Your Past Is a Treasure Trove – Use It!

There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again.  But that phrase is in direct contradiction with the popular scribe’s adage to “write what you know.”

When trying to come up with ideas, look no further than your past.  If you are a fiction writer, your life’s experiences are amazing and worthy of exploration.  Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you give us a word-for-word reenactment of what actually occurred.  But in regards to theme, regret, what-ifs … the past is a powerful writing prompt.

I firmly believe most fiction writers use some kind of personal experience with each and every piece of writing that they create.  The trick is not to get too constrained by the facts.  A writer must always be willing to fictionalize.  A writer needs to know when it’s the proper time to embellish, embolden, and flat-out lie.

Here are a few personal examples.  My short story “Bitterness” is about a young boy trapped inside of a closed camper by his older brother.  This absolutely happened to me in real life.  The ending is fabricated, but much of the story is based on truth–just embellished a little.  “Childhood Demons” is based upon the fact that I used to see creepy demon faces in the wood paneling of my bedroom.  That’s the basis of the story, but everything else is (thankfully) complete fiction.  My dad once told me about how, when he and my mother were newly married, he had to rescue the family dog and her puppies from an area flooding under their trailer.  This sparked the idea that turned into “Mother’s Day.”

A few ideas I’ve lately been bouncing around include the time a coach asked me why I quit high school basketball–I lied through my teeth to him.  Another potential story is about when a drunk knocked on my apartment door in the middle of the night and insisted the apartment belonged to him.  Finally, I think a funny story could be about the time I got smart with a telemarketer and they got even more aggressive with me.  These are just ideas.  Who knows if I’ll follow through with them?

The point is, everyday something happens in your life that could be a story.  Take an event, turn up your imagination, and ask, “What if?”  What if I’d fought back against that bully?  What if I’d taken that amazing job offer?  What if I gave that homeless person a dollar?

Our lives are ripe with possibilities.  We live the literal, but the imaginable is infinite.  So … what’s your story?

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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The Myth Of Uninterrupted Writing Time

There’s a mythical tale about the writer who wrote, uninterrupted, day after day after day.  The world outside stayed away, society kept at bay, and the writer wrote what he may.  Inspiration struck, which was always his luck, and nothing he ever wrote sucked.

Yeah, no.

That’s not the real world.  If you’re a writer waiting to only write when afforded uninterrupted time, I’ve got some harsh words for you: you will either never write, or you will never truly live.

For example … My daughter had some friends over tonight to watch a movie.  During that time, my wife spent special time with our youngest child.  Between getting drinks, making popcorn, checking in, etc., I edited my latest work.  Did I have to stop every so often?  You bet.  At this very moment, I’m the only one awake in my house.  It’s eleven at night.  I wanted to write this article today.  But, I wanted to first edit that other piece as well.  So here I am.

My point is, writing is like regular exercise.  You have to be committed to it, you have to want to do it, and you have to fit it in wherever your schedule allows.  It’s rare that I get more than thirty minutes uninterrupted at a time when home.  Sometimes I piecemeal a simple story or article throughout the course of an entire day.  Ten minutes here, five minutes there–it adds up.  Is that ideal?  No, of course not.

But for me, the ideal is being an engaged father, an attentive husband, a good friend, and an active participant in this thing called life.  I will never sacrifice those things for uninterrupted writing time.

Maybe if I ever hit it big time and could afford to stay home and write while my kids were at school, maybe then I could get those large chunks of uninterrupted writing time, but I enjoy working full-time.  My career as a high school English teacher fulfills me deeply, and it allows me to immerse myself in many different points of view and walks of life.  I feel as though working in a public school grants me the privilege of understanding the entire scope of modern day society.

I’ve been more productive in terms of writing these last two years than ever before, and I’ve also been at my busiest.  I work my writing in whenever I can.  It isn’t always pretty, and it’s usually never uninterrupted, but it happens because I want it to.

That’s the crux of what I want to say: writers must want to write.  Regularly.  Faithfully.  Even zealously.  It’s work.  It’s fun work, to be sure, but it’s work.

So, please, don’t fall prey to the myth.  Stop waiting for the perfect time to write and just start writing.

Get to work.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Finding Your Character’s Voice

Oftentimes people come up with a wonderful story idea, plot it out intricately, and then get to writing.  After awhile, though, they begin to realize that all of the characters sound the same.

An important step got skipped — character work.

Two prominent opinions abound in the writing community.  The first opinion stipulates that the plot is the driving force of the story.  If the plot is sound, everything else will fall into place.  Plot and pacing will not be sacrificed in service of characters.

The other opinion is the complete opposite.  Plot is irrelevant.  If the character is rounded, well-developed, and real, a plot can’t help but occur.  These stories meander along, but, assuredly, by the end of the book you know that character inside and out.

I fall somewhere in the middle.  No matter what story I’m writing, even the very plot-driven ones, I firmly believe every major character should have a distinct persona and voice.

