Where do stories come from? Stories from ideas

Typing is not the act of creating a story. It is only the means whereupon that story is shown. Story creation comes from the mind. It is an inventive imagination that springs from creative inspiration around the storyteller.

An old typewriter is clicking away in a dimly lit room, sounding down a carpeted hall inside a lonely studio. Its keys are methodically tapping as a professor – wearing a suit and suspender match that speaks “1930’s” – is sitting at a dark wooden desk. Shades over the window are slicing the sunbeams to filter dimly into the room, alighting in neat, organized lines over the desk. The professor’s eyes are not on his paper. They are dancing rhythmically around the room to the same pattern of the keys. Every now and then, he glances back to the paper scrolling upward with every line, checking his work before again wandering his eyes about the room.

Is the professor’s attention riveted to the room or to his work? A casual observer might say the former, but a writer will tell you that the professor is not thinking about the room or about the paper in front of him. He is thinking about ideas. . . .

Storytelling doesn’t come by someone sitting in front of a desk on a typewriter, computer screen, or pen and paper. It doesn’t come by staring at a flashing cursor as one thinks, “What can I write?” Storytelling first comes from ideas. Those ideas are then jotted down as they are organized and compiled in the mind. Most of the grind work of an author, when dubiously working at his creation, is spent in front of a writing instrument. However, it is not the writing instrument that gives him his ideas. The imagination of the storyteller comes from reference material – data that can come from nearly anywhere: Another story, a photo/painting, an experience, a place, a dream, a smell, even a wish or desire that you’ve had. A good storyteller will collect as much reference material as he/she can that gives direct cultural context to the story they write. The words should usually flow quickly across the pages. If they are not, it is not the fault of the writing instrument. (Writing instruments can cause their own problems if they become too much of a distraction – one reason why I rely a lot on pen/paper and voice recording before doing the grind work of typing/editing my works.) Writer’s block is simply your mind telling you that it is running out of ideas – or that those ideas need to be revitalized. An experienced writer will take a minute away from the desk – just a minute, mind you – and reconnect with the ideas/imaginations of his mind. He will look through reference material, think through a couple phrases, and return to a writing instrument to write those phrases down.

The professor opens his eyes and blinks back into focus. He looks over his paper to see a tangled knot of words typed over words. Snatching fast at another paper upon the table, he remarks that sometimes, his mind can become too lost in his ideas. The typewriter needed another paper several sentences ago!

So true!

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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Getting a story scene to pop

Let me know in the comments if you’d be interested in learning more about the following story:

The year is 1892, and your Victorian overcoat is flapping behind you as you quicken your pace in the early spring air. It is the first hour of dawn. You have been up for two hours already, working in the dark, and the warm sunlight on the garden path around you is welcome after the chills of night. No one can see the papers you have hidden inside a black leather binder, tied up with string, and none could know the important intel you carry inside it. Within the formal gardens of the White House, you are on your way to a meeting with one of the president’s cabinet members.

Maybe you’re not a fan of historical fiction, but I still guess that some aspects of the last paragraph intrigued you. Why? Consider the fact that the story intro was extremely short and to the point. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of places for intrigue. In fact, I cheated a little, using second person instead of third person narrative. Since the intro is so short, third person sounded too aloof. I had to place you into the scene itself. The mystery became the place and plot into which I placed you. In a published book, novels are generally written in third person (sometimes in first, but never in second). The reader is already prepared to follow the main character. Here in this blog post, I had to use shorthand to prepare you for a story.

I surmise, though, that the use of the second personal pronoun “you” was not what made the story so interesting. If you like fiction, mystery, adventure, or history, my guess is that you would be at least mildly interested in learning more about the story. What drew you in?

To add mystery to a scene, you reveal the descriptions and information a little at a time. You don’t start with a wide lens that flattens the image and presents every detail with equal importance. Instead, you reveal a little of your canvas at a time, taking the reader through the same journey as your story character. Zoom into details while brushing past others. As a well crafted artwork will have leading lines that draw the viewer’s attention to a focal point, so your scene should do the same. Draw your reader to a main event, object, place, and person. Use the surrounding detail to support the focal point and carry your reader there. They will enjoy the experience.

