Tag Archives: creativity

Inspiration Walk: Freewriting

Walking and writing with my new DIY Traveler’s Journal (tutorial from @sealemon) and I’ve also started a new journal for this week’s writing activity for #TWSO: daily #freewriting for at least ten minutes. I picked this journal from @maydesigns because I thought the inspirational quote on the cover was a perfect description of how freewriting can be a creative and inspiring journey to discovering one’s writerly self. #amwriting #writersgonnawrite #writer #writing #journals #journaling #walking #inspiration#creativity #traveljournal #maybooks #eldoradohikingtrail  


Writing and Walking. 

Out for my morning walk. Lots of inspiration and ideas have come to me while walking and listening to Writing Excuses podcasts. Brought my research and school notebooks with me to write down my thoughts. Something about writing while surrounded by nature really inspires creativity. #amwriting #writer #writersgonnawrite #walk #creativity #inspiration #TWSO #mynovel  

World Building Part 2: Story Research

This post is part of a series. The first post World Building Part 1: Market Research is here. When typing up the first entry, I realized I had to break up the post into parts because the process has been quite lengthy.

My critique partners pointed out that my setting wasn’t clear and I realized it wasn’t clear to me either. I took their feedback to heart and looked for examples of how other authors handled non-European fantasy settings. (The novels I read as part of my research are mentioned in Part 1.) After reading a few novels, I started researching cultures and ancient history of Asian countries. I’ve learned so much which was exciting and provided me with lots of inspiration, but the problem was that I had lots of inspiration!

My goal for my research was to find the social hierarchy, religious/spiritual beliefs, customs, and ethinic origins for Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines. At this point I didn’t know which one I’d select or if I’d use parts from each to incorporate into my story.

To organize all the readings I found, I used the Binder feature in Scrivener to collect all my links. I really love this feature. Instead of bookmarking and creating a mess in my browser’s bookmarks, I saved them into folders in a Scrivener project for my book. I love that I can review the links in Scrivener while writing and I can also take notes in the Corkboard feature which is the index card format for looking at entries. If I had done this process the old way, it would’ve ended with stacks and stacks of print outs and index cards. Instead, it’s all kept in one place and it stays organized.

The picture below is my board of world building details. I used a tri-fold presentation board (28 in x 40 in). I also used color coded Post-its and washi tapes to separate the classes.

On the left fold flap, are details about my research. The yellow Post-its were the notes about the social heirarchy in Japan and the Philippines. The grey Post-its are historical facts during ancient history in Korea, China, and Japan. On the right fold flap, there are more grey Post-its about folktales/ folklore and beliefs from the Phlippines.

In the center of the presentation board are the hierarchy groups in ancient Filipino society, tiered from royalty/noble class to the lowest class/slaves. The yellow Post-its are the characters in each class. The green Post-its list who or what the people’s spiritual beliefs would be. The small blue Post-its are notes and examples of the people in each class. The small orange Post-its are how my main character relates to another character in each class. (This will be a point of character development that will come up in my story later.)

Making sense of my research for world building.

Making sense of my research for world building.

I’m a visual person and laying it out on this presentation board helped me to blend the details from my research into my story and also see how my main character fit into it all. Before I started, my setting was unclear. Now, I know my setting will be inspired by ancient Filipino culture and spritual beliefs. Some aspects of ancient Japanese and Korean culture will also be added too.

My husband snapped this picture for posterity.

My husband snapped this picture for posterity.

Once I had my notes up for my world building details, I realized that I also needed a map. One of my critique partners commented that there wasn’t any context to the action occuring in the first scene. It was an action sequence in a barn, but my partner didn’t get any sense of where the barn was or where the characters were.

I’m not good at drawing. Passable, if I really had to try. Then I found How to Draw a World Map. I loved this so much because I don’t have any experience in drawing maps, but this tutorial was easy to follow and had good explanations of basic geography and how nature is used as protection from other hostile groups.

I printed the tutorial for ease of use and less distractions.

I printed the tutorial for ease of use.

My attempt at a world map for my story.

