Monday, November 30, 2009

Enter the storm

Enter the storm

A month of NaNo prompts

Last prompt before the end! Hope the light at the end of the tunnel is closer than you expected. (I have about 3000 words left to do.) Or that you at least had fun this month! :-)

I had a last minute NaNo inspiration that will help me. I tend to skip over description. So for each day of NaNo month I'll send out a prompt to focus your attention on something you might not ordinarily notice in whatever scene you're working on. The intent is not to generate great prose but to force you to expand your vision of what's going on around and inside your characters.

Write at least one paragraph for the day's prompt:
  1. Describe your point of view (POV) character's current emotional state and how it affects him or her from head to toe.
  2. Describe the shoes of the next character that walks into the scene and what they remind the POV character of.
  3. Describe the weather (or environment if weather isn't relevant to your story) in the scene you're writing right now. Involve all 5 senses.
  4. Relate something in your current scene to a toy from your POV character's childhood. Dig deep and make emotional connections to then and now.
  5. The current situation to your POV character is [fill in an animal]. Extend the metaphor. What in the situation are the teeth? Why is something like the breath? How does it relate to the sound the character makes? (And whatever else you can come up with. Use all five senses!)
  6. It starts raining (or stops raining). Describe the emotions *and* memories this evokes in your POV character.
  7. In the next conversation, describe something the character is doing as they speak each line of dialogue.
  8. Relate your POV character's best friend (current or childhood) to one of the characters they're with right now. Likenesses and differences. Relate both physical traits as well as attitude, temperament, life story ...
  9. Describe your POV character's inner state in terms of one of the seasons, that is, the seasons that are relevant to your story.
  10. A bug is in your current scene. Use the bug's actions as a mirror of what's going on with the situation or inside your POV character.
  11. Pick one object in your current scene and describe it fully, using all five senses. (Yes, taste and smell can be a challenge sometimes!)
  12. My daughter's favorite: Food descriptions! For the next meal your character has, describe, obviously, taste and sight and smell, but also texture, presentation, how the colors work together, emotional reactions, physical reactions, memories.
  13. Something in the current scene transports your POV back to a place they frequently played (playground, tree house, junker car behind the shed, mom's closet ...) Pay particular attention to the resonance of the emotions between the two places.
  14. In the next populous area your character visits, sum up their impression with one word. Rather than agonizing over the right word -- which wastes valuable NaNo time! -- use the first word that comes to mind. Then take that word and run with it as a metaphor or analogy. How does the word relate to the people, buildings, atmosphere, smell, colors, sounds ...
  15. Relate the current situation the character is in to a game, like chess, dice, Monopoly, dominos, poker. Even if your setting isn't contemporary it's likely every culture will have games of chance involving dice-like objects (bones for instance) or strategy board game (like chess or go or parchisi).
  16. Describe the next store your POV character visits. How are the proprietor or associate like the store? How do the appearances (dirtiness, cleanliness, order, chaos) relate? The voice and speech mannerisms?
  17. Relate your POV character's current emotional state to a storm. It might be the anticipation of an approaching storm, the middle of the storm, or the relief or aftermath of a storm. Work the metaphor for all it's worth to gain you lots of NaNo points!
  18. Another character is fiddling with an object -- jewelry, something in or from their pocket, something they picked up. Use the manipulations as a window in the character's fluctuating emotional state.
  19. If the current situation continues, how does your POV character envision himself or herself and the important players in their life in the future? You can get detailed down to pets and number of children (like a drunken ramble). If they envision them all dead, what level of Hell is being readied and what special tortures await? (Then have another character bop them over the head to get them out of their funk ;-)
  20. In the current scene, some skill your character is using she picked up somewhere from somebody during the course of her life. Reflect on that, particularly the emotional resonance the experience has for your character.
  21. Rather than expand, synopsize. Someone new enters your story, or your character needs to relate what's been happening since the beginning of the story on a post card or Facebook update. Make each word count for dozens.
  22. Your POV character hears a song and it evokes strong memories full of emotion and sensory detail.
  23. Something repulsive happens to your POV character. Maggoty food? Slops dumped on them? Being sneezed on if they're germophobic? Describe it in all it's gory disgusting detail.
  24. Have your POV character imagine what it's like to be another character. What it literally feels like to walk in their shoes and see the world through their eyes. Most interesting will be to explore someone whose values and preferences and personality are most different from your POV character's.
  25. Your character's shoe (or body part or other abused, neglected piece of equipment for the shoeless) has been through hell the past few hundred pages. Let it vent. (It can be your POV character's dream so you can fit it into your Nano ;-)
  26. Your POV character watches something break as though it were happening in slow motion. Use this as a metaphor and relate the sensory details to the worst thing that could happen to shatter the goal the character is working toward.
  27. Is there lack of care for what kind of impact people are having on their world? For a moment some uncaring, thoughtless act of disregard for the world strikes a personal note for your POV character. Bring the details to life and, if you can, tie it into the greater goal the character is working toward. Let them rant <eg>.
  28. Your POV character is drifting off to sleep, but The Big Problem still hasn't been solved and is pulling one way while the body is pulling the other way to get some much needed rest. Describe this mini-war as well as the character's feelings as they're torn between a need for action and a need for rest.
  29. For a moment your POV character wishes they had some power that would fix the situation. Invisibility? Laser-beam eyes? Level 16 Charm? Let them fantasize and feel what it would be like.
  30. Have your POV character describe their ideal world (or ideal time off for when this is all over) in all it's sensory glory as they seek the strength to keep going.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A scrumptious word feast

Come up with enticing and scrumptious ways of describing food you'll be eating. What if your descriptions were in competition with other family members' to win the coveted right to present the Thanksgiving day feast?

