Sunday, January 20, 2019

A New York City Wizard

Tom Robinson wrote a delightful account of his modern-day encounter with a wizard at, What's the strangest book you've seen someone read on a NYC subway? Can you take it from there?

It was about 6:50 am as I sleepily boarded a nearly-empty C train and nestled in for the rest of my commute.

At the next stop, this guy got on the train and sat down right next to me:

I don’t mean someone who looked like that guy—I mean actually that guy, in that exact outfit. He had the very sign that you see above informing whomever it may concern that he was Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, and, aside from his staff and magical miscellany, he was also carrying two books.

One was exactly what you would likely expect: a ponderous tome—presumably full of arcane alchemical formulas—though the only portion of the title that I ever managed to glimpse was “Dragon’s Blood”… or at least I think that’s what it said. This grand grimoire was tucked beneath his arm, which is why I wasn’t better able to divine its title.

The other was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which he was reading.

Now I can hardly say that Stieg Larsson makes for shocking subway reading. At the time it seemed that every other passenger on every single train was slinging a copy. It was totally ubiquitous.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Can everyone write a good story/novel?

The prompts are still here! Well over a thousand. I'm posting occasionally about writing to prevent the ads from taking over  less active blogs.

Can everyone write a good story/novel?
by Joyce Fetteroll ©2016

No. Some find writing a sentence more pain inducing than pulling out their own teeth. They won’t ever write a novel let alone a good one.

Can everyone who wants to write a good story/novel write one?

No. Some people are more in love with having written a book than they are in writing one.

Can everyone who enjoys writing and wants to write a good story/novel write one?

No. First, what do you mean by “good”. Good is a vague fill-in-the-blank word. Do you mean best seller? Literary? A book that will stand the test of time? Good enough for a publisher to publish? A book that people finish and say, “That was a good book”?

Second, there are several skills a writer must master to write stuff that other people enjoy reading. Stand-the-test-of-time writers master them all. Writers who get their books published may be stronger at some than others.

Good writers know grammar. They know punctuation and their [they’re, there] homophones. Their grammar doesn’t need to be perfect with every comma in place. It does, though, need to be good enough to be invisible.

Good writers write clearly. They can picture how readers might interpret their wording. As with your question’s wording, vague words won’t paint the same picture for everyone. A good writer can imagine their wording outside of their own context. They can ask, “What other ways could this sentence be interpreted? What other pictures does it paint?”

Good writers can tell a good story. This is the most important one. Much can be forgiven if someone can tell an engaging tale. They can create characters readers care about. They can create situations readers want to see resolved.

James Talbot, an editor who has written several books on writing, said writing is hard because it’s antisocial. That is in life we strive to decrease conflict. We want to say and do what makes our life easier. But in writing a story that pulls the reader along, the characters must make their situations worse. Characters must be pulled in two or more directions such that a solution that’s right for one problem creates another problem. For instance helping someone from an oppressed group puts their own family in danger. Pursuing a life-long dream means abandoning obligations. To create a tale that pulls the reader along characters must choose to create conflict as they pursue their goals.

Good writers know the difference between writing about a character and writing a story about a character. Someone said a story is about the worst time in a character’s life. They’re in a situation that forces them to question what they believe, forces them to make choices they would have avoided.

But some writers want to bring a character to life then experience life through that character. They create a tragic past then let life buffet the character. The character wants to be happy but doesn’t work towards that. They feel helpless against what life throws at them.

Such writing will never become a story and such writers will never become authors.

Good writers can paint pictures with their words. Some have a natural affinity for poetic writing. They make you feel and see and taste and experience. It will read effortlessly but a great deal of work will go into it. They both enjoy creating it and have an ear for it.

Anyone can get better at that with practice. Find books specifically on expression.

But it’s like running. Some don’t like it so won’t ever be good at it. Some enjoy it, will work at it but never be great because they lack the genes. Some enjoy it and with work will be Olympic athlete caliber.