But what is voice?  Voice is literally how the character sounds.  What is their dialect, their speech pattern, their cadence?  Are they humorous, monotone, sarcastic, succinct, verbose?  Is their dialogue generally very relaxed, or are they typically agitated?  Do they have a complex vocabulary or do they keep things short and sweet?

Unfortunately, these are things that you can’t really figure out on the fly, well, not without wasting a lot of time.  It’s so much more efficient to spend a few weeks figuring out who your characters are.  Delve deeply into their background.  Even if you don’t actually use 95% of what you develop, they will feel, and therefore sound, so much more tangible to both you and the reader.  For example, a character who grew up poor in LA is going to talk and sound very differently from a character who grew up isolated from society in rural Maine.  They will have completely unique life experiences, and, if thrust together, will not act and talk similarly when their true selves appear.

I’ve written characters that were underdeveloped and I struggled with them from start to finish.  If you don’t know your character, then you don’t have a solid understanding of how they will react in different situations.  Readers are typically an intellectual group.  They will sniff out a shortcut in a heartbeat.

I know it’s hard to slow down.  I know you want to write that book now.  But trust me when I tell you that by thoroughly exploring your characters and giving them the time that they deserve, you will write a better book.

By the time you’re done, your characters will feel like permanent members of your reality.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Need Writing Ideas? Let Me Help

People often ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The answer is simple but rarely satisfying to the questioner: “Everywhere.”

Let me provide a little background information that will prove useful later on … I work full-time as a high school English teacher, and with that comes constant planning, educating, and assessing.  I have a nine-year-old and a six-year-old, and they are involved in many, many … many activities.  I’m married to a wonderful woman with endless responsibilities who also works full time.  We have a house and all the needs a house requires.  In other words, we’re busy …  I’m busy.

Yet, I write.  Regularly.

At the moment, I specialize in flash fiction, because that’s about all I can muster amidst a chaotic life that I love dearly.  However, I think I’m pretty good at these little five page stories, and I’m even better at conceiving, executing, and publishing within the span of a few days.  (If interested, you can find them all HERE.)

Novels still hold great appeal, and I have a few in the works, but those require prolonged, sustained effort, meticulous planning, and the willingness to invest years (if not decades).

The point is, with over 50 short stories, two books, and three novels in progress, I’m still finding things to write about — the ideas keep coming.

Here are four pieces of advice I’d like to offer to help you on your journey.  Follow these pointers, and I know new ideas will always be within reach.

  • Mind Wide Open
    Always be on the lookout for ideas.  No matter what you’re doing, keep that little writer in your mind awake and hungry.  Everything can be a story.  Inspiration is everywhere, but it’s not always easy to see.  When you see something that piques your curiosity, ask yourself why it may be happening.  Then, make up your own answer.  There’s your story.  This requires a certain willingness to observe, a bit of compulsive inquisitiveness, and an imaginative mind that never shuts down.
  • Take Note!
    Here’s where a lot of people get in trouble — they come up with an amazing idea in the shower, while driving, on the toilet, etc., tell themselves they will write about it later, and then completely forget about it.  Believe me, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way more times than I’d like to admit.  Always, always, always, ALWAYS have some tool at your disposal that allows you to take note.  Maybe it’s a text to yourself; maybe it’s using the note app on your phone; maybe it’s keeping a pen on you so that you can write on a receipt, a napkin, your hand; maybe it’s moving a ring to the wrong finger so that you’ll ask yourself later why that ring is on the wrong finger which reminds you that you put your ring on the wrong finger in order to remember that amazing idea!  I’ve slept with a notepad next to my bed for over ten years now.  I’m glad I got in the habit of doing this because what may turn out to be my greatest story — Dr. Nekros — literally came to me in a dream.  I woke up, took a few notes, drew a quick sketch, and then went back to sleep.  Imagine my surprise when I awakened the next morning!
  • Act Like a Worm
    The greatest piece of advice I read by Stephen King told writers that if they want to write prolifically, they must read voraciously.  It’s true.  If you are always on the lookout for ideas, and you read as much as humanly possible, new ideas will always be within reach.  For example, ever read a line in a book that got you thinking about a topic you never before considered?  There’s your idea.  I once read an article in Smithsonian Magazine about advances in artificial limbs.  This got my gears turning, and before too long “Thumb War” appeared.  Reading does so much for writers beyond providing creative inspiration.  It also exposes us to new vocabulary, helps us to experience various styles and mechanics, and generally educates.  There is no downside to being a bookworm.
  • Don’t Use the Force
    Finally, don’t force it.  Yes, always keep an open mind, but don’t try so hard to come up with an idea that you implode.  Forcing it leads to frustration, which leads to writer’s block.  I don’t know about you, but I can barely remember my own name when I get super frustrated.  If the ideas aren’t coming, accept it.  Go for a walk.  Read a little.  See a movie.  Play with your kids.  Take your loved one to dinner.  In other words — relax!  Take a break, get refreshed, and then come back and try again.

Believe me, if you commit to these four simple practices, you’ll have plenty of writing ideas in no time at all.  Thanks for reading, best of luck, and keep writing!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

What’s In a Name?

