Archive for writing exercises

How to Come Up With Sci-Fi Story Ideas

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2017 by Dawn Ross

My sci-fi story is more of a space opera than a hard-core sci-fi. For those who don’t know what those terms mean, a space opera is more about the characters and their lives in space than about any technical sciency. Hard-core sci-fi is quite the opposite. I’d like for my science fiction novels to be a little more sciency, but I’m having a tough time coming up with ideas. So I thought I’d do some research for idea generation and have come up with some ways I hope will help.

Firefly Cast of Characters

TV, Movies, & Books

What are your favorite movies, TV’s, and books? What were their plots? You shouldn’t steal someone else’s ideas, but ideas can generate from them. Actively think about the plot when you watch or read something. Then mediate on it later to see if it inspires your own ideas. I admit I got the idea of Jori from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Suddenly Human”. Jori isn’t exactly like the boy in this episode. Nor is his situation the same. But some aspects follow along the same lines.

World-Building

Documentaries & Non-Fiction

You can get a lot of great ideas from reading a science magazine or non-fiction book. One book I’ve read, “World-Building” by Stephen L. Gillett has given me a few ideas. This book educates you on how things work in space and provides potential planet-scapes and such based on today’s knowledge. Documentaries, such as “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” can also give some great ideas.

Take Ten for Writers

Writing Exercises

Writing exercises are a great way to stimulate the imagination. In fact, this is something I need to do more often and something I plan on making a part of my regular writing routine. One book I’m planning on going through is called “Take Ten for Writers” by Bonnie Neubauer. Books like this give you a basis to start. For example, the first exercise in this book gives you a list of phrases that you can use to write a short story. The first phrase is “blindingly bright”. Next week, perhaps I will share the short story I wrote that contains this phrase.

Seems simple enough, but this book contains a variety of different exercises. One asks you to write a short story around a particular object, such as a Styrofoam cup. Another gives you a scenario, such as being abandoned by your date or being lost in the woods. Another wants you to write about an attribute without ever actually using the word or similar words. Even if none of these writing exercises mentioned here sound fun, there are many different exercises in this book. And there are lots of other books that help prompt writing exercises.

Brainstorm

I most often use brainstorming as a way to come up with book titles. But it’s great for coming up with story ideas as well. Simply write words related to your topic. For example, if you’re writing about a space ship, write down words like interstellar travel, speed of light, vessel, sub-space, warp drive, and so on. One or more of these words just might trigger an idea.

Write Randomly

This is the most common method I used to generate a story idea. I know my setting and I know my characters, so I simply start writing what I want to achieve and randomly write things I think might work. I don’t’ stop and think. I just write. And so when one idea comes while in the middle of writing another, I go with it and keep writing. This is the method I used to come up with the idea of the Chekrosians in book one of my sci-fi novel.

Computer-Generated

There are a number of apps that help writers generate story ideas. One of my favorites, and one I learned about through a fellow writer, is called Brainstormer. Brainstormer lets you spin three wheels, which line up to form one idea. I just now spun the wheel and here’s what it came up with – healing journey, Nazi, mansion. Did this trigger a short story idea for you? It certainly did for me.

There are websites you can visit as well. One I recently visited called SciFiIdeas.com randomly pulled up this story idea – “When a man is abducted by aliens, a clone is created to replace him. The story is told from the perspective of both the original and the clone.” Sounds fun!

Study People & Surroundings

The world might seem boring most of the time. But if you look carefully, you will probably see some quirky people or odd out-of-place things. Yesterday, I saw a short couple with a really large white dog and I began thinking about how those small people could possibly control such a large dog. I bet that dog eats more than those people! Maybe it’s an alien. I also saw a Star Wars kids baseball cap laying on the ground by a pond. Of course, the child could have just left it there after feeding the ducks. But what if he was pulled into the pond by a pond monster? (We have no alligators in our area, so pond monster would be much more realistic.) I started thinking about this kid and all the circumstances that led to him leaving this cap behind. It could make for a great mystery story.

Conclusion

There are many ways to generate ideas. It’s just a matter of actually implementing them. Tv’s, movies, and books are great, but don’t let yourself get too absorbed in them. And don’t just mediate on ideas. Write. To quote Yoda, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Do you have another way that helps you generate sci-fi story ideas?

Building the Storyline to my Fantasy Novel

Posted in Other Stories, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2014 by Dawn Ross
Guardian of Destiny

The Guardian of Destiny by Dawn Ross (work in progress)

Last week I talked about how I came up with the character for my new fantasy novel, “The Guardian of Destiny”. Now let me tell you how I came up with the other characters and with the story itself.

Although I daydreamed Galavan’s childhood, this was not the story I wanted to write. I wanted an adult hero. So despite having his childhood in my head, not much of that childhood will be written in “The Guardian of Destiny”. I needed story ideas. This is where I could have perused through my journal or did some creative writing exercises. But I don’t think that is what I did to come up with this storyline. In fact, I don’t really remember where I got the idea from. I do know this:

I’ve noticed a trend with the characters in my daydreams. I’ve always developed my characters from childhood. It helps me define who they are as adults. It gives me their backstory and their motivations. So I knew I wanted a child in this book. What if instead of a boy, like Tomis in my Dukarian Legacy series, it was a girl? And what if she was half god? I think I got the idea of half-god from watching “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys“. Such a child would have extraordinary skills. But as a child, she would be vulnerable and she would need guidance. She would need a guardian.

