Archive for June, 2011

Story ideas

Writers are almost always asked, at some point, where they get their ideas. Writers, being a varied group, of course report getting them from various sources. Some from songs, some from thin air, some from people they see on the street. There’s no “right” place to get one, and it’s sometimes amazing what a small kernel of an idea can lead to. I can’t exactly describe my writing process, but I thought it would be fun to go over some of my older stories and how they came to be.

Make a Wish was the first story I wrote and posted. Although I can’t say exactly which one, I had read a story somewhere about a genie. Later, something sparked the memory, but my next thought was: what if someone had a genie but didn’t want to make a wish? I’ve found I often look at situations in stories and then wonder what if he had done something else? What if she said no instead of yes?

Not a bad start. But you need more. What came to mind next was The Monkey’s Paw,ย  a short story by W.W. Jacobs, and which I erroneously — but I think, understandably — initially credited to Edgar Allen Poe. Most of us are probably familiar with the story, wherein people make wishes only to have them granted with a price. (Spoiler coming for those who haven’t read it!) A couple wishes for two hundred pounds; they receive it as compensation for the death of their son. Later the mother makes the father wish the son alive again, and we are left to wonder what monster waits outside the door.

With that in mind, consciously or sub-, I began writing. I’m guessing the death in the story was on my mind, and so I began the story with a young woman, Julie Morgan, sitting vigil in a hospital with her comatose parents. They’d survived, such as it was, a plane crash. Her best friend, Mindy Rodriguez, presents her with a bottle that she claims contains a genie.

Julie took it and slowly unwrapped it. It was tall and rectangular. When she finally got through the ribbons and paper, she opened the box and found herself holding an antique bottle of some sort. Was it wine, she wondered? Finally, she said, “It’s lovely, Mindy, but what exactly is it?”

Mindy smiled widely. “It’s a genie in a bottle.”

Julie smiled in return, figuring her friend was trying to lighten things up a little, and she appreciated the gesture. “Thanks, then. It really is beautiful craftsmanship. I’ll find a place for it when I get home.”

“No,” said Mindy, shaking her head. “I mean it. It’s a genie in a bottle. It’s been in my family for ages.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” said Julie. Mindy shook her head again. “You mean, this is a bottle and if I rub it or something, someone will come out of it dressed in harem pants and tell me I have three wishes. Min, it’s great of you to try to make me feel better, but come onโ€ฆ”

“Just try it when you get home,” Mindy said. “I don’t know about the harem pants, or exactly how many wishes you get, but there’s a genie in there, honest to God.”

“Have you seen it?”

“No, but my grandmother has, and my mother.”

Julie narrowed her eyes at her friend. “You’re serious.” Mindy nodded. “Fine, I’ll take it home. It’s lovely. But I’m not going to be making any wishes.”

“But, Julie,” Mindy protested. “Think of how you could make things better. You could wish for your par–“

“No,” Julie cut in, more sharply than she’d meant to. “I mean, thanks, but no. I don’t believe in making wishes.” Mindy looked about to say more, but Julie pointed out the time and they hurried back to the office.

Julie, like most of us, is skeptical of the genie, but certain of her desire not to wish. The next step in this story was to realize that this would present a challenge to the genie himself.

“So, I get three wishes?” she said, returning to the living room. She didn’t sit, instead leaning against the wall, arms crossed over her chest.

“Well,” said Marcus, admiring her as she stood by the wall, “there’s no real limit on the wishes. It’s more to do with the quality of them. At least, I think so. Anyway, there are rules, of course. No wishing for mountains of gold, or world peace, or that sort of thing. Each one must be prefaced by ‘I wishโ€ฆ’ I can tell you before hand if your wishes are grantable.”

Julie shook her head. “There’s no need. I don’t make wishes.”

Marcus stared at her. “What?”

“I don’t make wishes,” she repeated.

“But, butโ€ฆ,” Marcus groped for words. Never before had he encountered someone who wouldn’t wish. Some had been greedy, others amazingly altruistic, but none had ever refused outright. “But that’s not possible. Everybody wishes for something.”

Julie then tells him why:

“But why?” Marcus was still baffled.

Julie was getting angry. “Because,” she snapped, “the last time I wished for something — and there wasn’t even a genie around, mind you — I wished for my parents to get back in time for my birthday. Next thing I know, they’re being retrieved from the site of a small plane crash, and I got to spend my birthday in the hospital with them while they were each in a coma.” She had to fight back tears now, and took a deep breath.

So then the story moved along. The point was not really for Julie to make wishes, although eventually she does (come on, that’s no spoiler). As I went along, I had two tracks. One, Marcus falling for Julie. I imagined that a being that was required to serve would have a difficult time making their feelings known. With his status in limbo — if Julie does not wish, Marcus cannot do his job, and cannot leave — Marcus sees her pain and wants to help, as is his nature. Julie grows closer to him as well, relying on the one person who needs nothing form her, and who in fact wants to take care of her, if only she’ll let him.

With those elements in place, I then had to work towards the ending, and put a twist on the use of wishes. I hope I did.

I did not research genies or djinn or try to figure out how granting wishes works in the old folk tales. Perhaps I should have, perhaps I could have put more in the story, but in truth, research is something I don’t have much time for. I wish I did. I do it when necessary, although even then it’s cursory, and I hope that my beta readers and editors point out any errors.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s no spoiling to say it’s a happy one. ๐Ÿ™‚ I like my happy endings, both reading them and writing them. In a story like this, I couldn’t deny Julie her happy ending. She’d been through too much, and blamed herself when it wasn’t her fault. Marcus, too, deserved a reprieve from his conflict, and a reward for what he’d done, for being there for Julie and helping her.

