Tag Archives: story elements

The Idea Mill #30

It’s been a long time since I trotted out an Idea Mill post here. Honestly, the feeds I got weren’t that awe inspiring lately. I also got busy with my own writing projects.

I checked my folder, and some of the things I earmarked really weren’t up to snuff, so I went looking.

All authors need inspiration. I get mine everywhere, but I use push feeds to send me news of things that are more my style than what the Kardashians might be up to. When I get a few decent ones, I assemble them into one of these posts. The hope is that one might inspire your next bit of fiction, or enhance something you’re already working on.

Let’s start off with Congress and the Military. You could write any number of horror stories just on those two words, but I found an article. A bill apparently moved from a sub-committee toward the floor of the House that would split the United States Air Force in two. The Air Force would remain, and the new group would be called The Space Corp. It hasn’t happened yet, but the fact they are discussing it lends all kinds of swagger to all those space military stories out there. You can read more here. The military hasn’t done this since the Army Air Corp was turned into the Air Force in the first place.

Let’s throw in the job announcement at NASA too. The one for Planetary Protection Officer.

The timing is ripe for one of those ground floor kind of stories. Maybe set the stage with top secret information that something is out there, and we need protection from it. Then introduce your first group of cadets and start outlining. Can’t find a threat? Let’s give honorable mention to this flying bat-monster over Chicago.

This is a well worn trail, and we all know it. Today, you have a point for some research to add a degree of realism to the piece you create.

Our next story is about unsolved languages. Apparently Facebook’s robots created a language of their own to interact with each other. The punchline is that we don’t know what they’re saying to each other. That could be a story all on its own, but a researcher brought us this cool article about Researching Lost Languages.

To me, this article has more interest than the Facebook news. Robots with a secret language is another well worn trail. There are all kinds of ancient languages out there that we’ve never been able to crack. Without the Rosetta Stone, we may not have cracked hieroglyphics. Other ancient languages don’t have a handy Rosetta Stone lying around. There is even a wonderful Nazi tie in that adds a veil of evil to the whole thing.

An ancient language researcher would make a neat character. It has shades of Dan Brown and Indiana Jones all at once, particularly with the Nazi tie. Maybe we wind up cracking one of these languages, and find out something that we really don’t want to know.

The last one involves a revelation that blood from young animals can slow down the aging process in older animals of the same type. This all started with dental research in the 1950s. Dentists are evil enough to make decent bad guys. Ever seen Marathon Man? It even had a Nazi tie in.

The research led to sewing lab rats together, and intentionally wounding the older of the pair. An unstitched rat was given the same wound. The one with access to young blood healed faster and better. There is even more potential in this research because the article delves into modern stem cell potential. To get more information, read the darned article.

I think I’m going to borrow from this one myself. I still have that Grinders novel I want to get to, and it fits right in. This could fuel any number of mad science type stories. It lends credence to some kind of Lady Bathory tales too. Need a modern day Fountain of Youth, maybe you just found it.

Just for fun, I try to come up with a corny story that uses all these elements. That young-blood story is going to be rough, but I’ll try.

The Men in Black captured a flying bat monster over Chicago. (Extra credit for using him) They tried to communicate with him, but couldn’t understand him until they found a researcher into ancient languages.

The researcher discovered he was speaking one of the ancient languages, but he needed time to interpret it. In the mean time, the Space Corp is formed and the first volunteers join up.

Eventually, the threat is revealed. Bat Monster is a spy, and the researcher recovers his communication kit. This allows eavesdropping on the invaders.

Our Space Cadets, (I hope they call them Space Cadets) ship out. They are going a long ways, so they have to be in suspended animation. Part of the process involves the Cadets donating their own blood as part of their revival process. The blood of eighteen year old Cadets will help reanimate the thirty year old soldiers when they arrive. Then, of course, they have to battle the hideous bat monsters.

How’d I do? More importantly, what will you do? Did you find a useful story element here? Maybe an entire plot?

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The Idea Mill #19

I've got to be honest with you, these subjects are getting harder to find. Zite Magazine got absorbed by Flipboard, and they promised bigger, better, and faster. Flipboard honestly isn't half as useful as Zite was.

Flipboard doesn't learn as well as Zite did, and it really never finds any content I'm looking for.

Most of these things came from my RSS feed and were pushed to me from folks I follow. Still, I persevered, and the Idea Mill will keep grinding along. It just might not be as frequently as it used to be.

Our first story is about clay. Not just any old clay, this stuff is limited to a five acre basin in Brittish Columbia. Let that sink in, that's less than most city parks in the middle of a huge wilderness. Bonus points because it looks blue.

What's really cool about this stuff is it seems to kill 16 different strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Read the article at this link.

Need to wipe out the zombie plague, the bubonic plague, your girlfriend's warts. Have I got a quest for you. Face down grizzly bears, giant pacific octopi, and Bigfoot to get to this stuff. Best of all it's rare, and you can't dig it up in your back yard. It might even add a little zing to your potions, and it's based in reality. Maybe your hero has to race some big makeup producer to file a claim on the stuff.

