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Chris James

For readers and writers alike

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Much has been discussed among the authors on this site about our readers, and now it seems time to bring in the two other categories of people who may be looking at these words...the readers and potential writers.

The current list of authors includes a truly varied spectrum of personalities, and a great variety of styles because of that. One thing we can all agree upon is that knowing what the readers think, feel, understand and want is all a part of why we write. The best part is that we are not averse to competition because every new voice on the site makes us all look good. So, you want to write something?

This is the best place to discuss story ideas, this forum right here. That means if you have the desire to write a story like those you read, or unlike those you see The Dude post, then let's talk about it. Every branch of entertainment thrives on new ideas, and just because you read Romeo and Juliet by someone else doesn't mean you can't write a differing viewpoint. Hm, Romeo and Mercutio...anyone?

Sure, you've never written anything before except essays for a class at school. Perhaps you took a creative writing class in college. It doesn't matter if you took it in kindergarten, did it inspire thoughts of an interesting story? What does it take to write a story? I'll say it in one word: desire.

Do you like telling stories to your friends around a campfire? Do you read a chapter for history class and tell yourself that if Newton had been diddling with a young man under that apple tree he never would have discovered gravity. Imagination is the first step to achieving that desire to entertain others.

But this forum is the place to start that dialogue by accessing the authors on the site and asking them why they did this instead of that in a story. Validate your thoughts, get the encouragement to write your own true or fictional story. I assure you, no one will know the difference unless you tell them. Some of the best stories on the AD site come from personal observations or experiences.

Can you write? These days all it takes is a word processing program and the time to do it. But there are places in the forum, or even here, to post a handful of paragraphs. No one will laugh at you, we all know that writing can be painful. But no one will coddle you either if you ask for an honest opinion of what you wrote. Every bit of praise or critical comment is educational, this is how you learn to please an audience of readers.

Now having said that, authors enjoy feedback from readers. How else do we learn what you like or dislike? Believe me, we would rather write something everyone wants to read, but only you can tell us what that is.

I have been reading books since I was knee high to an emu, and only began to read online about ten years ago. I read for years before deciding to post something on my own and my first efforts were awkward and the comments said just that. We all had to start somewhere. But you learn that there is a whole support structure available to the writers online. Editors and fact checkers that love to read new work and help the author make the story better.

So...enough said? The rest is up to you. If a reader then read with an eye to the quality of what you see and don't be afraid to tell the author of that story what you think. If you think you might like to write then reach out here and say "Yeah, I want to write...and this is my idea for a story." Someone will respond, or if you favor an author try using their name to catch their attention.

Turn off the television, put on some nice background music and write. Ideas for a story come at the strangest times of the day so keep a notepad on hand and write them down. It won't be easy, but it won't be difficult if you have that...desire.

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In accordance with what Chris just said, I'd like to add, none of the writers here woke up from a sound sleep one morning and said, "You know, I've never written anythying in my life, but I think I will," and then went and wrote a great and earthshattering story. It doesn't work that way. Writing, writing well, is a learn as you go sort of proposition. But the doing is great fun, and a wonderful, upliftying experience.

What you write the first time doesn't have to be great. It does have to have enthusiasm and passion in it, what you're feeling inside as you write. You have to care about what you're doing, or the page will reflect your lack of interest.

Just as an aside, when I was just getting started, I wrote a series of quite short pieces just to test myself and see what I was capable of doing. The stories are on my Author's Page here, under the title Celebrations. In those stories I took a stab, for the first time, at writing in different voices and verb tenses and styles. Just to see if I could, and how it felt doing it. It was great fun, and I'm proud of how they came out. But the thing is, that's what early writing is: experimenting, trying, and learning from the attempts.

I think any author here would say they've gotten better as they've gone along. And the common factor is, they all began with never having written before. Every one of us.

Another thing that's pretty close to universally true, especially at this site, is that we're eager to share what knowledge we've gained by doing this, and excited about helping someone who is courageous enough to ask questions. We love to answer questions about our writing. We like to share the struggle!

So, don't be shy!

