Today we have the grand finale of the “Help Hannah get through finals” guest posting series. This last post is by Nova McBee. Nova reads and writes YA fiction books while traveling the world with her husband and two kids (she’s currently in China). She co-hosts The Spinning Pen at http://www.thespinningpen.com and has promised to…
Check this post out, writers! Hopefully, I will start blogging on this site soon!!
You get a brilliant idea.You write it out. You’re excited because it’s original and moving. You can’t wait for the world to read it.It’s nearly done. Then a friend recommends a book. You start reading and your face sours. It’s strikingly similar to your own story. There are differences, sure, but too many similarities to feel comfortable.
How did you and this other author somehow cross wires and come up with something so alike?
Will anyone believe that you thought up your story’s idea far before you ever heard of the book in your hand?
Ever had this happen to you? Unfortunately, it has happened to me, and other writers I know. It feels so weird and so wrong. But the fact is, it’s ok–and I want to prove to you that your story is unique.
Ideas, thoughts, conversations, stories, and much more are streaming all over the earth all the time. Many people quote the old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun.” “It’s all been written before…” If that’s true, why keep writing?
My former teacher said that during his creative writing classes, Lord Of The Rings and Narnia were coming out in film, and subsequently everyone and their mother tried to recreate them. Eventually, he refused to read anything in the genre for years.
But there is something that can give us hope in our writing, because there is something new that comes out every day, every minute, for the very first time.
A new human.
Each human is unique. There is not one person, not even one twin that is the same. We each have our own features, thoughts, dreams, and experiences. There are no clones (yet) that resemble another person in his/her fullness, and if one day my clone makes its appearance, it can never live the life I have lived. The future, according to Yoda, is always in motion — we cannot relive the past.
Now that we have determined there is something new under the sun, we can apply this to our writing life. Translation: We can never write another persons story, and they can never write our story. Our stories may overlap unintentionally. While some may jump on the bandwagon to take advantage of its success, (you know, like the long haul of dystopians), each story still has its own characteristics. We still need more than one pediatrician in the world, more than one math teacher; we need more than one writer with more than one book talking about your favored subject or story. So whatever idea you have, form it in the only way that you can. Just like you are unique, so will your story be unique.
- Your voice is unique. Practice it. Develop it. Then your story will become unique to you. No one can mimic your voice. *Learn more about voice here and here.
- Your imagination is unique. Dream. Someone once said, write as if you no one was watching, and then an unforgettable story will emerge. Click here for ideas.
- Avoid cliches.
- Get Beta Readers for feedback. Ask them what doesn’t feel original. Then brainstorm on how you can change it. *For more on beta readers click here.
- Look for story ideas in unusual places. Click here for ideas.
- Don’t give up. In a section of the old testament written thousands of year ago, it talks about the writing industry — and it has proved to be very true. It says that “the writing of books will never end”… so I figure its a pretty good business to be in
Let’s talk ideas and writing books…
A new writer recently joined our writing group. He has talent, but has never attempted a novel. “I want to write a book,” he said. “So how do I get an idea for a plot?”
One of my beta readers asked me a similar question after reading my book Calculated. “Where did you get all of the ideas for this book?”
The truth is everywhere. Everything is story to me. Ideas come out of and through everything: nature, people, books, kids, conversations,a prompt, an old memory, news, history, my own dreams, my breakfast, staring out the window, a bike on the street and a fleeting vision of who rode it.
Classics get me excited and the old imagination starts roaring. I love the oldies. Dickens. Dumas. Dostoyevsky. Zola. Hugo. Stevenson. The Bible. Seriously – The original Count of Monte Cristo is something like 1200 pages, and I was devastated when it ended. Those characters haunted my dreams and sat at my breakfast table for months.
These days our stories move at much faster pace compared to these older stories, but undeniably they had so much punch and power to draw us in and tweak that inner man so that we walk away wrecked forever with characters who will never leave us. They are worth reading, and studying. (*disclaimer – do not stop reading in your genre. You must do that regularly!)