In running rewards come for going far, fast, and efficiently without ever getting anywhere. Not so for a writer. If a writer wants others to read what they write, they must take the reader on a journey that leads somewhere. They need to tell a story that pulls the reader along, not just fill pages with pretty images.

Good writers have something they want to express through writing. It needn’t be deep but they crave putting a piece of themselves into words. They enjoy putting ideas into words.

Good writers get enough out of the process of writing in order to write. Writing can be painful. There are best selling authors who have said they don’t enjoy writing. But they have a novel in them that wants to get out so badly that they put up with the process of writing it.

“You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” — Red Smith

Note: Wanting to have written a novel is different from having a novel inside you that wants out. Just as there’s a difference between wanting a child and having a baby inside of you working its painful way out of you.

Good writers can find a balance between expressing themselves and writing for others. Good writers know there aren’t only two choices. Good writers know that if they want others to read what they write, they should write what they want to write AND keep the reader in mind. Writing a story without an awareness of what readers need to keep reading is like building a house with no windows or doors.

Good writers know the difference between a rough draft and a final manuscript. Even best-selling and stand-the-test-of-time writers will write crappy first drafts. They know the first draft is a combination of notes and exploring an idea. A first draft is virtually unreadable. Good writers want to find the story hiding in the first draft. They want to rework it to make it something other people want to read.

What about creativity? It’s the least important aspect of writing a good story. The majority of stories don’t break any new ground. Only a tiny fraction have new twists and clever endings. The majority of stories are old with new characters, characters the reader cares about which makes the story feel fresh. Even Shakespeare reworked old stories. He brought a fresh perspective through his characters.

Can you master all that by continuing to write? A good writer wants to improve. But what a good — and bad — writer wants most is to write. They want to express what’s inside of themselves through writing whether it makes it into a bookstore or not. A painter needs to paint whether they sell any paintings or not. A runner needs to run whether they win medals or not. And a writer needs to write.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

How do I make my story more engaging and interesting?

"How do I make my story more engaging and interesting?"

Tackling that question has been driving me for the past couple of years. I answered this particular question on Quora and thought I'd bring it over here.

A reader keeps reading because the writer puts in two things. First is a big want, need or desire for the character. Second is obstacles blocking his path to his desire. The reader keeps reading because they wonder:

"How is the character going to do that? X is in his way."
"How is she going to fix this? Y is in her way."
"How is he going to get that? Z is in his way."

For the reader to care about the character there must be something important at stake. If the character doesn't succeed,

What bad thing will happen?
What failure will he need to live with?
What regret must she live with?
How will he have failed his promise to himself?
How will she have hurt another?

For a character to be compelling, they must show drive. (Which comes from having high stakes.) They need to be actively tackling obstacles that feel insurmountable. By actively I mean, when something blocks their way, either they're

Gathering information for a plan, or
Acting on their plan.

What you don't want is a character who wishes his obstacles would go away. Or resigns himself to suffering.

In your story your character is content in his life. He's just going along where life carries him. There's nothing driving him to move out of his comfort zone. There's nothing at stake in the choices he makes.

He faces annoyances (rain, no map), not obstacles. But he doesn't tackle them. He sighs. He groans. He complains. Then others sweep them away (his father, the lady at school).

But even if they hadn't been swept away, they're annoyances rather than obstacles because 1) there's nothing at stake and 2) they don't feel insurmountable.

Readers read to see how characters tackle problems.
They don't want to read about characters drifting along as obstacles get swept away. They want characters actively tackling obstacles.

The characters may be tackling them badly. They may head towards what they want or what they "should" want rather than what they really need (in order to be better people, to be happier.) They may be screwing up others' lives as they move towards what they believe they should go after.

Don't write what you love to write. Write what you love to read.
That's not a rule. Just a heads up. Obviously don't write what you don't love. But be aware that for some writers, it's very satisfying to write about characters being buffeted about by life. It's fun to explore their emotional reactions to what happens to them.

