Monday, September 28, 2009

A Disaster in Pictures: Tales of a Flood

Credit: AFP/Xinua Photos

On September 26th, 2009, Typhoon Ketsana (local name: Ondoy) ravaged the Philippines, pouring down rain for hours. At the end of half-a-day's worth of rain, the Philippines had received the equivalent of one month's rainfall, and was submerged in water. Several areas were flooded heavily, and families were forced to flee their homes.

There are many stories that emerged from the disaster. An 18-year old boy swam to rescue 30 people before drowning in the flood waters. Movie stars helped their neighbors move out of their houses. Students sprang to action, joined task forces, and helped clean streets and gather donations. Aid is pouring in, but with more typhoons coming into the country, aid will never be enough.

Donate to the cause. You can visit for details.

You can also post a creative essay on your blog about the photo above. What might have been going through the little girl's mind? What was that day like in the Philippines? Limit your entry to about 500 words and please repost the picture (along with its credits).

People all over the world need to be aware that so much has happened, and so much help is needed. Your story can be part of the global move to give the disaster more coverage online.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Take a Hike!

There's nothing like a long, quiet walk to get your brain cleared of cobwebs.

There is a time for all things, novel writing included. There is a time to unblock, and a time to sit back and relax. Now is that time for you.

Instead of sitting down at your computer today, walk away, put on a coat if it's too cold, bring an umbrella if it's going to rain, and put on some sunblock if the sun is going to shine. Pack nothing with you, except maybe some money and ID's. Don't bring an MP3 player or an iPod. Don't listen to music, podcasts, or anything that will distract you from the noise of the outside world.

All you need to do is walk.

Walking in silence (or in the noise of the outside world, if all else fails) can actually relax you and keep you away from the storm of words that comes with writing. By stepping away, you can actually see your novel from the outside, looking in. If you don't have an idea for your novel yet, a walk can probably a good way for you to get ideas. You can stumble on a plot as you walk through the woods; you can get one if you overhear an interesting conversation; or you can simply get an epiphany at the weirdest, most unexpected times.

So go. Take a walk. Leave the novel. Take this advice seriously when you're feeling burned out.

Burn bright when the words come; shelter the flame when you lose your writing breath.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Review for Choices

"Choose Your Own Adventure" Books were popular once, before the advent of video games, the Wii, and other things that have torn children away from books. Most bookstores still sell them, however, and your mission is to find one and review it.

The advantage of such books is that it contains a wide variety of plots that can be twisted, intertwined, and mixed up, so that every read could potentially lead to a different story. Such a book is easy to read over and over, but even individual "Choose Your Own Adventure" books can be different in this respect. Some are easy to read, others are dense; some have an amusing sense of logic in their plots, others have no logic at all.

While reviewing the book as a whole, look at the plotlines that you come across. Are they plausible? Exciting? Engaging? Were there plotlines that could have been removed? Plotlines that should have been added? "Choose Your Own Adventure" books can be a lot of fun to review, and they could take you back to a time in your childhood where books reigned supreme, and where one little packet of paper could potentially hold several stories in its few thousand words.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Short Film, a Good Review

Short films, in comparison to feature films, are not only short in terms of time; they need to compress all their main ideas in a short amount of time without appearing rushed, and still getting their story through. Short films, around an hour long (or much less!), can be thought of as the short stories of the movie world: hard to write effectively, difficult to make effective characters for, and of course, difficult to find interesting plots for.

Your job is to review a short film. You can check them out through your Netflix account, download them online, or simply wait for them on your favorite movie channel. Although it may be tempting to get a short documentary, your job right now is to look at a fictional short film. You can check out or for ideas.

The short film can be of any length, and your review can be of any length as well. One main question that you need to consider is the ability of the short film to pack a punch: was it able to use all the time it had for a great story, or did you feel rushed? Conversely, was the story too slow, so that the short film felt like it was much longer? Should it have been made into a feature film instead? Could it have been made shorter? Were there things missing that you wanted to see? Were there things that should have been taken out?

Watching short films should help you understand how difficult it is to distill stories into a small amount of film time - and it should help you feel the burden of being a writer as well. You may write a novel, but you don't have thousands of words to tell your story. The best novels are those that pack a mean story punch in the few words that they have.

Happy watching, and happy reviewing!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Something to Read for Inspiration, Especially Number Plate Fans

Personalised Number Plates can make a story more interesting. Think of James Bond traveling down the winding roads of the French Riviera, his 007 plate shining in the sun. Think of any big celebrity, any holder of public office, and all the names and numbers attached to them. Such plates can define characters and add a wee bit to how quirky or exacting they can be.

Why not add a little pizazz to your writing life? Visit Northumbria Numbers, a website where you can pick out (and even register!) the plate of your choice. The website is easy to use: when you come to the front page, you can simply type in your name, your nickname, or your car model.