C

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Years ago, when I was just getting started, I wrote a story I thought was compelling and exciting. It was, at least the readers told me so when it was finally posted. But there was a lot of change necessary, and in the end I think it said what I wanted in my voice.

I mention this because right after it was posted I received a piece of mail from an author I had never heard of. He commented on the story and made some suggestions that eventually found their way into this story when I finally sat down to re-write it. I did not agree with every suggestion, but he challenged me to create a better story. He may not remember, but that author was Cole Parker.

His critical eye poked holes in my story logic and made me think. That is what a well respected author can do for someone new, and as he says above, he was willing to share his knowledge to make me a better writer. We are all different in the way we see words on the page, our stories are hardly the same, but we share a common goal: a passion for writing.

Thank you good sir!

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I never wrote anything before. I was dared into giving it a try. A friend fed me one little line and I ran with it. 101 is the result. It was pretty raw but it was there. After reading stories for so long, I developed my own style. Unlike a lot of authors, I don't have any kind of outline or direction I want to go. I hit the ground running and shoot from the hip and it just morphs into something semi-legible. Now I have a few things here and contributed to Midnight Dude with a lot of good company.

I think everybody has a tale in them, just need to find a way to get it out. I once told a friend that anything I wrote would look like a service manual. Heh, it don't. Give it a shot, you may be surprised.

Chris, don't talk Cole up too much. His head will swell so big he won't fit thru the door. :mean:

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The guy with the swollen head? He did something similar for me not so long ago. I was bellyaching here at AD about suffering a dry spell and he got me writing again by offering some of his unused ideas, one of which sparked me off. He then put a lot of work into my story as editor, and at the end of the process a finished story popped out that I'm really quite proud of - Man and Superman. Looking back, that was a year ago this month. I haven't written anything much since, so maybe I need another kickstart...

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I too would encourage everyone who has ever thought of taking pen to paper - errr, fingers to keyboard - to sit down and give it a shot. You won't have anything to improve, to work on, to think about, to explore, to anguish over, until you actually have words in front of you. That's the first step. Then, post what you have and invite people to comment. Who knows? Maybe the next Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King is reading this right now.

I know how difficult this is though. Both to start writing and to comment on others. I still feel rather inadequate when others ask me to comment on what they've written. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but at least internally I always think, "Me?! What the hell do I know? Ask a real writer." I know this has been discussed before in these forums, but there's a fine line indeed between honest self-criticism (leading to improvement) and being overly critical of ourselves.

Take the risk. Every one of the writers on this board and others did that. One day, for as many differing reasons as there are writers, each one of us sat down as decided to see what they could do. See what would happen if they gave it a shot. Some came out with a real gem right off the bat. Most of us though, like myself, wrote something they didn't particularly like at first. Things that maybe never will see the light of day on any forum. That's okay. That's how it starts, that's how we learn. The important part is to be honest with yourself and look at what you've written with a critical (but not overly critical) eye. Let others take a look. Make improvements. Then, when you think you're maybe almost but not quite good enough, shut your eyes, tense up in fear, and hit that submit button. Even though you'll immediately think, "Oh no. What did I do? It's awful! Maybe I can send an email and just say, 'forget it,'" don't do that. Let it get read. You just may be surprised. Many of us, no matter how many stories we've submitted or what kind of reception they've got, still have that feeling every single time we hit the "send" button. It's all part of the fun.

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Reading Gee's comment above, I just thought of another very good reason to just grab pen (or these days, keyboard) and start. Believe it or not, you get the best ideas while writing. Many more than you get when you sit down and say, 'what do I want to write about?' That always leaves me with the blank slate that is the frequent, if unfortunate, state of my mind. But, when writing, when using that creative energy we all have, ideas come to me. I'd guess it'll happen to you, too.

So jot the ideas down and keep writing. Then you'll have a list of story ideas when you're ready for it.

C

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I can't begin to tell you how many stories I have started and never finished...well I can now, I counted them this evening after GW's post. The miracle of computers is that nothing is lost, it can all be slid on a flash drive or a disk. Even a snippet of something from a good story idea years ago doesn't need to be tossed out. Save and backup are the writer's best friends.

