Pre-writer’s block


Roughly a week left until the start of NaNoWriMo and I’m still flailing around for an idea for my novel. Last year I tried to write something that was half-contemporary and half-fantasy, but completely came to a grinding halt when it came to writing (very much to my surprise) the fantasy segments. On the other hand, I had a lot of fun writing the bits set in our own world, so I think I’ll try for something with a contemporary flavor.

Sonya is writing a superhero novel, which is just too fab for words. Lish might participate too (sometime in between all the other stuff she has to do in November!); her advantage is that she’s already creating a character for a play she’s been cast in, and can use those ideas for her book. Cindy has two good ideas; some people have all the luck!

Meanwhile, here I sit on the edge of inspiration, trying to collect rainwater in a sieve.

I know the reason that I failed last year. It’s one that Chris Baty, who runs the whole enterprise, pointed out in one of the newsletters’ “tips” sections. I can’t find the particular page on the site anymore, but it seems that the relevant bits are in this year’s FAQ list:

Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. […] There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.

It’s pretty obvious that my idea block right now stems from a fear of the very thing I’m supposed to be embracing. Well, since I’m having trouble aiming low, it can’t hurt to slum for ideas from those who are unencumbered by concern for my artistic integrity!

I’ll get the ball rolling. Let’s say that my tome will be a faithfully autobiographical tale subtitled… oh, The Adventures of Selva Morales*, International Super Spy. Post some interesting ideas as comments to this entry and I’ll use them! All of them. That’s right, every single plot element, character and/or setting suggested by your followups will find their way into my novel.


Jot down as many gems (or turkeys) as you want — just don’t try to tie them all together. That’ll be my job. Wow, this is starting to sound like fun!

* ha, insert protagonist’s name here.

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  • Loli

    So that's where it came from.

  • inspoetica

    Words/names to incorporate:

    1. inspoetica

    2. matcha (green tea)

    3. deoxyribonucleic acid

    4. surreptitiously

    5. autumn

    6. buddha

    7. chateau mouton rothschild

    8. alopecia

    9. epistemological

    10. inspoetica

  • Bearfur62

    Protagonist is a saucy, yet brainy (read: Bette Midler) PI who is being pursued by a Virgo with a toenail fetish.

  • Might contain following idea scraps / quotes:

    - someone ends up with a million little cuts on their fingers from opening wine bottles all night

    - eating pomegranates in a bathtub

    - the moment you can 'see' a thought occur to someone, such as being behind a car that suddenly changes the direction of its turn signal

    - the condensation on a glass forming a pool on a marble table, dripping a single drop onto the floor

    - the word "guffaw"

    - the word "manichean" (religious or philosophical dualism / black-white view of world)

    - a well-frequented bathroom stall that serves as a time-insensitive communication device for main characters

    - someone who serves hoarded airline mini-liquors and snacks to their houseguests

    - someone is the cousin of the person who invented Post-Its, and mentions this too much

    - "Yes, it's blue. Really."

    - "I am the other flirtatious divorced grandma."

    - "That's the same damn thing he said yesterday."

    - "You are precisely the opposite of an emotional bargain."

    - "I still call them wife-beaters." (referring to the undershirts)

    - "What's the worst thing you ever did?"

    - "I believe the expression is '*three* sheets to the wind.'"

  • Five words: "The Rally Monkey Saves Christmas"

  • seoulo

    aim low ... interesting notion ... maybe it'll unblock my five-year period of creative writing procrastination

  • I should not have read the other comments *first* — it has directed my thinking.

    Have one of the high energy physicists have polysplenia (multiple spleens) or some other condition where they have extra organs. Make the pocket universes be created /in those extra organs/. Allow at least one universe to survive and have the aliens demand it so they can culture the baby universe.

    Play with causality a lot. The protagonist notices that some major catastrophe happens every time s/he sits down and finishes a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. The catastrophe is strictly based on which flavor it was. Pick some really yummy new limited edition flavor like "Honey, I'm Home" for discharge of chemical weapons in the Mideast.

  • Note on jxg's "reversal" comment earlier: the condition where your organs are totally internally reversed is called "situs inversus totalis". I have a few colleages in the cripple circles with that. They often have other abnormalities too, some of which cause premature mortality.

  • I think you should have a subplot involving goldfish.

    In the very first scene, the protagonist is at the petstore, buying one goldfish. S/he takes it home and puts it in the tank with his/her two other fish.

    At the end of every even-numbered chapter, a goldfish dies, and somewhere in each odd-numbered chapter, no matter what your protagonist is doing, you must get your protagonist to the petstore to buy another goldfish.

    You could possibly make this into some sort of very meaningful commentary on cycles of life.

  • How about an alternate world where the high school cross country team has a pep rally before their big meets and the knowledge bowl team members sweep their classmates off their feet with their brain muscles? i was actually a football player in high school, but i fit in better with the nerdy crowd and the honors classes. i always stuck up for their need of recognition as well.

  • CrackFerret

    I think you should include one of the following lines:

    "I think my knee just copped a feel."

    "Don't you dare stick your finger up my ass again."

    "Hey! Get that damn toe out of my testicle right now!"

    "Where's my beer?"

    "Whose foot is this?"

    I think the gothchick should look like Fairuza Balk, too. She'd make a kickass gothchick.

    You have to have at least one cheesy Hong-Kong martial arts style scene. The kind with people flying around the room and slamming people through windows and using lamps as props. They should fling hot spaghetti at each other, too, and perhaps some cat litter if you can find it anywhere near hot spaghetti. And there should be a badguy that looks like Alan Rickman.

    And a one legged goat that tells Chinese proverbs.

  • stealth

    Cornelius X. Murching - Evil. He can make people's heads explode when they're in a VR pod somehow.

