East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Developing ideas and characters

A nugget of wisdom I found in a book I am greatly enjoying.
Talking about a short story published in 189, the author says she used it to “get a feeling” for a setting she’d later develop in a series of novels, and to try and develop the kind of character that would later appear in one of those novels.

It’s a scheme I heartily recommend. Get paid developing the ideas for your novels!

Indeed, it seems to be an excellent idea, and I have used it in the past, without really knowing.
I’ll have to write more stories, and use them to explore a few of the ideas I’ve here simmering.

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The most infuriating way to waste a few hours

This afternoon I gathered my Hollow Earth Expedition players – also known as The Friends of Mister Cairo – and I spent the afternoon playing, chatting, and having a much needed laugh. And it’s really great to have the web to help us keep our sanity this way.

But before that, and afterwards, I wasted the best part of the morning and a fair chunk of the evening trying to dream up one of the most dreaded things for a writer: coming up with a title.
It seems easy, right?
And most of the time it is not a problem _ I usually can come up with something feasible. But today? No cigar.

The fact is, this is for a big-ish project – quite fun, but also rather big – and it does not involve only me, and I can’t get myself and my accomplices stuck with a bad name forever.
We need something easy, catchy, original, and that conveys certain ideas at a glance. Something that cannot be mistaken, or twisted out of shape. Something with staying power, that can be printed on a T-shirt in a fancy font, and sells in cartloads.

There is no formula, and indeed I tried a couple of online title creators, because … technology.
But it turned out to be useless mostly useless.
And so it’s back to the basic pre-tech systems: jot down as many titles come up for your work, and then start erasing all those that really don’t work on a second pass – and so on and so forth until you have only one left, and that’s the good one. Well, at least the one that provides you with the highest degree of fit for the subject. A starting point, if nothing else.
And rather a time waster.

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A young Helena Saratova…?

I have often mentioned how graphically inept I am, and how much admire – as a consequence – artists that can draw, paint or give shape to their ideas as images in any form.
My schooling steered me away from images at a very early stage, and I grew up to be language-oriented, written-word-bound. I do not complain… but I do complain.
While I’ve taken courses and done exercise, I am still hopeless with a pencil, don’t even mention brushes and paint.

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The formula

This morning I spent a few minuted talking with a friend and colleague about a book he has abandoned halfway through and about which I never went beyond the Amazon preview. In about of self-assuredness, I mentioned the fact that a book like that I can write in two weekends. Which was not meant literally, but close to it. Let’s say I can crank out ten thousand words a day – two weekends, starting on Friday evening, would mean 50.000/60.000 words in two weekends.
Nice and smooth.

I mentioned this to another friend, about half an hour ago – she’s writing a series, and she was taking a break, and we exchanged a few messages. The point of the discussion was – the time-consuming part is not typing (and she’s a much faster typist than I am), but coming up with good ideas.
Ideas about plot twists, character traits and interactions, ideas about dialogue.
Good ideas and the research to stimulate and back them are the critical point, and they are time consuming.

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Night thougths and story ideas

Last night I was going through a bout of insomnia, so I wrapped myself in a stack of blankets and I watched me something. I chose a Japanese animated series, one I liked a lot when I was a kid. A spin off of the original, 12 20-minutes episodes that came out in the mid-’90s and that I had missed at the time.

I watched and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I liked the storytelling, the characters and their dynamics, and OK, there was a certain amount of fluff and adolescent angst but what the heck, it was a Japanese anime, it’s supposed to have those.

And while I was between episodes, a strange sensation hit me…

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Hotel rooms and airports

There’s this story I heard a few days ago, that goes like this:

Q: How do you know that a stand-up comedian is being too successful?
A: All of their new jokes suddenly are about hotel rooms, airports and comedy venues.

The risk of success is, you start working on your successful routine and you lose touch with everything else. Staying in touch with what’s out there, with everyday life, with people and events and ideas is absolutely indispensable to keep having fresh ideas.

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