Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Anti-lipogrammatic dragons

Take the sentences you generated last week for Alphabetical dragons and, while trying to capture the same idea, rewrite using only words that don't contain that letter of the alphabet. (You can read more about Lipograms and Anti-lipograms.)

Here's the W example I gave last week:
Wini the Worm, wriggled wearily westward toward the Wailing Wood, wreathed in white wisps and wrapped in remnants of war.
And I'll try to write it without Ws:
Fredi the Firedrake, jiggled tiredly anti-easterly in the direction of the Crying Forest, surrounded by pale tendrils and cloaked in remnants of battle.
(You can use your word processor search feature to search for the letter to see if one snuck into the middle of a word.)
If you need synonym help the Free Dictionary has a pretty good thesaurus.

Wiktionary, in addition to definitions, has foreign words and synonyms for some words. It was good for dragon (and forest) but just gave me a definition for wriggle.

And the Visual Thesaurus is cool :-). It's a program/subscription but you can try it out a limited number of times for free. After you type in a word you can click on any of the words in the map and it will put that at the center with related words around it.

Career day

Pick one of the following. Tell the kids at career day about your job as:

- Death
- A bounty hunter on Mars
- A demon hunter
- Mecha pilot
- Guardian angel
- Fairy dust manufacturer
- Ghost talker

Saturday, February 25, 2006


This week pay particular attention to how people walk.

This is a continuation of ideas for a Writer's notebook that I've been posting each Saturday. Click on Writer's notebook to the right to see them all.

Some things you may want to pay particular attention to:
Sound of their feet
Leaning forward or backward
Foot position: splayed, pigeon toed
Movement of arms
Movement of hips
Other parts of the body they're unconsciously moving in rhythm with their walk.

What keeps you reading?

As you read, pay attention to what makes you keep reading.

At the beginning of the book, what words did the writer choose that created a character (or plot or setting) you want to know more about?

At what point did you get to the conflict? What makes you care?

What words or situations made you care about the character?

What does the character yearn for?

Note when there are questions that you want to keep reading on to find the answer to.

If you're reading a favorite author, ask yourself why as you read along. What is the author doing that really appeals to you?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Heart glade

Do something with the following:


Can you get them all in a story, a paragraph, a sentence?

Alphabetical dragons

Write the alphabet down the side of the page and create an alliterative sentence for each letter that has to do with dragons, such as:

Wini the Worm, wriggled wearily westward toward the Wailing Wood, wreathed in white wisps and wrapped in remnants of war.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A musician, vampire chickens and a compass

Use one of the following as a 10-15 minute writing prompt:

The protagonist is a musician. The antagonist is vampire chickens. The setting is an old theater. The goal is to find a lost relative. An important event will be finding an unexpected helper. An important object will be a compass.

The protagonist is a ghost hunter. The antagonist is gremlins. The setting is a large hotel. The goal is to travel in time. An important event will be a fire. An important object will be an invisibility device.

The protagonist is a zoo keeper. The antagonist is the Black Knight. The setting is a library. The goal is to sell a new invention. An important event will be a visit to a new store. An important object will be a deck of cards.

The protagonist is a painter. The antagonist is an angry mob. The setting is an amusement park. The goal is to be famous. An important event will be a trip to a hospital. An important object will be a magic ring.

The protagonist is a vampire. The antagonist is stuck up princess. The setting is a desert. The goal is to find peace. An important event will be getting a new pet. An important object will be a mandolin.

These were generated at Glen and Karen Bledsoe's Random Writing Prompts page.

Feel free to mix and match or go to the website and generate new pieces for parts that don't grab you.

Metaphorical play

A metaphor paints one concept with the attributes of another.

Cut out the following words and shuffle them around until you find some "_____" of "_____" forms that strike you. Typically the first will be a tangible (concrete, something you can touch) noun and the second will be intanglible (abstract, an idea or emotion, something you can't touch). But play around with it.

The Tangibles:

The Intangibles:
Write sentences -- or a poem -- for your favorites, tying the verb in with the metaphor, eg, a cauldron of something might be stirred or boiled, a basket of something might be woven or carried.

This is adapted from an exercise from You Can Write Poetry by Jeff Mock.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hair and beards

It seems when I capture descriptions of people I always do hair! So this week pay particular attention to hair.