I think I’ll be writing about more stories and how they came about … requests welcome. ๐Ÿ™‚

Baseball

My boy joined a pony league baseball team this year. It’s been a lot of fun, doing something so traditional and “American.” And it’s raised one question.

How did I get to know so much about baseball?

I was never much of a baseball fan growing up. Nothing personal. My dad was (and is) a Phillies’ fan, so if we watched games, we watched the Phillies, and I’ll even date myself by noting this was before interleague play. I remember a few names: Tug McGraw, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Von Hayes and for some reason, Manny Trillo. I remember them winning the World Series in 1980, and George Brett and the Kansas City Royals and a scandal about pine tar on the bat. But that was pretty much it.

Now I did play catch, don’t get me wrong. Dad taught me. ๐Ÿ™‚

A few years later I found hockey and got into that. I rooted for the Flyers, borrowed all seven books the library had. I fell away from hockey in college and grad school, and got back into it via the Capitals.

When I lived in the DC area, the Nationals were still the Expos, and so it was the Orioles who got all the press and coverage. They were American League. My reaction: who the hell are these people? Never mind the players — I barely recognized the names of the teams. I got on board with Cal Ripken, Jr., and his streak, and watched the games where he tied and broke Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played. I mean, come on; not a dry eye in the house. I even made it to some games at Camden Yards (an excellent park).

And I met my husband, a life-long Orioles’ fan. We watched games, went to games, and somehow I picked a few things up.

I noticed this while playing some catch with the boy. Suddenly I’m advising him to watch the ball into his glove; cover with the other hand to make sure it stays; get his glove on the ground to get the grounders; step and throw quickly so as not to lose time in getting the out at first instead of making the exaggerated pitcher-type move that all the kids want to do.

Excuse me?

So between Dad and the O’s, somehow it all stuck. I honestly didn’t know how much I knew, or could put together, about baseball until I’m out on the front lawn, advising the boy to hold his glove this way or that, and giving pointers on his batting stance. And every time I do this, I’m amazed that I know it.

Wouldn’t Dad be proud?

 

Morning Sun link

I have been remiss in failing to link to Morning Sun now that it’s up on Literotica. Here it is and I hope you enjoy.

To (be) edit(ed) or not, etc.

My good friend Tamara Clarke, aka MugsyB, recently posted on her blog about editing and how she loathes it. She followed up with a post thanking her beta reader/editor (yours truly ๐Ÿ™‚ ) for taking on such a thankless job. Hahaha. Seriously, she did thank me and I appreciate it, just as I appreciate the beta reading and suggestions she gives to me. So, what the heck, here are my thoughts on editing.

I don’t mind. ๐Ÿ˜€

But first I need to note — there’s self-editing, then having someone edit for you. I don’t mind either one. I’m constantly editing my own stuff. My husband has in fact threatened to not let me re-read some of my earlier works, as he thinks they’re fine and that I’m fretting needlessly. The truth is in between. The stories are fine, mostly, but since posting my first story, Make a Wish, I’ve learned a lot. (I could go on about the issues in that one…)

I am also one of the rare writers, it seems, who actively seek out and want feedback that pokes holes or otherwise challenges a story. It’s a little bit of paranoia, in a way. I don’t want to get stuff wrong (although I do; the first version of Ghosts of the Forum was rife with language errors, later corrected for the version included in Melting the Ice), and so I look for help. I’m competitive with myself. I want to know if my characters are acting as a guy or woman would, or that they are not acting out of character the way I set it up. I want to know if I make a continuity error or forget something in the plot line.

Finding those holes is difficult when you edit yourself. As the writer, you know what you mean, you know how you want the story to go, and so you may fill in gaps in your head, automatically, that would puzzle a reader who doesn’t know your intentions. You may also miss things entirely. I’m always a little nervous when I send off something for beta reading, hoping I haven’t done anything embarrassing. On the other hand, it’s a relief to know that if a mistake of some sort is found, I can fix it before siccing it on the unsuspecting public. (You’re welcome.)

I’ve had writers tell me that they don’t want an editor because they feel: it would change their voice or style; that they are possessive of their plot or characters and don’t want anyone to change them; because they’re just stubborn that way. ๐Ÿ™‚

Finding a good editor and/or beta reader is a job, I can’t say it isn’t. Especially on the free sites where I post, if you do happen to hook up with someone and it works for you, it’s likely luck of the draw. Not everyone is an English expert, so mistakes will still get through. (Professional, paid editing would, I hope, be a different story.) Even so, a good and helpful editor will not change your voice or style, they will help you hone it and make it stronger. They won’t take away your characters; they should help you make sure the characters stay in character and act according to whatever rules you’ve set up. Putting a character who’s afraid of heights on top of a cliff is no good unless a foundation is laid for the change, for example. A good editor won’t change your plot or hijack it; they will help you find the parts that make it rough so you can smooth it over.

As a writer seeking editing, you have to be open to making changes. I remember being a bit taken aback when my editor at Republica Press wanted to remove a multi-page scene from Young Blood. I thought the scene was good, demonstrating Jura’s insecurities while Sean refused to let her fall victim to them. My editor thought it was unnecessary and repetitive, and so I redid the scene, making the struggle more internal, and I think it’s better. In the edited version, Jura struggles with her insecurities and then decides to deal with them, making her more of the independent heroine I’ve written about before.

So I edit myself and ask for editing. My beta reader and I have been over Chs 1, 2 and part of 3 of a new hockey story multiple times now (and don’t ask how many times we debated the Cobra scene with Tabby and Lucas in Game Misconduct). It’s a little frustrating but the story will eventually be better for it, and I hope write itself more easily as the foundations for the characters and plot are strengthened early on.

Now, editing other people… that’s a whole other ball game.

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