Back to ideas. They don’t always work, unfortunately. They also need to be revised, and changed. But they also grow, deepen, expand, and develop.
Most of the ideas for my book are formed through revising something I wanted to do that didn’t work. I tried new things, and outlined, and brainstormed, and the longer I wrote I saw the holes in my plot and strengthened it. My plot got more complex and connected. The longer I brainstormed, more ideas came on how to foreshadow and create suspense and mystery.
So. Ideas can come from anywhere but they still need revision. NEXT.
So how do you write a book? After you have studied craft, you do it with these three things: Imagination, motivation, and determination.
Imagination-let your mind fly with your ideas.
Motivation-put aside time for them.
Determination-Don’t give up until its done.
If this scares you, then set your mind to writing one page a day, and before you know it, you will have your first draft and plethora of ideas on how to revise it.
Living in France did something to me. When I walked the historical cities, literature became my writing teacher and the classics came alive.
The Count of Monte Cristo did not just roam the paper world, he walked and breathed along the same ports and beaches that I did. He drank tea and contemplated life in the same parks. He dreamed and laughed and sorrowed. It was as if I saw him wherever I went, and my imagination grew. The same thing happened when I lived in England.
Now, not everyone can live in Europe, but everyone has access to a library. Here are three simple reasons I believe the classics can teach you a lot about writing.
1. An Ever Present Reality of the Human heart both historical and now.
As we study the classics, powerful themes emerge that have been passed down generation after generation. The human heart, we realize, has always debated moral issues, values, emotional pain and joy, love and loss,—and yet the response has not always been the same.
The reflection then, as writers, becomes even more thought provoking. What does this look like now? If they were alive today, how would they react? What is available to them now, that wasn’t then? How would it have changed the situation? Often, the answers become ideas for new stories…
2: History (or Time Travel.)
History is another reason to read classics. Even fiction takes us back in time with them and teaches us. We learn about the past through enjoying a story. In my European History class, we were often assigned fictional works of that time period. It was there that I understood the history in context, and I retained that much more than the plain historical facts.
Reading classics helps us grow in our historical, cultural and literary references, too. *Bonus for those still in school! (Travel bonus: Going to France can teach you a lot about History too! Oh, and they wrap their trees in scarves and it looks pretty 🙂
3. Reliability. These stories that have passed the test of time. We can trust them.
This is where study comes in. Why do people love these stories? What do they teach us? Why are the famous? Why do people love them?
Also, the Classics emerged before TV and movies (though many of them have been made into film!) They were the first experts in showing and not telling – some would argue that it is sometimes overdone, (and it is!) but wow, if you look closer you’ll see the genius and will learn a lot about narrative emotion and inner dialogue punch.
Pick a classic—Dickens, Dumas, MacDonald, Defoe, Austen, Melville, Carrol, Alcott, Joyce, Dostoevsky, Twain, Homer, Montgomery—and dive in today.
(Travel Bonus! Going to France will inspire you forever. And you can eat, yummy croissants, sip coffee or tea at pretty cafés, ride the metro, romantically walk the bridges, and speak to nice people who use a beautiful language—Vive la France!
PS: I lived in five European countries over the course of 5 years. The history within all of them will knock your socks off. Travel. Travel. Travel. If you can.
If old bridges and their names in Italy can’t inspire you to write, then I don’t know what can!
This bridge in the small Italian mountain town is a perfect writing example because its name makes us ask–why? Why was it named that? And there is a story behind it, as with most places. I now live in Asia where everything has a story or history behind the name. It proves that everything around us, even ourselves, are stories and questions and history–so much more than we see on the surface.
It was in Italy (long, long ago) that I first came across the concept of Show Don’t Tell via an Italian friend, now, a writing Professor, to show me what I see, instead of telling me how nice it looked.
Now, after many years, I’ve learned to do something very important for my writing and my characters:
Create questions. All of the W’s: what, when, where, why, and how?
Show others the world from the inside out.
Use my senses and feelings to show the scene.
Drive the scene’s goals home with emotion.
