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5 Ways to Jumpstart Creative Thinking

I’m in the midst of final tweaks on a book; the tweaks are based on beta read feedback and my wife’s; which is, of course, always right.

For the past couple of days I’ve been struggling to resolve some plot issues that were raised, but really, this isn’t any different from any job where a person has to resolve problems creatively. I remember that some operations orders for various missions required innovative thinking. One direct action target my A-Team was assigned required a lot of “thinking outside the box” a term I don’t like, because THERE IS NO BOX. So that’s the first of the 5 ways:

  1. There is no box. If you think you are constrained by rules, by precedent, by your capabilities, you’ve already failed. You can aim high and miss, or you can shoot low and hit, but the high miss is better than the low hit.
  2. Don’t ignore the obvious. Sometimes I get too smart for my own good. I was just struggling with a plot problem, trying to figure out how to get two characters to meet and exchange information. And in that sentence was my flaw. The key was they had to exchange information; they didn’t have to actually meet. But I was so caught up on them meeting, I was twisting the scene into a knot, when the solution was easy: just call.
  3. Trust your subconscious. As a writer of over 60 books, I trust my subconscious more and more. There is something to be said for gut instinct. Does it feel right? Does it feel wrong? My theory on this, which might be called sixth sense, is that your brain actually is processing the problem, you’re just not aware of all the processing. And you often don’t get the message right away in words or a vision; it comes in the form of emotion. Grab onto the emotion and follow it to the words or the vision.
  4. WDW_B&N copyAsk for help. Even if it’s from someone who isn’t in your creative field. In fact, because they don’t know all your “boxes” they often can give advice you wouldn’t even consider. I call this HALO; jumping in from a high altitude where a person can see the entire picture on the ground, but not be on the ground mired in the problem. They have a different perspective. It’s how I’ve taken my Who Dares Wins program into diverse organizations ranging from an IT start-up in Silicon Valley, to a Fortune 100 company in Mexico City, to a Nursing program at a major university, and so on. The details are often different, but they all have many things in common; primarily people.
  5. Listen to advice. This is a hard one; creative people tend to be rather proprietary. And part of this is being open to advice from places you might not expect it. Everyone has something valuable to share. I often find that some advice I get doesn’t seem to apply at all; until I process it and drop my prejudices against it. Then, it’s often right on target.

BURNERS(Bob_Deb_TN)Those are just ways I function creatively. What about you? What do you do? One that just occurs to me now, as I sit in my hotel room cooling down from my trip to the fitness center, is that I am a big believer in physical activity to stimulate the brain. I figured out the “call don’t meet” while running.

And coming very soon (6 October): burners.





11 Bestselling authors in one bundle– pay what you want

There are only 2 days left to get in this really good deal.  Books from the likes of Alan Rodgers, Brian Herbert, Bruce Taylor, David Sakmyster, Bill Ransom, Laura Anne Gilman, Jan Herbert, Kevin Anderson, Doug Beason, Dean Wesley Smith, Chris Mandeville and an anthology edited by Hugh Howey. It also includes the first book in my Atlantis series which is now linked not only to the five Atlantis books that follow, but also to the Nightstalkers and Time Patrol books.  I’m bringing my universes together!

Here is the link and the covers are just below.

The motif is disasters, but the bundle covers a wide range of fascinating topics.  Stop by and take a look. A deal like this doesn’t happen often.

All Covers Large

Just finished another Write on the River Workshop and it was wonderful.  Lots of great ideas and input from the four participants. I’m in the process of revamping the Workshop and we’re seriously considering adding a Retreat to those who’ve already been through the workshop, where people come and just write all day with breakfast and lunch laid and then we have a group dinner.  More to come!

And don’t forget:  6 October is Burners. It is available for pre-order at Amazon and iBooks. And after Burners I’ve already got the schedule for next three books in the series:  Prime, Centre and Chaos. Each will follow less then three months after the previous book!

Very, very excited about this series.

Nothing but good times ahead!


1 of N does not equal N—Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Thumb_Nail_Novel_WriterArrghhh. Math. Sorry, but it’s the best way I can explain this concept. What this formula means is that just because you can buy a best-selling book written by so-and-so, the famous writer that does not mean you can write a similar book and get it published.

What I’m talking about is those people who sit there and complain that their book is just as good as such and such and, damn it, they should not only be published but have a bestseller. Also, those people who look at book number 5 from a best-selling author and complain about how bad it is. Yes, there are many book number 5’s from best-selling authors that if they were book number 1 from a new author, would not get published. But the primary thing that sells a book is the author’s name. I’ve always said Stephen King could write a book about doing his laundry and it would be on the bestseller list. Stephen King earned being Stephen King and to misquote a vice-presidential debate, I’ve read Stephen King and you ain’t no Stephen King. Neither am I.

