Tag Archives: Bonnie Dodge

Journey Stories Writers’ Workshop

On September 18, 2010, the Jerome Civic Club is sponsoring a writers’ workshop at the Jerome Public Library. Bonnie Dodge will lead the workshop, which will focus on nonfiction immigration and migration stories to/within America. The workshop is in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit “Journey Stories.”

QUESTION OF THE MONTH – WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?

I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is simple. “Everywhere.” Let me explain. Story ideas can come from a number of places such as newspaper and magazine articles, movies, plays, paintings, conversations, and landscapes to name only a few.

Take for instance the trip Pat and I took to Stricker Ranch that I wrote about in an earlier post. On one hand this outing was simply a review of local history. On the other hand, it provided a wealth of information we hope to turn into interesting stories. Why is a ghost hovering at the top of the stairs? How many ghosts haunt the dry cellar?

I read once that by the time a person reaches age 30, he/she has enough life experiences to have something to write about for a lifetime. The trick is to know how to turn those life experiences into good stories.

So the question then, is, what makes an idea a good story?

1) The idea must be interesting.

What if Shakespeare really was a woman?

2) The idea should appeal to a large number of people.

Shakespeare is a well-known playwright. Everyone has been subjected to him at least once before finishing high school.

3) The idea is specific.

Who really was this mysterious man? Did one person really write all of those brilliant plays?

A lot of people would like to know more about the person who wrote so many entertaining plays and sonnets. Virginia Woolf, in fact, speculates on that very thing in A Room of One’s Own. Thus, a story exploring Shakespeare’s gender is an idea that has universal appeal. It would make a good story.

Conversely, let’s say I want to write a story about my dog. I love my dog. My dog is cute. But she isn’t extraordinary. She can’t speak English. She can’t even sit up and beg for food without falling over. A story about my dog would be zzzzzzzzzzboring. It wouldn’t appeal to a large number of people, and there is nothing specific that sets my dog apart from any other dog, except, of course, that she belongs to me.

That’s a simplistic example, but you get my point. As a writer, everyday I am surrounded by possible story ideas. Some of them are interesting. Some of them are not.  My job as a writer is to find a way to turn those ideas into great stories that have universal appeal.

What if I told you my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net? Then you might be interested in reading about my dog. Most likely not, but you get the picture.

The best stories come from taking an ordinary situation/idea and applying the “What if” factor. What if Shakespeare really was a woman? What if my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net?

Using the “what if” factor, look around you, and at the things that have happened to you, your life experiences. Then give the ordinary idea a little twist, and you’ll be on your way to writing some great stories.

-Bonnie Dodge

Grabbing story ideas at Stricker Ranch

As a writer, I look for story ideas everywhere I go. Recently, Patricia Santos Marcantonio and I took in Fright Nights in Old Towne Twin as a way to increase our cache of stories. For two hours we heard about the history of Twin Falls County and some of the colorful people who lived there. Not only did we come away with a better understanding of the area, we also came home with several new story ideas.

What if a ghost really haunts the public library?
What if Lyda Trueblood isn’t really buried in the Twin Falls Cemetery?
What if Stricker Ranch really is haunted?

As The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz declared, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I doooo.”, I do believe there are good story ideas all around us. All you have to do is reach out and grab one.
-Bonnie Dodge

Question of the Month: Handling Rejection

Question: How many rejection slips should I receive before I decide to give up on my article or story?

Answer: There are many reasons stories and articles are rejected. Some of the reasons have to do with weak manuscripts. Others reflect the market and the editor. Marion Zimmer Bradley, in her article, “Why Did My Story Get Rejected?” claims the main reason stories are rejected are because “editors feel that the particular story will not give their readers the kind of specific reading experience they want or expect . . .” Even if you are a great writer, if the story isn’t right for the market, it will be rejected. So, instead of looking at rejection slips as signs of failure, look at rejection slips as tips for improving and revising your work. Rejection, if used properly, can make your work better.

Common reasons manuscripts are rejected:

Theme was weak, morbid, or depressing
Weak plot
A similar story has already been published
Insincere story, writer lacks knowledge of human nature
No suspense
Lack of motive
Unfit, unsuitable, or untimely
Not in harmony with editorial policy
Too long, too short
Editor does not like it
Weak or slow pace
The story was not complete or had a weak ending
The characters were cardboard with no imagination
Nothing much happened in the story. It was boring

If you want to be a writer, you must develop a thick skin. A dozen publishers and sixteen agents rejected John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, before it was accepted for print. Frank Herbert’s, Dune was rejected twenty times before successfully reaching print. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected thirty-eight times before finally finding a publisher. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by a dozen publishers before a small London company published it.

Rejection slips sting. The best thing to do with them is use them to improve your manuscripts. Do your homework. Know who is publishing the kinds of stories you want to write. Write the best story you can write, then send it out again and again and again until you find that editor who loves your story as much as you do, and is willing to take it to market.

-Bonnie Dodge

Video trailer for Voices from the Snake River Plain

Check out the trailer for Voices from the Snake River Plain here.

“Voices from the Snake River Plain” at Indy bookstores

Dixie, Pat and I had a productive weekend. Before our reading at The Cabin, we stopped by Rediscovered Bookshop and A Novel Adventure, independent book stores in Boise, Idaho. We hope you will support these bookstores whenever you are in Boise.


You can find Voices from the Snake River Plain in the Idaho/Northwest section at Rediscovered Bookshop.

Random Readings January 30, 2010

The publishing world is changing daily, it seems, and there’s a lot of interest in the area of non-traditional forms of publishing. As “Writers Working for Writers,” the Idaho Writer’s Guild is proudly launching a new series called “Random Readings” on Saturday, January 30th from 1-3 pm at The Cabin, in Boise. Featured writers will share their experiences, from writing to publishing.

Here’s what you can look forward to: authors will read from their books, with commentary. Afterwards, there will be time for asking questions and sharing thoughts about the nuts and bolts of a variety of publishing processes. Not-to-be-missed refreshments will be served.

Southern Idaho residents Bonnie Dodge, Dixie Thomas Reale and Patricia Santos Marcantonio wrote and published “Voices from the Snake River Plain.” A collection of short stories, poems and essays, the book has been described as “a small treasure….we learn there is beauty in the landscape around us and people with stories to tell.” Some of the tales by these award-winning writers include a jackalope, an old Mexican ghost story, haunting landscapes and a road trip with Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.

Val Robertson was the former president of The Couer du Bois Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and the founding and current president of the Popular Fiction Association of Idaho, which produces the Murder in the Grove mystery conference. She is also the organizer of the Boise Speculative Fiction writer’s support group. Her debut novel is entitled “Blade’s Edge.”

Also from Boise, Ken McConnell is both traditionally published and self-published. A Software Test Technician, Ken wrote and published “Starstrikers” in 2008. His first novel is “a military space novel that takes place between two galactic civilizations.” He also wrote “Null Pointer,” a mystery novel about a programmer sleuth.

“Random Readings” will take place in the Jean Wilson Reading Room, on the basement level at The Cabin, 801 S. Capitol Blvd, Boise. Admission is free. For further information contact Diane Graham at diane@idahowritersguild.org.