Unfortunately, no matter how satisfying that feels, it won't ever be a story. For a reader it will be like reading the diary of someone who is letting life happen to them. For the reader, once they set a story like that down there's no feeling of needing to pick it back up since there's no sense there's a success or failure at stake.

So how do you do that?
The best way is to pay attention to how writers create that in books and movies.

As you read and watch, ask yourself:

What does the character want?
What's in his way?
What's at stake? What will be lost if she doesn't get this?
How is the character actively tackling what's in their way?

What can make a story compelling is when a character has two desires. His issue is that going after one means he can't have the other. Often one desire is for his physical goal. The other desire is to maintain his belief or strength that's really his flaw.

Examples: In the first Indiana Jones movie, Indy wanted to go after the Ark alone. But Marion won't give him the staff piece unless she goes along. Indy is fiercely independent. (Which is his strength AND his flaw.) Taking her with him puts his independence is at stake. Turning down her offer lets the Ark fall into Nazi hands, and more personally importantly, lets his rival get the credit for finding it first. So he's faced with either giving up what's central to his character or giving up the satisfaction and glory of finding the Ark.

Later, near the end, Indy is faced with choosing between Marion's life and the Ark. One decision puts the life of the woman he loves at stake. The other puts the Ark into the Nazis' hands.

No random obstacles.
A well done story doesn't throw random obstacles at a character. The author designs the obstacles to uniquely challenge this character's weaknesses. Getting out of bed is no challenge. Unless you have no limbs. Taking on a partner is no challenge. Unless you're fiercely independent. Going it alone is no challenge. Unless you've always had family, friends or partners for support.

The reader doesn't just want to see the obstacles overcome. They want to know how this character will overcome obstacles that are insurmountable challenges to him. They want to see how he tackles it being who he is, with the skills he has (and lacks).

Obstacles reveal and challenge character.
At the beginning of the story, the wants and obstacles will often be more character revealing than tied into the big want that drives them through the middle of the story.

For instance, in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy is going after a golden statue not the Ark. He doesn't even know the Ark's been located yet. It establishes what his character wants from life, what he's willing to do to get it, that he's a loner, and that he has a rival. Not much later in the movie, it's established that the Ark may have been located. The movie sticks with that all the way through.

But at the beginning of the original Star Wars Luke wants to go to the Academy to learn to fly. Though it reveals he's a budding pilot, it has nothing to do with the bulk of the movie. Even after his aunt and uncle are killed, he's not going after the Death Star. His goal is small, just to deliver the plans to help the rebels. He really doesn't know what the plans are just that they're somehow important to the rebellion. It's not until half way through the movie that he's set on destroying the Death Star.

First draft isn't final draft.
While you observe how writers present wants, obstacles and stakes, there's one important thing to be aware of. You're looking at a final product. That writer's first draft likely didn't have that captivating first paragraph. It may not have had the big want the character pursues through the middle of the book. It may not have had the character's big flaw. The writer may have written for several chapters before they discovered what makes their character tick and what would be so compelling that they'd face their deepest darkest fears and put what they most value at stake to go after it.

So you don't need to have it all figured out before you write. Just, as you're writing, look for:

a flaw that keeps him comfortable doing things his way,

what he could desire so much he'd be willing to step way outside his comfort zone, and

something he won't want to live without that you can put at stake.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

NaNoWriMo Tips

First drafts are for learning what your novel is about.
Bernard Malamud

I've participated in National Novel Writing Month 9 times now. I've hit 50,000 words 7 times. Which means I've picked up a few tips along the way on how to do that.

[What is National Novel Writing Month? An insane challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.]

Here are some ideas I've picked up from successes and failures:

Don't edit.

Even if the story shifts directions so that previous events don't make sense, DON'T go back to fix it. Just make a note where you are and continue on. Not editing can't be emphasized enough!

Your inner editor will protest loudly. That's why it's suggested that you send your inner editor on vacation for the month. It needs to shut up to let you listen just to your creative voice.