Hercules The Legendary Journeys

Hercules and Iolaus from “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” TV series, starring Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst.

There it was! Galavan would be the hero and the guardian of this girl-child half-god. And “The Guardian of Destiny” would be the title of the book. The title alone inspired the rest of the tale.

Now I had the hero and some of the supporting characters. Who is my antagonist? What is the setting? And most importantly, what is the plot?

Supporting Animal Characters
I was watching an old favorite movie, “The Beastmaster”, and thought it would be great if my character could communicate to animals somehow. I love animals and it sometimes surprises me on how much characters in fantasy novels take animals for granted. Horses are overworked. They perform amazing feats by doing whatever their rider says and carrying their riders wherever they want to go no matter how far or how fast. This is wholly unrealistic. Horses have personalities. They won’t always do what you want them to. And they can’t carry a rider forever. That is where I came up with the idea for Brute, a big flea-bitten gray warhorse with attitude and yet devotion to his master.

Flea Bitten Horse with Armor

Please forgive my photoshop skills. I copied and pasted horse armor onto a flea bitten gray horse.

After some deliberation, I decided there was another animal that could be of use to a soldier. A falcon would be great at scouting surrounding territory. A falcon could see an enemy before they arrive and could alert to dangers ahead. Such a creature would be very beneficial to a soldier who was able communicate with animals.

White Falcon

Wouldnt this falcon make a great assistant to a soldier who needs to scout ahead for the enemy?

The Setting
It’s not enough to know my character is a soldier. I needed to know what he was a soldier for and why. Was he a simple castle guard? Did he work for a particular lord? Was he a soldier for a religious sect? Did he defend against a particular enemy? Did he defend a border or territory? I eventually settled on a soldier guarding a border. The need to defend a border meant there were enemies to protect it from, and therefore, antagonists.

Developing the Antagonist
If one of my heroes is a half-god, then it would stand to reason that her enemy is either another half-god, or even a god. Biblical stories came to mind where fallen angels came to live on earth amongst men. The angels were envious of the lives of mankind. We appeared to be free to do whatever we wanted whereas they were directly subservient to God. And this is where I developed Dorovan. He is the son of a god that had chosen to live among men because he disagreed with his father and craved worship and domination.

Enchanting Dark Fantasy Digitalart by Ramses Melendeze

Enchanting Dark Fantasy Digitalart by Ramses Melendeze – Copied from http://hangaroundtheweb.com/2012/07/enchanting-dark-fantasy-digitalart-by-ramses-melendeze/ Bing free to share and use.

Developing the Plot
It seems now, that I have everything I need to write a story… that is, everything but a plot. If I have a hero who protects a half-god child from a full god/fallen angel, I need to consider how this child is a threat to a god. I needed to consider the god himself, too, the extent of his powers and his motivations.

How can a half-god be a threat to a full god? What could possibly limit a full god from being able to completely annihilate a mere mortal and half-breed with just the force of his will? Obviously, Dorovan had to have limitations. By choosing to live among mortals, he lost some, but not all, of his godly power. His motivation is that he wants his power back while at the same time keeping his status on earth as a corporeal being. Somehow this half-god child, I named her Adella, is the key to his ambitions.

Child Woman Silhouette

This girl-child half-god needs a guardian in order to help her survive while she learns to control her enormous powers.

Continuing to daydream on the plot, I finally developed the story in full. My journal and writing exercises played a key part in coming up with more ideas for this story, as did external stimuli of movies, books, and music. More characters came into the story and the setting came alive. The plot developed and stabilized. I’m not going to tell you that now. You will just have to wait to read the book. Perhaps I will share parts of the story with you later.

Tips for Writing Fictional Characters

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2013 by Dawn Ross

MP900178865-Knight

I’m still reading the Gotham Writers’ Workshop book titled, “Writing Fiction” and it has been exceedingly helpful so far. I am on chapter two now and learning about writing fictional characters. Before reading this chapter, I thought to myself that my book has great characters. But after reading this chapter I realize that my characters could use a lot more development. Here is some of the information I have learned from this chapter:

Get to Know Your Character
Or perhaps I should say characters instead of character. The more prominent your character, the better you should know them. Ask yourself a lot of questions about your primary and secondary characters. What do they look like, what is their background, what is their personality, and how do they define themselves? Then put the characters in certain situations and determine how they should act. Here are some questions I might ask about the characters in a fantasy novel:

  • If visiting a new city or town, where would your character want to go first? A tavern, an apothecary shop, the shipping docks, or the palace, for example?
  • What would your character do if confronted in a fight? Run, try to reason with the other person, pull out a choice weapon?
  • If your character had to leave their small village would they be excited, nervous, or reluctant?
  • What class do your characters view themselves and how do they view other people in different classes?
  • If your character suddenly came into a lot of money, what would they do with it? Save it, buy some needed items, spend it all at once on extravagant items?

Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing School

Show, Not Tell
Don’t just describe your character. Show the reader what they are like in four different ways.

  1. Action – Show your character doing something that reflects their personality. For example, if a drunk man is passed out in a tavern and his purse is visible and easy to take, will your character take it, try to wake the drunk man up to warn him, or ignore it and decide if the man gets his purse stolen it is his own fault.
  2. Speech – What your character says can reflect a lot about them. Do they prattle, do they speak intelligently, do they boast, or do they sound naive and gullible?
  3. Appearance – What does your character prefer to wear? Describe their posture and facial expressions.
  4. Thought – What does your character think about their surroundings? When your character watches other people do they pay more attention to the clothes they wear or to the weapons they might be carrying? Does your character walk into a tavern and pay more attention to how the barmaids look, how nice or rough the atmosphere is, if the tavern has decent entertainment, or if there are some gambling tables? Does what your character think conflict with how they act? For example, does your character hate nobility but behave reverently towards them?

The more I learn, the better I think my writing will be. “Writing Fiction” from Gotham Writers’ Workshop has a lot of helpful information and some great writing exercises to try. Asking questions about your characters is just one of many fun writing exercises to try. How much can you show about your primary character in just a paragraph or two? Remember, show, not tell.

Writing Exercises for Motivation

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on December 1, 2012 by Dawn Ross

Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing School

Now that I am done with school until the spring semester in January, I feel like I have more time for my writing. I am self-studying now and reading a book called “Writing Fiction” from the Gotham Writer’s Workshop. I just read chapter 1 and have completed most of the writing exercises in that chapter. One of the writing exercises is on finding writing motivations.

“Writing Fiction” says that story ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. You just have to look. The exercise says to draw story ideas from things that happened to me over the past week or so. Thing such as people, emotions, thoughts, or situations can count. It can be big things or small things. The exercise says to write down 10 things so here is what I came up with:

1. We took a road trip which ended up taking us 3 hours longer than it should have. Traffic was awful. The trip was boring. I wished I could read in the car.
2. We bought a new (used) car and are now trying to sell our really crappy car.
3. I got in touch with an old friend on Facebook.
4. I am working hard at trying to revive my online business which was really hurt by the Google Panda update.
5. We saw my family for Thanksgiving.
6. I completed a work of art, drawing a friend’s beloved dog.
7. I finished the fall semester early because it is an online course and I can work at my own pace. Yay! I’m free!!!
8. I talked to an SEO telemarketer yesterday. I HATE telemarketers and so lost my temper.
9. I helped sell dog calendars to benefit the Lawrence Humane Society and Lawrence Community shelter for two hours in Downtown Lawrence and saw a lot of interesting people. One thing which bugged me was a woman who was promoting her dog training and had a Dachshund dog with both a pinch collar and shock collar. I train dogs and don’t use either harsh methods, especially not on a little dog.
10. I finished watching all the Farscape episodes. Loved it, especially the ending.

Once I write down 10 things, the exercise from “Writing Fiction” says some of these might inspire a story idea. And they are right. Several ideas blossomed in my head. I think the first one is the best idea for a story. My road trip was boring but with a bit of imagination, I could invent a story where all sorts of things happen on this long road trip. Perhaps when we got stuck in traffic we could take a detour which led us to this strange small town. Although it was a small town, the people were odd. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it at first. But after stopping for gas and speaking with the store clerk, we learned a lot more about this interesting little town and what was wrong with its people. See where I’m going with that? Perhaps later I will expand on this story idea some more.

I think something could come of the 5th one too. We had a normal Thanksgiving but imagine how some family dynamics could really get out of hand. I could write an emotional short story from my 6th and 8th one too. The 8th one reminds me of when I answered the phone as “Lucy Loucious Whore House” once. It was hilarious! And imagine a short story or poem where it starts out simple and boring. Then little lines on the paper come to life. Colors combine to bring warmth and excitement. The story progresses, as does the artwork, and ends with an overwhelming feeling of fulfillment and joy… just like how it feels when you finally finish that book you’ve been writing. 🙂

The 9th and 10th ones didn’t come out so much as story ideas but as ideas for blog posts. The 9th one inspires a dog training article on my American Dog Blog while the 10th one can be a sci-fi review on this blog. If none of you have ever seen Farscape, most of it is available on Netflix right now and I highly recommend it. I love Ben Browder’s character, John Crichton. Bed Browder has also been on an episode of Dr. Who and Chuck! And he has been on several episodes of Stargate SG1. (I can’t wait for SG1 to come back on Netflix.)

Anyway, I will get back to that review later. For now, try out this exercise for yourself. It sounds like it could be especially helpful if you are in a writing slump. And check out this great book, “Writing Fiction” from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. I’ve only gotten through chapter 1 so far but I plan on reading more, doing more writing exercises, and sharing with you.