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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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!

“Why We Won” – A Story About Football, Winning, and Brotherhood

Do you have football on the brain?  Do you enjoy short stories?  How do you feel about having your heartstrings pulled?  If you answered all of these questions in the affirmative, I hope you’ll check out my piece of flash fiction entitled “Why We Won.”  Just scroll down for links to Kindle and Nook and download for only ninety-nine cents!

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After five years of winning football state championships, a quarterback laces up for his last game. He and his team are brothers, and they know how much rides on each and every game. For them, winning is very much a matter of life or death.  (Family Saga/Sports)

The Joy Of Writing With Others

As you may know, I’m teaching a creative writing course this semester and I’m enjoying it more than I ever expected.  My students are amazing–a dream come true.  They are creative, have excellent attitudes, and don’t hesitate to get right to work on their writing.  I can’t imagine a better group to initiate this new chapter of my career.

Today we started on our first “official” genre–Realistic Fiction.  We’ve done a few warm-up activities, but this is the first story we plan to read to each other.  When it comes to reading and writing, I believe in sitting down and doing it with the students.  Luckily, I happen to love both of those things.

So, as my students started their first short story, I started one as well.  I fully intend to partake in each genre, to read my work to them just as they must read their work aloud to the group, and to basically experience the victories and frustrations as an active participant, not just an objective observer.

I’ve been writing regularly for a long, long time now, and virtually all of it has been by myself–mostly in a basement of some sort or another with the lights off and music playing.

Today I wrote in a classroom full of teenagers.  Some of them were sketching characters, some of them were developing plot in their journals, some were typing away.  I’ve always listened to music as I write, so I allow them to listen with their earbuds as well.  I would intermittently look up to see my students lost in their own creative endeavor.  I heard the tap-tap-tap of their keyboards.  I saw the words appearing on their screens, the characters taking shape in their journals, or the pencil gliding across their notebook paper.  I took all of this in and it brought me great happiness.

At the end of class I mentioned to them how fun it is to write with others.  I explained that writing can be such an isolated, lonely activity–to sit in a room and write with others … it felt so … nice!  (Excellent writing there, huh?)

Guiding these young people though the first steps of what I hope will be a lifelong writing journey has not only invigorated me as a teacher, but it’s also already provided a sense of community in regards to writing that I didn’t even realize I craved.

Tomorrow Begins a New Chapter In My Teaching Career

I’m so excited because tomorrow begins a new chapter in my teaching career.  Tomorrow marks the first day I will teach a creative writing class.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve taught for sixteen years without ever once instructing a creative writing course, but it’s true.

I’m particularly excited because I can share with the students quite a bit of real world application when it comes to creative writing.  We can explore so many traditional and nontraditional publishing avenues, contacting agents, setting up readings, developing a website, partaking in social media–all of those things that are necessary to reach an audience.  After all, writing the story is just the first step.

I am ecstatic to help these students find their voices, experiment with different genres, hone their craft, build their confidence, and learn about the business side as well.  I’ll share with them my victories, but also my blunders.  I think both will provide ample learning opportunity.

However, my number one priority when I meet them tomorrow for the first time?  Ask them what they want to learn.  Their requests will drive the course.

Wish us luck!