Don't think of this as a novel. Think of it as a crappy draft of a novel. If it helps you, you can even title your document Crappy Draft of [My Novel]. The title will remind you everyday that this will be and needs to be really messy.

Set a goal of 2000 words a day. 1667 is the minimum to reach 50,000 in 30 days. 2000 gives you some padding.

The benefit of NaNo isn't creating 50,000 words. The benefit of NaNo is gaining experience pushing past writing road blocks. Until you've experienced pushing past feelings that you can't write anything but crap, it's hard to tell the difference between the common panicky "This is crap!" feeling and the honest "This isn't working" feeling.

Don't fuss over the beginning of your story. You can't write an effective beginning until you've written the end. Keep reminding yourself of that when your inner editor makes an appearance to suggest improvements to the beginning. Make a note of improvement ideas where you are. Continue on.

Don't fuss over names. If a name doesn't jump out at you, call your character (or place) after their dominant character trait. That way when Aristocrat or Belligerent speaks, it will be easier to give them a unique voice.

You will hit The Wall at about 20,000 words. Probably most abandoned novels fall in the 12,000 to 20,000 range. This is the point where writers have spewed out all the sparkly ideas about their character and their world. Then they hit the point where all this set up needs to head somewhere. And they're stuck. This is perfectly normal. At that point you can have a ninja jump out of a cupboard. I like asking questions of my characters.
  • Interview your character. Ask her what she wants most from life, what she fears happening most and why.
  • Set up a debate between your main character and his opposition to discuss what each hates and admires about the other. Ask them how they think this will all end.
  • Interview a minor character about what she likes and doesn't like about her role in the story.
  • Ask a "What if?" question. Like "What if this were set in the Victorian era?" "What if the main character worked in a hardware store?" "What if one character were an alien?" Then brainstorm possibilities right there in the NaNo.
  • Remember it's supposed to be rough!

If you must rewrite a scene, don't delete the old one. If your story takes a turn and you need a new scene to build up to it, just leave the old scene. You may find a way to combine them in the next draft. (Thanks to Naila Moreira.)

If you absolutely positively must abandon a story, it's not the end! Just move the old story to the bottom of the document and start writing the new one at the top. One woman I know turned the old story into a dream. Later, when you're more confident, you can move it to another document to use if you're running short on words. If you're brave, divide 50,000 by the number of days left in the month to get a new daily word goal. Usually the number isn't as scary as you imagine! The forums are good for other tips.

Get Write or Die. It's a keep-writing-or-"die" motivation app. There are a variety of punishments and rewards. You can, for example, set you goal as 1000 words in an hour. Then if you pause writing for more than 20 seconds the screen starts turning redder and redder until it beeps incessantly at you. There's an online free version. There's a downloadable version you can use offline for $10 (for Mac, Windows and Linux).

It's okay ....
It's okay to not finish a scene.
It's okay to write scenes out of order.
It's okay to write the end before the beginning.
It's okay not to reach the end of your novel at 50,000 words.
It's okay to insert notes about upcoming scenes.
It's okay to have meta-discussions about your story.
It's all okay.

NaNo will fill the time you give it. If you give yourself all day to finish your words, it will take all day. If you only give it 2 hours, it will take 2 hours. And you'll learn a whole lot faster to make the editorial voice shut up and get the words out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Penny candy

The outcome to this looks obvious.

So take it in another direction. :-) What if this is typical for the neighborhood? What if the kid has a trick up his coat sleeve?

What kind of candy do clowns in sewers hand out?

Feel free to change the creature in the sewer if you're so inspired.

Friday, February 13, 2015

If only

Place the word "only" anywhere in this sentence:

She told him that she loved him.

More of a plaything than a writing prompt. But if you're so inspired, did one of them stir up characters, scenarios and idea for a story? Or you could write a micro fiction (100 word story, 1000 word story, 14 word story or whatever constraints you wish) for each. Can you come up with other sentences you can drop a word into anywhere?