Some things beyond the obvious you may want to pay particular attention to:
  • hairline -- even people who aren't balding don't necessarily have a smooth curve
  • texture
  • shape of sideburns
  • whether beard is the same color as the hair
This is a continuation of ideas for a Writer's notebook that I've been posting each Saturday. Click on Writer's notebook to the right to see them all.


This is from the NaNoWriMo Adopt-a-plot where writers post extra plots they won''t be using.

Use it as a 10-15 minute writing prompt or go for a longer piece.

"A steampunk Victorian England is invaded by aliens using equally steampunk (but, you know, alien) technology."

#39b submitted by potatocubed

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Character of a place

Describe a bedroom or other place someone has made their own as a way to reveal who someone is. You can pick from one of the following or make up your own:
  • A local tavern girl waiting for the right party to come along to take her out of there.
  • An android whose replacement parts are no longer made.
  • A parapalegic mecha pilot whose mecha gives him mobility.
  • A former interplanetary actor who believes he/she/it is still famous.
  • A former member of a fringe group who existed outside society who is now living a middle class existence.
  • A child orphaned on a moon colony and cared for by the community.
  • A warrior who ended up on the losing side of the war.
  • A social climbing wizard or witch.
  • A blacksmith's daughter newly apprenticed to dragon trainers.
Adapted from "Creating a character's background, place, setting, and milieu" an exercise by Robie Macauley in What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Good writing combines ideas in novel ways. Try using the following combinations in sentences that give insight into why the odd combinations fittingly describe what's going on.
  • festive tyrant
  • fabulous poverty
  • thoughtful depression
  • blissful zombie
  • tasty plague
  • beautiful monster
  • fabulous crisis
  • putrid wealth
  • foul loyalty
  • impoverished beauty
  • shameful miracle
  • miserable courage
  • tyranical perfection
  • depressing optimism
These were generated at WritingFix's Serendipitous Oxymoron Creator.

Seven random words: A spotless blizzard

Write sentences that contain all 7 of the words on each line. Feel free to change some of the word endings, eg, change crooked to crook or crooks.
  1. spotless blizzard disease dramatic protest flipped deny
  2. whimpered mystery rare raced uglier accident candle
  3. crooked frightened horse instantly excited flames circular
  4. shiver horrible blood secret return distant cavern
  5. squashed slowest private billion sharp ignorance shiver
  6. dangerous bounce rainy jokes overgrown furry explore
  7. fatal roam frightened wise slobbered bubbly traveler
  8. slippery chewed priest return drooled waterfall fairy
  9. altered bumpy foggy journey deny skull dragon
  10. ice outstanding waterfall future toe modified forest

Gender flip

Gender flip a fairy tale (or other story of course).

Here are some suggestions that have fairly stereotypical boy and girl roles. If you click Lists in the menu to the right, there are more fairy tales but these seemed the most obvious.
Beauty and the Beast
Frog Prince
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Jack and the Beanstalk
Little Red Riding Hood
Princess and the Pea
Sleeping Beauty
Snow White
Three Billy Goats Gruff
Three Little Pigs

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"You can't wait for inspiration."

Feet and shoes

This week pay particular attention to people's feet and shoes. At this time of the year those of us north won't see much more than shoes and boots, but those say a lot about a person too. A woman in fashion boots with 3 inch heels is not the same person as a woman in salt stained Timberland boots.

Some things to look for:
  • Size, length and width
  • Stillness, movement
  • How they're held at rest (Don't worry about how people walk unless you want to. Just doing how feet look is enough for a week.)
  • Do the feet point straight, in, out, slump to the outside edges
  • Color(s)
  • How old
  • Practicality
  • Thickness of sole
  • Size of heel
  • Wear on the heels (amount, evenness)
  • Clean or dirty (new dirt or layers accumulated)
  • Stains
  • Wear pattern
  • Crease pattern
  • Stockings, socks, patterns or solid
This is a continuation of ideas for a Writer's notebook that I've been posting each Saturday. Click on Writer's notebook to the right to see them all.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

5 minute novels

This is a follow up to the writing prompt from January 24: 5 minute stories inspired by Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes by Roberta Allen.

She says you can write a novel in 5 minute chunks!

