Thursday, August 31, 2006

Spiked beast

spikedbeast.jpgUse the following in sentences or a paragraph or a story. They don't need to be in the order given this time. (But of course you can if you want!)
  1. spiked, beast, evaded, eager, unfriendly, fairy, fierce
  2. liver, sly, twisted, wander, competition, laugh, giant
  3. spare, horse, sick, bubbly, baboon, book, crockery
  4. shapeshifter, modified, cavern, brain, typical, crafty, squealed
  5. invent, stuffy, overgrown, talons, moldy, tournament, amazing
(The original photo is even cuter. You can click on it if you want to see. :-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Not quite an argument

dog.jpgReveal character and past and relationship through dialogue with two characters arguing. They should both be convincing since they each feel strongly that they're right. You can choose from these ideas or come up with your own:
  • dog who can speak arguing over why he won't be sleeping on the floor anymore
  • a child who wants to go to wizard school rather than stay in the family business.
  • a couple arguing over whether to stay on planet or move to a new primitive colony.
  • two beings of different races/species, arguing with their families/villages over a partnership the two want to form
  • a young person who has awakened a magical power for thievery but just wants to be a good person, arguing with her grandfather who wants to train her in the family tradition
  • an android arguing with it's owners over it's right to be free and independent
From What If?: Writing Exercises for FIction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

Saturday, August 26, 2006

How To: Quit Your Day Job

hollylisle.jpgHolly Lisle has, in addition to 30 fantasy and science fiction (and other genres) novels, compiled a wealth of essays on writing. (Some of her out of print books are available from her site for free download also.)

Here's a bit from her Middles essay:
I'm in one right now --- a middle, that is. Actually, I'm nearing the end of the middle, which in my humble opinion is the utter worst place in the universe to be.

The loathsome middle in question happens to be in Curse of the Black Heron, but it wouldn't matter. I've never met a middle I liked, and if the middle weren't CotBH, it would be something just as bad, or worse.

Writers come in all sorts. There are folks who dread the blank page, and who have an absolute terror of getting the thing started, but once they've been plugging on a bit, they're fine. There are folks who start well, middle well, and hate endings. And then there's my sort --- we who start well and end well (or at least enjoy doing our beginnings and endings, which I admit isn't always the same thing) but who do awful things to ourselves in the middle of every book because halfway through, we're certain that whatever magic we once had is gone and that every word that spills from our fingertips onto the keyboard has become total crap.
Here's a sampling:

  • Quit Your Day Job
  • Format a Manuscript
  • Start a Novel
  • Create a Character
  • Finish A Novel
  • Revise A Novel
  • Collaborate
  • Design a Career
  • Steal Ideas
  • Fantasy
  • SF Worldbuilding
  • Time & First Person

  • Creating Conflict
  • Novel Pre-Writing
  • Set Writing Goals
  • Character Creation
  • Dialogue
  • Maps
  • Scene Creation
  • Timed Writing
  • Worldbuilding
  • Pacing Scenes
  • Plot Outline
  • Fast Plotting
  • Visualization
  • Characterization
  • Using Strangeness
  • Honing Your Talent
  • Write Suckitudinously
  • Evaluate Your Work
  • Description
  • One-Pass Revision
  • Revising Vincalis

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Alphabetical actions

sunrise.jpgAdverbs and adjectives can be useful but sometimes they're used to prop up weak nouns and verbs, like "ran quickly" and "walked slowly". Much better is dashed, bolted, darted, whipped ... and strolled, sauntered, wandered ...

For the following sentence, for each letter of the alphabet, write down a strong verb -- or several strong verbs -- that captures the essence of the night/moon/darkness leaving and the day/sun/light arriving. Dare to come up with bad writing :-) Bad is fun and loosens creativity. Some will change the flavor -- vanquished? -- but still get at the same idea. You can switch it around and make the darkness the subject (the active one) rather than the sun.

"The sun washed away the darkness."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Your own superhero

Jantzy.jpgCreate your own superhero at Superhero game at and then write about them: a typical adventure, an origin story, the final showdown ...

(Hint: I went through the whole process choosing items in black and white. It's lots easier to see the choices if you color them first! ;-)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Periodic Table of Science Fiction

periodchart.gifAnd here it is. Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction. 118 short short stories, each involving an element from the periodic chart. Very clever!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

In Loco Parentis

iodine.jpgHere’s another short short story from Michael Swanwick’s collection to write the ending for. I’ll put up a link to the collection on Saturday.
In Loco Parentis

It was all done in the name of security, of course. My security, your security, national security … it hardly made any difference which. Smoking was banned from public places. Motorcyclists had to wear helmets. Drivers were required to wear seat belts. Airline passengers couldn't carry nail clippers. Pregnant women weren't allowed to drink. Hardware clerks had to submit to random drug testing.

