You’ve read my short story, Cocaine, right? Well, I’m using that story in a larger work. I’m going to break down a lot of the tricks and processes I used to write it, then I’m going to go through and revise it into a final product. All those tips and tricks are going to go into a larger book, tentatively called “Revising the Fuck Out Of Your Fiction (Then Adding More Fucks In The Second Draft).” A lot of it will go here on the blog. But, some will appear only in that ebook. The idea is, it’ll be a lot of general advice, but using specific examples out of my short story.
Writing, Item One
SPEW FORTH RANDOMNESS
This is a trick I use to overcome writer’s block. As soon as I know where I want my story to start, or I at least have a preliminary scene in mind, I just start writing. I write that scene, but most importantly, I spew forth a bunch of random material. I try to make as many references, descriptions, and odd expository bits as I can reasonably fit into the chapter. More importantly in my process, I like to carry a notebook and jot these things down as they come to me, then challenge myself to fit them into that scene.
The idea here is, you want to throw down a bunch of content you can note and refer back to later in order to build a sense of conceptual continuity.
Let’s look at Chapter One of Cocaine, and some examples of the things I threw down.
1) The very first thing I wanted to throw in there was the idea that when people are on cocaine, they often try to associate themselves with dead people. This is a thing I’ve seen a lot of, and it’s an interesting little tidbit I think is worth a lot of great stories. In this case, I wanted it to be a jumping-off point for Lana’s experience with a hunt.
2) I wanted Lana to fight a Frankenstein’s monster. I was thinking about Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and I felt that playing with a man-made construct could be fun. I didn’t really think of how it could be fun up-front, but instead I tried to think of a weird but modern way that could work.
3) Curiously, I also read this really ridiculous article about how in the future, sex bots might be hacked to kill their owners. Now, Eve isn’t really a sex bot, but it was a topic I kind of considered. A part of me wonders if Geena actually hacked Eve to kill Rebecca. I think it’s a little bit of a stretch, but not outside the realm of possibility.
4) I also liked the idea of a man-made monster squatting in a model home. In retrospect, I don’t think that really fits the Cedar Hills neighborhood—I don’t think they’d have model homes in such an affluent community. On the back end, I might either change the neighborhood, or just make it a rental property. This is important to note: You don’t actually have to refer back to these things, and they might decide they’re not perfect fits during revision.
5) I also wanted to reference The Eagles, and Hotel California specifically. Not necessarily because I felt it needed to be included, but because it’s got such a weird range of things that happen in the narrative, which I could draw from if I hit a wall.
So, there’s five basic ideas I threw into the story in my brain spew first draft. These are all things that are easy to return to. If I’m writing, and I’m not sure where to go next, I’d look at those five things, and use those to guide where to go next. Hotel California was a pretty good one if I do say so, since it’s got a lot of strange supernatural content I could use later on and just come up with an explanation to fit.
Build Your Prompt Bank
Another good way to do this if you have fits of odd ideas is, build a list. I call it my “prompt bank.” Literally get a note page and start scrawling down all the random bullshit that comes to mind between writing bouts. Then, when you’re writing, refer back to the list and cross things off as you use them. I tend to find the challenge of fitting a strange idea to be a great source of inspiration and motivation. It reminds me a lot of when I was in college creative writing classes, and we had a ten minute “free writing” session at the beginning of class with a writing prompt on the board. Except, using this method, those ideas are all very personal, and you have a head start on how they might work.
If you’re using a physical notebook, consider using a separate page, even one that’s a different color, and inserting it so you can pull it out for reference when you need it. I personally find that having a physical artifact full of writing prompts sitting on my desk while I write leads to my actually using it, not just ferreting it away forever and never fucking with it.
This prompt bank is also a good place to save ideas you’ve cut. The old piece of writing advice everyone says is, “kill your darlings.” Which is to say, extraneous things that don’t really serve the story should be dashed out of existence. However, you like them, right? That’s why you call them “darlings.” So, why not save them for later? For example, up above I talked about how I wanted the Frankenstein’s monster to be squatting in a model home. It doesn’t really fit with the rest of the story, but I still think it’s a fun idea with a lot of legs. So, I’m going to jot it down in my prompt bank.
Also a Word Bank
I don’t like using a lot of huge, eldritch, obscure words in my writing. A lot of times, it reeks of pretentiousness. But, I find particularly with fiction dealing with the occult, you can find and anchor on a few cool words to give your story a more authentic feel. So, I try to build a word bank of obscure or obsolete words I can refer back to as occult jargon. (I say occult, but this also works with science fiction, historical fiction, regional slang, and pretty much anything you write.)
My favorite time to do this is when I fall in a Wikipedia rabbit hole. If I’m looking for something, cross-reference something else, then get my interest piqued by something else, I’ll usually stumble upon a word or concept I don’t talk about often in real life. So, if I start talking about fractal geometry in one of my stories, you know it probably came from this method.
If you do this kind of word bank, do yourself a favor and shorthand a definition or reference point for the word. That way you don’t look at your list and think, “What in the fuck was the Liber Logaeth?,” then get lost digging up factoids about ritual high magic for the second time in a week.