Tuesday, June 30, 2009

And Now, Read About Politics

But not quite!

Are you incorporating a lot of politics and government in your novel? Then you may want to visit World Wide Words and read up on how words as common as poll, politician and election have gotten flak over the years. Did you know that poll comes from an Old Germanic term meaning “head” – so literally, polling is counting heads? And that voting, as it comes from the original Latin, is actually the process of making a vow?

For more information, read http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/elections.htm. You’ll find interesting facts that should show you how words have developed over the years. Yes, politics is just getting dirtier and dirtier.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Use Your Powers of Description

For the first time, you are not going to write a story. You will need to describe an object. This exercise will allow you to expand your vocabulary and exercise your ability to write creatively without losing the descriptive power of your words. For instance, you could say that a log of wood is brown – but what else can you say that would describe the log of wood uniquely and specifically without turning off your readers.

Many writers have lost the power of describing their surroundings. Be different.

Here's a little task for you. Describe a strawberry in five hundred words or less without using the word “red”. You are provided with a photo to guide you. When you are done, post your work in the Comment section.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This Isn't the Matrix, But You Could be Close!

Remember the movie “The Matrix?” Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, found that he could be the expert by simply getting a computer program planted into his head. He could fly a helicopter. He knew kung-fu. This plot ploy, dear writer, is now taken. Perhaps you can make one better than it?

Here is your final sentence:

“He was now the expert – no one was better.”

So, what could someone do to become an expert in something? Cook up the most outrageous, most interesting, most creative story in less than 1,000 (one thousand) words. Show off your work in the comments section of this blog, or post a link to your work. Good luck, happy imagining, and happy writing!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Try a Cliche Today!

“It's strange how someone can take your heart and break it so easily.”

Does it sound like a cliché? Does it feel icky to hear such words? You are now in charge of an almost impossible task: turn a hackneyed sentence into a power beginning for your short story.

You have a thousand words at your disposal, and you can choose which characters and what plot you can use. However, you do need to use the first sentence above and turn a crumbly start into a solid masterpiece.

Ready? Don't forget to post your work in the Comments section, or provide a link to your work. Happy writing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Quote for NaNo Enthusiasts

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

-Sidonie Gabrielle

Monday, June 22, 2009

Is there Anything You Regret?

Regret is not something that you'd like to carry throughout your life. However, it pays to be aware of what you regret. This can allow you to let go of your baggage. This can also allow you to be a better writer, since you know what it is that can drive you (your own past, and your own stories) and can even hold you back (any emotional baggage that is more draining than productive).

What do you regret? Here are a few blanks that you can fill. You can print them out or copy and paste them onto your word processor.

1. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I had instead chosen to ___________.

2. I sometimes regret choosing to ______________.

3. I wish I had more money when I was younger so that I could __________.

4. Now that I am older, I know that ____________ is not as important as ________________.

5. I don't know if I can ever _____________ again, but I know that I can still _______________.

6. I sometimes fantasize about ___________, especially since _____________ is a poor ___________.

7. I sometimes wonder if __________ still thinks about me, but I know ____________ will never _________.

8. It's cheesy, but I think ____________ will always be my __________, while ____________ is my _______________.

9. I regret not telling ___________ that I _____________, because now, I _____________ but I don't _________________.

10. It's hard to be _____________ when you're thinking of ____________.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hunting Out Words, Getting a Story 2: Another Goo Exercise

Remember those games when you were little, when you had to find all the little words that were in one big one? For instance, you could use the word BALSAMIC to get words like lab, balm, balsam, or calm. Or you could take the word INTREPID and come up with words such as dire, pet, ripe, or tepid.

Now, it's time to turn word goo into order. You have one word below. You need to extract 10 words from it, BUT you have to use all those words in a one-paragraph story. This may mean that you need to get 10 related words. It might also mean that you need to get 10 unrelated ones and come up with a really crazy tale. In any case, you need to follow these rules:

1.Your new words must be at least four letters long
2.They must all be nouns or verbs, NOT adjectives or adverbs.
3.Your paragraph must not go beyond five hundred words (and that's a pretty big paragraph right there!)

Ready? Your word is: INSTANTANEOUSLY

Post your exercise answers, or a link to your (most likely) gigantic paragraph in the Comments section. Happy word hunting, and happy writing!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Well Do You Know Your Setting(s)?

