I draw inspiration for stories from two main sources: tumblers and plaques.
The first source is tumblers where I playing around with a world. I enjoy building communities, exploring professions, interpersonal conflicts, friendships, families, and economies. I like writing communities because they change over time. People move away, they move into a place, people start businesses, businesses fail. There’s always a push and a pull.
I play around with tropes, professions, and how they interact with the meta-story. I get an understanding of a meta-conflict that can keep a series going, and then I drill down to individual stories.
I love playing around with tropes. I learn about tropes from different sources. The first source is TV tropes(1). TV tropes does an excellent job breaking down the plot points, identifying common aspects of the main characters, and linking the story to the broader genre. If you’re not careful, you can lose a week of your life on that website.
The second is Mindy Klasky’s website(2). Mindy’s website has a variety of romance-related tropes. They serve as touch points to craft a story around. The third is Go Teen Writers, which has an impressive list of romance tropes.
I think in terms of process and structures. Once I have a sense of the story’s structure, I set out to make the characters unique. I create characters with unusual professions. For example, in my upcoming release, Seven Points of Contact, Miranda is a car loan officer, and Jonas was a salesman but is considering opening a sporting goods store. Characters with professions that aren’t normally portrayed in stories are more interesting to write. The characters bring different skills and experiences to the romance (in my case because I write romances) and the non-romance plot (I always include a non-romance plot).
I play around with professions and tropes. What’s more interesting for characters with those professions to do? Is it more dynamic to have an enemies to lovers or a road trip trope? I fiddle around with the dynamics, see which one generates more conflict, and take it from there.
I write long series. I keep a series-long table of the characters, professions, the romance and non-romance tropes (mystery, thriller, action-adventure, etc.) I ensure that each book has a unique combination of these variables.
For my Outdoorsmen Series (contemporary crime romance), the common thread is people who like being outdoors. I ask myself what kinds of jobs they have, what are their interests, what problems do their jobs and hobbies cause. If someone likes fishing and gets up at 4am, that will cause problems with their significant other who likes to stay out late at comedy clubs.
I played with professions (different environmental law enforcement officers in Environment Canada, the province of Ontario) and different love interests (translater or intellectual property lawyer with a food business). I played around with the crimes they solve.
Tumblers: romance trope, crime(s), professions.
For my mines and minerals series, I look at the historical context (western Canada in circa 1885). I think of the hardy souls who would have endured the long journeys and the brual cold and pioneered. I think of the First Nations who lived there for thousands of years and their cultural shock at encountering Europeans. Which dynamics that does this create that can be harnassed for a good story?
Tumblers: romance trope, non-romance trope (save the ranch, start a business on the frontier, etc.) professions.
For my Heartened by Sports series, the common thread is sports. What kind of sports do people play, how does that impact their lives, are they professionals or amateurs, what are the dynamics of that community (competitive sports with an eye on the big leagues or amateur with an eye for the beer after the game)?
Tumblers: sports, non-sports income, romance trope, non-romance plot.
I call this process a tumbler process. I look at the combinations, see which ones click, and ensure that each combination (a book in a series) is unique. For example, I write western historical romances. One book might have a rancher as a lead character who experiences a friends to lovers romance on an action-adventure trope. If I have a second rancher in that series, they will have an enemies to lovers trope and a thriller non-romance trope.
The second source of inspiration is history. Yes, I’m the person who reads historical plaques. At the beginning of this blog, the picture is the plaque from a statute in Savannah, Georgia. I found it interesting that a regiment of troops of African ancestry from Saint-Domingue was dispatched to support American troops fighting the American Revolutionary War. The regiment was critical in the Siege of Savannah, capturing the city from the British.
I take pictures of statues and historical plaques. Here are two pictures of some of the plaques I've photographed.
When I see these plaques, I think of the people who would have first witnessed the event. I think of their lives, their families, the struggles they faced. I think of how would they felt might have felt witnessing the event.
I tease a story from there. I insert a sliver of historical truth (or possibility) and insert it into the past or some fantasy or contemporary or sci-world. I play with the idea. I run it through tumblers.
Yes, the chasseurs-volontaires from Saint-Domingue, the seigneurie of L’Orignal, and the opening of Canada's King's Road will have a place in upcoming stories. No, they won’t be incorporated into the same story. No, I don’t have a date as to when the stories involving these two events will be released.
Tumblers and history. That’s where I draw my inspiration.
Which tumbles influence your writing? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron or on FB
Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.