Our next inspiration came from an 800 year old Native American pot. The pot had seeds that someone waited seven years to check out. (That's 807 years for you mathematicians in the crowd.) When they finally got around to seeing what they had, the seeds were still viable, and scientists were able to grow an extinct squash plant. I like the idea that the name they give it is a Native American term meaning “big old squash.” I couldn't have named it better myself. Here is the link to the story. (Okay, if the seeds were alive, it wasn't really extinct. You can say lost if you want.)

What if the seeds grew something else. Does your science fiction need some pod people? What if eating the “big old squash” changed people somehow and unleashed a CDC nightmare upon us? What if the seeds were from another planet, what could you do with it?

Lastly we have Lichtenberg Figures, meaning lightning flowers. It appears that being struck by lightning leaves a pretty cool scar. It reminds me of the moss shapes we used to find in opals out in the Great Basin. In fact, it has me wondering about whether those formations might have been caused by lightning striking near the rocks.

These things are some kind of leftover due to the electrical breakdown. I googled a little bit, but there isn't much as far as humans go. The scar in the article is pretty cool though. (I want one.) Read about Lightning Flowers here.

Need some way to show that your fantasy character is marked, chosen, foretold. Maybe she needs a lightning flower. Maybe she needs some electrical based power, and her scar gives her away. Maybe she can use her power, but every time leaves an additional scar until it's so debilitating she cannot function in her world. This could set up a save the innocents – give up living scenario quite nicely.

Part of my usual routine is to suggest a cheesy story based upon all the elements combined. I only do this to spark your own imaginations. Maybe one of these items will make it into a story you're writing. I'd love to hear about it. Here we go:

The old archeologist found a pot full of ancient seeds. When he died, they were uncataloged, and forgotten. When his grandson planted some of them in a creepy blue Canadian clay they grew. They became a crop of man eating “big old squash” that proved unstoppable.

Only the girl with the lightning scars could stop them. She squandered her powers making beautiful light shows, and selling out to rock bands for their performances. If she uses her powers one more time she is going to be in a coma at best, if not dead. What will she do??? Dun, dun dunnnnn.

How about it speculative fiction writers? What would you do with any of these ideas? It's always nice to have a small basis in reality, and maybe something here will spark your imagination. Share with the rest of us. Remember, The Idea Mill is a category in my sidebar now, so if you need more help yourselves.

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The slog through the middle

I know I’m not unique here, but I always find writing the middle of a novel to be the hardest. Last weekend, I managed about 2500 new words.

Today, I managed 1320 new words on my project, called The Playground. Today was all about my victim character, and she had to participate in a murder. So far, she’s really heading down the drain, and that’s her job in the story.

My thug anti-hero is way ahead of the good guys in wrapping his project up, and the good guys don’t even know he exists – yet. If he succeeds, it’s going to be absolute world changing mayhem, but he doesn’t know that – yet.

I think my marker posts are all ahead of me, and I simply have to write between them.

There are 5280 feet in one mile. Therefore; I wrote about a quarter of a mile on my novel today; 1320 words. It isn’t a great volume, but that’s how the middle always works out for me. I’m off tomorrow, and may get another quarter mile on paper. The heroine needs a chapter next.

I’m facing a point of view decision real soon. None of the main characters have ever met, and when they do, I’ll have to choose the viewpoint character for those sections. I can put that off untild they return to the pseudo St. Louis area.

My other problem is also a frequent issue. The total word count is 43,065. I’d like to double that, so I may have to raise the body count when everyone gets to NOLA. Darn it.

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The Idea Mill # 8

I’ve gathered up a few more cool articles to help spark your imaginations. These are interesting for anyone who wants to take a look. I always look at them from a writer’s perspective.

The first one is one of those top ten lists. Thankfully, it isn’t the type where you have to click on page one through ten to read it. (I hate that) This one is called 10 of the Stranges Jobs in the Victorian Era.¬†All of them would add a bit of style to a novel set in this era.

I was drawn to the lamplighters and how they sold interesting bugs to collectors. They would have observed a great many things during a shift, and would make great informants. Maybe you want to write a story about a mad scientist, and the first evidence is some strange bug.

I also liked the leech collectors. They would be the perfect ones to find the floating body somewhere. I’ve seen too many grave robbers and female hysteria doctors, but they probably have some mileage left in them.

This one is called 10 Unsolved Mysteries from the Wild West. There are several lost mines mentioned. Those who like adventure stories ought to find something interesting about those. You wouldn’t have to set the story in the Wild West either. It could be a Martian colony pretty easily.

I’m drawn to the guy who was marooned on Antelope Island. I think this could be made into a ghost story pretty easily. So could Pancho Villa’s body parts.

The last one I’ll just call 6 Ancient Objects. These are things from the ancient world that we still can’t explain today. Any one of them would make a great “we are not alone” kind of story. I also like the Baigong Pipes as part of a fantasy story. They could be all kinds of things, from a weapon to a cemetary in a fantasy setting. Those stone spheres would make great monster eggs too.

