Category Archives: writing tips

>Tips to Get Ideas When You’re Out

>Do you ever feel you’ll never have another good idea? Sometimes this happens to me between projects. You’re over, you’re done – now what? You brainstorm, you search through pages of older ideas, maybe even return to abandoned projects. But sometimes trying to find ideas only makes it worse. So what is the key to unleashing new concepts? Sometimes a little distraction is all you need.

One thing I find that can help is exercise. Moving physically can unlock creativity as well as keep you healthy. Walking, running, dancing, swimming, and biking can all help you loosen up and discover possibilities for new ideas.

Going to an art museum, cultural event, or performance can fill your creative tank and recharge your writer. I prefer art museums and historical homes or places. Go with what you like and see what unfolds.

Try turning to other interests or hobbies. I love to bake and find spending time doing so regularly keeps me fresh with my writing. Other activities that challenge you or relax you can help free your mind to find new ideas.

If you’re in an idea rut, give one of these thoughts a try and see what new ideas you come up with. What else can help when you’re running low on ideas?

>Turning Reality Into Fiction

>Do you get ideas for stories from real life? A lot of my ideas over the years have emerged from real events, people, and places. After all, we’re surrounded by anomalies and as writers we try to take notice and advantage of them. But once you have a nugget from the real world, how do turn it into something more fantastical?

I used to have a hard time translating real world events and feelings into a story. Usually, you don’t want the real thing verbatim. You just want the essence of what happened, or the emotions that were present. Taking what you want out of context can be tricky. I had to work at it so that I wasn’t writing a documentary. What can you do to get what you need from real life, but still write fiction?

Gain some distance. If you’re drawing on real emotions, for instance, you may need some space from whatever happened to draw them out in the first place. If you’re too close to a situation, it’s tough to separate the feeling from the event. Given time, it’s much easier to take the emotions and redirect them in a novel or short story.

Remember, it’s still fiction. Even though you may be writing about an actual event or person, you’re still writing a story. Know your facts but don’t let them inhibit creativity. Take poetic license when the story calls for it. You’re writing a novel, not a non-fiction book.

Extract what you need. People may possess qualities or quirks that you want to use, but that doesn’t mean you have to recreate the whole person. You can extract what you like (or don’t like I guess!) from people, events, and places, and combine them with other things you’ve pulled out of context for something entirely original.

How do you use real life in fiction?

>Writing Tip: Incorporate What You Know and Love

>I’ve often found myself less inclined to write what I know, and more interested in writing the exact opposite. However, as I’ve learned to incorporate more of the familiar into my writing, I’ve come to appreciate the value of applying that same advice. Using places, careers, and interests that you know and love has three key advantages:

1. Believability. If it’s a place you’ve been (or lived in), an interest you have, or a career path you’re familiar with, your writing will show it and your readers will buy it.

2. Less research. Instead of starting from scratch with something you know nothing about, you can go into your writing with a foundation. You may still need to do research, but you may be more driven to delve into the subject.

3. Enthusiasm. We tend to put more heart into something we’re passionate about. So if you use what you know and love, either as a starting place for your writing or to fill in details, your enthusiasm for it will seep through and affect readers.

If you often shy away from including what you know and love in your own writing, try the opposite. Consciously choose settings, careers, or interests that you’re familiar with and/or are passionate about. It may take you in unexpected directions and to equally exciting places as the unknown.

Try This>>
Experiment with your work-in-progress or another piece that takes place in unfamiliar territory. Change the setting and place your characters where you currently live, a favorite vacation spot, or another place you know well. Write a new scene in this new setting and see what happens. Are the details more clear? Do you find your writing is less stilted and more free flowing? How does this new environment affect your characters? Aim for 2-3 pages.

>3 Techniques for Developing Well-Rounded Characters


You’d probably agree that one of the biggest challenges in fiction writing is creating dynamic characters. Even with an original plotline and interesting conflicts, if your characters lack development, everything else will fall flat. It’s much easier to forgive a faulty plot with dynamic characters than flat characters within a fascinating story. You’re less likely to fall into this hole when you know who you’re writing.
Getting to know characters is much the same as making friends. How do make friends? By communicating. It’s similar with characters. You need to get them talking just like a real person. How do you do that? There are lots of tricks and techniques out there. Here are three that I’ve found helpful in creating dynamic, exciting characters.