My attempt at a world map for my story.

It’s a really rough sketch, but I’m pretty pleased with how it came out and when I go back and rewrite the beginning, my story will have more description about the setting. It’ll also be easier to describe my main character’s movements through the story because I’ll be able to visualize where she’s going.

Once I finished sketching my map, I decided to add cities. In the tutorial, the OP pointed out that cities were founded near a body of water and mountains provided a natural form of fortification against enemies. With this advice in mind, I was careful about where to place my cities. The story begins at the farm where my main character has hid for most of her life. I made sure I placed the farm in an area near a body of water and not too close to mountains or the coast.

On Post-it flags, I used the labels capital, major, minor, and port city. I also worte what type of trade each city was known for. Another layer added to my world!

I used Post-it flags to mark where cities might go on my map.

I used Post-it flags to mark where cities might go on my map.

The next step for me was to get more visual inspiration for my world. I had a good idea for its social hierarchy, beliefs system/customs, and geography. I went back to my critique partners’ comment about context. I had a vague idea of what the land looked like. The map help provided a physical representation of its context, but I wanted details. I had the forest, but I needed the trees!

I did image searches on Google and Pinterest. Both worked really well, but had different results. Google cast a really wide net of results. In most cases, it was nice to see the various images. But there was so much! There wasn’t as many results on Pinterest, but the quality was much better. I would not say one was better than the other, but it certainly is a matter of quality vs. quantity.

I used Pinterest for a lot of different things, but this was the first time I used it for my writing. In general, it’s such a fantastic tool for gathering ideas and visual inspiration, but for writing it’s a tremendous help in visualizing your setting and characters. It’s also neat to see how other writers use it for their stories as well. I created several boards listed as My Story each with a theme: culture, setting, characters, and weapons and fighting. I could also load these images into Scrivener too. I haven’t yet, but I think I might end up printing hard copies of key images instead to put up in my home office to help me remember details about my characters and setting. I might do a story collage like I used to have my students do. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. If I do it, I’ll share it. The biggest hinderance is that I don’t have a lot of room and I have lots of small children running under foot who don’t always look with just their eyes.

Researching visual inspiration for my characters and setting took a little over a week. It was a lot of fun looking at images for my story. It felt like the characters and setting were finally coming alive. I also can’t wait to write about them. When I felt that I had a good representation of my story’s setting and characters, I printed my Pinterest board for the setting. The page came out as thumbnails of all the images I collected. They were the perfect size for my next step.

I cut out some of the thumbnails of places that I felt were the major places of my setting and stuck them on my map. I used washi tape so that I could move the pictures if I needed to and also eventually label what the place was.

Pinterest board for Culture printed out and ready to cut out.

Pinterest board for Setting printed out and ready to cut out.

Cutting and washi taping the settings on my map. I used the washi tape as a label for the names of places.

Cutting and washi taping the settings on my map. I used the washi tape as a label for the names of places.

Another layer of my world added! It’s so exciting to see my story coming together. I also decided to print out bigger images of the key places that I need for the beginning of my story, so I could look at them. My map actually has a second sheet taped to the right side, so it extends out. I’ll put the enlarged images there. I also found some really neat layout images of rice farms that will work as inspiration for my main character’s home. In the picture below, I haven’t cut out the enlarged images yet.

The Pinterest board images were thumbnails--perfect size for my map. I also printed out larger sizes to put next to the map to see more detail.

The Pinterest board images were thumbnails–perfect size for my map. I also printed out larger sizes to put next to the map to see more detail.

Such an exciting development. I’m really pleased with my results and I also feel like I’m on the right path.

My next step after this will be to go back to my first outline and revise it to include details about the setting. Having all this research and visual inspiration will make going back and revising easier. I’m also going to have to revise my world’s history. Since my inspiration is primarily taken from ancient Filipino history, I will have to decide how parts of that history will work into my world’s history. I also will need to look at specific details. I still have to come up with a name for my world and the race(s) of the people!