I’ll start by saying it’s okay not to write. There are periods in your life when you don’t feel like it. Every writer has a different process, and for some writers, part of that process is taking a break from writing.
It’s my belief that if you’re stuck in a creative project, something is blocking you. It’s not a lack of talent. Someone who is stuck in a rut lacks a support structure to ensure they can engage in creative practice.
Let’s adopt a Maslow Hierarchy of Needs approach. His original version had five tiers. Subsequent research and theories have added three additional tiers. I’ll use the expanded version. The premise until the primate needs are met, it’s impossible to meet social, psychological, and emotional needs. I’ll present the needs in sequence from bottom to top.
If you want to write but find it difficult to connect with your creativity, begin with the basics. It’s hard to be creative when you’re sluggish from too little sleep, too much sitting at a computer, or facing a vitamin deficiency. Ensure that you exercise, get enough sleep, properly hydrate, and eat a balanced diet.
You need a safe space to write. If you’re stressed about paying the bills or having a place to live, this will naturally draw down your inclination to write. There are some things beyond your control. You can apply for jobs twelve hours a day, every day, but there’s always a lag between an application, the interview, and starting the job.
There are community services to provide food security, municipal services for housing and rent.
Pre-pandemic, I suggested people go to the library to write. It’s a change of location, and it can help take your mind off other stressors. In the pandemic, where you can go is subject to closures. Sitting in your car, bundling up on your balcony, sitting in a park for fifteen minutes to jot down some notes or to dictate are some safe places you can go.
Don’t worry. With how 2020 and 2021 went, no one will think twice about a person speaking to themselves in a park. It will probably be one of the most normal things they see that day.
If you can’t find a suitable location to write, do what you can to change your office (or writing space). Add a few plants, brighten up the colours, change where you sit, or remove clutter. These changes will help clear your mind of distractions and make your space a stronger reflection of you.
Belonging and Love Needs
Human beings are social creatures. The last two years have been hard on everyone. It’s hard to write when you’re depressed, anxious, lonely, or feel like you don’t belong.
The only advice I have is to keep looking if you haven’t found supportive people with whom you’ve clicked. Join different hobby groups, book clubs, chat with people you meet in the park. Eventually, you will meet people who want to see you thrive and will support you on your journey.
Publishing work is a daunting task and can be hard on your self-esteem. Most writers are concerned with how readers will receive their writing. It’s important to have a strong support group and review your work several times before publishing.
Remember, even Nora Roberts and Stephen King have harsh critics, but they keep writing.
You can't please every reader.
Keep track of your accomplishments. View writing as a journey, not a destination. Compare the quality of your work today to ten years prior. You are a work in progress, constantly learning and improving. Engage in activities outside of writing to boost your self-esteem.
People need mental stimulation to grow and thrive. If you’re bored all the time, it’s hard to find inspiration to write. Excellent writers read a lot. They take workshops, join associations, network with writers, critique others’ works. Mental stimulation is needed to hone craft and develop self-confidence.
How do you engage in your craft? How do you hone it, practice it, experiment with it?
Are you engaged enough with other writers? If not, how can you expand your network?
This need refers to improving aesthetics and balance in life. Perhaps you’re working too hard at the day job and need to carve out more time for self-care and hobbies. Perhaps you need to spend more time with your friends and family to recharge.
At this level, you may consider changing how you dress or getting a new hairstyle to feel yourself again. It’s been two years of zoom calls and living in cramped spaces. Many of us are wearing sweatpants and hoodies and have COVID shaggy hair when we used to wear clean blouses/shirts with neatly pressed trousers.
Perhaps it’s the other way around. You’ve been wearing a suit and tie when you’re most yourself wearing jeans and a tee-shirt.
Find (or reconnect) with a sense of dress that you feel proud to wear.
Once you’ve grounded yourself, you’ll likely have time and energy again to write.
Writing is one form of creative expression. It’s a form of aesthetics. If you’ve met the other needs sufficiently, then take a closer look at what you want to create. Perhaps there’s something in there that you fundamentally don’t like. You can’t relate to the characters you’ve created. The conflict or backgrounds are meaningless to you, or the story has the wrong mechanics. In other words, the story you are writing is somehow ugly to you.
How can you make the story more appealing?
Sometimes that means letting it go and starting something else. And that’s okay.
Transcendence is the highest level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Individuals who have reached this level are confident and capable. They have plenty of ideas and are implementing them. They have successfully integrated the various levels of the pyramid of needs and led fulfilled lives.
You’re welcome to reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron
I want to thank @TonyaAtki for the topic suggestion.