Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ask the Muse: Get That Idea Out of Your Head and Onto the Page

Dear Muse,

I've got an idea that's been in my head for years about a fiction story. I've Googled all sorts of stuff about how to begin, but nothing stands out to me about how to get going - e.g. using Word or another program, just start writing, or any other method. I used to have a monthly column in a trade magazine but nothing like this. Can you point me in a direction for me to get started?

Steve K. Oklahoma City, OK
Dear Steve,

Getting started is always the hardest part of writing fiction.  First of all, the tool you use whether it is a word processing program such as Microsoft Word or simple pen and paper, doesn't matter.  Use whatever you are most comfortable with and encourages you to write

But I can offer you several additional tips that should help get you started if you have an idea already in your head:

  1. Use my flash writing process (as outlined in my first column for flashquake back in the spring of '05) to power through some initial exploration drafts. Although I created this process for flash fiction, these guidelines can be used for any creative writing assignment: fiction or non-fiction.
  2. Following rule #1 of my flash writing process, set a timer for 15 minutes and, as fast as you can, write down everything that you know about the project.  Write about where you got the idea, who the characters are (complete with descriptions, motivations and roles within your story), the general plot and events that occur within the story.  Write down EVERYTHING you know about the tale. Hold nothing back.  Don't worry about spoiling any plot twists or revealing any surprise endings. This exercise is for your eyes only to get as much information about the project down on paper as possible.  The best thing that you can do at this stage is get that idea out of your head and onto some paper.
  3. List, in as much detail as possible, everything that you know about your ideal, target reader.  For example: The ideal reader for my new book Running Away from It All is a college-educated 32 to 45 year-old man  who is married, has at least 5 kids and 3 pets, a thankless white-collar job in middle management with little chance for advancement within the company.  His employees hate him. He might have suffered from a mid-life crisis within the last six months, has a passion for watching Mythbusters on TV, and dreams of someday capturing definitive evidence of the existence of Bigfoot.
  4. Make a list of books and authors that are similar to the book you hope to write.
  5. Write a letter to this ideal reader telling this person all about your story.  Or better yet, write this letter to a loved one such as a best friend, beloved spouse, child or parent. This will help you think about the story and explain it to an audience with a sympathetic ear. This person will not judge you, and is looking forward to hearing about your new status as a New York Times best-selling author.
  6. You don't have to begin at the beginning of the story.  In fact, many writers do not write the beginning of the story until the end of the writing process.  Begin writing in a scene where you have a clear idea of what is going on or introducing a major character.  Begin in the middle of that scene and make sure it has some ACTION or CONFLICT.
That should be enough to get you started. For those of you in the Columbus area who want to learn more about how to begin writing fiction, sign up for my class, Getting Started Writing Fiction, on Saturday, April 24th at Upper Arlington Lifelong Learning. Go to for details on registering for the class online.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Spring edition of Flash Writing has been posted on flashquake

This column is all about Urban Legends and how they have thrived in this electronic age.  Not to mention that they serve as great inspiration for stories.

Check it out at