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy Next Year

It's New Year's Day. You wake up to find it's 2016. What happened to 2015? Try to piece together 2015 using pictures from your phone or Facebook. (From reddit.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Twelve Sentences of Christmas

Just for grins a fake hieroglyph version of a
snowball poem from an October prompt
Write a twelve-sentence story. Begin with a one word sentence. Increase each sentence length by one word. The twelfth sentence will have twelve words.

It can be a Christmas, winter or holiday themed tale. Or, since the story is already constrained, whatever inspires you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Days and Nights

What's on Day's resume? What's on Night's? What are the requirements of their jobs? How do the jobs differ?

What if Day is sick and Night needs to take over?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cold fusion

With the advent of holodecks, people can visit any place any time any season.

Everyone loves the soft freshness of spring, the vibrant color of fall and the bright warmth of summer. But the only ones who seem to like winter are the sports enthusiasts.

The Winter Council wants to broaden winter's appeal. They want people to appreciate winter for the crisp air, the soft snow, the crystal ice, for what makes winter winter.

Your task is to come up with an ad campaign. Come up with a slogan, or poster ideas, or advertisements. Even an ad that runs in a holodeck.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Dead silent

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

That's the headline. Presumably victims did speak at one time. Now they don't. What happened to stop it? Are the dead responsible? Is someone else? Why? How are the police handling murders now? Is it only homicide victims who won't talk or all dead?

Write a story from the view of a cop in the newly created homicide division.

Or from the view of a Dead Talker who is investigating what has happened.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thank goodness for Mars

Cake by Yeners Cakes
It's Thanksgiving on Mars. So what are the colonists giving thanks for? What event or dreadful times did they survive and now celebrate? Are there heroes and villains? Was it Human versus Nature? Who survived and who died?

You can write their first Thanksgiving. Or their tenth. Or their hundredth.

What is the meal like? What kind of food do they grow on Mars? What would count as a feast? Are there special foods that tie into the period they're giving thanks for?

Something I stumbled across while writing this post: Is Martian soil actually good for farming?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Everywhere women are raving about this amazing new shampoo!


What if this time it really was amazing? What if it did something besides clean hair? What would women actually rave about? What would happen if men used it? Kids? Dogs? What are the cautionary statements in the fine print on the bottle?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

KM Weiland's Character Arc series

KM Weiland has written a wonderful series of posts about growing a story from a character's flaws, what she calls The Lie the Character Believes. While she calls it a character arc, if the character is the main character, this is the core of your story. She helps you grow your character from the damage in his past through all the structural aspects from Act 1 to the climax.

At her website, Helping Writers Become Authors, you can check for additional posts and sign up for her newsletter.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 1: Can You Structure Characters? - What if there were a sure-fire secret to creating stunning character arcs? Would you be interested in discovering it? If you care about connecting with readers, grabbing hold of their emotions, and creating stories that will resonate with them on a level deeper than mere entertainment, then the answer has to be a resounding yes!

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 2: The Lie Your Character Believes - People hate change. We may sit around and wish our lives were different, but when the rubber really starts streaking the tarmac, we usually find ourselves wishing we could just hang out here in our safe and familiar haunts. Characters are no different. They resist change just as staunchly as any of us.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 3: The Thing Your Character Wants vs. The Thing Your Character Needs - The Lie Your Character Believes is the reason for all character arcs. After all, if everything’s hunky-dunky, why change? We might think of the Lie as the cavity in a tooth. Everything might look shiny and white on the outside, but inside there’s decay.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 4: Your Character’s Ghost - What is your character’s ghost, and how does it affect his character arc? Once you’ve figured out the Lie Your Character Believes, as well as Thing He Wants and the Thing He Needs, the next question you need to ask yourself is: Why does the character believe the Lie in the first place?

