One challenge of the writing life is we’re so often alone that we’re sometimes slow to seek help when we’re stumped. Another challenge is, again because we’re alone so often, we don’t always have access to solutions we can’t think up for ourselves.
Here are five resources that have saved my bacon at different times in my career. None of them are traditionally for fiction writers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use them.
1. Productivity Tools
The Pomodoro Method. GTD. Toggl. Eternity. These are just a few of the time-tracking and focus-enhancing tools aimed at professionals. They help you keep track of your time so you can use it to the best effect. Turns out writers can use them, too. If you’re a serial procrastinator or slow producer, these already have your name on them.
2. The Olympics
A must-use for anybody who has trouble coming up with character names. Choose a country your character is from (or a country with a language that sounds like the imaginary culture your character is from). Go to the page for that country’s Olympics roster. Choose one first name and one [different] last name. Boom! Done. You can use any list of names for this purpose, but I happen to like the Olympics.
3. Movies and Music
You already know about mining movies and plays for examples of good dialog, but you can also look at film and music for examples of excellent structure. There’s an ebb and flow to good music and film that naturally follows how humans prefer to experience a story. Classics like The Brothers K mimic multi-theme, multi-movement classical epics, while the verse-chorus-verse-bridge structure of most rock is very similar to popular crime novels. Listen to your music and watch your movies diagnostically as a way to truly improve your story structure.
4. Google Street View
Use Google Maps to get a basic layout of a city where you’ve set a scene, or steal a real city to get the street plan of a fictional city in your fantasy or sci-fi novel. That’s a no-brainer. But the map is not the territory. Google Maps Street View can give you a closeup of the territory, inspiring those tiny details that add color and verisimilitude to your scenes.
5. Role-Playing Game Guides
Dungeons & Dragons and similar games are all about making up stories, and many of those games have published guides about how to tell a story well. Reading a few of them can really help you get into the right mindset for world-building, developing compelling characters, or pacing the flow of your tale. Many also come with a heap of random tables for coming up with details about characters, places and events — a perfect tool for when you’re not sure what to do with your next scene.
I suspect we all have our own personal not-for-writers-but-totally-for-writers resources. What are some of yours?
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Jason Brick is an incredibly prolific and disciplined writer whom we’re proud to call a fellow barista here at the Fictional Cafe.