Where do I get my story ideas? Most writers have probably heard that question numerous times, and sometimes it’s difficult to answer. Some of my ideas seem to come out of nowhere, fully-formed. At other times, the birth of a story is made up of several factors that are only clear in retrospect. Many stories grow out of my own experiences, interviews with interesting people I meet exploring, or comment someone makes that stirs my imagination.
To answer the question, I’ve decided to do a series of videos on the creative sparks that have led to different books I’ve written.
Where do I get my story ideas? Most writers have probably heard that question numerous times, and sometimes it’s difficult to answer. Some of my ideas seem to come out of nowhere, fully-formed, and other times the birth of a story is made up of several factors that are only clear in retrospect.
The creative spark that eventually became Taking Chances was born during an afternoon walk with my friend Jan, while describing a novel I’d been reading. Although the book was well-written, I was on a rant because I would not believe in the romantic premise …
Click on the video to listen to how Taking Chances was born…
People often ask where I get my ideas for my novels. It can be a difficult question to answer, because every story is different.
My novel Wild Passage, for example, had its origins in the most terrifying night of my life. My husband Brian were 70 miles west of the Oregon coast on our sailboat, Julie Marie II, on a voyage from Canada’s Juan de Fuca straight to San Francisco.
Let me tell you the story…
I had fun remembering this one, and if you enjoyed it too and found it interesting, I have a couple of favours to ask you.
This Saturday I’ll be giving a day-long workshop for the Romance Writers of America’s Vancouver Island Chapter. If you’re in the Nanaimo area, come along and join us in an exploration of character-driven plotting, and pacing your novel to maintain story tension.
When: November 2, 2013, 9:00 to 4:00 (registration from 9:00 to 9:30) Where:Vancouver Island University, 900 Fifth Street, Building 255, Room 170, Nanaimo (Campus Parking Map) Cost: $40.00 if registering after October 19th or at the door. Lunch, coffee, and tea is included.
Session 1—Character-Driven Plotting
In this workshop, Vanessa explores character-driven plotting, and the technique of using the hero and heroine’s personal territory to build a bridge between character and conflict. We all want the magic formula to work: characters + conflict = a great story. Sometimes, we need a little help, and adding a territorial imperative to the mix could be exactly what your story needs.
Session 2—Pacing to Maintain Tension
Pacing a book involves finding the balance between showing and telling, between emotional intensity and distance, between slow and fast. Vanessa makes this complex technical subject clear with graphic examples. Topics include time and the writer: story time, reader time, and writer time; the simple rule that covers it all; and how pacing relates to viewpoint and narrative style.
I’m looking forward to a great day with this group of enthusiastic writers!
EC Sheedy Tweeted me this afternoon about today’s blog, asking, “Are you doing the “garbage can? A little bit scary for writers, that one :-)”
Although “scary” (and I do agree!), the Garbage Can Test has always come through for me. So, on request from a recent email conversation between Pen Warriors, here’s the Garbage Can Test described in Chapter 11 of Writing Romance, 3rd Edition.
The Garbage Can Test stumbled out of my mouth several years ago during a weekend workshop at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. One of the writers attending asked for help with a complicated plot involving bad guys, a sheriff, and a heroine’s imprisoned brother. It sounded like good action but I’d become confused by the details and uncertain what to recommend.
On impulse – if I’d thought it out ahead, I might not have had the nerve – I held up her manuscript and said, “Okay, we both know there’s a problem and we don’t know how to fix it. Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m going to throw this manuscript into the garbage.”
I dropped the manuscript onto the floor beside me and she leaned forward in her seat, hands gripping the arms of her chair.
“It’s gone. Into the garbage. You’re never going to be able to write it. You’ll never see the characters again. I want you to think about that.” I could feel her thinking and worried that I’d gone too far. I was winging it and hoped I knew what I was doing. “If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story,” I asked, “just one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?”
What she picked surprised me, because I hadn’t known what was important to her in the story. It wasn’t the sheriff or the brother in jail. It wasn’t the bad guys. It was something I’d lost sight of, but when she grabbed that “one thing” it was suddenly crystal clear to both of us.
A few weeks later I told Naomi Horton about my experience with the garbage can. She was stalled in her book at the time but when she tried the garbage can, she realized the thing she cared about was the hero she’d visualized, a man who had lived undercover so long he was more accustomed to lies than truth. She threw out her planned heroine and wrote No Lies Between Us with a heroine whose motivation and backstory fit the hero — a woman who vowed she’d never be lied to again. The next time I attended one of Naomi’s lectures, I heard her mention the Vanessa Grant Garbage Can Test.
Hmm. I put the test in my own arsenal of writer’s tools, and used it myself for the first time in writing Yesterday’s Vows. Since then I’ve used the garbage can test at some point on almost every book I’ve written. In the rare event when it hasn’t worked, it’s been because I’ve been at a point in my life as a writer where I need to take a break, where I have to step back from writing and re-examine my goals and myself as a person.
Not long ago my current work-in-progress took a scary trip through the garbage can when I feared I’d written 30,000 words of a story that was going nowhere. Not so, growled my detective heroine, Alix Hyde, when she climbed out of the garbage can clutching a passionate desire to right a past wrong, despite the knowledge that her actions could destroy the life she’d fought so hard to build.
Has your idea ground to a halt? Are your characters going down in quicksand? Do you wonder what the point of your story is? Is it time to try the garbage can?
Sit in a comfortable chair, take a few deep breaths and relax.
Close your eyes and imagine you are holding your story in your hands.
Visualize yourself throwing the story and all its papers into your garbage can. If you have trouble imagining this, collect the papers together and physically throw them into an empty garbage can.
Tell yourself it’s gone. You’ll never be able to write that story now. Let yourself feel the loss.
If all you feel is relief, then let it go, but if you feel as if you’ve just tossed your first-born into the fire, then…
If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story, one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?
Let everything else go. Begin again, starting from that one thing.
Storm is my second novel, the story of Luke and Laurie falling in love on the magical islands of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. Luke and Laurie have always had a special place in my heart, and the storm that drew them together symbolized many coastal adventures I’ve shared with my husband.
When I wrote Storm, I set the story on the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, islands originally named after the wife of the British King George III without regard to the fact that the indigenous First Nations had already named their islands. In 2009 the province of British Columbia signed a historic reconciliation agreement with the Haida Nation, and the islands were renamed Haida Gwaii. Because the romance in Storm is so much a part of the heritage of Haida Gwaii, I wanted to bring the story forward into the 21st Century.
In bringing the islands forward to the present day, I’ve taken artistic license with regard to logging on Lyell Island. A few years after the book was originally published, a national park was established and the Gwaii Trust was given the task of managing the forests. Because logging itself is not central to the story, I’ve taken the artistic license of leaving the logging camp on Lyell Island
… Vanessa Grant
Synopsis of Storm – the Author’s Cut
She had become what others wanted – could he help her find herself?
Broadcaster Laurie Mather wanted desperately to be aboard Luke Lucas’s seaplane when he flew out on a search-and-rescue mission off the treacherous coast of northern British Columbia – for professional reasons, but also for deeply rooted personal reasons.But when she pressured Luke into accepting her presence, she had no idea that she was Luke’s private fantasy, a warm living voice he listened to on lonely flights – but one he had no desire to turn into reality.When Laurie succeeded in talking her way aboard Luke’s plane, her well-ordered life was changed forever.