Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Idea Farming—growing your plot #3—The Backyard Garden

Idea Farming—growing your plot #3—The Backyard Garden
This is the third of six blogs on story farming. In this one, I’ll talk about the second farming method—The Backyard Garden (anthologies and/or novella-length pieces).
November 12, 2014
The results of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards have been announced.
Your book has been honored as a "Winner" in the "Fiction: Science Fiction" category:
Traveler's HOT L: The Time Travelers Resort by C.R. Downing
Koehler Books - 978-1-938467-89-9
Winner: Fiction: Science Fiction
I am very proud, honored, and excited by this! Try it… You’ll like it!
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
To segue from containers (short stories) to home gardens (novellas and anthologies), let’s look at one method of plant are classification and how that method fits into the writing analogy. There are many ways to classify plants. One of the most common is herbaceous (soft stems) vs. woody (hard stems).
Herbaceous plants are most common as seasonal color and are heavily represented in color pots and hanging containers. They have a short life—usually one or two years. Their purpose is to project a specific feel in a very defined space. They never get very tall because their stems cannot add additional “wood” to their stems as they grow. Think petunias and green beans.
Woody stems are associated with perennial plants—those that live over two years. These plants do have wood-producing cells in their interiors and are capable, in some species, of growing to considerable height and circumference. Think rose bushes and oak trees.
Herbaceous plants are the short stories of the botanical world. Not from the life span, but because they are limited in size. As a writer of short stories, you learn to “stop when the story is done.” Overwriting in a short story causes the entire plant/story to suffer and ultimately collapse under its own weight.
Some plants present an illusion of herbaceousness. Bonsai specimens are woody plants that have been carefully and judiciously pruned over an extended time to present a miniature version of the plant. This type of short story is ripe for converting into a full-sized version of itself—expanding a short story into a longer piece.
Traveler’s HOT L The Time Traveler’s Resort is filled with examples of short stories, all around or significantly less than 5000 words long, that were bonsai versions of longer stories. Combining the increased length—used to back fill some storyline and expand characterization—with a common theme—time travel in from a unique establishment—provided a perfect storm of stories in the anthology.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Not all short stories are bonsai. The vast majority of them are herbaceous plants. If you try to expand a short story that lacks the woody tissue needed to support the added verbiage, your story will never be what you want it to be, or even what it was before you bloated it.
Oh, my! I got a bit sidetracked—in a good way, I hope—in this blog. Only the paragraph about the development of Traveler’s HOT L addresses the backyard garden portion of the analogy specifically. So…
Instead of heading out to the South Forty in the next blog, I’ll spend time talking about layout, design, and plant selection in your backyard garden.
Next blog: Idea Farming—growing your plot #4—The Backyard Garden (Part II)
Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CRDowningAuthor
My website is: www.crdowning.com

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Idea Farming—growing your plot #2—Container Gardening

Idea Farming—growing your plot #2—Container Gardening
This is the second of six blogs on story farming. In this one, I’ll talk about the first farming method—Container Gardening (short stories).
Given a choice, I’d write almost exclusively short stories. There’s something satisfying in planting and growing a tale in just a few hundred to a couple thousand word container (analogous to a pot or raised bed garden) as opposed to tens of thousands of words in gardens of larger size.
Once you have a seed in mind, it’s imperative to prepare the soil. In a short story, I’m much less worried about an outline than in longer pieces. I’ve found critical, but not always essential, to have an end in mind when I begin a short story. However, at no time should you progress longer than a fraction of the growing season without knowing what you hope to harvest from your container.
As I described in my blog titled, “Idea Mining—where to get ideas for your story,” when teaching high school, I would allow students to select three plot points and two characters to include in my story based on the science topic they also selected. This process, while it does provide sufficient structure to write a story, leaves much to be desired in terms of what might best fit the science topic.
I suggest you start with a premise. In Traveler’s HOT L Volume TwoNew Tales from the Time Traveler’s Resort, the final tale Reverse Image, began with the idea of an antiparallel universe—my short story soil.
Since I have four recurring characters in the Traveler’s HOT L universe, I had a built in cast to work with. I needed a female protagonist, her male companion, and an antagonist—the seeds of the story.
Initial plot points—the LAW for the seeds—were fairly easy to determine. I needed an entry point into the antiparallel universe; a reason to want to enter—or be forced into—the entry point; a crisis—an event leading to a rescue attempt or an heroic journey by the character trapped in the antiparallel universe; and some resolution—escape or rescue.
Because I wanted this book to end with a cliffhanger, I only need to cultivate enough to get my seeds into nearly mature plants and not all the way to harvest. What I ended with was my protagonist and her companion trapped inside the universe along with one of the Time Synchronizers common to all stories. However, whether they are trapped or being held by an antagonist found within the universe remains a mystery to the readers. Of course, I know what fruit I will get from these seeds and my cultivation—if you don’t know what your end product will be when you write, how will know when your finished?
Specifically, cultivation of my container gardens involves a rough outline, minimal character sketches, and some plans for what I will need my characters to discuss in dialog format—a pretty clear idea of what the pecking order among characters looks like.
If you have never written a short story, or only written a few, I encourage you to take some time and grow one soon. You’ll find out that writing shorter is more challenging in most regards than writing longer. And, it’s excellent practice in honing your storytelling skill.
Next week: Idea Farming—growing your plot #3—The Backyard Garden
Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CRDowningAuthor
My website is: www.crdowning.com

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