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 5: The Characteristic Moment - First impressions do count. And your protagonist’s Characteristic Moment is his first chance to impress your readers. Now that we’ve got the basic theory of character arc out of the way and figured out how to set up your protagonist’s inner conflict, via the Lie He Believes, the Thing He Wants and the Thing He Needs, and the Ghost, we’re ready to officially begin writing our character’s story.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 6: The Normal World - Who wants to read about a boring old Normal World? The Lost World? Sure! The Exciting, Unusual, Exotic, and Absolutely Thrilling World? You betcha. But the Normal World? Isn’t that a pretty lame way to begin a story? Nope. Not if you want your character’s change arc to make sense, it isn’t.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 7: The First Act - The First Act is one of my favorite parts of any story. Why? On the surface, the First Act seems to be the slowest part of the story—and it often is. It’s just setup, after all, right? True enough, except for that one little word just. It isn’t “just” setup; it’s SETUP!

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 8: The First Plot Point - If the First Act is setup, then the First Plot Point is the point of no return in character arcs. The setup ends, and the story begins “for realz.” At this point the character commits—usually because he has no choice—to a decision that will propel him out of the comfortable stagnation of the Normal World and the Lie He Believes.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 9: The First Half of the Second Act - In the structure of character arcs, the First Half of the Second Act is where your character ventures (or is thrust) into uncharted territory—and gets lost. He may not quite see it that way himself, but this is where he begins to discover that the old rules (the Lie He Believes) no longer apply.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 10: The Midpoint - In a positive change character arc, your protagonist will have spent the First Half of the Second Act blundering around in foreign territory, making mistakes based on false assumptions, and getting his hand slapped for his every wrong move. But he’s also going to have been slowly—maybe even subconsciously—learning his lesson and figuring things out.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 11: The Second Half of the Second Act - The Second Half of the Second Act is where you cue the hero music in character arcs. Thanks to that major personal revelation at the Midpoint, the protagonist now gets it. The puzzle pieces are falling into place. The light bulbs have flashed on. He sees what he has to do to win the conflict.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 12: The Third Plot Point - If you had pick the single most important moment in characters arcs, what would it be? The Third Plot Point, you say? Well, you’d be right. Now here’s the harder question: Why is it the most important moment? The Third Plot Point is the low moment in your story.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 13: The Third Act - Character arcs in the Third Act are all about intensity. On the story’s exterior, the conflict is heating up. The protagonist is a runaway train thundering toward what has now become an inevitable confrontation with the antagonistic force. But, on the inside, he’s reeling.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 14: The Climax - In character arcs, as in plot, the Climax is the dot on the end of the exclamation point. The Climax is the reason for the story. This is where the author reveals what the journey the character just endured was really all about—and, in a positive change arc, why that journey has turned out to be worth all the heartaches and trauma.

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 15: The Resolution - The Resolution caps character arcs like the cherry on top of a banana split. In some respects, it almost seems to be an extraneous piece of the story. After all, your character’s arc is already complete. He irrevocably proved his devotion to the truth in the Climax. He turned his back on the Lie so completely that he’ll never again be able to surrender to its thrall.

KM Weiland mentions 3 types of character arcs: Change, Negative and Flat. The Change Arc is gone into detail above. The following 2 sets dig into how the Negative and Flat Arcs differ.

How to Write a Negative Character Arc, Pt. 1: The First Act - Who in heaven’s name would want to write a negative character arc? Well, how about Shakespeare, Dostoevksy, Faulkner, and Flaubert? Just to name a few small-time wordsmiths you may have heard tell of. Everybody likes a happy ending, but, let’s face it, not all stories have happy endings.

How to Write a Negative Character Arc, Pt. 2: The Second Act - The Second Act in a negative character arc bears a lot of similarity to that in a positive change arc. In both types of arc, the character will be thrust out of his Normal World into a new and strange dilemma, where he will be forced to confront his Lie.

How to Write a Negative Character Arc, Pt. 3: The Third Act - In a word, the negative character arc is about failure, and this becomes nowhere more clear than in the Third Act. If the positive change arc is about redeeming self and the flat arc is about saving others, then the negative character arc is about destroying self and probably others as well.