Some of these laws made sense, of course. Others did not. But they all added momentum to the slow erosion of liberty, and then to the rapid erosion of liberty, and then to the redefinition of liberty as a threat to Our Way of Life. Everyone was required to carry ID cards with their gene-print and retina scan. Contact sports were banned. Distressing news was kept out of the media. Walls were built at every border. International travel was halted. Government finkware was installed in all new computers.

The day dawned when everyone's existence was finally safe. Free of danger, violence, sex, or human contact. Free of hate or envy or jealousy or lust or even love. Nothing new or unexpected ever happened. One day was much the same as another.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Beryl as Big as the Ritz

beryl.jpgOne classic writing exercise is to read half of a short story and then write the ending you'd like to see happen. Then read the rest and see which ending you like better. (You can do this with TV shows too. Think about what you would have happen next if you were the writer.)

Here's something to try it out on that's in keeping with the 10-15 minute nature of the prompts here. Michael Swanwick has created a short short story for each element on the periodic chart, The Periodic Table of Science Fiction. This is about half the story. Where would you take it?
A Beryl as Big as the Ritz

On the Gem Planet, the rarest and most valued of all substances is dirt. Just the scrapings from beneath a hobo's nails would bring enough to support him for a year.

Across the desert plains of sheer diamond wealthy tourists come. They wear slitted goggles to protect themselves from the blinding reflections of the sun. There is a red glint ahead. That is their goal.

Hexagonal in cross-section, it is the largest outcrop of pure beryl on the planet. Artisans have carved rooms into it, with fluted columns and elaborate fireplaces, and there are banquet halls and ballrooms as well. At the break of day, when the sun shines through the Ruby Mountains and dawn lases across the plains, the guests are escorted to basement safe-rooms carved from darkest emerald. Even there, the walls glimmer elegantly.

But it is not beauty that brings visitors to the Ritz-Beryllium. Beauty, for them, is so common as to be invisible.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

