Monthly Archives: July 2010

How To Come Up With Good Story Ideas

If there were a store that sold fresh, creative, one-of-a-kind story ideas, I have a feeling that writers would bash down the doors and clean out the inventory faster than a crowd of Black Friday shoppers.

I believe that good ideas are the currency of compelling writing. Too often, writers pour their hearts (and words) into has-been stories based on tired old ideas. Instructional books and critique partners can ratchet up the level of the prose, but there are few nuts-and-bolts techniques that guarantee the birth of a wonderful idea.

But creativity is essential. A good idea is like the engine of a gleaming new car. The paint and tail fins of your beauty might gleam, but without a unique concept revving up in the background and powering the prose, the story goes nowhere. Or, at least it doesn’t go to PublishedLand.

I can’t claim to be privy to any special technique (the champagne bottle awaiting my original idea is still on the shelf), but I’ve become more aware, lately, of why certain ideas are special. By examining creative ideas out there in the world, I hope to better discern whether my own ideas are worthy of my writing time, before I waste months figuring that out the hard way.

I’ve noticed that quite a few creative ideas combine seemingly disparate topics. The easiest example that comes to mind is the popular Jane Austen/zombie mash-up, aptly titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Take one thing and twist it up with a totally unrelated thing, and you might just have a good idea.

The Hunger Games, a young adult dystopian series by Suzanne Collins, offer a less extreme version of this principle, in a thematic sense. The books are basically a mash-up of gladiator style fighting, reality TV, and revolution.

Short stories can also effectively pull a creative combo idea. Recently, I read the Hugo-nominated story Bridesicle, which concerns a cryogenically frozen young girl who finds herself awakened in the future. Sure, freezing someone and reviving them in the future has been done before, but the author delightfully combines that familiar concept with the idea of a dating service. So, you have a frozen young girl waking up in the future for a series of blind dates. If she’s chosen as a bride, she gets to be permanently revived. But if her suitor isn’t happy, she’s popped back into the freezer indefinitely. Bingo. Original idea.

There’s definitely more to creating ideas than random mash-ups, but I think it’s a good place to start in learning to recognize and understand creativity, and hopefully to nurture it too. I’ll share more thoughts on this later, but if you have a chance, definitely check out Bridesicle and appreciate a truly unique concept in action.

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Filed under Short Stories, Thoughts, Writing

Reasons why I’m reading a book series out of order (True Blood)

I have a confession to make. I’m reading the True Blood books by Charlaine Harris, and I’m doing it totally out of order. When I mention this to people, I get the impression that reading out of order is tantamount to that other sin of reading (which I’m also guilty of)–peeking ahead to read the ending.

I don’t read all series out of order. In fact, this is kind of a rare occurrence for me, but I have no regrets thus far. I watched True Blood seasons 1 and 2, so I figured I got the gist of the story from HBO, and no need to repeat it for the sake of saying I read the actual words.

In the library, I browsed through the True Blood paperbacks, reading the back of each book to see which one piqued my interest. I wasn’t totally committed to even trying the books, so I wanted to pick the most interesting one possible. My eyes lit up at the summary of Book #4, Dead to the World. It looked like Sookie and Eric would finally get it on this book! So I was sold. Or, er, borrowed.

Now, Book #4 wasn’t the best thing I ever read ever, but it was funny, entertaining, engaging, and I liked the characters and setting. Perfect for a summer beach book. It’s on to Book #3, Club Dead. From there, I’m not sure what to do. Go back and read Book#2 anyway, since I heard it’s somewhat different than the TV series? Or forge ahead through the series based on what interests me the most? I might go that route.

I’m not worried about the typical concerns of reading out of order, like not understanding the plot. It’s clear that most authors embed recaps, some better than others, for the forgetful or blatantly non-linear readers. I figure that this time, those annoying recaps telling me what happened in the previous book won’t be so annoying anymore (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter).

I highly recommend tackling a series out of order if the following inclinations apply to you.

1. It’s a sequel or continuation of a popular movie/TV show and you dread the thought of backtracking. Don’t worry about bucking the numbers! No one is making you read in a particular order! It’s your free time, so pick up the story where it starts for you.

2. You have a feeling you might like a series, but the beginning sounds boring (for whatever reason). Why not pick up the book that does sound interesting? If the author recap isn’t good, there’s always Wikipedia.

3. It’s a long long series, and you can’t picture reading all of it. But you can picture reading Book #5…

4. You’re at the library/bookstore with a flight/beach trip/boring evening looming, and they don’t have the next book in the series in stock!!! NOO! But they do have some other books in the same series. Hmm….

If you’re still feeling guilty, consider that sometimes authors even write their books out of order. When I was a teenager, I read both The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, both EXCELLENT books. I read the Blue Sword first, and it happened to be published first too, in 1982. Later, I read the Hero and the Crown, the prequel to the Blue Sword, and was surprised to see it was published in 1985. (I didn’t read the books when they came out, so the dates were afterthoughts to me). There are times when authors write the story that moves them first, and I think it’s a good move for readers to follow their hearts too, even if it’s a zig-zaggy path.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Thoughts, TV

Study Says E-Books Take Longer to Read

CNN recently outlined an interesting study on the speed of reading e-books versus printed books. Sure, the study has a relatively small sample size of 24 and gives some disclaimers about differences in reading speed not being statistically significant, but the general idea strikes me as significant.

So here’s what the study says: compared to reading a conventional printed book, people using e-readers read at speeds between 6.2 and 10.5 percent slower on the iPad and Kindle.

I’m actually surprised that the iPad boasted the “faster” designation of 6.2 percent, as I expected the e-ink of the Kindle to put it ahead of the glowy iPad screen. However, the iPad seems to switch pages faster than the Kindle, and its page switch is less distracting, so maybe that’s the golden ticket.

Personally, I still can’t grapple with the idea of giving up printed books for their cooler, electronic brethren. I’ve only used the iPad and Kindle at the mall/friend’s houses, but I’ve had no urge to ditch print. Along with other reasons, I just think print is a richer, more immersive experience. Apparently it’s more efficient too.

Still, in the end, I’ll put my betting money on overall convenience winning out and e-books dominating the marketplace. No one really wants to lug heavy backpacks of textbooks or cart around hardcovers in their carry-on luggage, and the study reports that ratings for the overall experience of reading on devices versus print were extremely close. As for me–my personal, book-buying money will still go towards pulpy paper and dog-eared pages.

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Filed under e-books, Publishing industry news, Thoughts