Her suggestions are for any story/novel: One you're just beginning, one you've been working on, one you got stuck on.
  1. Begin: To begin on a brand new story, choose a writing exercise from the 300 she lists in her book (I've put a few from her book below) and just write. Turn off your inner editor. Expect it to be junk. It doesn't have to tie directly into a bigger story. It can be a letter, a bit of dialog, a character sketch, some background. Anything the exercise makes you think of.

    When your 5 minutes is up, look back at what you wrote. Don't judge it on grammar or style or word choice. Don't worry about revision. Focus on interest, energy, the feelings that it sparks in you. If on an energy scale of 1-10 it rates 6 or above then there's some idea in there that you want to explore.

    If it doesn't interest you, try another exercise and write again for 5 minutes. Keep doing this until you get some idea, some phrase, some potential that captures your attention.
  2. Expand:Then there are a number of options for either the fresh or already begun story. (There are examples of student writing in her book of each of these that might make it clearer how they actually work in practice.)

    • What happens next? - When you have something you like then reset the timer and ask yourself "What happens next?" If at the end of 5 minutes that one feels exciting, then ask the same question and do another 5 minute exercise. She suggests that if you end up with 3 out of 8 exercises that you really like you've probably found something that can carry forward into a novel because you've hit on something that interests you. (Even if you may not be entirely sure what it is!) She says stop before you run out of energy. Set it aside for the next day.
    • Strings of exercises - Or you can choose from the 300 exercises she lists in her book. (Choose randomly. Choose something that interests you or doesn't interest you. Choose the same exercise (e.g., the first) from 6 different sets. It doesn't make a difference how you choose.) Then set the timer for 5 minutes and continue where your last exercise left off. Just let the thoughts swirl to see how your subconscious makes connections between the elements and let them flow out. You may not write directly about the idea in the exercise but there will be something sparked by it.
    • Energy - Reread what you wrote and underline the part that grabs you, stirs you, moves you interests you, upsets you. Then use that as inspiration for the next 5 minutes. If you want, you can write the essence in the form of a directive like the ones below: "Write about ..." if that helps you. (There may be several ways to reword your sentence or phrase into a directive. Don't agonize trying to find some mythical "right" or "best" way to do it.)
  3. Review: For each of these, if you create something that doesn't have a spark that you like, set it aside. Then after you have 6 exercises with energy you like to stop and review what you've written. This isn't the time to edit. Leave them unfinished since it will give you greater freedom to play with and explore what's going on. You don't want to create beautiful stuff yet because you want to preserve the freedom to toss it if you discover a more energy-filled direction for your story to go in. She has questions to ask yourself as you look them over in her book, things like: Are they connected? Are there holes? Is it too slow or fast? Does the point of view work well? Is there a conflict? and so on.

    Reviewing after 6 exercises, like the 5 minutes, is just a guideline, of course. You can review after 4 or 8. If you're on a roll when the 5 minute timer goes off, keep going. Find something that works for you.
Here are 4 more sets of the 300 exercises listed in her book:

Write about:
a lie
something that really happened
an animal
an object that has been lost
a wish

a reward or a punishment
a misunderstanding
something wide

a crime
a color
a dream
something narrow

seeing something beautiful
a heavy object

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A battery of Betty Browns

Type a name into Google's Image Search and write character sketches for a handful of the people whose pictures show up.

Try typing in your own name if it isn't unique. (I can't use either my married or my maiden name since I only end up with pictures of me!) If your brain's frozen and you can't think of a name, try Kleimo's Random Name Generator and set the "obscurity factor" to 1 to get common names. (I pasted some down at the bottom.)

Be creative! Think in terms of passion. The Betty Brown to the right was known as the Seductress of Secrets during World War 1. She winnowed her way into the affections of dozens of German leaders ferretting out secrets she passed onto British intelligence. Immediately after the war she retired to her home in Havershamshire where she raised prize roses.

That's not just a Sunday golfer in the picture, that's:
  • a man who's obsessed with golf since his wife left him because he was on the course too much and he has now been playing for 99 straight days; or
  • he's the 2nd ranked player in the world who will unknowingly strike a golf ball-bomb if his manager doesn't pay a ransom by noon; or
  • he's an amateur about to go pro being pushed to greatness by his mother who has just realized he despises golf; or
  • he's an archeologist who uncovered some long buried wizarding secrets before the tunnel colapsed and they were reburied who's been locked by an evil wizard in a dream world where there's nothing to do but play endless rounds of golf until he relents and turns over the secrets.
(This is also a fun game to play when you're stuck waiting somewhere too.)