Ultimately, a good character, especially from 1st POV should be able to show what her eyes see, what her ears hear, what her tongue tastes, her nose smells, her hands feel, her heart senses–so that you feel it too. When she breathe, you inhale. When she holds her breath, your face turns red. When she’s sad, you cry with her. When her enemy falls, your right there dancing in victory too.
My challenge to you is this: Use 1st POV and take your character across this bridge.
SHOW me what she experiences through all 6 senses, crafting in a new story behind this bridge and her own story and goals.
Help us feel her anticipation walking across it. Is she afraid? Is she excited? Will she meet someone there? Who is she? What does she feel? Is there wind in her hair? What is the history beneath her feet, the future ahead of her?
When you are done, please post or send it to me, because I would gladly love to see it.
Our mentors are editing, our mentees are revising, and we hope you’re making progress on your own manuscript! While we’re all working toward the Agent Showcase on November 3rd-9th, we hope you’ll take a moment during your writing breaks and get to know our 2016 Pitch Wars Teams. And now, we have . .…
I am so excited to share with you the cover reveal for BEFORE TOMORROW by Pintip Dunn, a FORGET TOMORROW novella from Logan’s POV! Pintip is my PitchWars Mentor and she has been absolutely amazing. If you get a chance, you should read her books!
In honor of the Pitch Wars Agent Showcase opening — (November 3-9th, and yes, you should go check it out!) I wanted to take a moment to talk about writing the Pitch, Query, and synopsis. Let me just say that again since I have waited more than two months for this: THE PITCH WARS AGENT […]
How do you save the last of the Kung Fu Masters that remain on earth? You write about them, of course.
If you haven’t heard, the ancient Chinese tradition of Kung fu is dying. Unless something happens soon, the last of the remaining kung fu masters, who truly qualify to pass on its teachings, will die out in this generation and the true form of kung fu will be lost–reduced to nothing but a show.
When I say ‘kung fu’ I’m not talking about Kung Fu Panda or Jackie Chan or even Bruce Lee – I’m talking about the ancient art and practice of Traditional Kung Fu — the one that takes years of discipline, a lifetime to master and pass on – the sweat, focus, strength, speed, and precision that truly earns the title of Master.
When I set out to write my novel, CALCULATED, I never intended to have ‘kung fu’anything in it. But when you live in China and personally know one of the last living Kung Fu masters it proved to be a hard thing to omit.
Today, there are less than a couple hundred men on earth who can truly qualify as a real Traditional Kung Fu Master. One of those men is Master Li Quan.
In my book, the male protagonist has two mentors–brothers and masters of kung fu. Their image and kung fu traditions and teachings were based on Master Li Quan. Although their part is rather small, it was fun to write.
My husband met Master Li in 2004 and they have been good friends ever since. If I could describe Master Li , (as I do in my book) in a word, he is like a lion, not a man. His countenance is gentle despite his obvious rock like strength. He is observant and discerning–a student of movement and behavior. He is wise yet humble; powerful and yet respectful of the weak; lives a simple lifestyle, lives off the land yet he is beyond generous. And his heart beats for one thing: Kung Fu.
As Master Li describes in great sadness, the true practice of Tradional Kung Fu will die with his generation because there are no students left who are willing to commit to the discipline (and life dedication) it takes to becoming a true master. Master Li and his kung fu brothers share the burden to pass it on. Therefore, Master li has dedicated his life to finding and training students all in the name of passing on the legend of kung fu.
His school is called Kung fu Family. It is a humble locale in the countryside outside of Chengdu Sichuan. His methods are traditional, devout, and hardcore.
What I (and my husband who studied with him for awhile), learned from him will always stay with me. His persona enriches China, like it does for my book.
Undeniably, Master Li is an inspiration. I wish someone would write a book about him.
If you want to connect with him, click the link to his school or find him on Facebook as (Chengdu) KungFuFamily …
Nova, kicking off from Seattle! We are home for the summer then off to China again in August.
Find more of my writing at The Spinning Pen.