Brainstorming and development

One of the things I’ve been working on lately is developing the idea for my next novel. I had such a great time writing my last project and was so pleased with how it came out that, while I want to do something different, I still want to take the magic of that forward with me.

Typically when I start a new project, I spend time brainstorming, often with a big whiteboard where I can use different colored markers to daisy-chain ideas as they evolve. After I feel I’ve come up with a workable world, characters, and a plot rich with potential conflicts, I start on an outline. I work and rework that outline for awhile and then begin the first draft.

This time, though, I decided to try something different. Before moving on to outlining, I started playing around with different characters, backstory events, and world-building elements by writing shorts. It’s been fun and also extremely illuminating.

Characters that looked fantastic on the whiteboard aren’t coming to life once they’re thrust into a narrative structure. Other characters are stealing the show. Since the novel will be science fiction, putting future technology into scenarios where it has to work and feel real has highlighted problems as well as seeded new and better ideas. Bringing events to life that are meant to be part of the novel’s backstory is helping me refine and hone the novel’s present.

Some of the shorts actually work as shorts, but plenty of them don’t. That isn’t the point, though. The point is to build and explore the ideas, improving them in advance of actually drafting the novel. This approach has afforded a low cost medium to experiment and further develop plot ideas and characters before I invest in the novel itself.

Plus, fun!

Wrangling (failing)

I’m supposed to be brainstorming my next writing project. Instead a flood of ideas for a sequel to my last novel are pouring into my brain, demanding to be written down, examined, and expanded.

In my Coursera classes, I’m trying to grasp the concepts behind the properties of planets and what determines their temperature but the physics is making my brain jump sideways and backwards and all I can do is scribble the word “albedo” over and over in my notebook and think about what a pretty word it is.

When I take a lunch break and watch Neil degrasse Tyson talk on COSMOS about the life cycle of stars, rather than interrogating the concept of a hypernova all my brain wants to do is get weepy when Tyson pontificates in his deep, calming voice about how we’re all made of stardust.

Much as I try, I can’t seem to wrangle my brain today.


Or I could just drink tea and listen to Tyson and doodle the word “albedo” all day.

Harnessing the hive mind

I need your help naming a virus.

The book I’m currently outlining revolves around a viral epidemic and I’m struggling to come up with an awesome name for it.

From my research, it appears that virus names come from all sorts of places, including the geographic locations where they’re first spotted (Lassa virus, first identified in a nurse in Lassa, Nigeria), the individuals who study them (Epstein-Barr virus, a herpes virus named after Michael Epstein and Yvonne Barr, who identified and documented it), the family or type of virus to which they belong (BSE, which causes Mad Cow: bovine spongiform encephalitis), or a from a description of their effects on the body (HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus).  Sometimes other factors play into the name; when Hanta virus was first identified it was called Sin Nombre (without name).

I don’t want to say too much, as this project is Top Secret, but for my book I’m developing a retrovirus (similar to HIV) that spreads via infected blood cells and (literally) causes an internal transformation within the host.  Right now I’m calling it Kinshasa Viral Metamorphosis (KVM), but I’m not sure I really love this name (nor am I wedded to the viral origin being the Democratic Republic of Congo).

All I care about is having at least some combination of the following:

1. a cool sounding name that abbreviates well

2. a name that lends itself to a nickname for the infected (here’s where I worry my current name breaks down; the only nickname I can think of of is “shasies”, which I fear is lame).

3. a name that implies the victims are changed in a fundamental way

4. a name that alludes to the fact that – beyond its general class (retrovirus) and its spreading mechanism (blood-borne) – the virus is poorly understood

So, here’s where you can help.  I need an awesome virus name with an equally awesome nickname for the infected.  There are many details I haven’t settled on yet (including the names of the people who documented the virus or where it originated), so feel free to use the comments to propose any and all ideas that come to mind.

Please, and thank you!