    Consider giving him a Rich Tung-like Man-servant/Driver. Refer to him as X's supplicant in a few cases, but perhaps only after things go really bad between Corey and X. Cornelius comes from Kashmir. He grew up in a post-apocalyptic Kashmir, a ruined and deserted wasteland. His parents were considered insane for wanting to live there, but they did it as part of their cultural heritage. His father is Indian, and his mother is English (hence the name Cornelius). Perhaps his parents were abroad when Kashmir got nuked (by terrorists or Pakistan?) in the first few years after 2002. They died due to radiation poisoning while he was young. This may help inspire & drive his madness.

    Believes that religion is really just a group of rules to base a society on, instead of anything divinely inspired or for the purpose of individual happiness or fulfillment. This allows him room to justify adjusting religion to his own nefarious purposes.

  • Nina

    Addition to Jim's story: the aliens break into a musical number titled "Every quark is sacred."

  • I see her as Fairuza Balk with a bad dye job, lots of black makeup, and BIG FUCKING BOOTS. Also fishnets. And a dog collar. Carrie Ann Moss would also do. ;)

    I think the novel should contain a night at a club. Protagonist gets dragged into said club, is surrounded by badass goth chick and her friends. Gets talked into taking some hallucinogenic element by hot goth-person. (Gender of hot-goth-person dependent on sexual preference of protagonist.) Wacky hijinks ensue.

  • Jim

    Extraterrestrials arrive on the planet with great aplomb, and announce that they are here to apprehend a group of nuclear physicists for one of the greatest known atrocities: the creation, via a high energy physics experiment, of nascent universes, terminating them before they are allowed to mature, thus snuffing out countless billions of lives which might have been.

  • jxg

    There is a lot of evil happening, and it's all connected with dental floss. Is it the dental floss which makes people evil? Are the crimes committed with dental floss? Are people who use the same brand fated to be linked as perpetrator and victim? The only one who may know any of the answers to these questions is dental floss magnate H. Melvin Thropowicz, and he's clearly not sharing all he's hiding between his teeth.

    The protagonist meets (in reality or a dream) a person who is reversed right/left, like a mirror image. Sure, in daily life it's hard to notice, but it's relevant if you're looking for the liver or appendix or something. This would also work as an autopsy.

    A haphazardly spilled cup of coffee yields a stain on the tablecloth which is a perfect map of Burkina Faso. The as-yet unmelted sugar cube is where Ouagadougou would be.

  • (from GNE): absinthe drinkers... trying to procure the real stuff when it is illegal.

  • teak

    (Oh man, I can't wait to see you try to integrate this with all the other suggestions here....)

    Somewhere off the coast of Korea, a dingy boat bobs in the tranquil waters, carrying one unconscious passenger who is tightly clutching something in his left hand. Shortly thereafter, you find out that his right hand is missing.

    The events leading up to this might be gradually revealed through flashbacks occurring throughout the novel, or just told up front. It turns out that he's actually a brilliant 14th century scholar who was widely praised for his elegant poetry and flowing brushstrokes. But because he was left-handed, people were always suspicious of him, because of the widely-held belief that left-handedness meant evil or misfortune. Ironically, efforts to disprove this belief by diligent research into the matter actually caused the scholar to develop a great interest in the dark arts -- communing with the deceased and such. And during one seance session, he screwed up his mantra and allowed the spirit of a recently killed great warrior to enter the real world. Unfortunately, spirits no longer abided by any allegiances it held when they were alive, and so this spirit warrior proceeded to sweep through Korea and then Japan, slaying all those in his way. To stop this creature, the scholar chased after it, which eventually led to a confrontation on a boat off the shore of Japan. In the ensuing struggle, the scholar's right hand was chopped off, but he managed to ensnare the spirit warrior inside a bronze medallion he was carrying by chanting the entrapment mantra. (The container could've been anything; he just happened to have this trinket on him at the time.) He then sealed the trapped spirit in the medallion by inscribing it with powerful characters, written in his inimitable script in his own blood. (Lucky for him that it was his right hand that was cut off!) Then, severely weakened, he collapsed on the boat, clutching the medallion in his left hand, and muttered a mantra which sealed him, the medallion, and the boat in the present (i.e., 14th century), while the rest of the universe continued to flow forward in time.

    Fast foward to the present, where the boat suddenly reappears out of nowhere. It turns out that someone or something inadvertantly cracked the time-stasis mantra, causing the scholar, the medallion, and the boat to rejoin the time flow. They are soon discovered and taken to a hospital, where an attendant accidentally effaces the blood script from the medallion. The spirit warrior springs forth and resumes its killing spree. It of course seeks out the scholar, but as the warrior raises its sword to finish the job, the desperate scholar chants the mantra that fuses his spirit with the only suitable thing nearby: a nearby dead doctor's Palm VII (OK, an iPaq, if you feel so obligated due to company allegiance). The scholar then travels across the wireless network, but the spirit warrior, catching on to what had happened, crushes the device before the upload is complete, effectively giving the spirit partial amnesia. The incomplete program finds its way to an unsuspecting user's machine, and thus begins the story of some geek and his trusty wireless device out to save the world.

    One notably underspecified element which might be useful as a minor plot device: whoever or whatever broke the time-stasis mantra might be instrumental in solving the crisis.

    Bona fortuna.

  • bad influence

    the inevitable recurring inflatable love sheep in far too many scenes. Perhaps all the minor characters have them or just a few too many of the major characters.

  • man from the bank falls in love with protagonist and writes (with pee) "I love you" in the snow in the wee hours of every morning outside the window of the protagonist.

    ha. now i bet you feel even dirtier. hahahaha.

    ok. i'll behave. you started it ;-)

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