There are some more examples of character sketches below. The magic is in the details like in the previous prompt Four Lies and a Truth. The young woman isn't just rushing to work but rushing to get to Filene's men's shirts department, noon-to-five shift, and it's the third time she'll be late.

If you want to include the picture that inspired your character sketch put your cursor over the picture and, on the Mac, hold down the control button or, on a Windows machine, hold down the right mouse button. Then click on the picture. Scroll down to Copy Image Address (the wording might be a bit different depending on your browser.) And then go to your email and paste it.

The Bus to Inspiration is a good article at The Writer's E-Zine about creating creative people sketches.

And here's a bit from What if?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. The students were challenged to imagine they were in a traffic jam at 9AM on a Sunday morning and to make up stories for the people in the 6 cars around them.
Just like the commercial, the family in the wood-paneled station wagon had their money stolen while they were buying flip-flops, and they had to call their weekend short. The boy and girl in the back seat are sucking on McDonald's shakes bought with the little bit of change they found on the car floor, and the husband and wife aren't talking to each other. Each blames the other.

The young woman in the yellow Honda is working the noon-to-five shift today in Filene men's shirt department and had to leave the party early. She is chewing her nails and hopes she makes it back in time; otherwise this will be the third time this month she's been late to work.
And a bunch of names from Klimo:
Wanda Simmon
Kayla Reinhardt
Brenda Grant
Allen Hendon
Jason Mcbride
Craig Prosser
Patrick Mckamey
Wayne Furman
Marian Scharf
Lena Brawley
Jason Frechette
Vanessa Birmingham
Brandi Ruffner
Albert Funderburk
Harriet Kearns
Ellen Bill
John Almeida
Jonathan Hollins
Nathan Behr
Mark Bunton
Bridget Vollmer
Dale Amaya
Denise Custer
Phillip Melo
Albert Abell
Dennis Waldron
Douglas Lamontagne
Colleen Copper

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Name that character

Create a name (or names) for each of the following characters:
  • She's a 1017 year old dragon whose claws are worn down from endlessly counting her coins.
  • He's a cat person tossed out of his clan and searching for a new one to join.
  • She's a thief and a liar who always wants to do right but always makes the wrong choice.
  • He's a captain of an interstellar cruise ship who dreams of being an interstellar adventurer, discovering new planets.
  • She's an ancient wizard, weary of life, and more weary watching the energy of her 12 year old apprentice.
  • He works as an innkeeper but is actually a diviner of the future who's hiding from the evil princess who wants to control him.
  • She's a warrior who will travel to any place and any time for a price.
  • He's a cabin boy on a pirate space ship.
  • She's an astronomer who dreams of going to the stars but fears space travel.
  • He's a cabinet maker whose cabinets are doorways to other worlds.
  • She has green hair, yellow eyes and needle sharp teeth.
  • He's the keeper of animals for the queen's menagerie.
  • She's an actress whose style is recorded and used as characters in computer generated holographic adventures.
  • He's a demon in the guise of a raven haired woman.
  • She's a detective living at the edges of the sprawling Mars Colony.

Four lies and a truth

Fiction writing is nothing more than telling lies that sound like the truth.

This is closer to a word prompt than a full fledged writing prompt but I thought it was a good lead in to what I'm sending on Thursday (and I already used the word prompt up by mistake on Saturday!)

Instinctively we all know how to make lies sound true. The key is in the details. You may have played this as a get-to-know-each-other game at some group gathering. Write down 5 stories about yourself, only one of which is true. Then people try to guess which is the true one.
  • In all my 30 years of driving, I have never driven an automatic. I've only driven manual transmissions which I learned on a 56 Chevy Impala.
  • The afternoon before my last final of my senior year of college, I was run over by a car and ended up in the hospital for a full month.
  • When I was 8 years old, I wasn't paying attention at the top of the ski lift and my ski tip got caught and I fell flat on my face off the lift. Fortunately it wasn't far but it was embarrassing!
  • I liked Spider-Man 1 so much that when Carl had Kathryn out at work all day, I paid for it once at a multiplex theater and just stayed and watched it two more times.
  • The very first new car my father bought was a Chrysler New Yorker which caught fire in the driveway the day he brought it home.
Which one's true?