How to Write a Flat Character Arc, Pt. 1: The First Act - Next to the positive change arc, the flat character arc is the most popular storyline. Also called the “testing arc,” the flat arc is about a character who does not change. He already has the Truth figured out in the beginning of the story, and he uses that Truth to help him overcome various external tests.

How to Write a Flat Character Arc, Pt. 2: The Second Act - The Second Act is the beating heart of your story—and that’s just as true in a flat character arc as it is in a change arc. The Second Act is all about loosing the character into an unsettled world.

How to Write a Flat Character Arc, Pt. 3: The Third Act - The Third Act is where we find arguably the greatest similarities between the flat character arc and the positive change arc, since in both types of story the protagonist will have a full grasp on the Truth by this point.

These aren't specifically part of the series, but are related. (There may be more at her website by the time you're reading this.)

The Impact Character: Why Every Character Arc Needs One - When we think of necessary characters, we tend to come up with obvious choices such as the protagonist, the antagonist, and maybe the mentor, love interest, and sidekick. “Impact character” probably isn’t at the top of your list. But it should be. Because you can’t create a character arc without one.

Can a Character’s Arc Be a Subplot? - You’ve written an amazing story. Your premise is high concept. Your plot structure is brilliant. The whole thing is killer. But the main character’s arc seems to be, well, lacking. It’s there all right. It just doesn’t get much screentime. It’s more of a, ahem, subplot. Is that even possible? Is it workable?

How to Figure Out WHAT Your Character’s Arc Should Be - Over the last six months and three series, you’ve gotten a pretty good idea of how to structure your character’s arc–whether it’s positive, flat, or negative. But what you may still be wondering is how to figure out which arc you should choose for your character.

Should All Your Minor Characters Have Arcs? - If your protagonist’s character arc has the ability to deepen your story, then just think how much more depth you can create if all your minor characters have arcs! Dizzying concept, isn’t it? And it raises the (somewhat trepidatious) question: Should all your minor characters have arcs? It’s a fair question.

The All-Important Link Between Theme and Character Progression - Theme is a slippery concept. The prevailing wisdom among writers is that if you apply any deliberate force to your theme, you’ll end up with a heavy-handed Aesop’s fable. On the other hand, a story without a theme is shallow escapism at best and an unrealistic flop at worst.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It is not in my nature to admit defeat. -- Alexandra David-Néel

Alexandra David-Néel
She has such a forthright gaze. She has secrets. She challenges your own secrets, hinting that she can see them whether you choose to see them or not.

Take ten minutes to craft a story of this woman. Who is she? What were the circumstances of her life? What prompted her to embark on the events that made her notable?

Don't edit. Just let the ideas flow and take you where they will. :-)

Her own story is possibly even more inspiring than her photo, and may spark a female character who won't be constrained by her times for you.

Alexandra David-Néel was born in 1868, hardly a time when adventurer and woman could be one and the same. Even from an early age her heart was drawn beyond the garden walls and fortunately had the spirit and determination to follow it.
"Ever since I was five years old, a tiny precocious child of Paris, I wished to move out of the narrow limits in which, like all children of my age, I was then kept. I craved to go beyond the garden gate, to follow the road that passed it by, and to set out for the Unknown."
She was a Belgian-French explorer, spiritualist, Buddhist and writer. She is best known for her 1924 midwinter trek across the Himalayas to the holy city of Lhasa in forbidden Tibet. Accompanied by her adopted son Lama Yongden, she disguised herself as a beggar to elude soldiers and brigands. David-Néel wrote over 30 books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her travels.
Of Tibet when she had left the first time, "Truthfully, I am 'homesick' for a land that is not mine. I am haunted by the steppes, the solitude, the everlasting snow and the great blue sky 'up there'! The difficult hours, the hunger, the cold, the wind slashing my face, leaving me with enormous, bloody, swollen lips."
She began her adventurous life as an opera singer, traveling to far corners of the world. At 36 she met and married a French railroad engineer though she was shortly off for India. Her husband would be her friend and supporter for the rest of his life while she explored the world.
"It is a funny and inconceivable idea that people attach to a place like oysters to their bench, when there is so much to see in this vast world and many walks of life to enjoy."
At one point she befriended and perhaps took as her lover Sidkeong Tulku, a young, dashing progressive Maharaja of Sikkim. His life ended tragically by poison in 1914. Afterwards, she retreated into the Himalayas to live and study with the Gomchen of Lachen, the hermetic master of the Buddhist monastery near the Tibetan border from whom she deepened her knowledge of mystical Buddhist practices. After studying for two years she and her adopted son left to work their way into Tibet.