Plot Structure: The Writer’s Journey and Using a Plot Board

Summer is slipping by so fast, but I’ve also been hard at work developing my story. I love this process. When I trained as an editor, developmental editing was my favorite type of editing. It appeals to my sense of structure and looking at the big picture. I’ve had some major progress in my story. It’s exciting, but gosh, I’m tired!

I did have a day off this week to spend time with the family and managed to sneak in a little beach reading.

Summer beach reading: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Summer beach reading: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

In my previous posts, I’ve been sharing my notes and reflections on lectures from Ellen Brock’s Novel Boot Camp–a summer workshop for writers. It’s been such an enlightening experience and I’ve had the opportunity to interact with such a creative bunch of writers. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Inspired by what I was learning and discussing with other writers, I was ready to put my story down to paper. I had an idea of what the story was about and I also had scenes in my mind of how it would unfold, but it was fragmented, no cohesion.

I had been researching plot structure and what came up a lot was Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. I learned that my plot was A Hero’s Journey. Christopher Vogler’s book is geared toward writers specifically screen writers, but his book takes the ideas from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and applies Campbell’s theories to screen writing which are applicable to novel writing too.

I’m working my way through both books and highly recommend them if you want to learn more about The Hero’s Journey. If you can only work through one, Vogler’s book is geared as a practical guide that’s straighforward and shows how each part of the journey relates to plot. Campbell’s book is more like the theory behind the theme of The Hero’s Journey, how it spans through different stories and how people gravitate to this type of story.

I worked through the Practical Guide of TWJ and had a break through! I created a spreadsheet to track the scenes of my story, noting the plot point and which act it would fall under. It was a light bulb moment. No, it was a Las Vegas marquee-flashing-multi-color light bulb moment! It turned out that I had the basic structure of a story cooking. I just didn’t see it. I can’t explain how exciting and inspiring it was to see my story laid out in such a way. It reassured me and also gave me the confidence that I could tell this story.

Break through moment in my book!

Break through moment in my book!

So, with my trusty TWJ outline and plot notes, I started writing! I was able to finish the first scene in the book. It was fantastic and I felt like I was making real progress. Then I hit a bit of a snag when I tried to move forward. I was having trouble with the flow. How do I connect one scene to the next?

From planning to writing, moving forward with my story.

From planning to writing, moving forward with my story.

I had bookmarked this tutorial from a different writer’s workshop (Can you tell I’m addicted to workshops?) A Novel Idea from Going Reno hosted by Shaunta Grimes. I found it through Pinterest several months ago. I was knee deep in a copyediting certificate test and really liked the simplicity of it, but couldn’t do anything with it at the time. I realized I was ready for it now and I was excited to finally try this out!

I love the simplicty of this. I don’t have room for a white board or cork board in my office. Plus, I have young children who love the game of pulling Post-its off Mommy’s Very Important Stuff. By using a display board, I can close it up and use binder clips to lock it up, so to speak, and put it away out of the reach of little hands that don’t always remember to look with eyes only.

Getting ready for creating my plot board!

Getting ready for creating my plot board!

I followed Shaunta’s tutorial and with the help of my husband (who has all the tools) helped me make even boxes and straight lines.

Yay! Thanks to husband with helping to make the lines straight for plot board.

Yay! Thanks to husband with helping to make the lines straight for plot board.

Then it was time to break out the Post-Its. I don’t know if you can tell, but I love organization and office supplies. This activity is suited to my need for structure. I selected a color to show where The Hero’s Journey plot points were in the three acts and eight sequences. It actually took me a lot longer than I thought it would because I wasn’t familiar with the structure, so I had to rely on my book and notes from Shaunta’s workshop. I also realized that some of the plot points might be moved later, depending on where tension was needed. I had to be okay with that and understand that just because I’m using this structure, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s set in stone for the whole process.

Noting which plot points fall under which acts in the story, using Post-it notes.

Noting which plot points fall under which acts in the story, using Post-it notes.

Once I finally had the plot points where I thought they should go, I was eager to see how my scenes looked on the board with them. I picked a different color Post-it to see how the plot points and my scenes fit together.