So ready for it? I have 234 pieces saved up and this doesn't included posted stories. I am probably more stunned than you are and I didn't do this to brag. In fact, this makes me sad. They are like orphans in my mind and I have the desire to see them find a good home.

Some of these documents contain a single page or a dozen, but something didn't work so I set them aside. But...and this is the fun part...some of these pieces have become full blown stories. By now most of you have seen Warrior's Promise. That was a five page character study until I found an article about a standing stone in New York State and something in my mind clicked.

So just because you have a great idea don't expect them all to bear fruit right away, but can them and set them on the shelf for later consumption. I agree with Cole, no author sees all the details right away, but a good writing session can produce thoughts you didn't know existed. Just remember that playing "what if I did this" isn't always productive, but it beats sitting there with a blank screen/page, so write it down.

I am in the midst of writing another novella for the AD site and the original work done on this story began four years ago, and then languished. But I saw a news item the other day and a photograph, that was all it took to make the two pieces of the puzzle come together. I have a beginning and an end, not a bad way to start the creative process.

So keep all your ideas in that amazing filing system on your shoulders and backup on disk. But characters once developed never leave their home in your gray matter and at some point you will find a place for them to live. You might be surprised when they start to build a story all by themselves.

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I can't claim to have 234 starts that I haven't finished, but I have a few, that's for sure. I'd agree with Chris. Sometimes time and random connections can make things work. I have one story that I'm working on right now. I began writing it well over a year ago, and then stopped. It just wasn't working, and I thought it was awful. Recently, while going through my documents folder, I came across it. Or, more accurately, I saw the working title of it, couldn't for the life of me remember what the heck it was, so loaded it up and read it. Turns out, it's actually quite good. Needs work, but good enough that I don't know why I ever thought it was awful. Then I realized exactly where it needed to go, and began writing that very moment. Finished a couple of pages before I realized it. So that's proof of what Cole and Chris are saying, writing begets ideas sometimes, rather than the reverse.

So write! Just start typing. If you're truly stuck, don't try and expand your focus, instead, narrow it. If you can't think of an idea, narrow things down as much as possible. Look around you and start writing about an object you see in the room, or some trivial event at the checkout counter of the grocery store yesterday. You'll be surprised where that can lead.

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Wait a minute. Chris has 234 unused starts. Bruin claims to be waiting for inspiration and has no morals about asking for help (which I for one really applaud him for!) It would seem there might be a synergy here.

I have no morals - full stop (that's period to you colonials)! I'm surprised at you for applauding me over it, though!!

I can supply email addresses for both or either if desired. :icon13:

Shucks - what should I wear on our first date?

I alwasy (sic) wanted to be a matchmaker.

C

Thanks, Cole!

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Why on earth would I trade one minute of the single-most perfect joy of my whole life, reading, which now affords me the second, talking about what I think, feel, understand and want -to a captive audience no less, for what is probably be the most thankless job in the universe and an opportunity to experience, up close and personal, the collective mind that equates pathology with entertainment and other peoples misfortune as a sign of their success?

When I want to torture Cole, I just start talking...

Tracy

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I've always been envious of people who can write stories, novellas, novels, anything. I would give my eye teeth to be able to write a story, just one, but I have no clue how to start. I've tried, believe me. I just can't think of anything to write about. How do you come up with a story line that you can flesh out into something more?

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What a question!

There's certainly no one answer to that. When I wrote my short story Courage, what inspired me was, I was driving home from Trader Joe's, just having bought a couple of bottles of two-buck Chuck, and I passed a young guy, probably 18 to 20, jogging. He was basically naked, wearing nothing but shoes and a small pair of black running shorts. His chest was was runner's chest, well defined, and bare of hair. He had long, long legs. Of course I noticed him. Show me a mostly naked, well-built, athletic young man and I notice!

But my mind tends to work in mysterious way--which is why it's a difficult question to answer--and I started putting plots together that would involve a lone jogger. I'm constantly on the lookout for story ideas. I got several from that two-second glimpse of that guy as I drove past.