Detail is more than just thinking through a story environment. Your story needs cultural context. The details have to match within the cultural setting. They cannot be incongruent. Notice how everything in the story intro spoke of Victorian society. The overcoat, the leather tied with string, the formal garden – one could picture Sherlock Holmes as the character, and if I made London instead of Washington, D.C. the location, everyone would know the character’s name and residence.

So, yes, you need to work more on your story intro than my quickly put-together blog story. Try writing several drafts of it. You will come to understand the cultural details and elements that need to be placed to lead your character to the focal point of your story’s scene. It will make the scene stand out and draw your reader into your story.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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What Makes a Story Become Visible

A story is and must be situated within culture. As simplistic and obvious as this statement is, its importance is by far the most significant aspect of comprising a story, and it often is overlooked in modern storytelling. A plot is merely a timeline – a sequence of events that are linked together. Any child who rambles out a story before bedtime can create a plot, some of them fairly detailed and complex. They will ramble on about a fanciful adventure they had, and though some of the plot points might be incongruent, fixing that is simply a matter of learning how to order a timeline. However, what changes a child’s imagined story into a detailed novel is summed up by one word: Culture.

True of any genre, but perhaps most obvious for historical fiction, characters and their happenings (plot) do not exist in a vacuum. They live within time (which denotes a certain level of development and past history), within a society (which stipulates customs, convention, and continuity), within a geographical habitat (which stipulates what resources/activities/adventures the characters have available to them), and more specifically within a place/abode (which exhibits what sorts of habits and tastes the characters have). Take out any one of these elements, and the story becomes incomplete. It is not enough that a reader knows what is happening in a story (most stories that children invent are, after all, easy to follow), but a reader must also know why they are happening – or better put, how they could happen. They should not know the end of the plot from the beginning, but they should know why the plot is happening in the first place. Why should the characters in the story care about the plot (because if that question can’t be answered, the reader won’t know why he should care)? Exploring a story’s culture is the only way to answer the question. The characters care about the plot because of the lives they have lived up to that point, because of the people/society around them, because of their mannerisms and lifestyles, and even because of the architectural styles that comprise the places they visit and see. Duly exploring the culture of ones characters will bring those characters to reality. Plots bring characters to life, but without culture, they will be too fanciful to be relatable. Culture makes them real, that – knowing what they eat, wear, do, say, how they live, what occupations they do, what art and decor adorns their abodes, how they fellowship – the reader can take on the mantle of the plot at the same time that the characters do.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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Ancient and Distant Lands

One of the great appeals to writing historical fiction is in making ancient and distant lands come alive. There is mystery in that which is ancient and adventure in that which is distant. A sense of wistfulness also envelops distant lands. As the proverbial saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill”. We seek that which is far away for our adventures, exploring new places and learning about them. Historical Fiction brings the “greener grass” into our imaginations. It allows us to envision places away from our homeland that still exist today but brings them to life inside of different cultures. We wish to know how our ancestors lived and spoke – how they viewed society within their lifespan. To bring to life that which is ancient kindles the imagination. The more we learn about the past, the greater our imagination grows. Mystery turns into fascination and appreciation of a culture and society as we explore more about a certain time-period. We travel these stories across seas and continents, finding adventure in the unknown or that which is less frequently traveled in our normal life’s routine.

However, the best historical fiction stories are those which mix the mystery and adventure of ancient and distant lands with the daily and normal routine of the characters. Stories must be relatable at some fundamental level. Characters who never eat or sleep are too bland and nonhuman to follow. We wish to know what sort of refreshment our characters take along their journey so that we can find that same refreshment. We need to know what sorts of houses they live in so that when the adventure comes, we know why it is an adventure for them. Ultimately, we need to see how they live their lives within the historical and cultural context of their time so that we can be drawn into an understandable story. The more we understand about the culture of the story’s characters, the more appreciation we have of the story itself.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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The Secret Way to Never Have Writer’s Block

TitlePic2You may be wondering how I concocted a formula for never having this author-wide phenomenon of getting stuck in one’s writing. I wish I could say it was as simple as telling you “y=mx+b”. Or wait . . . maybe it really is that simple.

