I've Got Ideas -- Now What?


So what do you do when you have ideas and no practice?

We writers are pretty lucky nowadays to be living in the Age of the Internet. There are all kinds of writing resources out there, from advice pages to workshops to marketing info. Just for starters, you can check out my links page. And that's only a small sampling.

If you are so inclined, you might want to get a basic book on story structure or plotting. Some writers think books on writing are totally useless, while others swear by them. Me, I have a tendency to collect them and then put them in my shelves for moral support (where presumably they will lend me their knowledge through a process of osmosis), so I am somewhere in the middle on this debate. But I do think that particularly when you are a beginner, a book can help you avoid some common early mistakes, such as allowing your protagonist to wander through the story until the end, when the conflict is resolved with little or no initiative on her part. Three books I would recommend that I'm pretty sure are still in print are Robert Kernen, Building Better Plots, Jack Bickham, Writing the Short Story, and Damon Knight, Creating Short Fiction. At first glance they may seem formulaic to you, but the point is to use them as a guideline. Stan Schmidt's advice when trying to get from idea to plot is good to keep in mind too:

  • Start by trying to imagine the problems that would come up if your idea were reality.
  • Who will end up having these problems? Those are your characters.
  • For each scene, ask yourself what is the best thing your characters can do from their pov, and let them do it.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to make it too easy on them. As Paul Park told us at Clarion, "If your character has a cold, give him cancer."

Once you have a story written, you could join an online writing workshop. The two specifically geared to speculative fiction that I participate in fairly regularly are the OWW workshop and Critters. You will probably learn as much from reviewing other people's stories as you will from the critiques you get for your own stories.

Talking about writing and asking questions can also help. There are several lists you can subscribe to through Yahoo Groups, as well as a number of newsgroups where writers hang out. But beware -- writers like to write. The writing lists I've participated in tend to be very high volume.

And remember, if you're like 99.9 % of the rest of us, the first things you write are going to be crap. Learn why from the crits you get, and make the next story better.


Other pages of mine:

Clarion West 98 | Cutting Edges: Or, A Web of Women | Joe's Heartbeat
in Budapest
| The Aphra Behn Page | ECHO

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Ruth Nestvold, 2002.