Saturday, February 04, 2006


This week, when capturing descriptions of people in your notebook, pay particular attention to people's hands. Some things to get you started noticing:
  • Length of fingers
  • Jewelry, tattoos
  • How well tended the fingernails are, color, length, shape
  • Wrinkles
  • Stains, dirt
  • Prominence of knuckles
  • Coloration, smooth or splotchy
  • Prominence of veins
  • Moles, warts, rashes
  • Calluses, scars, blisters, scratches (and think about the causes)
  • How they're held (tight, relaxed)
  • How they move
  • Whether the person need to use her hands to talk
This is a continuation of ideas for a Writer's notebook that I've been posting each Saturday. Click on Writer's notebook to the right to see them all.

Writer's notebook

Even if you never write contemporary fiction, details from real life can bring writing alive. Unless it's integral to the story, in fantasy or future worlds, a raindrop with reflect the sun, people will get wrinkly as they age, cuffs will tatter and fresh poop with steam in the wintery air.

Every writer should have writer's notebooks (or voice recorder or a Palm Pilot) handy to jot down ideas, descriptions of striking people, snatches of conversation, clever shop names, words that grab you, book titles and so on. Small spiral books are good to keep in a purse or the glove compartment. A bound journal can be better for home for longer ideas, quotes from books, dreams and so on.

There aren't any rules but a couple of principles can be helpful: 1) Keep is simple to begin with! Trying to do it thoroughly can lead to doing it not at all. Build up slowly. 2) The more often you do it the easier it gets.

Some find it helpful to have different pages for different things they're collecting. (But don't try to keep multiple pages available. When you fill up one page of quotes, just start a new one wherever you are in your notebook.)

Some find it helpful to keep an idea notebook separate from their other notebooks. (It's helpful to capture details of why you thought something intriguing and what prompted it when you jot down story ideas. A year later when you read "A white cat and a black dog" you aren't going to know what you meant! But if you note you got the idea while watching Star Wars you're more likely to remember the connections you were making at the time.)

Some find a binder with tabs useful but others prefer the freeform flow of entries kept chronologically to be more inspiring.

One idea is to keep a weather journal. (A 5 year diary might be handy for this to capture multiple years. Even better might be a file on your computer desktop where it's only a double-click away.) Write snatches about the day's weather. That way when it's the middle of summer and you need to write about the weather on the ice planet of Korvath you can flip to December and get some images you captured.

Get into the habit of watching people. It's actually surprising once you make it a habit how notable features will start jumping out at you begging to be written down .

The obvious places for people watching are grocery stores, coffee shops, buses, check out lines, traffic jams, baseball games but the very best, hands down, place I've found are airport waiting areas. People there seem the least conscious of being watched. Though airports aren't quite as handy as coffee shops!

The one problem I seem to have when jotting down descriptions of people is there seems to be either too little to say -- the people seem just too average -- or there's too much to notice. One trick for beginning notebook keepers is to concentrate on just one body part each time you record. Just look at hands, shoes, eyes, or face shape for instance. I'll send out a weekly notebook idea.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Shuffled movie titles

Print out the following words in a larger font. Cut them out and shuffle them around. My original instructions suggested pairing them randomly but a list member and her family's idea worked better: shuffle them around, combining them in twos, threes and fours or more to make a title. (Add in any other words to finish it out.) You can include the genre -- action, horror, kids, science fiction, fantasy, historical, etc. -- or a bit about the movie.

The first thing you see ...

You (or your character) find yourself in a world you've never seen before. (It can be a fantasy world, a future world, somewhere on Earth ...)

This is the first thing you see. (Click the picture for a larger one in a new window.)
What is it?
Is it alive?
Is it a sculpture?
Why is it here?
Where are you?

Go from there.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Top 10 tabloid headlines for February 2006

From The City Newsstand's (a newsstand/bookstore in Chicago) monthly MAGBAG -- Top 10 Tabloid Headlines. (Mostly from Weekly World News (WWN) and the SUN.)

February 2006
  2. Germany invaded — by Nazi raccoons! — SUN
  6. Priest called in to exorcise school 'spirit' — WWN
  7. URBAN PLANNING NIGHTMARE: Self-building strip malls invade U.S. — WWN
  10. Man with large fuzzy slippers creates enough electricity to heat his house — WWN