I want to start this blog off with a bit of a confession: I struggle with creative writing. Now, obviously I write for a living, but here at Udemy, I am not called upon to come up with fiction narratives. It’s all educational, essay style writing, which happens to be my strongest area of expertise. “Phew”, right? Not really. You see, every now and then, in order to help make a bit of information more clear, I will have to come up with a hypothetical scenario wherein that information would be used – “micro fictions” I call them. The truth is, I even struggle with those sometimes.
Last week, I was writing a blog post on the difference between similes and metaphors, and giving examples of each. I knew the blog post would make more sense if I could relay situations or real-life scenarios that called for the use of these two comparison types, but I was coming up completely blank. Often, what many of us do when we are casting about for ideas is look up from the keyboard, and take in what’s around us. I write at my kitchen table, so I began trying to work in the objects nearby. Bananas, wall clock, recycle bin, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I came up with “Let’s say you’re buying bananas at the store, and you need to compare them to…” What? No. That wasn’t working. Later that night, I had some friends over, and I asked them to rattle off some examples. Between the five of us, we got a great list going in less than three minutes. Creative writing is hard work, and sometimes you need help to get you started. Crowd sourcing ideas like I did is one technique you can use. Let’s look at a few others.
Get Inspired with Mood Music
One of my husband’s hobbies is writing, go figure. Where I grapple with fiction, he excels at it, and he would tell you that has a lot to do with the soundtrack. Whenever he writes, he has music playing. He uses services like Spotify or Pandora to help him build up a playlist that fits a certain mood. Personally, I find music a little distracting sometimes, but he finds it inspiring. The stories he is able to come up with while taking cues and ideas from the sound-scape are deeper and more complex as a result.
Many people consider music to be a great accompaniment to writing, and that makes perfect sense. If you would have music on during a workout to inspire you to push harder, why not use the same concept to further your writing? Also, if you are easily distracted by noises around you (kids carrying on, ringing phones, noisy conversations nearby, etc) music might be just enough to drown them out, and let you focus.
Hit the Library
Now we get to one of my favorite writing techniques: research. Even though you may be writing in a completely fictitious setting, you still might benefit from a little real-life research to give you some more ideas. You may think that your futuristic space opera doesn’t have an awful lot to gain from reference materials, but perhaps it does. Will your characters be living on a space ship for a long time? How are they feeding everyone? Can you grow plants in space? If so, why, and how can that information be used in your story? Even if you embellish it, and make it fit into your particular story universe, having a few hard facts on your side can help you take your story further.
Your cowboy story might be nearly complete, but as you read over it, you may notice you use generic terms like “hat” and “gun” a lot. Can you go research the types of hats that would have been worn in that time period? Does one of your characters own a hat that is actually way more expensive than he should be able to afford? Why? Where did he get it? Getting yourself set up with this combination of raw information and questions can gain you layers of depth in your story.
Get the Picture
We’ve covered auditory and written-word inspiration. What if you are more visually oriented? Sometimes, the next spark of writing inspiration can come from an image. Flipping through pictures is a creative writing technique that can help immensely with setting, theme, mood and character creation. You know you want to write a story about a battlefield nurse saving lives, but you keep getting hung up on how the scenes should play out, visually.
Sometimes, you have your story all outlined and ready to go, but filling in the pages between the beginning and the end can be a challenge. Go find some pictures that are associated with your subject matter. Look at them, and see what stories they are telling. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, and that may well be true for writers. What can you extrapolate from these images, and how can they apply to your story?
Write Everything Down
Let me know if this sounds familiar: you are sitting in your car, waiting for the traffic light to change, when you suddenly have a burst of inspiration. You have been wondering for weeks how the villain got around the guards to set that trap, and it just now hit you. The light turns green, you have a 30 minute drive remaining, and by the time you get home, you are sure you have already forgotten one or two aspects of your great idea.
Now, certainly, I’m not saying you should begin writing or worse, texting while in your car. I use that example because sometimes, these odd little moments of clarity hit us when we least expect them. Carrying around a scratch pad and pen to scribble ideas as they hit you can help you remember them for later, when you actually have time to write. And if you do happen to be in the car, or otherwise unable to take your eyes off an important task, learn to make liberal use of that “voice memos” option on your phone.
A common issue writers run into is that while their story makes sense to them, it doesn’t always make sense to the average reader. In order to help flesh out your story, and look for any missing gaps in the narrative, start asking yourself questions. If you have a friend willing to read over your work, and hand you a list of questions they have, that can also be incredibly helpful. Try to look at your story through the eyes of a first time reader. What questions would a newcomer have?
“Why is the main character resorting to vigilante justice?” “Why didn’t she have faith in law enforcement?” “How did she pull that off without getting caught?” If, throughout the course of the story, any of these questions remain unanswered, it is time to go back there and tighten things up.
This can also be a great technique for coming up with new creative writing ideas. Sometimes, the inspiration for a story can be as simple as one sentence “A town was hastily abandoned overnight, and nobody knows why”. From that first idea, you can begin asking questions to flesh out the story. “Has this happened before?” “Is there reason to suspect the paranormal?” Simply by answering these questions, you can begin to write your story.
Udemy can also help get you started on writing your first book. Don’t let your stories go untold.