Or, if you're doing Nano, have the characters declare a one day truce and each describe the dish they'll bring to the Thanksgiving day feast.

Good eats!

Pick your favorite recipe. Your character has been planning to create this dish for quite some time as a special event or celebration. The dish can be grand but needn't be -- like the last ballpark hotdog with relish eaten with Dad, the "special" last maggoty meal the evil overlord served his prisoners -- but it's emotionally tied into the character or someone the character feels strongly toward and holds some special importance. Each ingredient has been carefully chosen or overseen from its beginning.

As you go through each ingredient, have your character talk about where it came from, why and what its importance is. Maybe they're far from home -- a ship? another planet? an alternate universe? -- and the ingredients aren't easy to come by.

Then describe what it's for. It could be something sweet :-) It could be twisted Wherever it leads you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Give it a rest

Have one of your characters write a letter to the main opposition describing why they need to stop what they're doing.

It could be the main character to the one standing in their way, the bad guy to the good guy, a minor character who can see both sides and is torn between them.

If you're not doing NaNo use this on a story that didn't quite work for you, or for a story written by someone else.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What should happen next?

I stumbled across a few tarot spreads designed specifically for writing projects and the need to use them as a NaNo prompt wouldn't let go! They're a bit more time consuming than the other prompts I've posted but may be less time consuming and more productive than banging your head against the desk as you struggle to figure out what should happen next ;-)

The spreads are all designed by Arwen.

The first is a Goal, Motivation, Conflict spread. She suggests it's best used during writing after you know your characters and when you're stuck on where they should go next. (Click on the image for Arwen's explanation of the layout.)

If your knowledge of tarot extends no further than the ability to place cards on a table, you can draw each of the 7 cards below and it will give you explanations.

Type in a Question like "Who is my character?" or "What is my character's goal?", under Deck choose a deck that sounds like it fits your story (you might need to explore them a bit), under Spread choose One card.

If you want to explore the possibilities for your main characters (or it might work for protagonist and antagonist), this spread can be used over and over. It's called a ladder spread because the top card (7) can become the bottom (2) card of the next set and so on up the ladder as you keep plotting your story out. (Click on the image for Arwen's explanation of the layout.)

Arwen also designed a Characterization Spread that delves into childhood and other influences on your character.

There are more Tarot Spreads for Writers at the Aeclectic Tarot Forum. Scroll 1/3 of the way down the page (or search for "writer".)

If using tarot for plotting intrigues you, there's also Tarot for Writers by Corinne Kenner that gets some great reviews.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In the end

For each of your main characters, including your antagonist, write out how they think at this moment in your story all this will end, who will live, who will die, who will get what they want or what they'll get instead and what are the consequences? Maybe the bad guy will come up with a better ending that you have planned! ;-)

(If you're not doing NaNo, use this for a story you never finished.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just go away

Make a list of the "Top 10 things I wish would just disappear."

Brainstorm your own list first. (You may find the first batch are predictable so don't stop at 10, keep going to let the mundane run out.) I suspect you'll come up with a wider, quirkier variety than you could make up for a character. Poll your friends!

Then try your character's.

(From Writing Fix.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

All fouled up

Michael Arnzen keeps popping up like a zombie who just won't accept a shovel to the head! And as usual time is crunched during NaNo so I'll totally rip off his delicious list of Twisted Prompts for Nanowrimo Writers to inspire you:
  • Unexpectedly kill a character. Have your protagonist hear their dying words…but only partially.

  • Take a break and reflect: What element of fiction is the weakest in your book right now: character, setting, dialogue or conflict? Choose one. The next time you hit the keyboard, write three paragraphs of prose dedicated just to that element in some way. And make it DARK.

  • The next time you give a description of a character’s physical features, identify a disfigurement. ANYTHING, ranging from an almost imperceptible scar on their brow to giant webbed feet. Expound through dialogue or monologue about what sort of torment that disfigurement causes the character, and how they endure it.

  • Notice the teeth.

  • Give your viewpoint character permission to have a lengthy flight of fantasy, imagining what they would do if they had psychic powers or dreaming how they might solve the main conflict if they had superhuman powers of some kind.

  • Set your next dialogue-driven scene in a foul restaurant. Break up the conversation with intermittent observations of the low hygiene and filthy food. At the end, draw comparisons between the establishment and the novel’s conflict or antagonist.

  • Use a banal object in a scene as a makeshift weapon.

