Sunday, August 9, 2020

Ink In The Wild Prep Course #1

Inspiration, Categories, and a Challenge!

First, a disclaimer: Every writer is as different as a snowflake, or a fingerprint, or something else equally unique. Because Brigham City Writers is such a wonderful and eclectic group, this advice might not apply to you. If that is the case, please scroll down to "A Challenge" and we'll see you next week.


Whether you're struggling with a college essay, a flash fiction writing prompt, or an anthology theme, when it comes to writing about an assigned topic, it may help to know that we all freeze from time to time. 

Recently, I struggled to write a piece for submission when the subject was about rescue animals. The chosen pieces would be compiled to help fundraise for a local animal shelter, and the animals couldn't die in the story. I found myself asking, "Where are the stakes in that?" and "Would it be appropriate to write a horror piece for this submission?" 😂 Needless to say, I was relieved when the anthology was put on an indefinite hold, because I came up blank and never finished writing anything worth submitting. I share this to let you know that I've been there. Whether or not you have struggled or come up blank, I have. And, maybe, just maybe, the advice I've gleaned from various sources since that snag can help you overcome the hurdle of a lack of inspiration.

1. Brainstorm. Think about the theme or assigned topic from various angles. In my example, because the pets had to live, I only thought of plots involving getting a pet from the shelter and living happily ever after. But I never thought to tell the story from the pet's point of view. I never considered the role that fantasy could play in discovering a pet is immortal. I never thought to consider changing the setting to another time, country, or galaxy. So, think about some of the basics for your story: setting, character, season, genre, tense, and point of view. A web diagram is a great way to brainstorm different angles for a theme. Suggested video: Abbie Emmons Brainstorming.
2. Research. (Disclaimer: Set a 15-minute timer, and be firm! Don't get lost down the rabbit hole of the internet!) Browse magazines, books, and the internet for pictures of the theme. Make a mood board on an app like Pinterest with pictures that get your imagination flowing. Browse recent news stories involving a topic related to the theme: for my example above, I could have focused on an article about companion animals combatting loneliness around the holidays while the main character studied how to bring more hygge into her life. So, get inspiration from life and the internet - because life inspires art!
3. Try a few of your best brainstorming ideas: When all else fails, do as author Dan Brown suggested in a MasterClass I recently listened to. "When you're thinking of sitting down to write a novel, you might have a number of different ideas...Write the prologue to each one of them, and see which one you're dying to finish. Another thing to do is you can write the flap copy. What would this book sound like on the flap copy?" Resource:



Our anthology this year has condensed the submission categories down to four:

Fiction: 4,000-word limit: This category is known as the traditional short story. As author Jerry Jenkins says in this article, "Don’t make the mistake of referring to short nonfiction articles as short stories. In the publishing world, short story always refers to fiction."

Examples of Children's short stories include Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Robert Southey; The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen; Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss; The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore; and The Tortoise and the Hare by Aesop. Adult short story examples: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; and To Build a Fire by Jack London.

Nonfiction: 4,000-word limit: Nonfiction is writing about your life and experiences, or the lives and experiences of others. If you want to look at some nonfiction writing prompts, check out this link. And this one. “Writing is an act of great courage, and writing creative non-fiction raises up the stakes even higher. It is not a genre for the fainthearted.” –Ayelet Tsabari, Judge’s Essay, EVENT 45/3.

Flash Fiction: 1,000-word limit: Flash fiction is a microstory, sometimes told in as little as five to ten words. I searched for articles to help with flash fiction, and this one seemed to fit what I was trying to say in the following how-to steps:

  1. Start in the middle. You don't have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.
  2. Don't use too many characters. You won't have time to describe your characters when you're writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.
  3. Make sure the ending isn't at the end. In micro-fiction there's a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you're not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or "pull back to reveal" endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.
  4. Sweat your title. Make it work for a living.
  5. Make your last line ring like a bell. The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you've been run over by a lorry full of fridges.
  6. Write long, then go short. Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realise, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn't sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.

Poetry: 2-page limit (using standard poetry formatting) I know a little about iambic pentameter and haiku, but not enough to consider myself an expert. Research different types of poetry and see if any of them interest you. This poem from a COVID-19 haiku google search caught my eye:

Creativity flow is just as challenging for poets as it is for writers. This article has some good ideas to help your inner poet. So does this one, about exercises for poetry writing. If you're looking for some good seasonal prompts, check this link. And, lastly, this article for 2020 quarantine poetry therapy really helped me this weekend. 

A Challenge

For our next meeting on September 14th, 2020, I encourage everyone to bring a one-page sample of your work in progress to share. Participation isn't mandatory. If you're more comfortable being a spectator until you feel safe in sharing, that is just fine. 

  • Whether it's a poem you're trying out, your first nonfiction story, or a flash or short story, please feel free to bring one page to share. Print it without your name.
  • Length limit: 1 page double spaced 12 pt. Times New Roman.
  • We will shuffle them, hand them out to the other participants in the group and take turns guessing who wrote which piece.

That's it for now. Happy writing!

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