Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Breakfast Triad

Hungry for some exercises? Ready for a story? Here's an exercise that's designed to tickle your tastebuds and get your brain working. You need to incorporate the following into your story:

1.An egg

You have only 1000 words to tell your story. You can choose as many characters as you please to put in, but your story must NOT be set at breakfast time, nor should it be set in any dining room, kitchen, restaurant, or diner. Be creative: where else can you find a breakfast combo meal? And how can you keep your word count low?

When you are done, serve your story up in the Comments section, or give readers a link to it. Good luck, happy writing, and happy eating, too!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Speculations: The First and Last Minutes

Here's an exercise that won't require you to write too much, but it will be one that will require you to think a little. You need to find a movie that you have never ever seen before, and then you need to rent that movie, buy it, or borrow it. You also need a stopwatch, pen, and paper. This is also important: You need to NOT know the story of the movie, and you need to NOT read the movie's summary.

You need to watch the first minute of the movie. Time yourself using the stopwatch. Next, fast forward the movie all the way to last minute. You can do this by going to the credits and then backtracking. You can watch the first two minutes or the last minute, since you might not be able to estimate the last minute correctly.

Now that you have the beginning and the end of the movie, you can start speculating. What happened in the middle? How did the movie's beginning lead to the end? Start writing this story out, but take no more than 5 minutes to tell it. You don't have to use the characters' names. You can just say GIRL 1 or BOY 1 or whatever you wish to call them.

Next, you need to watch the movie. Take down notes on the story and try to tell the story in your own words. When the movie is finished and you have completed your story, put your story and the movie's story side by side. Which one is better? How are the stories different? Were there things that you didn't expect to see?

This exercise should help you realize what your own biases might be, and how great a role expectation plays in how you rate or watch movies. This exercise can also help you critique a movie's plot line by concentrating on what happened, how it happened, and what twists the movie's story might have. Happy speculating and happy watching!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speculations: The First Sentence and the Last Sentence

Such is the power of the first sentence of a book: you can hook your readers and reel them in; or you can slap them with enough prose to turn them away from you forever. Such is the power of the last sentence as well: you can create a memorable book that keeps your readers wanting more from you; or you can make readers so glad that they’ve finally finished with you and are ready to never see your work again.

You are now going to try out the power of these sentences. Pick up a book that you have never read before, and get ready to review it on the basis of the first and last sentences alone. This exercise will help you understand what biases you hold and what expectations you have for certain books. It will also, with hope, push you to write better beginnings and better endings for your own book.

Are you ready? Pick up a book, and open it to the first page. Read the first sentence and ONLY the first sentence. When you are done, flip the book to the last page and read the last sentence. Remember what you have read.

Now, get some paper and a pen; or open a file on your computer. Start typing out a review of the book based on the sentences that you read. Still hesitant to make any judgment? You need to be a reader this time, and a critical one at that. Judge the book based on what little you’ve seen of it. Speculate on the story if you want. You need to nitpick with as much energy as you will praise the book. Balance your review. You should take no more than 5 minutes to write the review.

When you are done, close the file or keep your written review in a safe place. Read the book slowly, savoring every sentence. You should take about a week to read the book, or just enough time for you to forget about what you wrote in your very first review. When you are done reading the book, review it as you would review any other book.

Now, look at both reviews. How different was your hastily-penned judgment compared with your new, worked-out review? If they are the same, can you see how powerful the first and last sentences can be? If they are different, can you see how your own readers could judge your book from a few words without even going through the text?

Either way, you should see how the first and last sentences can truly change the course of your writing career. Learn to write well enough to captivate readers from the first word to the very last, and you will be a great write.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Write What You Want to Read

The title says it all: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In the writing universe, write something that you would want to read; write a novel that you would want to buy and have on your shelf.

This is easier said than done, as with nearly everything else on earth. As writers, we often find ourselves so immersed in our stories that we forget our own wishes, our own needs, and our own tastes as readers. When we start reading again, we find ourselves picking up books, reading them, and then exclaiming, “I could have done better than this!”

Well, you can, and you should, dear writer. As you read, examine the words that your eyes gloss over, and critically read what the author is trying to tell you. Is the author doing a good job, or can you do it better? And better yet, how could you do a better job than the author? What would you do? Remember everything that you say as you read and critique a book, because you have to be true to your own expectations and your own promises.

As you write, keep in mind the reminder that you, too, are a reader; and that you, too, want to be captivated. As you edit your work, be critical enough to see if you are reading something that you want to read and lose yourself in. If you want to tear your work to pieces, and if you don’t like what you are reading, then be merciless: edit and hack and pare and cut until you come up with a product that you would love to read.

Write something that you would read. Enjoy what you write. Have a great story. There are many paths to being a great writer, and remembering that you are a reader is only one of them.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You Rule Your Worlds

“The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.”

-William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Just How Many Words Are there in the English Language?

Ten years ago, you would have gotten blank stares if you had said “blog”. Fifty years ago, the “Internet” was not a place that you could go to. A hundred years ago, we had words that we no longer use as much today. Just how many words are there in the English language?

Visit for a new perspective on the matter. English, after all, now has its own little dialects, and you could be speaking a variant of English, writing in yet another, and understanding more than just one kind of English.

Appreciate the richness of the English language, and if you know a language other than English, appreciate its richness, too. You, as a writer, are the master of language, and you need to understand your tool before you can use it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Short, Snappy First Sentence

Sometimes, the best first sentences are so long and flowing, they lull you into the tale and make you believe that you have crossed into another reality. But sometimes, the best first sentences are so short and arresting, they take you by the throat and hurl you right into the book. Here's a first sentence that you should use to start your new story.

“She was surprised.”

So, why was she surprised? And who is she? With 2000 words or less, make a story that is fun, exciting, and yes, surprising. You can use as many characters as you want, and you can use any plot. When you are finished, provide a link to your story in the Comments section, or post it for blog readers to read.

Good luck and happy writing!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Row of Crosses – a Tale?

A somber morning gives birth to crosses stretched across a field. Where does such a scene belong to? Why is this scene even there? What happened before? What happened after?

Write a short story that takes place within the span of three days, involving the information shown in this photograph. You can make the short story as long or as short as you like, as long as it provides insight into why the crosses are arranged like so in the photo given. You are in charge of your characters and plot, as long as you follow the rules above.

Provide a link to your story through the Comments section, or if your story is short enough, paste it there. Good luck, and happy writing!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Exercise at Your Own Risk...

Is there a movie that you deeply dislike? Is there a movie that is a torture to watch? Well, you are OBLIGATED to rent that movie. You have to watch it. You have to look at it for one final, cringing time. And yes, you have to REVIEW it.

This exercise will help you understand what it is that you don't like about movies. As you understand yourself better, you might see how your likes and dislikes make you who you are as a writer. And, if you find something about a movie's writing that you deeply dislike, you can hone your senses on two fronts: you can recognize badly-written work better, and you can change your own writing so that you end up with a masterpiece that even you can appreciate.

Are you ready? Start that movie and have these questions in mind:

1) If this movie could be described in one word that IS NOT a synonym for “bad” or “awful,” it would be ____________.

2) What ONE thing would I do to make this movie better?

3) Is there anything at all GOOD about this movie? What is it? Why does all the good stuff disappear behind the bad stuff in this movie?

4) How long has it been since I saw this for the first time? Why do I not like this movie?

5) What have my friends said about this movie? How did we agree on it? How did we disagree on it?

6) What have the critics said about this movie? (You may need to do some research for this) How did we agree on the reviews? How have I disagreed with reviews?

7) Is this movie's writing bad? What one line do I absolutely detest? How will I change that line so that it's just a bit more bearable?

8) Write a 500-word or less article on why this is a good movie.

9) Write a 500-word or less article that rebuts the points of #8. You need to be able to debate with yourself so that you can look at all kinds of artistic work, even your own, without forming extreme opinions that could either make you over-enthusiastic about your writing, or a self-flagellating writer. In writing, balance is key.

10) What three things would I tell the director of this movie, if I were given the chance to talk to him/her?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Doing Historical Research for NaNo

Writing for NaNoWriMo is hard enough, and it gets even harder if you choose to do a historical fiction novel. True, you could prepare your novel well in advance by doing a lot of research, but as many historical fiction writers will tell you, you will encounter many difficulties while you write. If you're rushing to write 50,000 words in 30 days, how exactly are you going to maintain historical accuracy without going insane first?

There are a few ways that you can survive the onslaught of work. I've found that these work for me (and take it from me, I did three historical fiction novels for NaNoWriMo, and they were the most fun to write):

1.Don’t be afraid to use the forums! The NaNoWriMo forums are a great place to get information, and there is a forum section for historical fiction writers. You can ask experts to help you, and you can even ask the natives of a foreign country for more information on their countries of origin. Tap these resources. They're free! You have to be prepared to help out, too, so be as generous with your knowledge as possible.

2.Research is key: don’t scrimp on it. NaNoWriMo may force you to rush your work, but that doesn't mean that you should scrimp on quality research. Remember, historical facts and historical accuracy should not keep you from producing quality work; they should enhance and support your story, too.

3.Have books close by. You'll never know when you need to hit the books again and check out your facts.

4.Take down notes and keep them. Aside from having your books close to you, take down notes early on and refer to them when you're in doubt about something in your novel. Read your notes often so that you don't have to keep on referring to them.

5.Keep a journal. You'll never know when ideas will hit you. You'll never know when you might meet someone on your off-hours who could be a good reference for your work. Keep yourself open to new ideas.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Try an Almost-Cliche

Cliches are probably the most irritating thing that you can encounter in a novel. But if you can turn cliches around, then you can make a novel that is not just worth reading, but worth remembering. After all, when you make the familiar unfamiliar, you can take your readers on an adventure that they will never forget.

Are you ready for some creative turning around and somersaulting? Here are a few semi-cliches that you can creatively alter. Fill in the blanks by copying and pasting the following statements into your word processor, or print them out.

1. To __________ is ___________, but you can't _________ a ______________.

2. Being right isn't always _____________, and it's never ___________.

3. ___________ and _____________ will ___________ my ______________.

4. There is nothing to __________ but ____________.

5. If you want to __________ in ___________, you need to be ______________.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A What If That's Weird, Indeed

Many of the what ifs on this blog are fun and strange, but here's a what if that you might have a hard time explaining if you don't have the words (or wit) to do it:

“What if you woke up one day and you couldn't remember how to read?”

You have 2000 words at your disposal, and your choice of characters (aside from you, of course) and plot. You need to tell this story from the first person point of view. You also need to make this story exciting, so get to work!

Post the story in the Comments section when you are done, or provide a link to it. Good luck, and happy writing!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sometimes, Ideas are Born, not Made

A lot of people believe that they can get the answers to their questions if they think about them long enough. They also believe that they can get everything that they want if they work long and hard enough. The problem with both these methods of thinking is that thinking too much and working too much will tire you out, leaving you little time to think and work.

The same goes for writing. Sometimes, thinking of your plot too much simply gets you too deeply embedded in it that you tire yourself out. Think of over-thinking as being stuck in quicksand: the more you move, the deeper you’ll sink. The more you think, the less you’ll accomplish. The remedy is simple: step away. Some ideas are born, not made.

You will get ideas in the strangest situations: you might be mowing your lawn, washing your dishes, cleaning your house out, shopping for clothes, or taking a bath. Ideas will come to you. You need to be patient. If you force yourself to write, you don’t only ruin your writing; you ruin writing for yourself. Let writing be your outlet, however painful it might be to write. Don’t ruin the writing experience by turning it into duty.

Some ideas come from working hard, but don’t overdo your writing or your thinking. When all else fails, get some sleep, step away, and stop. When the ideas come, you’ll find yourself writing once again.

Let's Have a Look at Some History!

Today's historical fiction writers are lucky: they have a lot of sources for historical data, from the Internet to the library; and a lot of the historical information that they need is within reach. But are today’s historical fiction books as accurate as they are engaging?

Your book review this time around is going to help you be more critical of how historical research is employed to move a story and support it. It should also teach you to be more critical of what you read. The first thing that you need to do is to pick a book of historical fiction. You can find such books in your local bookstore, library, or even your own bookshelf.

Read the book and write a review of it; make it a brief review that concentrates on the story and plot. When you are done, do some quick research on the historical background of the book. The book’s author may provide some useful resources for you to check out, but you should go beyond the list and look for your own sources. You can go to websites, get more books at the library and bookstore, or even interview an expert in history.

How close was the book to history? Did the historical research enrich the story or make for a thin plot? Were there inaccurate elements that the author introduced that made the plot better, at the behest of a story that might have been closer to the truth? As you compare the historical accounts with the book, look at your review. Is there anything that you want to change?

Historical accuracy is of paramount importance in writing historical fiction, but there are poorly-defined boundaries between writing a history book and writing a novel; and taking artistic license and wrecking historical accounts altogether. Achieving a balance is what historical fiction writers constantly strive to do excellently.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Some Goo for the Sky

It’s time to write out goo, and this time, you need to be a bird. Pretend that you are flying through the sky at a certain time (4 of which are specified below) and you can see certain heavenly bodies (4 of which are also specified below). What do you see on earth? What do you feel?

Night midnight noon early morning
Stars moon sun comets

You should mix these up to create a total of 16 entries of, at most, 400 words each. What’s it like to fly through a night of stars? A night with the sun? A noon of stars? An early morning bedazzling with comets?

When you are finished, post your best work in the Comments section, or provide a link to your work. Good luck and happy writing!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wildife Triad Fun

It's time to get some animals into your story! You need only 1000 words, and you can't put any people in. You need only the three animals below (and some main players, all of whom belong to Kingdom Animalia):

1. Turtles
2. Snails
3. Whales

Make sure that your story is exciting, and one that can be read by people of all ages. When you are done, post your story in the Comments section, or provide a link to it. Good luck and happy writing!