Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where Do I Get Good Ideas for Writing Topics

Bonus the source of the start up photo is from a site that would be useful for any writer, that talks about the effective use of metaphors in writing.

I refer to them as triggers; something that gets you started on a subject that you feel comfortable about writing relevant material. Otherwise, you are writing fiction which has its place in the craft. I have a friend who suggested I write a fiction novel but I told him I don’t think that is me. I see fiction as a form of lying, more like telling an untruth and creating a deception which all can have their place in a good fiction novel. But my mom brought me up to not lie so it has stuck with me all these years and I am just plain uncomfortable with that approach so I don’t do it.

You run across a lot of people in online gaming chat windows who just take great pleasure in pulling others’ chains and they are better candidates for fiction writers than I am. They don’t have any problem with what they are doing and really don’t care if they offend anyone. I am a Canadian and it’s not in my makeup so enough said on that.

The best places I have for triggers involve “conversations” with other people and that can happen in a lot of different places and forms of media. Facebook posts are one of my favourites because you can get a sense of how important a topic it is by the number of comments that flow underneath the post and within that, you can usually find a slant on the story that works for you.

I write mostly about what I know so the non-fiction approach has even more credence then for me. Recently (actually it was just this morning), I wrote a story about a heavy rainstorm in Toronto, Ontario, Canada which was triggered by a Facebook post made by a friend and former co-worker when I lived in that area. I now live in London, Ontario which is a sort of longish drive from Toronto and weather patterns do differ between the two regions. It was only sort of sporadically raining that day in London but because I grew up in Toronto I had a strong perspective on the potential damage that could have been caused and some of the history of similar events (Hurricanes Hazel and Katrina) that took place in the past. So I think the story was quite effective in giving others a feel for what went on that day even without me actually seeing the event from up close. The Internet pictures and videos of all too familiar locations did a great job of doing that for me.

I get similar ideas from discussions in the online chat windows from people that are playing the same game I am such as Pokerstars.com (you can still play .com gambling sites in Canada) and many other games that provide the chat window as part of their in-game experience. Pokerstars was a useful one in the past when players from the USA were allowed to deposit money in those accounts but it disappeared when the legislation got passed in the US making it very hard for US players to access the site directly from the US.

Daniel Negreanu (a Canadian that lives in Las Vegas to be close to the brick-and-mortar games) has a residence in Canada and flies back and forth for many reasons and one is to play online on the Pokerstars.com site where he is a member of the Pokerstars team. His visits to the headquarters of Pokerstars would be few and far between if he had to access the site from there because the Isle of Man wouldn't be considered as one of Robin Leach’s 10 Most Desirable Travel Destinations. (Did you find yourself talking in his voice, in your head I hope; a simple and useful writing trick. Truth is I had to Google a bit because I couldn't get Robin Williams out of my head, which is something I think the Williams version has difficulty with as well since there are a lot of people living in that space. He is truly brilliant—Williams not Leach).

One of the most effective ways is a chat with a friend whether it is on the telephone, via chat windows or the best method in person, because they will ultimately talk about stuff that you have in common and they will provide an insight that will create the trigger for your next few stories. I must learn to turn my new digital camera on to video record mode and make sure I capture the essence of the conversation if not just for voice alone but maybe to get some body language thrown in for good measure. Always ask for permission if you do so; a true friend will basically say you didn't need to ask that.

The digital camera has become a very useful and recent addition to my bag of tricks. I find it quite useful for taking pictures of things that have meaning for my stories like the recipe I just created for just one. Fresh food always looks better than the stuff that has been sitting for a while. Often you have items in your collection that make for good stories since; once again, you have in-depth and unique knowledge of that item.

Your topics don’t need to all be about current events or in today’s news stories. Two of my favourites go back to the early 1960’s and have good readership so far since they are relatively new creations around an old story. I “borrow” a lot of pictures from the Internet to set up or enhance a story and when you can find the source make sure you give them credit. It’s only the right thing to do. I don’t always follow that advice since at times I will modify the picture some to get a presentation that works a little better for my story. I’m not talking about enhancing a black and white photo in Photoshop to get a better rendition for the computer screen but Photoshop Elements 10 is now my photo editing software of choice since it came loaded in my new computer and has just about everything I need for my creations. 

A computer graphics expert would only use the full version of Photoshop along with Illustrator to get the effect they wanted but I am just an amateur graphic’s guy that can get a more than usable picture for my presentations.

And you can get ideas from perfect strangers, neighbours, and the gal at your local bank (if you still go to one), your UPS delivery guy and a host of just about any other human contact. The trick is to not be too much of a leader in any of those conversations. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason and using them in that ratio is a good starting point for successful writing.

As a side note I use Microsoft Word as my basic editor for copy and hyperlinks which I copy and paste into the Blogger posts editing op and then tweak it because I keep forgetting that the two use line breaks a little differently so I must reset the paragraph breaks. Then I place any graphic files in that editor and tweak them some more by seeing how they look in the view mode and back to edit mode.

You don’t have to worry much about saving in both Word and Blogger because they both do frequent AutoSaves, but I always save after an edit so that I view my most recent changes in the “view” format. I prefer to proofread in that mode as well since it is in the form that readers will see but because of browser differences, it will not appear exactly the same as on your screen. There is little you can do about that unless you know what browser the reader is using, which is next to impossible to monitor on the Internet but Blogger has some really interesting monitoring statistics in the stats option that can give you a clue as to the most common viewing browser right down to the day or, even better, what is being read right now.

It is quite a spectacular addition to an already powerful blogging site. Blogger is going to be around for a bit I would think since it is a Google product so your stories are quite safe as I found out after revisiting my blog after over 4 years of absence. I wrote in other places and one of them disappeared and with it, all the stories I wrote.

I hope this serves as a useful addition to your own bag of tricks for writing and that you will find use for them in continuing your quest to write the perfect story (which doesn't exist). Some stories are better than others and your readership will make that pretty clear by the number of hits a story gets.

A good title that works well in searches, some eye-catching graphics and a easy to follow story-line make for successful writing. I openly admit that I sometimes get too fancy with titles and I tend to ramble a lot and have to keep coming back to the original subject but that is me. You get what get because I stand by the premise that you need to write what you know and from your perspective to get a meaningful story.

Newspaper and magazine editors won’t agree with that approach because they don’t want you writing in the first person but who really reads those media anymore. The internet rules now and short and entertaining is good to a point. Twitter isn't much of a writing tool since it only allows for short snippets of information that attract a younger market for sure but I wouldn't want to find out about how to properly build a house or do brain surgery with that method, not that I would try either. Leave that to the experts but you can talk about how you go about finding those. It’s probably there somewhere on the Internet so just Google what you are looking for and go from there.

And always have fun because what other primary reason are you writing for in the first place? 

If it’s good it eventually makes you money. 

All in good time.

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