Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Finding Your Muse

The Ramble Topic for this month is Finding Your Muse. That's easy, I got mine right here:

Ok, I don't think that's the Muse we're supposed to be talking about. (Though, for the record, I am going to this concert)

I've heard many professional writers say the most annoying question they get asked is "Where do you get your ideas?". Now, I'm no professional, not yet, but even I've been asked this question more than once. So, where do I get my ideas? The simple answer is: Anywhere and everywhere.

Now, I know that doesn't really narrow it down, so I'll explain. The ideas for my stories most often start with the question, "What if...?" It can strike any time of day, during any activity, in any place. No matter what I'm doing, something will catch my attention, and my mind will ask, "Well, what if...". And suddenly I have a seed for a new story. I'd say upwards of 90% of these What If's go unanswered. There are just too many for me to fully flesh out into solid story ideas. Besides, not all of them are worth exploring. But every now and then, a spark of an idea will ignite in my tiny, chaotic mind and will begin to spread like a wildfire. At some point, the fire will become large enough that my conscious brain will take note and start exploring the possibilities; creating characters, developing plot, assigning setting, etc. That's when the real fun begins.

For example, I was playing Halo 3 ODST a few years back (great game, my favorite campaign story of the entire series, for anyone who's interested). I was trying to complete the level very quickly, and at one point, I climbed into a 4-wheel drive vehicle (known as a warthog) and drove as fast as I could through a narrow canyon past all of the enemies without bothering to fight them. As I swung wide around an approaching enemy tank, with several infantry units shooting at my passing vehicle, I thought to myself, this is kind of cool, traveling as fast as I can and hoping that I don't get blown up before I make it out. Then the question popped into my mind, What if there was a high speed train on an alien planet that ran between two settlements through a canyon infested with deadly creatures, and the train had to keep up its top speed or the creatures could land on it and tear it apart?

Thus my short story, "Riding the Titanium Bullet" was born.

Another time I proofread a story for a friend. It was a good idea fairly well written, but the ending fell flat. In trying to help my friend I suggested an alternate ending that I thought would be much cooler and would fit the story better. Unfortunately, though he liked the idea, my friend said that was not the type of story he was trying to tell and dismissed the suggestion. No big deal. However, I couldn't get that ending out of my head. The idea pestered me to the point that I actually asked my friend if he would mind if I wrote a story similar to his but with my ending. He had no problem with that, however, before I started writing, my subconscious mind struck again(!) and asked the question, What if, rather than the ending, my idea was actually the beginning of the story? The  more I thought that through, the more I liked it. So in the end, I wrote a story that takes place a thousand years after the original ending I came up with, but was directly influenced by the events of that ending.

And my story, "Adam" was created.

Sadly, neither of these have been published, but they do serve a point here. Ideas can come from anywhere. The next time you're struggling to find the kernel of a story, or you're just struck by something interesting, an idea or an image, stop and ask yourself "What if...?".

Just be sure to have a notebook handy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

PseudoPod Flash Horror Finals

I'm updating this post to reflect the current status of the contest. As the previous post said, I entered two stories into PsuedoPod's Flash contest. Horror stories, 500 words or less. I don't typically write horror, and telling a story in 500 words, a complete story, is very difficult. So I decided to accept the challenge.

The contest started out with 153 entries, broken up into fourteen groups of eleven stories each. Over the last two months, the groups were released on the Escape Artists forums one at a time, and the participants were given a few weeks to vote for their three favorite stories in each group. The top stories were moved on to the semi-finals round, where there were six groups of seven. The entries were then whittled down to the final eighteen stories, all in one final round of voting. The top three will be published in audio format on PsuedoPod in the near future.

Both of my stories made it to the semi-finals. Sadly, one of them, "Umbra" came in last in its semi-final group and is now out of the contest. However, I am thrilled to be able to say that my second story has made it into the finals!

The rules of the contest forbid me from revealing which story is mine, but I am allowed to point people who are interested in supporting either me, or the contest, to the forums with instructions on how to participate. From there I can only hope that my stories are the ones you end up voting for.

So, for those who like horror stories, and want to (hopefully) support my writing, here are some basic instructions:

First, go to forum.escapeartists.net. From there you will see a place to login or register for the forums. You'll have to register in order to access the contest, but it's a simple registration, all they want is a username, email, and password. Once you've submitted your info, you'll receive a verification email. Follow the link in the email to complete your registration.

Once you're logged in, scroll down until you find the category "The Arcade". Beneath this category is a subcategory entitled, "Contests" with a child forum called, "Flash Contest III - PseudoPod". Click on this link.

Before you can actually view the entries, you have to quickly prove that you are not a spambot, so click on the forum called, "Questions, Comments, Concerns?" and on the right hand side, click "Reply" and add a simple comment such as, "Hello"; anything just to enter a post. Once that's done you'll automatically be granted access to the contest groups, which will appear above the Contest Rules group.

From there, read the entries and vote for your top three in each group. You're welcome to read all of the entries through the first fourteen groups, but the voting is already concluded on those as are the semi-finals. At the bottom of the list you'll find the "Final Round" post. My story is in there, along with the other seventeen finalists. Keep in mind, this is a horror contest, so some of the stories might make some people a bit squeamish, but honestly, most of the stories are not too graphic or terribly disturbing.

Voting for the Final Round closes the morning of May 9, 2013.

Thank you to everyone who chooses to participate in the contest and for your willingness to support me and my writing. I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I have. Have fun!