Technique #1: Character Journals

Why It Works: Getting into a character’s head by speaking in his/her voice can help smoke out details you may not get otherwise.

How You Do It: Get started by summarizing the story from his/her viewpoint. You want to write how the character would write – not you. If you don’t have a story for this character yet, just start with things you already know. Roll with impulses and don’t fear rambling; rambling often leads to gems. Perservere when you feel like you’re getting nothing; if you keep writing, you will uncover minor and major details that may change everything.

Give It a Whirl: Spend a session writing a journal in the voice of the main character from your work-in-progress. Choose a part of his/her life you’d like to know more about. Start with something you know and work from there, or go with the first thing that comes to mind. Aim for at least two pages.

Technique #2: Interviewing Characters

Why It Works: Asking targeted questions can help you get behind a character’s actions to his/her motives.

How You Do It: You ask questions, your character answers. Like character journals, write the answers in the voice of your character. Answer honestly from his/her viewpoint, not your own. It may help to start with basic questions like age and birthplace and to move into questions that pinpoint a character’s feelings about an event or the motivations behind one of his/her actions.

Give It a Whirl: Pick one character you want to know more about. Brainstorm for a few minutes, listing all the questions you can think of to ask. Then, spend the rest of your session answering them. Aim for 10 questions.

Technique #3: Daydreaming

Why It Works: Much like freewriting or free associating, daydreaming about your characters and their lives may help you make new connections or expand on ones you’ve already made.

How You Do It: Just imagine your character(s) at home or work, at a party or off doing their favorite recreational sport. Picture him/her talking to another character. Let them live in your imagination and go about things as you think they would. There’s no paper commitment, so you can have them say and do all kinds of things that you might hesitate to put on the page. Let them act out of character just to see what happens.

Give It a Whirl: Choose one character to spend some time with and place them at a party, a typical day at work, or a night alone. What does your character do? How does he/she react to different people and situations? What does he/she wear or drink or think about? Play out these scenarios in your head, and put your epiphanies on paper.

What are your favorite character development techniques?

Illustration credit, Borqje

>Writing Tip: Incubating Ideas

>Sometimes before you start writing or outlining a new idea, give it time to incubate. Brainstorm, whether in your head or on paper, letting the idea mature. Now, at other times, you just need to dig in and start working for the idea to grow. But if you feel that it’s not time for that yet, wait. Listen to your gut. Dwell on the idea, letting your mind wander over the possibilities. A single idea that’s rather plain can sprout into an exciting concept if given the chance. So be patient and let that good idea become an awesome one.

>Tips for Interviewing Characters

> What is the best way to get to know someone? Talking to them of course. It’s not much different with fictional characters. They may not be real people but they should be real to us. And one way to know them better is to interview them. You can draw up motives and feelings and get the dirt on a character’s background. Like most aspects of writing, there are no rules for how to do this. But I do have some tips that may help you get started.

Ask focused questions. For example, I wrote a story from the husband’s perspective about a troubled couple that miscarried. But I really didn’t know how he felt about it all. So I asked questions like, ‘Did you want the baby? Did you feel the baby would help your marriage? Did you feel pressured from your parents and in-laws?’ Aim to ask questions that will expose how the character really feels.

Answer naturally. Don’t force the answers. You may have to think about how to answer but that’s why it works. Don’t worry about every word being relevant to your purpose for interviewing. Anything extra you discover about the character in the process is relevant to you.

Think like the character. Don’t answer the questions how you would answer. Answer them as if you are the character even when his or her point-of-view doesn’t match your own. That’s not always easy but you’re digging for what makes the person tick and you won’t find that out by fudging the truth.

If you’ve never tried character interviewing, I suggest you do. It’s a fun and revealing exercise that may land you with some juicy content for your story or novel. You may feel a little crazy, but if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be a writer.

Get Writing!
Interview one character from something you’re currently working on. Your Goal: To learn more about the character, revealing something that will deepen his or her presence on the page.
Photo credit, scragz.