Another break through moment! I’m such a visual person and it was such a Vegas light bulb moment again to see how the first act played out. It’s just a working outline and I know it will most likely change, but it’s progress!

Coming together: The Writer's Journey Notes and plot board become a visual representation of the story.

Coming together: The Writer’s Journey Notes and plot board become a visual representation of the story.

I stopped at Act I because it was so late. I was going to pick it up again, but then Workshop 3: Peer Critiques-First page happened. I submitted the first 1,000 words of the beginning of my story for peer critiquing. To say it was a nerve-wracking experience would be an understatement. I felt like both throwing up and dancing around the room when I hit the Submit button! I’ll write more about the experience in my next post, but the feedback was valuable.

My critique partners said that they liked the voice, the character, and where the story was going, but the setting was unclear. I admit, I wasn’t clear about the setting and it came through in my writing. That was a really good lesson to learn.

I’m pausing on the writing to go back to development, but focusing this time on world building. I started last night. I’m inspired and excited to create the setting for my MC.

Novel Boot Camp Lecture 4: Creating Conflict

I’m so excited to share my notes and homework for Ellen Brock’s Novel Boot Camp Lecture 4: Creating Conflict. It was such a fantastic lecture!


As a reader, conflict is usually easy to identify in a story and often times following the main charcter’s struggles is what compels us to continue reading. I’m an avid reader, so when I decided to be a writer, I figured if I had a good conflict, readers would be interested in my story.

The problem with this thinking is that although it is true that a strong conflict can draw readers in, the readers also have to have a connection with the main character and this connection is what compels the reader to follow the character’s struggles. Knowing the conflict in your story isn’t enough. A fully developed conflict will make a story more compelling and dynamic.

Ellen does a fantastic job of clarifying what conflict is in a story:

Note that conflict has two parts:

1. What the character wants. 
2. What stands in the character’s way.

If a scenario has both pieces, then a conflict is present. But surprisingly often, writers leave out one of these two crucial pieces. Today I want to explain why this happens and how you can fix it.

I love how Ellen breaks down conflict in two parts because it appeals to my need for structured creativity. (I’ll address this point later.) I’ve always defined that conflict was a struggle the main character goes through, but relating what the character wants brings so much more depth to the struggle. When a conflict is missing one of the two things mentioned above, it’s a just a “bad thing” (as Ellen refers to in her lecture). A bad thing is something that might be awful, but without the event linked to the character’s wants or an obstacle, it doesn’t add to the tension or character’s struggles.

Already at this point in the lecture, I wondered if my character had a conflict or just bad things happening to her! (More on this later.)

Another part of the lecture that I found helpful was how the conflict relates to the character’s goals. This is another point that appeals to my need for structured creativity. (More on this later.) Ellen breaks down a character’s goal into three parts: 1) The Story Goal 2) Stepping Stones 3) The Character’s Desire to Avoid Their “Sore Spot”.

It’s later! Or Structured Creativity

I like to take notes and after I take notes, I like to do an output activity. (It’s a teacher thing.) My output activities will be a visual representation of Ellen’s lecture. Much like the pyramid I did for Lecture 2.

My notes for Lecture 4. The bracketed part is my output activity.

My notes for Lecture 4. The bracketed part is my output activity.

I’m going to continue doing output activities. After taking my notes, I felt like I had a wealth of information, but I needed a way to synthesize and organize it to better understand it. I’m a visual person, so I used a technique I used to have my students do. (I can’t say what it is because it is trademarked property, so I’ll refer to it as the bracketed part.)  Everything–conflict and goals–not only  became organized, but also became cohesive. I could see how conflict and goals related and depended on each other.

I was so excited after taking notes. I was ready to apply all this new found knowledge to my story. BUT, how? I don’t know if you can tell, but I love learning. I also thrive with structured creativity. How did I go from wonderful notetaking to application?

By Making Charts! 

My Creating Conflicts Charts. There are three for each of the goals: Story Goal, Stepping Stones, and Sore Spots. The bottom of the charts are the same: Conflict.