First, I want to break the problem of writer’s block down. We cannot find a solution to it until the problem is clearly defined. I have determined two reasons why writer’s block exists for a storyteller (someone who writes fiction or even non-fiction stories). If these two reasons would never occur, then writer’s block would never occur, and the life of a writer would be a whole lot easier.

You have writer’s block because. . .

1: You do not know your story well enough.

2. You are not inspired/motivated to write on a certain given day.

Many people want to throw in a third reason by saying they do not have the time to write. This reason can easily be dispelled because writing does not have to take up much time from day to day. There is always some entertainment time that can be given up for the sake of writing, and every true author who truly writes books has come to terms with setting aside time to write. For us authors, if we have time to brush our teeth, then we have time to write.

The problem remains that there are still two reasons why writer’s block occurs. Let’s take a look at the first reason. If you do not know clearly what you want from a certain scene you are composing, then the chances are you will not be able to find the right words to put down on paper. There is a simple reason why this first problem keeps occurring. When you do not know your story well enough, you cannot truly envision it inside your head.

The entire purpose of an author in writing a story is to attempt to implant inside the reader’s mind the same images that the author has inside his own. If you as an author cannot see the images of your story, then it is unlikely for your reader to, either.

There is a simple fix to clearly defining the images that make up the scenes for your story. All you have to do is remember the first spark of motivation that inspired you to write your story. Whatever that spark was can be told in an image. Clearly understand that image. From there, all that needs to be done is to define the images that branch out of the first image. These images become all the scenes of your story. Doing this creates a mind-map of your story. A mind-map can easily be converted into an outline for your story.

Now that you know your story well from the images that compose your story, we still have to solve the second problem of not having inspiration/motivation to write on a given day. There are many cures for this, but I have found one cure to be particularly helpful. It’s called, “Making Writing a Habit”. As said earlier in this post, all of us professional writers have to come to terms with the fact that we write a lot. Writing a lot means writing every single day, six days a week. I confess that I do not follow this strictly in my life. However, under times when I set my teeth to complete a project, I have found this to be the only way to succeed at writing. Writing every day takes the heat off of any particular day you don’t have motivation or inspiration. On that day, you only have to write for ten minutes. More concentration can always be given on another writing day, since you’re writing six days a week.

One thing to add: If you find that you NEVER have motivation/inspiration to write, or if you USUALLY don’t have motivation/inspiration to write, this means one of two things: 1) You need to choose a different story/book topic, 2) you hate writing and therefore should not be an author.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds



How to Edit Your Story Using Fillers


When I write a book, there are chapters that end up being shorter than what I need them to be. Usually, I write my first draft on pen and paper and transcribe it into a word processor. Pen and paper eliminates spending a whole day editing a few paragraphs around and not making more progress on your story (that’s something I call Editing Syndrome). It also eliminates the millions (okay, maybe just thousands) of distractions that come with a computer.

When I revise my story, I use a word processor – usually. There are times it is good to use real ink even when revising a story. If you realize that a chapter is too short or that you need to add a scene somewhere, going back to ink and paper is generally the best way to construct your scene.

I did this just today, and it worked!

The only steps you have to do is 1) plan where you are going to insert the new scene and edit the text accordingly for it. 2) Write the scene using pen and paper. 3) Transcribe it into the word processor where you are supposed to insert the text. 4) Read the new version and revise to make everything flow.