101 Writing tips

chocolateteapot.jpg101 Writing Tips

by Prof. D. J. Higham
Department of Mathematics
University of Strathclyde

(These are all original, but some are based on old jokes.)
  1. Every sentence should make sense in isolation. Like that one.
  2. Excessive hyperbole is literally the kiss of death.
  3. ASBMAETP: Acronyms Should Be Memorable And Easy To Pronounce, and SATAN: Select Acronyms That Are Non-offensive.
  4. Finish your point on an up-beat note, unless you can't think of one.
  5. Don't patronise the reader-he or she might well be intelligent enough to spot it.
  6. A writer needs three qualities: creativity, originality, clarity and a good short term memory.
  7. Choose your words carefully and incitefully.
  8. Avoid unnecessary examples; e.g. this one.
  9. Don't use commas, to separate text unnecessarily.
  10. It can be shown that you shouldn't miss out too many details.
  11. Similes are about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
  12. Avoid ugly abr'v'ns.
  13. Spellcheckers are not perfect; they can kiss my errs.
  14. Somebody once said that all quotes should be accurately attributed.
  15. Americanisms suck.
  16. Capitalising for emphasis is UGLY and DISTRACTING.
  17. Underlining is also a big no-no.
  18. Mixed metaphors can kill two birds without a paddle.
  19. Before using a cliché, run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes.
  20. There is one cheap gimmick that should be avoided at all costs..............suspense.
  21. State your opinions forcefully-this is perhaps the key to successful writing.
  22. Never reveal your sources (Alistair Watson, 1993).
  23. Pile on lots of subtlety.
  24. Sure signs of lazy writing are incomplete lists, etc.
  25. Introduce meaningless jargon on a strict need-to-know basis.
  26. The word ''gullible" possesses magic powers and hence it should be used with care.
  27. The importance of comprehensive cross-referencing will be covered elsewhere.
  28. Resist the temptation to roll up the trouser-legs of convention, cast off the shoes and socks of good taste, and dip your toes refreshingly into the cool, flowing waters of fanciful analogy.
  29. Don't mess with Mr. Anthropomorphism.
  30. Understatement is a mindblowingly effective weapon.
  31. Injecting enthusiasm probably won't do any harm.
  32. It is nice to be important, but it is more important to avoid using the word 'nice.'
  33. Appropriate metaphors are worth their weight in gold.
  34. Take care with pluri.
  35. If you can't think of the exact word that you need, look it up in one of those dictionary-type things.
  36. Colons: try to do without them.
  37. Nouns should never be verbed.
  38. Do you really think people are impressed by rhetorical questions?
  39. Pick a font, and stick with it.
  40. Sufficient clarity is necessary, but not necessarily sufficient.
  41. Less is more. This means that a short, cryptic statement is often preferable to an accurate, but drawn out, explanation that lacks punch and loses the reader.
  42. Sarcasm-yes, I bet that will go down really well.
  43. The problem of ambiguity cannot be underestimated.
  44. Never appear cynical, unless you're sure you can get away with it.
  45. Many writer's punctuate incorrectly.
  46. Colloquialisms are for barmpots.
  47. There is a lot to be said for brevity.
  48. To qualify is to weaken, in most cases.
  49. Many readers assume that a word will not assume two meanings in the same sentence.
  50. Be spontaneous at regular intervals.
  51. The era of the euphemism is sadly no longer with us.
  52. Want to be funny? Just add some exclamation marks!!!
  53. Want to appear whimsical? Simply append a smiley ;-)
  54. Some writers introduce a large number, N, of unnecessary symbols.
  55. Restrict your hyphen-usage.
  56. Choosing the correct phrase is important compared to most things.
  57. Some early drafts of this document had had clumsy juxtapositions.
  58. Try not to leave a word dangling on its own
  59. The number of arbitrary constants per page should not exceed .13.
  60. Use mathematical jargon iff it is absolutely necessary.
  61. And avoid math symbols unless $ a good reason.
  62. Poor writing effects the impact of your work.
  63. And the dictionary on your shelf was not put there just for affect.
  64. If there's a word on the tip of your tongue that you can't quite pin down, use a cinnamon.
  65. If somebody were to give me a pound for every irrelevant statement I've ever read, then I would be very surprised.
  66. Strangely enough, it is impossible to construct a sentence that illustrates the meaning of the word 'irony.'
  67. Consult a writing manual to assure that your English is correct.
  68. It has been suggested that some words are absolute, not relative. This is very true.
  69. Be careful when forming words into a sentence-all orderings are not correct.
  70. Many words can ostensibly be deleted.
  71. In your quest for clarity, stop at nothing.
  72. Complete mastery of the English language comes with conscientious study, notwithstanding around in bars. Moreover the next page. Inasmuch detail as possible.
  73. Sporting analogies won't even get you to first base.
  74. If you must quote, quote from one of the all-time greats (Cedric.P. Snodworthy, 1964).
  75. In the absence of a dictionary, stick to words of one syllabus.
  76. Steer clear of word-making-up-ism.
  77. Readers will not stand for any intolerance.
  78. If there's one thing you must avoid it's over-simplification.
  79. Double entendres will get you in the end.
  80. Vagueness is the root of miscommunication, in a sense.
  81. Don't bother with those ''increase-your-word-power" books that cost an absorbent amount of money.
  82. Self-contradiction is confusing, and yet strangely enlightening.
  83. Surrealism without purpose is like fish.
  84. Ignorance: good writers don't even know the meaning of the word.
  85. The spoken word can look strange when written down, I'm afraid.
  86. Stimpy the Squirrel says ''Don't treat the reader like a little child."
  87. Intimidatory writing is for wimps.
  88. Learn one new maths word every day, and you'll soon find your vocabulary growing exponentially.
  89. My old high school English teacher put it perfectly when she said: ''Quoting is lazy. Express things in your own words."
  90. She also said: ''Don't use that trick of paraphrasing...... [other people's words]...... inside a quote."
  91. A lack of compassion in a writer is unforgivable.
  92. On a scale of 0 to 10, internal consistency is very important.
  93. Thankfully, by the year 2016 rash predictions will be a thing of the past.
  94. There is no place for overemphasis, whatsoever.
  95. Leave out the David Hockney rhyming slang.
  96. Bad writers are hopefully ashamed of themselves.
  97. Eschew the highfalutin.
  98. Sometimes you publish a sentence and then, on reflection, feel that you shouldn't ought to have been and gone and written it quite that way.
  99. Practice humility until you feel that you're really good at it.
  100. If there's a particular word that you can never spell, use a pnemonic.
  101. A strong ending is the last thing you need.
  102. Make sure that your title is accurate.
  103. Spelling dictionaries should be made compulsary.
  104. Sometimes, a foreign phrase can add a little 'je ne sais rien.'
  105. In terms of writing convoluted sentences, don't.
  106. Let's face it, we all hate it when a writer appeals to the lowest common denominator.
  107. Learn the basic spelling rules; don't just rely on fonetix.
  108. Only take writing tips from world-renounced writers.
  109. Writing for the non-native English speaking market is a different kettle of fish.
  110. If you can't afford a book on grammar, at least find someone to lend one off.
  111. Nothing is worse than ambiguity.
  112. Oh, and avoid afterthoughts.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


