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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An Author’s Task

If you truly love words, you are going to write. Oh, there might be those days when you can’t seem to find the right words for your manuscript. They will seem to elude your grasp – floating around the edges of your mind without becoming clear. Those days are what people refer to when they say “writer’s block”. The next day, though – and many times the same day – if you apply your mind to your work as you should, those words will come. You have only to search for them. It is your love of literature that drives you onward. You cannot help but to be creating a story onto paper.

The job of the author is to open up the mind of the reader – to have them see what you see – to have them captivated as your audience by conveying the very love of words you have to them. An experienced author knows that this doesn’t come without practice. It also doesn’t come alone. The editor stands outside of the author’s world of words and observes it objectively. He is someone who sees things about your words and writing that you, as an author, can’t see – and yet he has the same vision of words that you have. However, authors know that, applying themselves to the work, their words come alive. The outcome is inevitable. An author who reads, and reads well, will bring his own words to join the great literary discussion. Perhaps he might find them to be not as good as those authors that have inspired him. Perhaps, even, he is correct – somewhat – in his supposition. But, his words have joined literature all the same. And, in time, there will be some who find his words to inspire their love for literature. Those who partake in the great literary discussion add their piece to the great masterpiece being carved by virtuous authors. They have successfully conveyed to their audience the meaning of their own interest in the words of literature that they love. And, the reader has responded by their captivated attention. The words on the page then become an inspired imagination that cultivates creativity in life.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

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Classic Stories . . . and Why They’re Better

As moral imagination plummets in most modern stories being told, a hunger is growing within spectators for better inspiration – something that is rooted deeper than the void of “truth subversion”. If you, like me, are dissatisfied with the morally ambiguous characters portrayed in most new stories, then your imagination just might spring from virtue. You see, the classic story of a protagonist showing virtuous character and defeating the antagonist (whether it be a person, a challenge in general, or simply an adventure the protagonist has) works because it is placed and situated within a certain context. Good stories have certain ingredients – just like a brownies recipe, or perhaps the same sorts of ingredients that make gardens grow. You cultivate the earth, pour water on the vegetation, and within a few months, you are harvesting vegetables. Good stories spring from similar roots. They are set deep within virtue, imagination, richness (different from psychological complexity), wonder, culture, and environment.

If you are wondering what I mean by “truth subversion” or “psychological complexity”, allow me to explain. Today, most people grade stories on the complexity of the characters. However, “complexity” is normally code language for “psychological tension” within a character. This tension within the character causes the antagonist moral dilemmas that lead to moral corruption. Morally ambiguous characters becomes the result – where good is not always good to choose, and the evil sometimes brings an end to the story. Such stories might seem to give a flash of engagement with their audience, but their roots have no true richness. Instead, the character flaws lead only to characters subverting the truth for a more complex solution. Simply put, without the perseverance of the good, the characters become woody, corrupt, depressed, and rather puny.

However, virtuous tales do not merely spring from the climactic scene of “good guy beating bad buy”. In order to understand what “good” is, the “good” of the story must be explored. Since “bad” is merely the lack or corruption of the good, it can easily be understood through the reference of the good. Situating the good within a virtuous context and culture allows the reader/spectator to learn to appreciate and grow from the richness of the story’s environment.

When a reader picks up Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, he learns to appreciate Hans through the culture of Holland and the virtuous honor of the story. In Sherlock Holmes, we are always hoping Holmes will solve the case because we have learned to trust him through his knowledge and skill that is so deep rooted in Victorian society and a will to rid London of the criminal. With The Secret Garden, we grow to love the gardens as much as Mary does because she is learning so much from their worth. Inside Wind in the Willows, we are hoping Toad will learn his lessons because his friends are aiding him in the process of exploring what it means to be a “gentleman”. The examples could continue with such authors as Nesbit, Carroll, Norton, Lewis, Baum, Barrie, Stevenson, Austen, and Scott (this list by no means exhaustive). Such tales, rooted in a culture that is explained and explored through the story, develops a rich understanding of the imagination through the underlying virtues that hold the story together.

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

Beginning a Story? Here’s How

Have you ever wondered how to begin telling a story? Maybe you have a wonderful plot idea, but you cannot seem to put words to paper. The solution lies in one word: Culture.

When I begin a chapter of a story, I normally begin by setting the scene in an environment. I describe what that environment looks like. Does the scene take place during the day or night? Is the sun shining through the windows, or is the moonlight glimmering on the leaves of a tree? The idea with a story is to paint pictures inside the minds of your readers. Are the characters inside or outside? If it’s day, what time of day is it – morning, noon, or evening? What sort of foods would the characters be eating during that time?

Story is about situating a plot within the context of life. In order to write a historical fiction story, one must research the culture of that time. What natural events inside of that specific culture would take place on a day to day basis? What sort of architecture, clothing, occupations, ecclesiastical places, games/sports of the time, foods, drinks, habitat, furniture, artistry, music, literature, writing materials, form of speech, geography, etc. lie within your story? What sort of class structure exists? A story is not a true story if it cannot answer these questions.

Just as a painter cannot fill the canvas without a palette, so a writer cannot paint images inside the mind of a reader without describing the environment of the story. Start Simple. Think of the time of day within the scene. Then, picture the clothing of your character. What are his eyes examining? What sounds is he hearing? Keep these answers within the context of the culture of your story, and you have begun a great tale!

Your fellow writer,

Joshua A. Reynolds, Proprietor

Book Trailer for A Manor House in Yarmouth

A year of silence (to the very day) has lapsed since writing here. Today, I had a phone meeting with a publishing house about my book A Manor House in Yarmouth. The caller said she had been going through my blog posts, and I told her that I hadn’t posted for about a year. . . .so, I thought afterward that I would check when I had last posted, and it has been a year to the day! Far too long! I assure you, my pen(s) have been continuing to write.

As my above paragraph alludes to, I am in the process of trying to publish A Manor House in Yarmouth (a title the caller said should be changed to The Manor House in Yarmouth – I took note of it but think that it wouldn’t be fair to all the other manor houses in Yarmouth to exault my story’s house above them 😉 ). One of the main advertising stunts I’ve completed for publishers and literary agents is a book trailer showcasing the book. I have it featured below. One minor note, I’m starting to work out my video editing software and lighting much better, and I plan to start using green screen soon to rid the rather foreboding black background that features me in the trailer.

Another minor note: I have completed another book after A Manor House in Yarmouth – my fourth book to be published, and I’m working on my fifth book also, set place in the fifteenth century! I’ll have to give other blog posts about these works. . .

Your fellow writer,
Joshua Reynolds

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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

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How to Edit Your Story Using Fillers

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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

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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

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