Another thing people do is they see a technique used in a novel and use the same technique, and then get upset when told it doesn’t work. They angrily point to the published book that has the same technique and say, “SEE.” Unfortunately, what they don’t see is that that technique is part of the overall structure of the novel. It all ties together. I’ll discuss book dissection to study various aspects and techniques and I still stand by that; however, I also remind you of the story of Frankenstein. Just because you can put all the pieces together, that doesn’t mean you can necessarily bring it to life. There are some techniques that only work when combined in context of other parts of the novel; thus using it in isolation can be a glaring problem. You can’t take the beginning of one bestseller, tie it in with flashback style from another, and have a similar flashy ending as another and expect the novel to automatically work.

Every part of a novel is a thread connected to all the other parts. Pull on one piece and you pull on them all. Tear apart a novel or a movie and see the pieces, but then be like a watchmaker and see if you can put them all together again as the writer did and if you understand why they go back that way.

For example, Quentin Tarrantino ignored the classic three act screenplay structure with Pulp Fiction. Yet the movie was a great success. So therefore, a number of new screenwriters decided they didn’t need the three act structure. However, what they failed to see is that it was not so much the unique story structure that made Pulp Fiction such a success, but rather the intriguing dialogue. Tarrantino’s structure without the Tarrantino dialogue would have spelled failure.

It is also more important to figure out what is working and why, rather that what you feel didn’t work in a book you read. An attitude that will serve you little good is the there’s so much crap on the shelves in the bookstore. I admit that there are times when I am looking for something to read, and I stand in the local supermarket looking at the paperbacks, that I really can’t find anything I want to read or that sparks an interest. But that doesn’t automatically mean it’s all crap.

I had to do this many times. I’d read something I might not like, but it seems to be selling quite well. Instead of dismissing the rest of the world as stupid, I try to find what it is about the book that people like. That doesn’t mean I’m going to do the same thing, but it does broaden my horizon.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little fire burning deep inside believing you are better than those people getting published, but I think that’s the sort of thing that should be used to fuel your writing, not expressed loudly so everyone can hear it.

John Gardner once said that every book has its own rules. Remember that when you examine a book to see what you can learn from it. Look at the parts from the perspective of that book’s specific rules.

backgroundBlack Tuesday finalThe Novel Writers Toolkit, Write It Forward, How We Made Our First Million on Kindle, 102 Writing Mistakes, and Writer’s Conference Guide.

And coming 24 August and available for pre-order: Time Patrol: Black Tuesday


More on Point of View– Craft at Write on the River

Toolkit_TNYou have to consider point of view before you begin your book and before you write every scene, much as a movie director has to. You have to determine the best point of view to get across to the reader the story you are trying to tell. Decide where are you going to place the camera to the best advantage of the story.

Say you are going to write a thriller about a female FBI agent tracking down a vicious serial killer. You want to open your book with a scene that will grab the reader and set the stage for the suspense of the novel so you decide to open with a killing. What point of view will you use? Now, remember, no point of view is wrong—you just have to understand the advantages and disadvantages of your possible choices and make a knowledgeable decision. And remember, you will most likely be stuck with that point of view for the entire manuscript.

First person might be a bit difficult. After all, this would most likely mean your narrator actually witnesses the scene. This isn’t impossible, but it could be awkward. Perhaps you use first person from the protagonist’s point of view and she witnesses the murder but is not in a position to take any action? Using first person from the POV of the victim means the book is rather short, unless the victim survives the attack and swears vengeance. First person from the killer would make for a dark book, but it has been done.

You can decide to use third person from the point of view of the victim. This can build tension well, but also means the chapter will end abruptly.

You can use third person from the point of view of the killer, but remember that the killer knows who he or she is and therefore you have to be careful how much insight into the killer’s head you allow. A technique some use to overcome that limitation is to have the killer think of himself in different terms than his reality. The killer is Joe Schmo, but when he’s in killer mode he thinks of himself as Captain Hook, thus hiding his identity from the reader in third person insight.

Or, you could use omniscient, placing your ‘camera’ above the scene. Here, though, you have to be careful not to show too much and give away the killer’s identity. Much like a director might choose a dark basement where the viewer can’t see the killer’s face, you will do the same.

Another example of considering how to write a scene is if you have two characters meeting in a pub for an important exchange of dialogue. They sit across from each other. How are you going to ‘shoot’ this scene? From third person of one of the characters? That means you get that character’s thoughts and you describe the other character’s reactions—i.e. the camera is on your POV character’s shoulder. Is it important that the reader know one character’s thought more than the other’s? Or is it more important to show one character’s reactions than the others?

Or, do you keep switching the camera back and forth across the booth, going from one to the other? If you’re Larry McMurty and won a Pulitzer Prize you might be able to do that, but for most of us, such a constant switching of POV is very disconcerting to the reader. Or do you shoot it omniscient with the camera off to the side and simply show actions and record dialogue?

Consider this scene like a date. If you were out with someone and you knew exactly what they were thinking, and they knew what you were thinking, would there be any suspense to the date? Taking too many points of view can greatly reduce your suspense.

Black Tuesday finalI’ve written in all the above points of view. I tend to go with omniscient now as it’s the voice that works best for me, but it took me almost forty manuscripts to figure that out.

Coming 24 August: The Time Patrol: Black Tuesday

Six missions on 29 October to six different years, from 999 AD to 1980. Each operative has 24 hours to maintain our timeline or else everything snaps out of existence.



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