It’s easy to get lost in your story: you can forget where your characters are, where your plot is going, and what your locations look like. You might take it for granted that you know your story inside out, and so well that you can write your novel in your sleep. But what happens when you suddenly wake up one morning and forget where the rooms are in your imaginary house? Are you willing to wait till editing to fix everything up? Are you willing to read your work over before writing again?

Save yourself the trouble of wasting time on re-reading your work. Here are a few tips that work for me, especially when I write historical fiction.

1.Have maps ready. Sketch your own maps. Do you have a handy atlas? Keep it with you if you have your characters running around the world (or even around your province).

You also want to have sketches of your locations, such as the rooms in your imaginary house or building; the roads in your imaginary village; or the locations of homes in your imaginary hamlet. Have extra copies so that if you lose or soil one with the endless sketches you make on it, then you don’t have to worry about drawing them up again.

2.Sketch clothes! Your setting is not just about location. Your settings actually affect how your characters dress, and your characters’ clothes can affect your settings. You can’t have big skirted characters in a crowded room without someone toppling something over. You also can’t have characters dressed in ten layers of velvet in the middle of summer (unless you’re trying to make a literary statement).

Remember, your characters are part of your setting, so don’t separate your novel into its elements. Life isn’t about people floating around in a world that isn’t affected by their actions.

3.Keep tabs on your characters: where do they come from? How do they dress? Now that you have your sketches, have mini-biographies of your characters. This will keep you from writing anything out of character. It will also give you a chance to know your characters better.

4.Give “environmental motivations” to your characters. Your characters could act in certain ways because of the weather, how they are seated in a certain place, where they are at a certain time, and who they are with.

When characters start acting independent of your setting, they become the proverbial (and much despised) cardboard cutouts. Avoid falling into this literary trap by keeping tabs on your characters and how they are affected by (and how they change) their environment.

5.Keep a journal handy. You’ll never know what new ideas will pop up when you’re away from your novel!

6.If you can afford it, keep a camera handy. You might find great settings when you’re out on the road. Snap them up.

7.Keep your research handy, and be flexible! You might realize further down the line that your characters are not set in stone, and your settings need to be changed. Don’t stick with your original plans if they’re going to ruin your plans for your story.

Be willing to change your maps, redirect your roads, or redraw your characters. Just document everything so that you don’t end up mixing your old and new settings.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What NOT to Do When Reviewing Books

Reviewing books is not as easy as it sounds. There are things that you should avoid doing if you want to be read at all. Balance is key: you can’t gush all over the book and tell everyone how perfect it is; and you can’t rant and claim how you want to burn it either. Here are a few tips that you can look at and use as your guide while writing your book review.

1.Don't just write a summary. Amateur book reviewers often tell the story and forget to judge the book. If you want to tell the story again, write an abstract. If you want to be a reviewer, you need to provide insights into a book. You are a reviewer, not a parrot.

2.Don't give away the ending! Spoilers abound in many an amateur review. Don’t make yours part of the crowd, even if it seems funny.

3.Tantalize. Don't tell. You may not give away the ending, but you might find yourself giving away plot points left and right. Avoid the temptation to tell your readers all about the book. Aim to get your readers to pick up the book and judge it for themselves, whether or not you actually like the book.

4.Give reasons for your judgment – don’t just rant or rave. You might love the book and you may start whipping out your thesaurus to look for all the terms that mean “good”. On the other hand, you could hate the book immensely and have your temper fiery hot in every single word of your review. Whatever your emotions are, justify them. You need to tell your readers why the book is good or bad. The key word is “why.”

5.Watch your grammar! It makes no sense to critique a book if you can’t write well yourself. Start with basic rules of grammar and work your way into better writing.

6.Always consider the author's background; don’t separate the book and writer from each other. Some reviewers pick a book apart as though it were an inanimate thing. What every author knows is that a book is like a friend, even a baby that you slowly give birth to as you write and edit it. Authors always color their work, so do research on the author before writing your review. This is not to make you pity them and therefore write a good review. This is to help you understand why they write certain things, or in a certain way.

7.Don’t sound like you’re shouting your review out from the ivory tower. Reach out to your readers. Use simple words to describe how you feel about the book. If you start sounding boring and academic, step away, and then edit your work.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pick a Winner...

Whether it’s the Oscars or Cannes, the Berlinale or the Venice Film Festival, award-winning films never fail to make the headlines. It may be their content and their ground-breaking stories, or it may simply be hype and glamour. Which is it? In this review activity, you are going to be the judge.

This exercise is meant to enhance your critical eye, especially when it comes to art that has supposedly passed through the hands of experts and has been deemed excellent enough to be awarded. Does a film always deserve its bevy of awards? Is there something in the film worth exploring above and beyond its ability to gather statuettes? Does a film earn money because it gathered lots of awards; or does it fail at the box office, and often unfairly?

Pick an award-winning film, preferably one that was judged best picture at the Oscars, Cannes, the Berlin Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, or the BAFTA. Watch it, review it, and keep on asking yourself: does this film truly deserve its awards? Why AND why not? Remember, you need to be balanced, and you need to look at all angles of a film to see if and how the film congeals into a coherent whole.

Happy watching and happy reviewing!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Who are Your Neighbors?

The best characters in any story or novel are those that seem so real, you swear they were your neighbors. How can you fashion good characters? By knowing people well, and by knowing and be willing to tell their stories.

So, who are the people that you know? Be creative and put them (among other things) into the blanks below. You can copy and paste the statements into your word processor, or you can print them out. Whatever the case, fill in the blanks and have some fun!

1. The worst person I know is __________ because he/she is a real _________.

2. The world would be better if there were fewer people like ___________.

3. I wish ___________ would disappear.

4. I wish I would never see ______________ ever again!

5. I hope ___________ will understand me one day.

6. _____________ and _____________ should never have gotten married.

7. _____________ is the complete opposite of __________, although they do go well together.

8. I think ___________ is not as ___________ as I imagine, but I know ____________ is inevitable for him/her.

9. When I think of _____________, I feel ____________.

10. No one should be hurt by _______________.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Let's Get Cheesy!

You have two hearts, one made of milk chocolate, the other made of white chocolate. They are placed side by side. They are speckled with candy sprinkles. They have to be at the heart of your story.

You have a thousand words (or less) at your disposal, and your choice of plots and characters. You can choose to turn the hearts into the main characters, or they could be a plot tool. In any case, your story has to involve these two hearts. If your story turns out too cheesy, don't fret! It's yet another exercise in using photos to get yourself a plot.

When you are done, post your story in the Comments section, or post a link to it. Good luck and happy writing!

Monday, June 8, 2009

It's Time for Some Cartoons!

Many older movie viewers tend to shy away from cartoons because they think animation is “kids’ stuff” or even “immature.” However, it takes a lot of manpower to make a cartoon: today’s animation is far from simple, and the storylines are far from naïve and whimsical. Cartoons have evolved to cater to a much wider audience than before, and they are no more fairytales than they are stories simply translated to non-human form.

Your job is to review a cartoon. You can go old school and pick something like Fantasia or Bambi; or take newer, more animation and technology-heavy fare, such as Up or Cars. Which cartoon you pick is your choice, as long as you take on a full-length animation film. By reviewing a cartoon, you also wake up a critical part of your brain; you need to answer the question: Why was this filmed as a cartoon and not with live characters?

If you recall, some of the entries in this site recommend that you ask yourself: is my setting appropriate to my story? Would my story have happened anywhere else? Think of those questions as you evaluate the cartoon. You may also want to evaluate the plot of the cartoon itself. Is it too thin, or is it rich and full of insight? Is the movie all about showing off animation, or is the animation secondary to the movie’s ability to tell a story?

Be as balanced as you can, whether you like animated movies or not. Happy watching and happy reviewing!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pick a Winner...

The Nobel Prize in Literature is an award prized like no other. Writers in this category have not only written well; they have made a difference in the world because of their writing. You can find a complete list of the winners from year to year at http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/.

Your job now is to pick a winning author from the list, pick a book from that author’s list, read that book, and review it. Ask yourself: why did this author win the Nobel Prize? What is special about this book that makes it unlike any other that I have read? What are the high points of this book? What are its low points?

You might also want to do more research on the author and see why he or she wrote the book, and how his or her life and times influenced his or her style. Be sure to include your own insights on the author when you write your book review.

Remember, even if the author won a Nobel Prize, the book that you hold in your hands is far from perfect. You have to be fair in making your judgment, and you need to be critical. Every book deserves a critical and questioning eye, so don’t scrimp on the criticism. However, you still need to be balanced, so don’t hold back on the praise, either.

Good luck, happy reading, and happy reviewing!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Another Triad for A Rainy Day

Incorporate the three elements below into your story, but make it a happy one.

1. A teardrop
2. Rain
3. An awkward phone call

You have only 1000 words at your disposal. You can pick any plot, as long as your story ends up happy. Don't forget to paste your story in the comments section, or provide a link to your story. Good luck.