It's easy to do that, generate ideas from what you see. In this case, he was practicing for an important meet; for a tryout for his college team; to win a bet he'd made that involved unmentionable acts for the loser; to beat a hated, smug, condescending rival. Or, he'd just been mugged, they'd stolen his clothes, and he was running to the police station to report it. Or... well, the ideas keep coming if you welcome them, and are receptive. I like to write about kids because they fascinate me, and so I turned my runner into someone younger, and thought it would be interesting if the protagonist was someone who couldn't run. The ideas kept coming until I had something I could work with.

That's one story, and one way I got the idea. But just one. There are lots of ways ideas are generated, if you're open to them.

I try to keep an open mind, and am always, always on the lookout for another story to write. Anyone who reads a lot has a head full of other people's ideas. I think that helps. But where the original idea comes from can be anywhere, as long as you're receptive and senstive to what's going on around you.

One thing that's really helped me: like Chris, I've started many stories I haven't finished. But the ones I do finish have something in common. Invariably, before I start those, I know how they're going to begin, which is alwasy set to pull readers in, and I know how they'll end. I'm always vague on the middle, but I've found, if I know how it'll end and point my writing in that direction, the middle tends to take care of itself.

I hope someone else will jump in on this question. It's a wonderful one and probably one of univeral interest. Many, many people have this problem. I did mnyself, once. I never wrote anything for years because I didn't think I had a story in me, or anything to say. That germ of an idea that you can turn into a story: where does it come from?

C

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I've always been envious of people who can write stories, novellas, novels, anything. I would give my eye teeth to be able to write a story, just one, but I have no clue how to start. I've tried, believe me. I just can't think of anything to write about. How do you come up with a story line that you can flesh out into something more?

I see the story possibilities right there in what you say. Try this thought:

He can't think of anything to write. Maybe he has a deadline and the words just don't come. He begins to type on the page when the phone rings, a distraction. It's his Mom wanting to know what he wants for Christmas when all he can think about is wanting a little peace and quiet to complete his task. Back and forth, he writes a few lines, there is a knock on the door, more distractions.

This way you can write a short story about a guy trying to write something when you are really writing about the distractions, funny or otherwise. But then like most of us we get involved in the pain of this poor guy trying to write and we have no idea what he is about to say. Who is he, what is his assignment? And that is where you get to add your bang up ending. After the pages of distractions are noted, the incessant noise and bother of the world intruding on his thoughts are done, our writer character sits back with a sigh and begins to read what he has done.

"My fellow Americans, as your President..." That is where it ends. The success of the surprise is that we have been given no clue as to what he has been writing. Maybe a word here and there that makes it look like a history assignment for school. Toss in the name of a foreign country here, the name of a foreign capital there. But all those clues are terminated abruptly by one of the distractions. We don't find out until the end that he is the President's speech writer.

Cole is right, the idea is the thing. Start with that golden idea, with some concept of your ending, and allow the thoughts from your real world to fill in the middle. We all suffer distractions, the world intruding on our lives. Use that, make fun of it and put words on the page. Won't know if it is any good unless you try.

And good luck, I have to go, the washer is overflowing......damn. :aak[1]:

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So ready for it? I have 234 pieces saved up and this doesn't included posted stories. I am probably more stunned than you are and I didn't do this to brag. In fact, this makes me sad. They are like orphans in my mind and I have the desire to see them find a good home.

I just saw a documentary on director/writer Woody Allen, and in it, he shows a big pile of little scraps of paper, each with an idea he hasn't been able to turn into a full story yet. He said there were at least 100 ideas there. Allen pulled one out at random, which was: "A guy inherits a warehouse full of magic tricks from a distant relative, who was a great magician."

I could easily see this being a terrific story, maybe a novel or a film. But Woody said he couldn't figure out where to go from there. Stephen King's last two books (The Dome and 11/22/63) were both done from old unfinished manuscripts from the 1970s -- and it's fair to say those sold pretty well.

So trust me: even great storytellers sometimes have trouble finishing ideas.

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