camel.jpgPick one of the following. Set the timer for 10-15 minutes and tell what happened after the curse. Did the curse come to pass exactly as pronounced? Was the universe twisting the caster's words? Did the character manage to change the curse?
  • Hear this, O ye exceedingly foolish virgin, for you will be kicked by an incontinent camel!
  • Behold, thou shalt be trampled by a herd of stampeding pigs, O thou wolf in sheep's clothing!
  • Thou shalt be taunted by the king's concubines, O thou love-crazed Gittite!
  • Harken, O thou relative of Herod, for you will beget difficult teenagers!
  • Woe unto thee, O ye relative of Herod, for you will be cast onto a steaming dung-heap!
  • Take heed, O thou who art a byword for idiocy, for you will be swallowed by a whale with excessively bad breath!

From Biblical Curse Generator

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Executioner baby explodes 340 pound vampire

Explosion Photo.jpgCreate newspaper headlines using the words from the list. Try to use at least five of the words in each headline. (Feel free to add some words like "in", "on", "after", "and" ...)

If you want, print out the words, cut them up and draw from the pile until you come up with headlines you like. (You can reshuffle them after each headline.)
dragon slayer
340 pound
quests for
rips off

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Getting off the starting line

olympic-starting-line.jpgThis was posted by Arathe on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) forums. I haven't planned out either of the stories I used for NaNoWriMo. The time pressure seems to force the ideas to come out. But without that time pressure, when you're staring at a blank screen, planning can be very helpful! -- Joyce

Getting off the starting line by Arathe

Well, I just sat down today to start working on my plot for this year's NaNo. I attribute my lack of success in earlier years to my lack of planning. Trying to throw something together two weeks before go-time just doesn't cut it for me. ;)

So, I plan on giving myself a lot of time to plan and tweak this year. Unfortunately, I have no ideas, no plot, no characters, nothing! All is not lost, however! I have a little trick for finding a good jumping-off point that I'd share with everyone else out there who are having a hard time finding that elusive plot this year.

1. Pick your genre.

A bit obvious, perhaps, but deciding on a genre will give you a bit of direction. I'll pick Fantasy.

If you can't pick a single genre, at least try to narrow the list down as much as possible and move on to step 2.

2. Make a list of concepts that you like.

- This should naturally try to stay within the bounds of the genre(s) you chose. Spaceships, for example, might not be a good choice when you've decided on Fantasy. Likewise, Evil Magician might not be the ideal choice for your contemporary murder mystery.

- The list can be as long as you like. The longer, the better. You'll find that the longer the list gets, the more unique and interesting your ideas become. Someone who's name I can't recall at the moment said once that the first five or ten ideas on a list are throwaways. It is in those that you'll find your most common ideas, your cliches. The farther down the list you go, the more you have to stretch your imagination, and the more original and interesting those ideas will be.

Which isn't to say you shouldn't use the ideas on the top of your list. The point of this exercise is to find something you're excited about, something you WANT to slave away at for a month. The important part is getting it done. Being innovative or original comes second to that.

Some examples for my Fantasy genre:

- Gods in mortal form.
- Corrupt religion
- Shapeshifters
- Demons
- Taboo magic
- Magic as science

This is only a sample of course, my list will be much longer when I finish it, as yours should be. I'd suggest a list of at least twenty concepts that appeal to you.

3. Circle the concepts that appeal to you most.

- Choose anywhere from 2-10 concepts on your list that jump out at you. The exact number can vary, depending on how many you really like and how long your list is.

4. Write a one sentence plot summary based around each of the circled concepts.

- I want to stress that a single-sentence summary should take you no more than five minutes each. You're brainstorming here. If you find yourself unable to come up with something within five minutes, move on to the next concept on your list and come back to it later.

- Feel free to merge two or more concepts into a single plot summary if it strikes your fancy. If you can't fit it all into one sentence, don't worry; you'll get the chance to expand on it in the next step.

