responses have come from For a Few Chips, a first-person short story set in a vague post-apocalypse involving violence and rescuing a little girl. I actually really enjoyed writing that short story and have been asked to turn it into a full length book. I might at some point, but I have hard time coming up with a full length plot for it. It’s on the list.
The other is a vignette describing a house and its history. There isn’t’ actually a story there at all, but it got a pretty good response, which encourages me to try and be a little more purple in my prose. It was permission to incorporate poetry, rhythm and cadence into my text. A big plus for dication, I think.
These little surprises have been a huge encouragement. It makes me want to push harder on fringes of my own writing style. It makes me want to go farther. It make me want to do different.
Which is why I’ve managed to get pretty good at brainstorming over the last few weeks.
It started out as a way to get some cheap words in while on my lunch break at work. I carry a legal pad or three with me in my car because I like to be able to write when I can. I used to do it on my tablet, but my hands can’t handle my tiny Bluetooth keyboard anymore, so now I do it long hand. I’ve already talked about the benefits of writing longhand, so I won’t tout those again, but it is definitely working for me.
For a long time, if I wasn’t working on a story, I would free write. I was taught to free write my freshman year of highschool and it has served me well over the years. But, here lately, I’ve been rehashing my own negativity over and over when just putting words on the page as quickly as possible. It isn’t helpful for coming up with stories. Cathartic? Yes. Creative? No.
So, I made a point of learning some new ways of brainstorming. Serendipitously, there are actually quite a few good brainstorming games in Save the Cat, so I started with those. They were fun, but I think my natural tendency towards murder or slapstick came through in all of those brainstorming sessions.
Not going to be the end of the world by any means. I could probably make a pretty happy life as a writer if I only focused on slapstick murder comedies. That’s a market, right?
But, focus and specialty are for another day. This challenge is about diversity. So, I needed to find new ways to brainstorm. I wanted to work through the crazy, not deeper into it.
That’s when I came up with something I think might be a new technique. I’ve never heard anyone else suggest it. The idea is so simple, I couldn’t have been the first to put it together, but it was new to me.
It’s Self-Help for plots.
My two most widely read non-fiction book genres are writing books and self-help books. You put a self-help for writers book on the market and I’m going to snatch that up and shove it down my throat so fast you’ll wonder if I can unhinge my jaw.
There is a common thread in these books, too. It’s about dreams and goals.
You’ve probably heard it or read it before. Probably in a dozen places. You envision what you want to accomplish, write that goal down, and then create smaller milestone goals and tasks to work your way towards it.
It’s basic project management, but for your life.
Now, using the goal setting method isn’t a new concept for writers. I’m sure that’s all over the place. All the time I hear the advice, “Your protagonist has to want something.”
Well, read the Seven Keys Saga and my protagonist wants approximately three things: To hang out with his friends, smoke in public without being treated like a villain, and watch cartoons with his goddaughter.
Not exactly the stuff of epic storytelling.
Which is why I’ve had such a hard time with Seven Keys Plots. Everything feels like I’m forcing my protagonist into doing things.
Well I am. And there is nothing wrong with that. Except, up until now, I’ve been doing it very poorly.
Because, now, I’m going to look at it from the opposite point of view:
The antagonist has to want something the protagonist wants to stop.
It’s the same basic idea. The goal for my hero is now “stop the bad guy.” It’s always been ‘stop the bad guy.” And, admittedly, the answer to “why stop the bad guy” has too often been “because you’re the hero.”
It’s a side-effect of pantsing after plotting. It’s the bit coming back for me when I’ve put a story together so I know what the ending is, but pantsing my way through causes that ending to not be as cool as it seemed when I started out.
But, now, I think I can do better.
Because, when I sit down to plot, I’m not going to worry about my protagonist at all. He’ll do what he does. I can pants his stuff.
It’s the villain’s master plan I need to know.
So, my villain will now begin by envisioning what he wants to achieve. With a Seven Keys Saga book, it could be something like “I rule the world.” Well, actually, it’s probably more like “to get that cheerleader who snubbed me in the 80s to like me…. by ruling the world!”
Then, I can say, “How do I do that?” and start working their plot backward until I come to where they will first do something which will get Terry’s attention. Like, say, use magic to animate the tasty, tasty nachos at the gas station across from a museum so they can steal the magic cup of pants.
Actually, that’s giving me way too much credit as a writer. See? It’s working already.
I’m going to try this for bit as I jump into a new series and new project. I’ll let you know how it works out for me.
Next week I’ll be doing my “Year in Review” episode.
Thank you for listening. If you want to see the progress I’ve been making with my short stories, head over to MABrotherton.com/the-bradbury-challenge and check them out. You can also hit up the MABrotherton.Com mailing list and get the first two Seven Keys Saga books for free, delivered to you through the magic fo Book Funnel.
Have a great weekend, I’ll see you next week.