Posted in General, writing

Creating Titles

This post is an update to one published March 8, 2018.

Titles and first lines are two of the hardest things to come up with in writing. Titles can be the easiest things to come up with, and other times a good title evades us for months on end.

There’s a good reason for that as well. Titles, like your first line, have to hook the reader. Unlike first lines, your title stands alone, without the potential for readers to try just one or two more lines. Your title has to catch your reader’s attention in a sea of other disconnected titles. Essentially, a title is your most basic (and important) piece of marketing. After all, you can’t tell your friends about a book with a title, so how can your readers?

A title has three main functions. Firstly, it catches attention. This is it’s first and foremost function—again, not unlike the first line. The idea is to give your reader enough of a hook that they’re at least interested enough to read the blurb.

Secondly, a title helps your readers predict the content. Don’t think this is a bad thing either—if you’re looking for a light historical fiction romance, you’re not going to be looking at titles that indicate a lot of heartache and blood, or even titles that indicate you’re dealing with the factual accounting of Henry VIII’s sordid affairs.  

Third and final, your title is an identifier for your story. This sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Going back a little earlier…you can’t recommend a book without a title, how can your readers? A title identifies your book, and gives you a basic place to start your marketing.  

The good news is that your title may end up changing up until publication. This might occur during edits, or as you’re working on marketing materials. Depending on the route you go to publication, it might happen because of something your editor or early readers suggest. While searching for a title, it might help to have a working title on hand—that is, something you plan on changing later.

Your main character’s name might very well step up for the title, a la Jane Eyre or Harry Potter. There are entire series which are known by the name of the main character. Think Anita Blake or Sherlock Holmes. This also applies to locations. Think something like Bridge to Terabithia.  

Alternately, theme might give you a good place to look. Think not only Sense and Sensibility or Eat Pray Love but also things like the Fast and Furious franchise. This gives you a chance to pinpoint what your story should feel like and what it’s going to focus on.

Playing off theme, you can also use key or symbolic items. This might give you something like Blood and Chocolate. It’s an easy option that can help you earmark other points of metaphor in the story. If your story features a MacGuffin, you’ve got a ready-made option here.

Finally, use your main concept as your title. Star Wars springs to mind easily. The basic idea behind the story has a lot of unexpected power. Concept titles tap into that.

Remember that you can mix and match titles as well. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix does just that: uses both the main character’s name, and the main concept. Try mixing and matching a couple of different options.  

As an exercise: To give yourself a little material to work with, try to come up with a list of at least ten different titles (hint, come up with two from each of the above categories, plus another two mix-and-match options). Following that, try to find ten lines or phrases in your manuscript that resonate with the story as a whole. You should end up with roughly twenty titles, all of which you can now tweak and play with.

Posted in writing

Coping With Writer’s Block

It happens to almost every creative out there. Block. Writer’s Block is arguably the most famous and well known. It’s often presented as a lack of ideas but writer’s block can also take another form: lack of energy. You might have plenty of ideas, but no motivation to get them down.

Regardless of how it presents itself, the result is largely the same: your writing has ground to a practical stop. There are a variety of reasons behind a block. You might be stressed, exhausted, dealing with real life issues or perhaps you’re coming down with a heavy case of seasonal allergies. Perhaps you don’t know why. The why may not matter, but coping with it does.

Recharge. A lot of blockage might come from needing to recharge. This goes both for your healthy, and your well of ideas. Put the writing up for a week. Binge watch those awful shows you can’t resist. Take some time out of your day to do something for you. Treat yourself to a hot bath or shower, or that glass of wine you’ve been putting off because you don’t have a good reason. Relax and accept that it is what it is and that you’ll come back to it later. 

Check in with yourself. Almost all creative types—artists, actors, writers—have higher numbers of mental illness like anxiety and depression. The reasons behind that are a little murky, but the numbers speak for themselves. If you’re blocked, it might just be because your mental health is dropping. Check in with yourself and be honest. Anxiety and depression can do a lot worse damage than just dry up your creativity. You can take that from someone who has experience with anxiety. Check your health, both mental and physical.

Motivate yourself. Sometimes the biggest problem for a writer suffering from block is fear. Maybe we think we’re not good enough. Maybe we think we’ll be rejected. Whatever the case may be, we’re still fighting writer’s block. It might be an idea to set up a couple of prompts and spend ten minutes free writing to help you get moving again. Find a way to motivate yourself—be that through a sprint or through gentle encouragement. Some of us work well under pressure, but sometimes that pressure can make us crumple.

Change something. This might be your space or your routine. If you’re more of a plotter, throw your outline out the window. Find a random prompt and splash it down as the next sentence of your story. Build from it. If you’re a pantser, try sitting down and doing some light plotting to see what gets moving. If that doesn’t work, try moving your space around.

Find a cheerleader. If you’re finding it hard to get any writing done, don’t feel bad—you might just need a little more support! If you have a writer’s group you can turn to, ask if someone doesn’t mind being a cheerleader for you. This can range from an in-depth discussion of their favorite character, to reader comments on your current draft. If you don’t have a writing group, now might be a good time to get one. Writing in itself is often a lonely venture, and loneliness can make even our favorite tasks unenjoyable.

Posted in blogging

Creating Blog Ideas

If you’ve thought about blogging at all, one of the big questions you might have is where you’ll get ideas for it all. You can only post so many times on the same things before you run out of ideas, right?