- If you have more than one idea for a sentence summary for a single concept, go for it! Write as many as you feel like. This part of the process isn't limited to once concept, one sentence. Keep going for as long as you can. The more you have when you're finished, the more you'll have to choose from.

Example summary from my list above:

"A God, imprisoned in mortal form by his sister, seeks a way to free himself and exact his revenge."

Okay, I know that isn't going to win any awards, but it gives you an idea of what I'm talking about. Don't worry about quality here; you're simply trying to churn out as many of these as you can. You can always tweak later.

Another example using the same concept merged with another:

"In a world where science and magic are one, where mystery, mysticism and religion are disdained and ignored lives a boy, the living incarnation of a god old and forgotten, whose emergence into the world once again will send the lives of all who encounter him spinning out of control in ways no one could imagine."

Much better than the first one, even if I cheated a bit and made an awfully long sentence there. It's okay if you fudge the rules a bit, the important thing is the end result. See how I took two concepts, "Gods in mortal form" and "Magic as science" and slapped them together into one idea?

5. Pick any of your single-sentence summaries and turn it into a single-paragraph summary.

- Try to incorporate your sentence into the paragraph.

- This should read a bit like the blurb on the back of a novel might.

- You can do this with as many of your sentences as you like. I can almost guarantee there will be a few that won't work for you, so don't feel bad about scrapping them and focusing on the ones you DO like.

- But what if I don't like any of them? Tough cookies. I expect you to pick at least one and make it into a paragraph. You might surprise yourself. Or it might just suck, but honestly, I dare you to do this and come out without a plot bunny that's at least passable. It's amazing what we can dredge out of our own heads when we put our minds to it.

Example paragraph:

"In a world where magic and science are one, where mystery, mysticism and religion are disdained and ignored, lives a boy. He is the living incarnation of a god old and forgotten, though he has no knowledge of the powerful creature residing within him. As he ages, the god begins to emerge, taking him away from home and family, tearing him from everything he knows and loves. He struggles constantly with Other in his mind, as the god himself puts into the works a holy revolution the likes of which the world has never known, changing the lives of countless people, and possibly the world, forever. Caught in the tide of change being wrought by the creature with which he shares his mind and body, the boy fights to hold on to his mind, his sense of self, in a struggle that becomes increasingly difficult and the Other grows stronger.

Will he survive? Or will he find himself crushed beneath the weight of a will so much stronger than his own?"

I cheated again, since it is technically two paragraphs, but since the last bit was really for dramatic emphasis, its okay. Try to keep it to a single paragraph if you can, though.

Once you're finished, take a look through what you've done. I can almost guarantee you'll have at least one workable idea that you want to use. I actually like the idea in the above paragraph. I think I might even use it, hehe. Least if this doesn't help anyone, I may have gotten something from it. ^^

And you're done! Like I said, you should have at least one plot bunny that begs to be expanded upon. From here, you're on your own. Get started on worldbuilding, flesh out characters, at a few more bones to the plot skeleton, whatever you want! You have your starting point. ;)

If this helps anyone, please post here, I'd like to hear about it. ^^

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Best of spam for July 2006

searchlight.jpgSome intriguing odd phrases that almost mean something, names, single words .... It makes me appreciate the people who write spam filters. They have to find patterns in these nonsense generators.

Well, the list used to be here. Now it isn't.

In less than 24 hours there were comments from 3 spammers. I assume the post Technorati picked up the post and that's the route that lead the spammers to the blog but which of the phrases attracted the spambots? And why would they be attracted to spam anyway?

So now they're at Spam-O-Rama.

The human whose name ...

misamisa.jpgClick the picture for a larger version in a new window.
  • Who is she? (Assuming you don't know! Or can come up with an alternate version of who she might be.)
  • What is her relation to the creature behind her?
  • Who and what is the creature?
  • What is its goal?
Take it from there.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Top 10 Tabloid Headlines for August 2006

WWNCoverChoice7.jpgFrom The City Newsstand's (a newsstand/bookstore in Chicago) monthly MAGBAG -- Top 10 Tabloid Headlines. (Mostly from Weekly World News (WWN) and the SUN.) 
  6. WAR IN HEAVEN According to the Archangel Michael, female angels led by the powerful Hillaria have revolted . . . — WWN
  7. Demons influencing presidential policy! — WWN
  9. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, along come . . . NAVY ANTS! — WWN

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Cooling off period

japansnowmonkeys.jpgTo chill down from Thursday's writing prompt, create cool breezy phrases or sentences for each letter of the alphabet.