I’ve noticed that authors have a great deal of difficulty doing something rather necessary — naming characters.  Names have such power that this endeavor should never be taken lightly.  After all, the name an author assigns a character will likely outlast the author him or herself, especially if the piece catches on.  Can you imagine Hannibal Lecter  by any other name?  Or Hermoine Granger?

On a personal note, I have struggled with this venture as well.  Here are four strategies I’ve developed over the years that have always proven helpful.  This doesn’t have to be limited to naming literary characters, by the way.  Feel free to take advantage if looking to name a pet or child.

  1. Use Your Allusion
    Perhaps your character has something very much in common with another famous person or place.  For example, it’s rare to find a villain in popular culture named “Arthur.”  That name has become so synonymous with “good” and “noble” that the name alone can establish characterization.  “Paris” insinuates sophistication.  “Diana” connotes royalty.  Unfortunately, some previously established names are forever off-limits.  You’ll never get away with using “Einstein,” “Sherlock,” or “Beyonce.”
  2. With a Little Help From Your Friends
    Along the lines of the previous advice, look to your own circle of friends or social network for inspiration.  If you have a friend who is incredibly intelligent and you correlate that name with intellect, tack it onto your character.  The subconscious connection will round your character out and ground them to your mind’s reality.  Conversely, let’s say you have a friend of a friend who is a total jerk.  The name of that person alone may be all the push you need to set that character’s creative tone.  Of course, tread lightly with this strategy.  Friends will read perhaps too deeply into characters named after them.  What may have been a relatively simple decision by you could severely alter a relationship if they don’t care for their namesake.
  3. This Is Gibberish
    If writing science fiction or fantasy stories, nonsense words will likely prove very useful.  I remember a wonderful interview in which Neil Gaiman said “Coraline,” the name of his famous character, occurred simply due to a typo.  He meant to write “Caroline.”  This era has the distinct benefit of the internet, which provides countless “name generators” for every genre imaginable.  I also like to use the old school method of simply combining parts of words that describe the actual character.  Let’s say I have a science fiction character who is deceitful and murderous, yet also charming.  I may put together a name such as “Chare Itous.”  Be aware, though, that the more outlandish the name, the more likely you are to lose your reader.  Readers need names that standout and are easy to remember.  To this day, I can only recall a handful of the names from “The Lord Of the Rings.”
  4. The Randomness Of It All
    If you want to avoid friends and family making any kinds of associations, and if you desire for your characters to remain free of any preconceived notions as the byproduct of an allusion, then I suggest allowing fate to decide for you.  Put a phone book in front of you, close your eyes, open it, and point.  Use the first name of the person you’ve selected as your character’s first name.  Repeat this process for the last name.  By doing this, you will truly allow your writing to establish the characterization of your creations.  This method dodges any shortcuts, crutches, or flat-out plagiarism.  It’s pure.  It’s authentic.  It’s random.  Of course, the internet has generators for random names as well, but it’s nowhere near as fun.

Naming a character can sometimes become an overwhelming endeavor.  I hope these four strategies are useful so that you can get on to the most important thing — actually writing!

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Always On the Hunt For Something New To Read?

Are you always on the hunt for something new to read?  I publish short stories every week or two in a variety of genres.  Most of them are between five and ten pages long, and all of them are only ninety-nine cents on both the Nook and Kindle.

You never know what you’re going to get from me.  One story will be an inspirational tear-jerker, the next will keep you up at night in fear.  Some are hilarious, and others are so surreal that they don’t even make total sense to me.  I love to read in all genres–my writing reflects this preference.  I can’t be contained to one format, one style, or one genre.

If you’ll allow presumption on my part: I have certain authors that I adore.  Unfortunately, they are not exactly prolific.  They tend to write great novels … every three or four years.  If you decide you like my writing, you can always look forward to something new within a few weeks.

Visit my website’s homepage HERE for available titles with links to both Nook and Kindle downloads.

Thanks so much for your time.  I hope you’ll take joy in “discovering” me!

 

What I’m Currently Working On

I try to write and release a short story every few weeks through the Kindle and Nook publishing platforms. This helps me stay creative and satiate my need for playing in different genres. I’ll write horror one week, humor the next, and then inspirational after that. I love to read in all genres, so it makes sense that I enjoy writing in them, too.

Speaking of the Kindle, I’ve removed my 18-part Dr. Nekros serial from that platform and am currently shopping it around to literary agents as a collected epic edition. It’s a tough sell because it had already been published incrementally, but I know it will eventually find a home. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about a ghost hunter, a haunted car, a demon … and an ex-wife?

Finally, I just finished the first draft of a novel. It’s got a long way to go, but it feels good to lay the foundation. As mentioned earlier, I hate being stifled by genre, and this novel is a perfect example of that. Once it’s ready for literary agents, I’m not sure how I’m going to present it. It’s about love, self-realization, moving on, and ghosts communicating through the ether.

Combine all of that with full-time teaching and two small children, and you’ve got a busy guy!