Family, Nonfiction, Personal blog, Random and Fandom

Dear class of 2020, you are immortal…

empty classroomDear class of 2020,

I am a West Marion High School graduate Class of 1996. That year probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but if you do some quick math you’ll figure out I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of being as old as your parents.

Interestingly enough, in January of ’96, the United States experienced one of the worst blizzards on record, forcing the schools in New York to close for the first time in eighteen years. So those guys at least have a little something in common with you. Also in ‘96, Braveheart won the Oscar for best picture, the biggest newsmaker was the Menendez trial, a Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls won yet another NBA championship, and we all eagerly awaited the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. I had to Google most of that (something I couldn’t have done in 1996) because honestly it just wasn’t that memorable. Except for the Olympics. Continue reading “Dear class of 2020, you are immortal…”

Tips and Hacks, Writing Tips

Dear Anne #7 – Finding Inspiration

Dear Anne,

ideaToday I want to talk to you about finding inspiration. The truth is, the firing of the synapses in your mind will only take you so far in the creative process. Your brain needs a database of inspirational input in order to come up with truly creative ideas. Think of it as putting things in a hat. If you need an idea, you simply reach into the hat for one or two. But if there are only a handful of mundane daily things in your hat, you’re not going to get a lot of great ideas to work with. So you have to fill your hat with as much random junk as you can. Pull two or three things out of the hat, and suddenly your brain has a spark of creative genius.

This is what it means when people say you have to practice being creative. Being creative is not something that just comes randomly to especially creative people, but it comes to those who have stock-piled a collection of random things that they can draw upon to be inspired in their creativity. If you don’t make it a habit to keep your collection up-to-date, your creativity will begin to stale.

So where do you get these random things that fuel your inner creative genius? Here are just a few places…

1. Other stories. Reading and watching movies are great places to find unique ideas to put into your hat. It’s okay to be inspired by other writers…chances are they were inspired by other writers too. There’s nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9). The inspiration you have from other writers will come out differently with you than it did with them. You’ll have a unique spin and a unique story, even if certain elements might have been inspired by another story or movie. Take all of these stories, especially the elements you like the most, and put them into your hat.

2. Observing life. Sure you live life. You see life. You talk to people. You do things. But are you really observing what is happening? Do you listen to the subtle nuances of a conversation? Do you look for possible hidden meanings in a word or phrase? Do you speculate on the secret thoughts behind a look on someone’s face? Do you notice the variations in shadows on the wall? Do you lay on the floor or turn your head upside down just to look at things from a new perspective? Do you wonder about sounds you don’t recognize? Do you see weird things while riding down the road and try to figure out what was going on? Do you ask the question “why?” about anything and everything, not to get the real answer, but to give your creative mind a chance to fabricate an answer true or not? Never forget to take time to observe life. Watch it with all the analyzation and wonder you might new movie…always wondering what might come next and always trying to predict the most outlandish outcomes. Everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you speculate all goes into your hat.

3. Dreams. Yeah, I know. Cliche, right? But don’t knock it. Some of my favorite scenes in my books were inspired by dreams. In fact, I have an entire book in my “To Write List” that was almost 100% inspired by a particularly vivid dream. Dreams are when your brain is at its most creative and random. You might be able to use whole dream sequences or maybe just a small impression, emotion, or snippet of conversation. The point is, put these things in your hat and pull them out whenever you need inspiration. When you first wake up, take a few moments to try to remember your dreams. Think about details. Think about over-arching plot lines in the “story” of your dream. Think about the emotional affect it might have had on you. And if necessary keep a dream journal to write them down.

4. A dictionary, encyclopedia, or text book. You’ll be surprised what learning something new will do for creativity. If you read an article about the early Aztec Empire, you might find something there that you can put into your hat. Maybe a certain word in the dictionary has a sound that rolls off your tongue in just the right way to give you inspiration. Maybe a definition gives you the insight to tweak an idea a different way. As boring as it may sound, plain academic studying can sometimes inspire you in big ways. Learn random facts about history, learn new words, and put them all into your hat.

The bigger your hat the easier it is to find the right spark of creativity at the right time. Practice creativity, stock it with plenty of fuel, and you’ll find all the inspiration you need.



My writing journey, Tips and Hacks, Writing Tips

Story Building Mastery 7 – The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey


stardustThe Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth, is a basic pattern for recognizing the major developments in the journey of the main character. It seems that almost every story ever told, from antiquity to modern day, follows this pattern with probably up to 90% completion of every step listed. For the writer who properly understand the hero’s journey, they will develop the ability to predict with reasonable accuracy the outcome of most stories and will have the tools necessary to develop compelling and exciting plots.

The rebels out there are screaming, “Not me! You can’t put me in a box!” Don’t be that way. You’re going to write a bad story. This is not a set of rules, per se. It is an observation over time of how stories work, just like the Law of Gravity came about by the observation of something that naturally existed. The reason the hero’s journey is so prevalent in so many stories is because it is simply the story of life. The ups and downs of life, the dreams and fears, the expectations and goals, the adventurous and romantic spirits…these are things that are part of our lives. It shapes us, our families, our ambitions, our careers, our hobbies. And what so many writers over the ages have done is simply to try to record life. Although often glorified or romanticized, these stories resonate because we want to put ourselves into them, to live them out and take the experiences of the hero as our own. We see ourselves in the hero. We recognize our faults, failures, and successes in those pages.

A good story is a reflection of life. That is why a good story can almost always be described in terms of the hero’s journey, whether the writer intended it to or not. Because a good writer wants to write good stories. Good stories are about life, and the hero’s journey is  life.

Joseph Campbell is recognized for his work in developing seventeen major steps for proper development of the hero’s journey. For those who enjoy the deeper methods of how stories are developed, I’ll include Campbell’s steps alongside my own. But I’ve found that a condensed ten step process is easier to handle while plotting and outlining fiction. Please note that as you begin to use this to analyze your own or some other writer’s stories, that the steps may not appear in the story in any particular order. They might not even all be included. But most stories will have at least eight or nine of these ten steps. On the other hand, keep on the look out for variations of the steps used with multiple characters or even villains and anti-heroes. Genres also make a difference in how it unfolds. A comedy might utilize these steps differently than a tragedy.

Here are my ten steps of the hero’s journey, with the Campbell equivalents notated with each.

Continue reading “Story Building Mastery 7 – The Hero’s Journey”