  • “Goth up” a minor character and give them something morbidly pithy or darkly ominous to say.

  • Take your main character’s hostilities and frustrations out on an inconsequential object…but in prose that dramatizes this eruption in an ultraviolent way.

  • Treat weather as a monster.

  • As you head into your next plot point, ask yourself: “And what could make the outcome even worse?”

  • Review your manuscript so far. Seize on an object or image from your description that you mentioned in passing, and bring it back into the picture in an uncannily meaningful way.

  • Something strange is hidden under the desk/table/seat. Your protagonist stumbles on it. This is important to a future scene. But keep the discovery a secret for now. You’ll figure out its importance later.

  • Make your main character sick. Whether a cold or a contracted disease. Use this sickness in an unexpected way to solve a problem.

  • Describe a new character (as they enter the story) in the darkest way you know how, from head to toe. Then make them so nice it’s laughable.

  • Introduce your viewpoint character to Insanity.

  • Reference a horror movie or book in an explicit/overt/obvious way. Then turn it inside-out.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Writing down the page

  • You know how sometimes an idea will pop into your head while you're writing something else? It's an obvious idea and you know you'll remember it so you slog through the scene and by the end you've forgotten what it was?
  • You know how sometimes you'll hover over the keyboard, debating which choice to make and you just can't decide what would work best?
One of the Nanoers at our local kick off party mentioned a technique in Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray called:

Writing Down the Page

(I can't find a description on line so either she misremembered its name or no one else found it nifty, but I'm finding it useful! If anyone knows what it's called, please let me know!)

It's a way to capture fleeting ideas and get you writing instead of hovering.

If you use this for your whole NaNo (which I'm doing), you'll end up with a flowing collection of ideas. Which is a great way to send your internal editor on vacation since you may not be writing complete sentences and you're deliberately including a range of ideas some of which you know you'll eventually eliminate.

The important part is: don't write paragraphs. Hit carriage return after each sentence or snatch of an idea. It's going to look more like a poem, a long list, than a novel. It's a free flowing brainstorm. You can put an extra carriage return when you start a new idea and label it with some bold text.

Sometimes a fairly cohesive scene will flow out. (Mine is conforming to scenes and chapters.) Often it will be snatches of dialog. Bits of description. Questions for you to answer. Or half a dozen possibilities of what a character might do and why.

So if you're stuck, don't ponder. Write down the problem. Explore it right there in your Nano. Brainstorm a list of possibilities. If an idea for a scene comes up while you're doing that, write it down right where you are. (You can mark it with xxx to remind yourself to move it and expand it later.)

What I've done with it so far is, at the beginning of each chapter, I explore the character's desires (wants, objectives, goals). Each scene will have a goal (getting the demon nest rooted out, for example) as well as the character's greater goal of the novel hovering over them.

Then I explore obstacles (conflicts) I can throw in their way. (I tend to be too nice to my characters! Deliberately brainstorming obstacles keeps me focused on a story's engine: overcoming difficulties!) Each of these obstacles creates an evolving set of minigoals for the character to achieve (getting away from the annoying coworker, getting shoes that don't have a broken heel, for example).

Then I write down possible responses to the obstacles and how the character can reveal more of who he is, reveal more of what's going on in the story, in what he chooses to do and the way he chooses to do it. It helps remind me of the tree I'm writing about rather than getting lost in the foliage of a few thousand individual leaves.

I'm finding it much easier to throw problems and obstacles at a character when I don't (yet) need to write the scene that gets them out of it!

Wooly bully

Use the following idioms as literally as possible without mentioning the original idiom, so "wet blanket" will include a real wet blanket. For Nano you may want to pick just one :-) For others, write a few sentences for as many as you can in 10 minutes, or use one and see where it takes you.
Cry over spilled milk.
Pull the wool over his eyes.
Wet behind the ears.
Wild goose chase.
Sky's the limit.
With flying colors.
Face the music.
Throw a monkey wrench into the works.
Can't make heads or tails out of it.
The pen is mightier than the sword.
Third time's the charm.
On cloud nine.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ordinary AND Special

Have your character list 5 ways they're ordinary (for their world, of course!) and 5 ways they're not ordinary. (Though you don't need to include it, they picked those particular items out of the totality of who they are for a reason.)

Idea from Charloft where's there's a new theme each day for your characters. (A very active community.) There are loads of responses to this particular one. In case the Live Journal community disappears one day, I saved the list.

I also opened an Ordinary and Special topic at the NaNoWriMo forums.

What's special or ordinary about the picture? Go to Face Research -- Make an Average. Click on several pictures. Click View Average and see what a composite of the pictures is like. (Try all the thin faces, all those with dark hair, all those with long chins, all with large ears ....) I tried to create a girl's face where race wasn't easy to pinpoint.

Roll over the post's image and you can see all the faces, male and female, averaged together. (The sampling of images does contain a large proportion of Caucasians.) Is it a girl or a boy? It would be interesting to see a composite of all 20 yos, 30 yos, etc in the world :-)

What's interesting is that average isn't bland but tends toward beauty. So beauty isn't so extraordinary as it is average!