The good news is that while you might have a limited number of ideas, there are easy ways to find new ideas, and to help make your current ideas fit newer posts.

Expand. If you have a general idea—such as character development, or plotting for a particular genre—consider expanding on that general idea and getting into details and specific aspects of it. Do you want to discuss the exposition, or the climax? Perhaps you want to discuss some common plot twists to your genre. Think to how character development impacts their arc, or where to start developing characters. Look at your general ideas and make some notes. What are more topics you can expand on?

Series. It’s much easier to keep posting regularly if you have a series you can work from. This might be something like ten great recipes with potatoes, or historical accountings of metalwork from medieval times up to modern usage. If you work better with a plan, this is a great option! You can break each topic down onto a particular area you want to cover and plot them out over time. If you have a large topic with a lot to cover, you can also use this topic as a ‘filler’ when you don’t have time to write an in depth post on something else but want to maintain consistency.

Free Write. If you’re absolutely out of ideas, set a timer for ten minutes or so, pick a topic and splash some words down. Don’t worry if they come out with any sort of cohesiveness, you’re not doing anything more than spewing words out to get your thoughts turning. Once the timer is done, set it aside for a bit, maybe go edit another post or play with a page you need to update. Come back to it in an hour and see what sort of gems are hidden in your free write. Did you find a connection between two subjects you didn’t expect? Perhaps you can see a good base of a post.

Keep Tabs. If you notice a topic is trending—i.e. it’s cropping up on multiple other blogs or keeps recurring in the news—it’s not a bad idea to write up a post on your thoughts on it. Even if you never share that particular post, it can help you find new ideas by giving you a place to write down your questions. Those questions can be researched later, and a more informative post can be shared on the answer to that particular question.

Posted in General

Revisiting Old Ideas

If you’ve been following me, you probably already know that for most of January, I didn’t have a main project selected. I prefer having one main project a month because it helps keep me focused and not as inclined to bounce around on several different projects. Because of the launch for Crimson and Gold, I never got around to selecting one.

I did however, a couple of weeks ago, go back through and take a look at my project list. I have far too many in-progress stories.

I also have several stories that have been drafted, but haven’t been touched in quite possibly, years. The oldest of these is a story I’ve hung onto from around 2013. If I recall correctly, it was the NaNoWriMo novel I wrote for that year. At fifty-thousand words, there’s a lot wrong with it.

For starters, the plot is a stretch, even with some heavy suspension of disbelief. The characters also flat, and character arcs largely don’t exist.

There are however, good points. The concept itself is still solid. The idea at its core has some merit. It’s merely bogged down in what’s unpolished writing. I’ll also note that it’s writing from seven years ago. I’ve gained a lot of new skills since I last wrote it.

Although I haven’t looked at it in those years, I have kept it on my project list, and I think it’s about time I took it back out and revisited it.

Starting with a complete rewrite.

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: History

I’ve found one of the most daunting tasks for my world building has been the history. Figuring out character’s personal histories is easy, but when preparing the history of an entire world, figuring out how the countries formed, who the political leaders were and what wars have been fought is a lot more intensive, and it seems an awful lot like an endless puzzle.

Thankfully there are multiple techniques to use when crafting a history. Before getting into those however, one of the best tools to use for everything is to ask why. Why helps you figure out details that can open up new lanes of exploration for your world and your history: why do These People disagree with Those People? Why do These live here? Why do Those revere that resource?

Apply liberal amounts of ‘why’ when you find yourself stuck.

Ages and Timelines 
The two best ways of organizing history are both based on chronological order. Timelines tend to be a little more specific with X happening in Year Y. Ages however, cover a range of years without getting too terribly specific about the years each event happened.

That also means it may help to start with figuring out your ages first–are you following the age of stone, bronze, steel, etc? Or, are your ages and eras named for the major advancements in civilization like the move from caves into tribes and villages?

Timelines are especially useful for organizing big events leading up to your story. This can include things like the birth of notable figures, inventions of new technologies and major discoveries.

Ages help you see how your world has developed overtime. Thinking of them as spectrum may help–you may not know exactly when your people had fully transitioned from using magic to burning coal for example, but you can mark the edges of that era based on the transitory change from one fuel source to the other.

Devices 
Devices are used all the time to explain how a character had some powerful tool or the other. Hero has a magic sword from an abandoned religion? That’s a device, one you can use to help build your history: why was the religion abandoned? Where did he find this sword? Why did they need a sword with immense powers?

Scour your drafts for devices. Find an abandoned ruin? Start asking why and how long it’s been abandoned.  Magical family bloodlines? Start asking why and how they got that way. History can be built around the answers you find in questioning the facts.

Work Backwards 
Personally, I love starting with the most recent events and building off that. Start with asking yourself what the most recent advancement is, or who the current ruler is. Who ruled before that? What needed to be discovered before they could advance medication or transport? What sort of obstacle needed to be overcome for these people to settle in that area?

Repeat this as you build your layers backwards. It’s fine if you don’t have the answers for all of it. Remember that history gets harder to prove and track the farther back we go, largely because means of recording history had to develop as time passed.

Also remember that any of these techniques can be combined. Find the devices in your story right now and work backwards from those–find out how they came to be and the events that shaped the area around them. Build everything up into a transition from one thing to another, creating your first age. Create a timeline of known events, and fill in the gaps by asking yourself questions about how they create the devices and facts in your world.