Tag Archives: plot

Hand Delivered Story Ideas

NYSE

Wow, what a blinding great story we had this week with a simultaneous triad of crises on a single day! At the same time that trading on the New York Stock Exchange came to a screeching halt Wednesday, the jet fleet of a major airline was grounded by a computer glitch and the website of a major national newspaper was disabled. Although not the first time, it certainly is a rare occasion for an event of such economic significance to occur, especially at the largest stock exchange in the world. But, it is even more notable when, at the same time, the system-wide operations at United Airlines was halted and the Wall Street Journal’s website was taken offline.

The official reasons provided for the temporary shut-downs were stated as technical issues and had nothing to do with hackers or terrorism. Okay, I suppose I believe that – well, more or less. I suppose I have to, since I don’t have much of a choice. After all, in the scheme of things, who really cares whether I believe it or not?

But, without knowing for sure –without positive proof in my hand – my mind quickly began racing with conspiracy plot lines. What a great opportunity this is for a mystery story or a novel of international intrigue and economic upheaval. And for credibility, I could even base the central premise on Wednesday’s real-life event. Isn’t it great when story ideas are hand delivered; when “truth is stranger than fiction?”!

If I wasn’t already working on another story and I had the time, I would have been spending the past day or two developing that plot. What first came to mind involved a group of hackers, starting with the Chinese or ISIS terrorists. However, it could also have been a rising Mexican drug cartel or a European billionaire investor causing upheaval in the NYSE toward global economic and political domination.

But, that’s all too easy. I think I would rather dig deeper and make the reason more subtle and shrewd. I think I would want to sit down for a few days and really think it through so I could add a few twists and turns beyond the obvious for a more original read before revealing the twisted truth. Of course, the reason would still have to be earth-shattering to justify all the cunning work of shutting down a major stock exchange, airline and newspaper. But, it would also have to be something realistic that people can generally relate to and not some wild, out-of-this-world storyline.

I would want to start it offshore, in an exotic location. For me, that would likely be Europe, since I have some familiarity with the continent. I would look for secondary news events that have the potential to lead to such a dramatic climax, but don’t usually make the international headlines. It would be something that people could look back on and say, “Yes, I never thought of that, but should have seen it as a possibility.”

So, while I stash this idea in my files for possible use in the future, where would you want to take this story?

 

To read or not to read

That is a question many authors, especially new authors, ask themselves. Should they be reading anything while writing a book? Should they read the genre they write? How about other genres? Or, if they write fiction, maybe they ought to read only non-fiction.

This question has always amazed and confounded me. That was especially true when I read a comment by a new author who proudly said she never reads in the genre she writes because she doesn’t want her wonderfully original idea to be diluted by what she reads. Yes, you read that right. Not only did she honestly feel she had a truly original plot but that it would be “tainted” by what she might read in the genre.

There are two basic problems with that statement. The first is the belief that she had a truly original plot. Sorry, but there are only so many basic plots out there. Originality comes with how you handle that plot. The important thing is to remember that. Your story may be one of exploration — nothing new — or a coming of age story. Again, nothing new. But how you handle that story, what you put your character through and how your character handles what life throws at him, that is what you make your own.

The second issue is with believing your plot can be tainted by something you are reading. Now, if you are afraid you will wind up lifting elements of the plot from the book you are reading, well, the problem lies with you. You either don’t have a plot already set in your head or you are so uncomfortable or so unsure about what you are writing that you unconsciously know you are in trouble.

But that doesn’t answer the question of whether you should read the genre you write.

My answer is a resounding “yes”. You have to read your genre to know what is selling, to know what the readers want. I don’t mean to just read what comes out of the major publishers either. You need to look at the best sellers list on Amazon to see what indie books are selling well and read some of them. This is important because indies can and do, on the whole, publish more often than traditionally published authors. So you can read multiple books in a series in short order.

You also need to read outside your genre because, whether you realize it or not, my guess is your current work in progress encompasses more than one genre. You may be writing a mystery but if there is a romance as a subplot, you need to read some romantic suspense books to get the feel for what sort of cues you need to put in. It’s the same if your mystery has a ghost story interwoven through it — read some horror.

Last week, as I prepared to write Nocturnal Challenge, an urban fantasy/police procedural, I read several books in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. I also read the last couple of Eve Dallas books by J. D. Robb. Now that I am working on Challenge, and knowing that the next book I will be writing is Honor from Ashes, I’m reading David Weber and Peter Grant. Once I start Ashes, which is science fiction, I’ll go back to reading fantasy in preparation for writing Dagger of Elanna, the second book in my fantasy series.

So, while I don’t read in my genre while writing it, I do read it before and after. I will also throw in a healthy dose of non-fiction and other fiction genres like mystery/suspense and, heaven help me, even some romance because several of my series have romantic sub-plots.

But there is another reason why authors should read. We learn by reading. we learn the pitfalls of the craft we want to avoid and we learn how the better authors plot or develop characters or worldbuild. But, if you are like me, you also read for entertainment. I have loved getting lost in a book for as long as I can remember. My imagination is much more powerful than the images on a movie screen or on TV. I can — and have — read something and had nightmares afterwards because it set my imagination flying.

But what about you? Do you think a writer should read the genre they write? What’s the last great book you read? (Yes, I’m looking at padding my “to be read” stack)