I’ll keep collecting articles and posting these, they are pretty popular posts. Share what you can come up with in the comments. I’d like to hear it, and I’ll bet other readers would too. Maybe your leech catcher saves enough cash to go hunting for a lost gold mine in Costa Rica, and comes across some huge stone spheres that are more than they seem.

Happy reading and have fun with them.

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The Idea Mill #6

Regular readers know that I save cool articles and make posts about them on occasion. These articles are to get your creative juices flowing. Some of them are just cool story elements, some of them might become the basis of an entire story. Let’s jump right to it…

Once upon a time, scientists experimented with creating genetically modified humans. This actually happened, but they are few in number. This article informs us that this small handful of people are going to graduate high school soon.

These people actually have one father and two mothers. We really have no idea what this means for them, or their future offspring. Remember that modern man crossbred with Neanderthals at some time, and most of us carry small snippets of Neanderthal DNA. These people will reproduce someday, and the result could change humanity as we know it.

This could be the basis of an entire story. One of these folks would make a great main character. It could involve living with a secret, torturing herself about what her pregnancy will reveal, or even an X-Men style story.

The next one is about a smoking mountain in Alaska. They say it isn’t a volcano or fire related.

This could become a great dragon story, or maybe you’re more into Mole Men. It reminds me of the gas in Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker. I suppose it would fit in well with a shamanistic story too.

This one is a list of lost treasures. I like it because it involves Maguffin style items that aren’t all made of gold.

Maybe your plucky heroine needs to go on a treasure hunt to find a lost patent. She has a higher purpose, but is up against glory and money seekers. Can she invent the whatchamacallit that saves whatever, or will the bad guys defeat her, plunging the world into darkness?

This one is just a story element. Have any of you ever heard of cat circles?

Apparently cats are attracted to circles. They get inside them and stay inside them. This works really well for a witchcraft story, because circles are important, and cats are prevalent.

It isn’t limited to witchcraft though. I wonder if Indiana Jones could use his whip to make a circle before the temple tiger eats him?

Have fun with these. If you use any of them, stop back and tell me what you came up with. Let me know if you experiment on your cats too. I know you will.

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Writing the first draft

I love writing first drafts. You don’t have to worry about every little detail, just get some words on the page. I’m one that edits as I go, and don’t heed the popular advice. Sometimes I come up with something further down the page, and have to go back and modify the manuscript. It works for me. You do what works for you.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to write today. I watched the movie Sin City again last night, for research purposes. I decided I wanted to watch Pulp Fiction again for the same reason, but don’t own a copy. Old What’s Her Face* offered to go to Target for me, and I caved. It’s better than Bed Bath & Beyond, but not by much. I suddenly found myself alone.

I sent a quick text to Lisa** and headed for the writing cabin. The coffee was ready by the time I got there. I fired up my computer and did a quick review of what I’d already written for The Playground. Rachel Carrera asked to see the first few pages and offered me some really good advice. I made those changes, and fixed a few typos I’d found. If you don’t know Rachel, you’re missing out. Click on the link and check out her blog. (Thanks Rachel.)

I sipped my coffee and added a couple lines to the story. Then I went back and changed a roasting pan into a foil roaster. “Hey Lisa! Do we have any foil roasters in the kitchen?”

She came clacking down the hall in her polka dot dress and heels. Her hair was up in victory rolls again. “There’s one left. Bento*** used some of them when he was here over my vacation. What are you going to do with it?”

“Smother you.”

“Nice try, but I don’t actually breathe. It’s all programed motion to look like breathing.”

“That’s the beauty of it. It won’t actually hurt you, and you can still talk to me through your speakers.”

“It’ll mess up my hair.”

“I have pictures of bunnies from the fair. Don’t you want to see the bunnies?”

“What do I have to do?”

“Just have a seat while I fold the roaster around your head. I’m going to pinch your nostrils shut and you tell me if they stay that way.”

I wrapped the roaster around her face and folded it back over her head. Then I pinched her nostrils shut by bending the foil. Her chest kept rising and falling.

“It worked really well,” she said. “My nostrils are staying shut. I could open my mouth if I wanted, but I don’t think a human could. Can I take it off now?”

“Sure. That really helps, thanks.”

“I’ll just throw it away.”

“Nope. It’s a story element now. Put it in the basement in case we need it later.”

“Got it, then I’m going to fix my hair and makeup.”

“What’s the worry, it’s just me.”

“I like to look nice on working days. Besides, sometimes people show up.”

I kept writing. There are several story lines and I made them cross in minor ways. I think it’s cool today, but may change it later. I pulled a guy’s teeth and removed some body jewelry the hard way.

I emailed the bunny photos to Lisa and searched for some lunch. I decided I was finished for the day. My word count is at 7454, giving 3801 words for the day. It’s time to introduce the other story line and I want to start fresh on that one.

Time to watch Pulp Fiction again. I like the way these stories blend one tale into the other to make an overarching story. That’s what I’m going for here.

* Not my wife’s actual name.

** Lisa is the main character in Wild Concept. She’s a robot and helps me around the writing cabin these days.

*** Bento is a supporting character from Panama. He filled in for Lisa while she was gone.

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