My Creating Conflicts Charts. There are three for each of the goals: Story Goal, Stepping Stones, and Sore Spots. The bottom of the charts are the same: Conflict.

I know! It’s awesome. I’m still in the planning stages of my novel, so I knew I needed more space than my little story notebook could handle. If I could, I’d use butcher paper, but this is good for now. I also wanted to be able to move around ideas if necessary, so I used post-it notes to jot down details and stuck them under the places where I thought they’d fit.

So, with my Tier of Depth from Lecture 2, I jotted down the character’s goals and motivation on post-it notes.

My Creating Conflicts homework session.

My Creating Conflicts homework session.

I still have a lot more development to do, but I think I’m off to a good start. I’d like to see from Lecture 2 how The Deep Dark Secret and The Origin of the Deep Dark Secret can fit in the Creating Conflict Charts. Another neat feature about movable details was that when I wrote down the details for the The Story Goals (in orange post-its) from the Tier of Depth Goals (from Lecture 2), I realized that some of the goals were actually part of the character’s wants and moved them down under the Conflict section of the chart. The other realization that I had was that I don’t have enough obstacles. I hate to say that all I have happening are “bad things” because the details of the conflicts are all rooted in the character’s wants, but only one obstacle anchors all of the conflicts and I realized I needed further development in those areas. I think I may have to play the “Maybe Game” .

If you’d like to check out Lecture 4: Creating Conflict, go here.

Novel Boot Camp Lecture 2: Creating Deep Realistic Characters

Characters are always speaking to me and sometimes it can be difficult to sort out a character’s motivation when another character’s motivation is clear. I also focus on main characters: their history, their likes, dislikes, favorites, etc., and my other characters may suffer from the lopsided treatment.

In Ellen Brock’s Lecture 2: Creating Deep Realistic Characters, the focus is on the Four Tiers of Depth. The lecture helped me see past the superficial characteristics and examine the Goals, Motivation, Deep Dark Secret, and The Origin of the Deep Dark Secret. I love the ability to be able to pinpoint what aspect of a character needs more attention. If you follow the link above, you can access the full lecture.

Here is a picture of my notes of the lecture because I’m a nerd.

Lecture 2 Notes: Creating Deep Realistic Characters  by Ellen Brock

Lecture 2 Notes: Creating Deep Realistic Characters by Ellen Brock

After I took notes, I realized that Ellen referred to this as a tier system. It made sense to organize these tiers this way. You can see above that I made a mini-pyramid to show the tier system. Below is a picture of the tier system, expanded to include Ellen’s questions to help figure out details of the character’s Goal, Motivation, Deep Dark Belief, and The Origin of the Deep Dark Belief.

Tiers of Depth with questions by Ellen Brock

Tiers of Depth with questions by Ellen Brock

I don’t know if you can tell, but I LOVE learning.

I noticed that as the pyramid sloped upward that development shifted from character to plot. It was a lightbulb moment because this helped illustrate for me how the character’s origin belief can affect the plot.

I was excited to try this out on the main character of the story idea I’ve been working on. I thrive with order and structure, so it was fun to do this. I love that I was creating and I didn’t have to work at being creative.

Here’s what I came up with:

My homework for Lecture 2 Creating Deep Realistic Characters

My homework for Lecture 2 Creating Deep Realistic Characters

This worked out so well for me. I had ideas floating around and I was able to organize and see how they contributed to my character and plot. The exercise also helped me look deeper into my character and the motives I had come up with before. Either they were authentic or just didn’t make sense. I took the exercise a bit further (Hi! Nerd here.) and to the left of each tier jotted down what emotions the character was feeling at the time of each development. It started off with superficial emotions, but as I really dug in, I got more complex emotions that seemed plausible too. I am definitely doing this for the other characters in the story as well.

If you don’t have a story to work on right now, but like this idea, a good practice would be on a character from a book and identify the characterics of the Tiers of Depth for that character. I’d love to hear how it worked out for you!

Here are the lecture notes.

And check out Novel Boot Camp. It’s a free summer workshop and full of awesome. Obviously.