There is more to her story at her Wikipedia page. The following two webpages, though still brief, go into more detail.

A Mystic in Tibet - Alexandra David-Neel
The Amazing Tibetan Adventures of Alexandra David-Neel

Her books and a couple of biographies are also listed at her Wikipedia page.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quadrival Quandary

At Quadrival Quandary you're given four unusual words and challenged to use them not just in a sentence but in one illustrative sentence. As the guidelines at the site state, "Your sentence should do more than use the words in a grammatically acceptable way, it should show what they mean. If someone didn't know the meaning of a word, could they make a good guess from how it's used in the sentence?"

The definitions are given on the page for each new day's set of words. If you dig into the archives or the randomizer (which digs further back to when the site was contributed to regularly), the sentences others crafted are there to inspire you.

From February 13, 2012:
  • promethean
  • ventripotent
  • mutt
  • exoteric
"Dr Atkins decided to confront the elephant in the Obesity Task Force conference room by asking, 'If it’s already a promethean task to convince people that their ventripotent mutts need more exercise and less food, how will we ever mount an effective exoteric awareness campaign for their masters to change their ways as well?'" (by wordgirl)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


A Snowball is a poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer. If you're metrophobic, try writing a sentence. Though poetry might be easier since it doesn't need to make as much sense ;-)


Two sites that list words by length are Your Dictionary and Best Word Lists.

If you would like to see a prolific snowballer in action, check out Snowball Poetry on Twitter. (The beginning of mine came from one there.)

Snowball was created by the Oulipo (Workshop of Potential Literature). They gather together to create constrained writing challenges. It's also called a chaterism which Wikipedia defines as "where the length of words in a phrase or sentence increases or decreases in a uniform, mathematical way." (I'm guessing since snowballs get bigger when rolled, the word originally referred to poems with words that increased. Chaterism is a broader concept.)

There is a Snowball Poetry Generator for Windows.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Tripartite soul

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said, "Every man possesses three characters: that which he exhibits, that which he really has, and that which he believes he has."

Describe your character's three characters.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Frantic tangle

For each set of 5 words create a sentence about fall or your favorite fall holiday. (Feel free to tamper with word forms.)

hunger   early  frantic rattle   incredible
quality  tangle mist    sweet    fallow
absolute drench jolt    tremble  heartache
hamper   shard  might   yearn    bicker
obscene  meager freak   malign   incredible

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Well seasoned

Autumn, Spring, Summer and Winter walk into a Starbucks. They all sit down with their favorite seasonal beverage, each with a twist. (They're special. They can get their seasonal beverages any time of the year.) Describe what each is drinking in seasonal terms.

If you're familiar with Starbucks menu, use that to inspire you. If not, make stuff up.

Feel free to substitute you're favorite beverage joint.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Blue blood

"She had ice water in her veins."


What kind of creature is she? What kind of environment does she need? Does she need a cold environment? Is she able to keep her body cold?

Why is she meeting with your character? Who is she? What does she want?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I dare you to write ...

On the I Dare You To Write Tumblr you're dared to write "a recipe for a dream," "like you've just woken up as your 3-year-old self," "someone with red eyes," "include the phrase 'dragons make everything better.'"

Here's one of those "I wish I'd thought of that!" ideas :-)


Be creative with it. The god will die with this follower’s death, what will they say? Will the follower be pleased to meet their god? Or will they be angry they stayed hidden so long?