It’s really that simple. Try it for yourself.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds


Latest from YouTube and Other Websites

In recent YouTube videos, I’ve been doing a series about using pen and paper. Check out the first video in the series:

My Treasure on the Southern Moor website latest post: https://treasureonthesouthernmoor.wordpress.com/2018/08/22/a-late-meal-aboard-ship/

My The Williams House website latest post: https://thewilliamshouse.wordpress.com/2018/08/22/autumn-time/

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds



The Top 10 Reasons Why Every Storyteller Should Write About Nature

  1. Nature is aesthetically pleasing.

It makes your story that much more alive. Rich descriptions of nature as the characters interact with it throughout the plot (whatever plot that is) are always a thrill to read and refreshes the reader.

  1. Nature is imaginable.

We are always interacting with and around nature, even when we do not realize it. When we read nature in a story, we can easily envision what is being described. This paints wonderful pictures in our heads and makes it easy for the author to convey into our minds the same images he/her envisioned.

  1. Nature draws a reader into a story.

Unless we can (as the main character of the story does) feel the texture of the tree, smell the pine needles, feel the rich soft grass and dirt, hear the babbling brook, listen to the birds and insects chirp, watch the setting sun shaft through the limbs of the trees, then we won’t be attracted to the story. When these descriptions are included, we will be drawn in to experience the story ourselves.

  1. Nature defines the scene.

How can you describe what a scene looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like, and tastes like without any nature at all? The only way to describe an environment of a story is by using nature.

  1. Nature is very interactive.

It is easy for us to picture a main character walking his horse down a cobblestone path through the woods in the late afternoon because even though we might not have done so ourselves, we have felt stone before. We have walked through woods before. And, we have seen the late afternoon sun shaft through the limbs of a small forest.

  1. Nature is all around us.

Have you ever tried reading a story in an airport and then out in a park near a garden? Why is it you could visualize the story so much better in the park? Well, there could be thousands of reasons, everything from being nervous about your flight to the shouts and conversations of others in the airport. Yet, as nature draws us into the story, we generally find that we can understand it much better if we are around nature ourselves.

  1. Without nature, stories don’t make sense.

A story without nature is a story of confusion.

  1. Without nature, stories are dull.

If the characters never interact with nature, the story will not be imaginative.

  1. Without nature, stories cannot be visualized.

It’s impossible to truly be able see the paintings of the story without descriptions of nature.

  1. Without nature, your book will have all the negative reviews.

No one likes a story that doesn’t have nature described throughout it.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds



How to Set Writing Priorities

Making certain to write every day can be a big challenge, yet if you’re not writing every day, then you are not a writer. You are a dabbler – writing on this day, writing on that, but not being consistent. In order to be a writer, you have to write every day. You have to make writing a habit.

As soon as I make writing a habit, I realize that inevitably there are other priorities that begin to raise their heads. How do I make sure I get my blog posts published? What about my YouTube writing videos or my podcasts or emails? Is there any way I can spend x hours doing the lawn work I have to do this week? Etc. Etc. Etc.

I’ve realized the following: There are certain weeks when marketing has a higher priority, and there are certain weeks when writing has a priority. Yet, I still have to be writing every day. There are just some times when the writing will not be as much as usual. Don’t do this randomly. Figure out when you have to make writing a priority. Below are some guidelines.

Make writing a priority when. . .

  1. You are writing a first draft to a story.

Never, never, never drag the first draft of a story out too long. If you have to, table everything else. Make certain you complete the first draft. Then, you’ll be done with the most discouraging part of the writing process.

  1. You are nearing the half-way point with a story revision.

After the first draft of a story is completed, it’s easy to spend some time focusing on other priorities. Then, you begin to revise your story, yet it still doesn’t have first dibs. Make certain that as you progress through the revision process, you are raising the writing priority until it is first on your list. Keep this up until it is complete and ready for publication.

  1. You are behind with the macro-goals of how much writing you wanted done by the end of the year/bi-yearly.

If you realize your long-term goals aren’t being met, then do the following: 1) Make writing more of a habit, 2) Make writing more of a priority, and 3) (if you are already doing the prior steps as much as humanly possibly) Make your goals more realistic.

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds