Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chocolate skunk

chocolateskunk.jpgFor each set of 7 words, generate a sentence. To make it extra challenging, use them in order. (Feel free to change tenses and word forms.)
  1. gallop crooked siren macabre fluttering shudder vintage
  2. torment traveler deftly surprise poem hairy ticket
  3. shy skull brash horror release rage journey
  4. traitor tranquil raced deadly grumpy rhapsody jagged
  5. temple reward tunnel foster sick tournament spotless
  6. chocolate harrowing skunk jokes wander artist frightened
  7. sequined insectoid shallow daunting pyramid book gorgeous
  8. competition ooze foggy flames spiral stranger quickest
  9. coward thief scared eyeball screech laugh strange
  10. tease shiver ancient twitch squealed absorb liar
  11. angel nasty fever visitor dependable modified curved
  12. impenetrable fuzzy unusual outstanding microscopic talons typical
  13. deep triumphant evaded wings flipped overgrown stripes
  14. foolish slobbered idiot adroit acrobat cherish cheater
  15. magnetic patrol hidden guess vanish shard crawled
  16. teeming dancer thrill transform mask thirst limber
  17. deny dictator sweat swelling worried rust curdling
  18. brave checkered sly fierce hobbled underneath fatal
  19. beast distant altered ingenious ruined flammable mirror
  20. certain clever guard accident screeched spiky slimy

Saturday, October 27, 2007

National Novel Writing Month

nanowrimo.gifNational Novel Writing Month begins November 1! (Next Thursday.)

If you haven't heard about NaNoWriMo before, all across the world, people set aside the month of November to try to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Just 30 days. (Most people participating have jobs or go to school so those are not excuses!)

Yes, it's insane but it's also a lot of fun :-)

What's the point? Well, for one thing, to prove to yourself you can do it. For another, to get the experience of writing without editing. That second thing is the most powerful for me: learning to write without asking yourself if it's good or not. As Chris Baty has said:
The key to NaNoWriMo success is to lower your expectations from 'best seller' to 'would not make someone vomit.' -- Chris Baty
The goal is to produce words. Not great prose. Just words. You can plan ahead of time, think up a plot, but no actual writing of the novel until November 1.

My daughter Kat (16) and I have done it (and completed it! often with minutes to spare ;-) 3 times now and are planning to do it again.

I've done it twice with ideas I came up with the night before. Last year I had a handful of random characters about a week before.

Considering the novel I was working on before NaNoWriMo (for ::: cough ::: 20 years) was just 100,000 words of notes, it truly amazed me that a novel could flow out (okay struggle out somedays ;-) of me without a great deal of planning. :-)
The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It's the lack of a deadline. -- Chris Baty
You don't have to finish the novel. You just need to produce at least 50,000 words of the novel. No one reads what you've written. When you're done, you upload the file and a machine counts the words. (Apparently it's very generous about what it considers a word.) If it counts at least 50,000, you win!

What do you win? The satisfaction of having written a novel! :-) (And also a downloadable certificate you can print out and hang on your refrigerator.)

There are several people who have gone on to complete and polish their NaNoWriMo projects and gotten them published. So you never know!
Writing can be more fun if you stop trying to get it perfect on the first go-round. You can get it perfect in the rewrite. The first draft is all about making wonderful messes. -- Chris Baty
To produce 50,000 words by the end of November, the minimum you need to write is 1700 words per day. That doesn't give you much padding for the days the words aren't flowing and for little things like Thanksgiving, so setting a goal of 2000 words a day gives some generous padding.

Chris Baty, who began the insanity, says in his "No Plot, No Problem" book that it takes most people 1.5 - 2 hours a day. The truth is that it takes as much time as you give it. If you give it all day, it takes all day. (Which it does for Kat and me ;-)

NaNoWriMo has a website (above) with lots of tips and a massive message board with a huge number of tips and ideas and lots and lots of support from people who are also putting themselves through the torture. (There are folders where people are giving away plots and characters for the taking :-) There are regional "write-ins" where NaNoWriMoers gather in coffee shops and Pizza Huts to write together to encourage each other.

If you want to participate, go to the website and register. I think you don't have to register until you're ready to upload but if you do register you can post on the boards.

I'll be posting tips and such throughout the month (that can also be used as stand alone writing prompts).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hot trends and hatebooks

volkswagen-beetle.jpgGoogle Trends tracks searches that have shown sudden surges in popularity and updates the lists throughout the day.

Here's your character's most recent searches. Start writing about his or her life and why he or she is searching for these particular items. If you don't know what something is, make it up!
white dog poop
brussels griffon
light of doom
teacup pigs
teen witch
mute math
gossip girl dare devil
toto toilet

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Angel of Death

shinigaminoballadmomothegir.jpgThis is from the NaNoWriMo Adopt-a-plot folder 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.
#419: "A group of select people are contacted divinely and instructed to help others prepare themselves for death (yeah, probably in that weird angel-of-death way, and think the elderly or terminally ill). They're escorted by angels in human guise to their "charges". But the job is dangerous, as there are demons in human guise (pretending to be angels) trying to trick the people into helping people prepare for death who aren't about to go (such as people contemplating suicide, etc.)!" -- Xandurth

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Left vs Right

Here's a fun test. Is the dancer rotating right (clockwise) or left (counterclockwise)?

Left vs Right Brain: Test for creativity or logic (also here if that one disappears).

They say if she's rotating right you're using the right side of your brain, the artistic side. If she's rotating left you're using the left side of your brain, the logical side. I don't know if that's true or not, but it's a cool effect anyway!

For me she's usually rotating left, but sometimes she goes right. Which does conform to the engineer and artist parts in me. My daughter can make it switch back and for as she looks at it. I can't! When I look at it I can't imagine how it could possibly go other other way, even though it might switch directions next time I look at it :-)

What does that have to do with writing? Writing draws on both logic (left brain) and creativity (right brain). Stories need to make sense, be logical. They also need to be surprising. It's a balance. When structuring a story, some writers feel more comfortable relying on the logical side, some on the creative side. That's why some writing advisors will say you must plan your novel before beginning and others say planning will stifle creativity. The truth is whatever you find works for you. Play around with planning and not planning and you'll find the balance that works for you. (And the balance may change for different projects.)

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) coming up next month, you'll have a great opportunity to experience letting your right brain take the driver's seat. :-) (More on NaNoWriMo later.)

There are also right brain and left brain writing prompts. Right brain prompts often present random ideas and let your brain find connections. Left brain prompts often begin with a structure and let your brain use that as a foundation to play with ideas.

The WritingFix has a nice collection of right brain and left brain prompts. It used to be easy to navigate but someone "fixed" the layout and now it just makes your eyes hurt. (It also used to be easier to ignore the teacherly advice on how various exercises tie into the "important stuff" the kids are "supposed" to be learning from the exercise.) But here are some links (that link, at least as I'm writing this, to the pages with the more readable "unfixed" layout, with a nice navigation on the left.) I've used several of these as prompts here over the years.

Right brain writing prompts:
Word Games with Serendipity

Story Starters for Writers

Great Sentence Creators

Who/What/When/Where Game

Visual Sparks for Writers

Right-Brained Poetry Prompts

Alliterative Sparks for Writers

Miscellaneous Right-Brained Writing Prompts
Left brain writing prompts:
Start and Stop Game

Imitating Written Structures

Step-by-Step Mini Writers' Workshops

List Writes

Playing with Language

Structured Paragraphs

Left-Brained Poetry Prompts

Sausage Sentences (old prompt but "new improved" page layout)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Red cars go faster

bugatti-veyron.jpgUse as many of the phrases as you can in a 10-15 minute writing piece. (Order isn't important.)
I'm always right
hot metal
we start fires
pigeon detectives
the conformist takes all
limited edition yogurt
loveliest alarm
first, the lights
you got me wrong
red cars go faster
make up
meet the boss
amputee smile
city place
innocent child
come down captain
the pragmatist
what we all want
shut your eyes and you'll burst into flames
(In case you're curious, they came from song and band names on the album What We All Want.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

You are what you eat

square-watermelons.jpgGo to your refrigerator and write down 10 random or oddest items in there. Write the introductory paragraphs of a character who only has those items in his or her refrigerator.

(Alternatively, go to the grocery store and go hog weird wild to choose 10 items.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

First things first

cat-farmhouse.jpgFirst lines of course! They come first for readers, though not necessarily for writers. It might even be the last line you write once you've written the story and know what it's all about.

The first line should create the need to know more. It sets up questions in the readers mind. Why? How did that happen? Who did it?

Here's the American Book Review's List of 100 best first lines from novels.

But even more grabbing to my mind, since I read genre fiction rather than literary fiction, are these collected by Allan Rousselle on his blog. (I like that idea of collecting a particular author's first lines. I'll have to try it!)

He also wrote an essay about First Lines.

There are also several great first lines at the post at the bottom of the page at Bibliobibuli.

Use these as writing prompts or examples of great first lines to inspire you.

Robert Heinlein

From Beyond This Horizon, his first published novel:
Their problems were solved: the poor they no longer had with them; the sick, the lame, the halt, and the blind were historic memories; the ancient casues of war no longer obtained; they had more freedom than Man has ever enjoyed. All of them should have been happy --

From The Day After Tomorrow:
"What the hell goes on here?"

From "Waldo":
The act was billed as ballet tap -- which does not describe it.

From "Magic, Inc.":
"Whose spells are you using, buddy?"

From "The Roads Must Roll":
"Who makes the roads roll?"

From "Requiem":
On a high hill in Samoa there is a grave.

From "The Long Watch":
Johnny Dahlquist blew smoke at the Geiger counter.

From "The Green Hills of Earth":
This is the story of Rhysling, the blind singer of the Spaceways -- but not the official version.

From The Puppet Masters:
Were they truly intelligent?

From "Jerry Was a Man":
Don't blame the Martians.

From The Door Into Summer:
One winter shortly before the Six Weeks War my tomcat, Petronius the Arbiter, and I lived in an old farmhouse in Connecticut.

From Have Space Suit -- Will Travel:
You see, I had this space suit.

From "The Year of the Jackpot":
At first Potiphar Breen did not notice the girl who was undressing.

From "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag":
"Is it blood, doctor?"

From Stranger in a Strange Land:
Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.

From Time Enough for Love:
History has the relation to truth that theology has to religion -- ie, none to speak of.

From The Number of the Beast:
"He's a Mad Scientist and I'm his Beautiful Daughter."

From The Cat Who Walks Through Walls:
"We need you to kill a man."

From To Sail Beyond the Sunset:
I woke up in bed with a man and a cat. The man was a stranger; the cat was not.

And lastly, a first line that certainly makes *me* want to read more, from "It's Great to be Back!":
"Hurry up, Allan!"

Stephen King

From Rage:
The morning I got it on was nice; a nice May morning.

From 'Salem's Lot:
Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.

From The Shining:
Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

From "Night Surf":
After the guy was dead and the smell of his burning flesh was on the air, we all went back down to the beach.

From "The Mangler":
Officer Hunton got to the laundry just as the ambulance was leaving -- slowly, with no sirens or flashing lights.

From "Trucks":
The guy's name was Snodgrass and I could see him getting ready to do something crazy.

From "The Ledge":
"Go on," Cressner said again. "Look in the bag."

From "The Lawnmower Man":
In previous years, Harold Parkette had always taken pride in his lawn.

From Cujo:
Once upon a time, not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine.

From "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption":
There's a guy like me in every state and federal prison in America, I guess -- I'm the guy who can get it for you.

From Christine:
This is the story of a lover's triangle, I suppose you'd say -- Arnie Cunningham, Leigh Cabot, and, of course, Christine.

From "The Mist":
This is what happened.

From It:
The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years -- if it ever did end -- began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

From The Dark Tower:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

From "Secret Window, Secret Garden":
"You stole my story," the man on the doorstep said.

From "The Library Police":
Everything, Sam Peebles decided later, was the fault of the goddamned acrobat.

From "Dolan's Cadillac":
I waited and watched for seven years.

From "The Doctor's Case":
I believe there was only one occasion upon which I actually solved a crime before my slightly fabulous friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

From "Why We're in Vietnam":
When someone dies, you think about the past.

From "L.T.'s Theory of Pets":
My friend L.T. hardly ever talks about how his wife disappeared, or how she's probably dead, just another victim of the axe man, but he likes to tell the story of how she walked out on him.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

No want!

mace.jpgWrite a want ad or a for sale ad.

Here's some ideas to get the juices flowing:

  • The unexpected litter of dragon hatchlings deposited on your door step
  • Shuttle Repair for Dummies
  • Tickets to Angels v. Demons match
  • Alien object
  • Ex-husband/Ex-wife
  • A mace
  • Griffin manure
  • Space salvage
  • Lute collection
  • A camelipolus, complete with harness
  • Slightly used intergalactic transport
  • Tooth fairy collection

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Adventure is just bad planning

halparhavinconondrum.jpgHere's the first line:

"Adventure is just bad planning."

Take it from there!

(It's a quote from Roald Amundsen.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Why are you?

hagrid.jpgI was searching for a weekly tip and came across a page on creating characters. It's a pretty good page, actually, but one piece of advice made me realize why so many character questionnaires feel flat to me: it's because the questions ask what rather than why.

The author suggests reverse engineering a character. Go through a favorite book and write down the characteristics of your favorite characters. Write questions that would prompt the descriptions as a response. Then use those questions to interview your own character: create three responses for each question.

One of the responses was, "Hagrid is a large man, so big he must be part giant." A very interesting answer! But the question the article's author came up with is, "What is this character's physical size?" Um, large? It just doesn't lead your mind down interesting paths.

But a question like "Why are you the size you are?" can bring out rich details from a character's past. "Because I'm half giant," is a much more interesting answer than "Really big." Though "15 feet," or however large Hagrid is, is intriguing, it obviously leads to, "Why are you 15 feet tall." Might as well begin with the why!

The page is Creating Characters from Scratch.

The reverse engineering process is described towards the end of the article.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Unreadable underneath

livingdeaddoll.jpgUse only the following words to write with. Cut them up, shuffle them around and see what you come up with.
(The words came from a paragraph in a novel. If, when you're done, you want to see what the author came up with, check the comments)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Azreal, evil overlord of darkness and imbiber of caffeine

weaselking.jpgHere are the characters. Invite one or more into your story and see what happens.
  • Azreal, evil overlord of darkness and imbiber of caffeine
  • A bored god who amuses himself by micromanaging certain people's lives. He has a strange sense of humour.
  • Alelle, a half angel who believes that she is the savior of mankind.
  • A woman whose sole purpose, her ultimate goal of life is to capture The Weasel King.
  • Urza Planeswalker- a god who was onve mortal, is obsessed with Machinery and Artifice.
  • She was God's biggest groupie.
  • A large, one-eyed green parrot-- musty and threadbare-- whose only two phrases are, "Where are we going this time?" and "Does this mean we'll be late for dinner?"
  • A ghost, with a bell and a dagger, dealing tarot cards onto a patch of grass in the desert.
  • an angel that was thrown from heaven to hell and kicked out of hell and is living eternity on earth
  • An old man in a torn old coat, endlessly collecting spent souls in his canvas bag. His back is breaking.
These are from Rum & Monkey -- Story Elements. Cool concept to have people deposit characters. In practice there are a few cool characters mixed in with lots of goth suicidal nymphomanic crack addicted virgins. ;-)