Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Idea Farming—growing your plot #1

Idea Farming—growing your plot #1

This is the first of six blogs on story farming. In this one, I’ll talk about what components are required for a healthy plot harvest. In each of the next three, I will describe a farming method—Container (short stories), Backyard (anthologies and/or novella-length pieces),  The South 40 (the book series), and Mega Farming (the book series).
In the last blog of the series, I'll give some pro/con comments on each and my advice on when it might be appropriate to use ideas from each in a type of farming for effective cross-pollination. 

But, because we want a good crop/plot, we'll start with basic needs.
Soil.  While it is possible to produce sizable crops with hydroponics, most plants are grown in soil. Dirt is not soil. Soil contains an abundance of organic and inorganic materials that help nourish the plant and keep the roots anchored.
In your plot garden, soil is your experience as a reader and writer. In the same way that plants grow best is rich soil, without a good grasp of what it takes to make a good story, you’re pretty much doomed as a writer.

Seed. A mature seed contains an embryo plant that’s just waiting for the right conditions to grow into a plant.
Unless the mature idea for your story is present in your plot seed when you start writing, you’ll find that growing a story is impossible. Have a basic outline in mind when you begin.

“The Law”. All plants require Light, Air, and Water (LAW) to grow. When you take away any one of these three requirements, you break the law, and your plant dies.
Plots also die when requirements aren’t met. You need believable characters, reasonable plot points, and realistic dialog to keep your plot plant alive. (Sorry, but BC, RPP, and RD don’t make a cute acronym.)

Cultivation/weeding/pruning.     Gardeners and farmers know that keeping the soil loose, removing weeds, and, if the plant requires it, judicious removal of limbs/shoots that are dying, dead, or growing in the wrong direction are mandatory actions to an abundant harvest.
The plants in your plot gardens must be cultivated—keep your mind’s soil loose and open to new and alternate ideas. Plots must be weeded. You have to be willing to admit that some of what you’ve written is more weed than crop—and you have to be willing to remove those post-haste. Finally, some of the verbiage you write is good, but not in the story you’re writing—that’s where pruning comes in. Cutting good stuff to keep your plot growing (MOVING FORWARD) is essential.

Next week: Idea Farming—growing your plot #2—Container Gardening
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My website is: www.crdowning.com

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Idea Mining: where to get ideas for your story

Idea Mining—where to get ideas for your story
In my last blog I said I was going to discuss “Idea Farming.” However, it dawned on me that you have to have an idea before you can farm it. So, this blog will be on where you might go for overall ideas for stories.
There are three sources for ideas that I use with regularity. First, we’ll look at each as an independent entity.
Real life. Events that really happened are excellent sources for ideas. They nearly always have a ring of truth to them, and they usually provide key plot points you can incorporate.
In one of my upcoming novels, The 5th Page (scheduled for a summer/fall 2015 release), a friend, and former police officer, told his story of why he left the police force and became a pastor. Since the idea of transitioning from police officer to pastor intrigued me in and of itself, and the minimal details he was allowed to provide based on the circumstances of his separation from the force provided significant tension, I thought it was an ideal story idea.
So I wrote a novel about it.
After my friend read the book, he returned it saying, “Thank you.”
“Oh, no,” I replied. “I should be thanking you.”
“You don’t understand,” he said. “Now I know how the story ends.”
That’s what a fiction writer dreams to hear.
However, there are some critical points to keep in mind and essential policies to keep when converting fact to fiction. But more about that in my next blog.
Published material. Since you can’t copyright an idea, existing stories can provide ideas. There is a limited number of plot situations possible. Georges Polti was a 19th century French writer [who] described 36 situations that may be found in many stories, based on the list identified by Goethe who said it was originated by Italian Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806).  From: ttp://www.changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/polti_situations/polti_situations.htm
While Polti’s list is extensive, it, like nearly any list, is most probably incomplete. However, when teaching high school biology, after the Advanced Placement Biology Exam, my AP Bio students wrote a science fiction story—after all they had all taken 3-4 years of science and had listened to my stories for at least a year.
To be fair, I also wrote a story while the students were writing one. To even the playing field a bit, since I was writing short stories regularly, I allowed the class to pick three numbers from 1-46. Those were the required plot situations I had to include in my story. In addition they got to select two major characters—ranging from students in the class to Sponge Bob and Chuck Norris (in the same story!). Finally, they were allowed the select the science upon which my story was based.
I will admit that is probably not the best way to mine your story ideas, and many of the stories were cheesy. However I, and some other teachers, have used two or three of those classics to pique interest in a topic for various science classes. The basic outline of one of them is the structure for one of the stories in my Traveler’s HOT L series.
Dreams, etc. Never discount your own brain as a rich source of material. I have learned to get out of bed and write down ideas when I wake up in the middle of the night. Sometimes I read skdf solsnof soo s alsno, or some such iteration of what I was thinking. But, most often enough of the dream is there to allow me to recall my thoughts and use them.
Keep a pencil and paper on your nightstand!
Next Blog: Idea farming—growing your plot
Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CRDowningAuthor
My website is: www.crdowning.com

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