You can also choose to format the plate number in which way you choose. This can be advantageous if you want more flexibility in choosing your personalised number plates, since you don't need to scour through a computer-generated list of possible plates.

You can even sell plate numbers on the website, make your own plate; and, when all else fails, contact the owners. The site can also give you suggestions on which plates might work best for you. This is good on two counts: you are provided with flexibility and the opportunity to automatically register your plate; and you now have a source of information for your lead character's number plate!

This website should part of the entire package that consists in you learning how you can fashion your stories around a single concept. In this case, you can use a personalised number plate to drive your story forward (no pun intended)or add spice to your characters. Some search results that come up, however, might seem unimaginative, but don't let the results stop you. Even ordinary plates can carry extraordinary stories.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chew on this dream...

“Life resembles a novel more often than novels resemble life.”

-George Sand

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's a Salon Triad!

Your job today, dear writer, is to be creative; and today, you are going to the parlor.

Mind you, this is no ordinary parlor! You are going to write a horror story - whether it's a slasher, ghost, zombie, vampire, or whatever story - and you have to set it in a beauty salon/parlor. You have 10,000 words to write your story, and the three objects below must figure significantly in it:

1. a hair dryer
2. a fine tooth comb
3. hair straightening fluid

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

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Open Up Your Sense of Smell!

There’s nothing like the smell of oranges. I see orchards, stretching for miles and miles, swelling with fruit, and burnished with the gold of the sun. Light, airy, without the sting of artificial scents, or the heaviness of flowers, oranges can make me feel feminine. Perfumes are meant to enhance an outfit, not cover it up or mask it. Oranges seem to do just that: they seem to call up images of a kitchen bursting with life, clean markets bustling with noise, and a countryside sweet with the sounds and smells of summer. When I smell oranges, I begin thinking of sweet little tales that talk about stolen kisses in the fields, where the grasses run high; or about embraces beneath groves of oak and maple; or sweet nothings whispered in afternoons heady with the sunset.

What is your favorite scent? What does it make you see when you smell it? What stories come to mind when you smell it? Work on this unblocker by either catching your favorite scent, and then writing to your heart’s content; or trying to remember what you feel when you smell your favorite scent. Smells can bring back memories; see if you can write these memories down. For scent ideas, you could also visit Scent.

The key is to keep on writing to remove all the cobwebs in your head. Who knows? You could come up with a great plot for your novel!

Happy smelling, and happy writing!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A What If of Nightmares....

Not everyone thinks that nightmares are bad. They can give you warnings on how you can make your life better. They can prove to be the breeding ground of ideas that could drive your work. In fact, if you can get beyond your fear of nightmares, you could wake up screaming...for a pen and paper to take down your ideas, that is.

You have about 1000 words to talk about the following "What If?"

What if you could never wake up from your worst nightmare?

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

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Complete This Lovey-Dovey Entry

It's time to get some love into your writing! All you need to do is fill in the following blanks: but you MUST NOT be cheesy or mushy. You can be funny or silly, BUT DO NOT BE LOVEY-DOVEY.

This exercise should help you think out of the box, and above and beyond the usual, cliche-ish image of love portrayed in the mass media. Be creative! Be your own person, and have your own voice! Good luck, and happy completing!

1. ______ is a many-______ thing.
2. ______ is all you need.
3. I feel it in my _________; I feel it in my _________; ________ is all around me, and so the ______________.
4. _____ can be better than ______; but ______ is much worse than ________.
5. ______ is ______; ______ is ________
6. If you have no _______, then what good is _______?
7. When I _______ in ______, it will be _______.
8. Wise men say ___________, but I can't help ___________.
9. I wish ______ would not ______ when I ______ the ______.
10. ________ is good.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Some Insects Have All the Fun

You could be reincarnated as the next millionaire, or the next dung beetle. You can be born a pauper or a prince. You can wake up with a silver spoon in your mouth, stuck right there when you utter your first cry; or you can be spanked by your local midwife until you were aware that you would be spanked for the rest of your life. But...

What if you were born a bee?

Write a story of no more than 1000 words. You are in charge of where your plot will go, who your characters will be, and where your story is set. You only need to write in first person, and you have to be a bee. How would your day go? What would your life be like? What would make your life exciting, and what would make your life a living pain in your stinging bottom? This exercise will help you take on the personality of another living thing, which, not being a human, will require you to use your imagination.

When you are finished, provide a link to your story in the Comments section; or, if it's short enough, post it for other readers to read. Good luck and happy writing!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Quick Little Unblocker

It's time for another unblocker, and this time, it will be about one person – and what that one person can do to your head.

Now don't mistake this for obsession. You want to simply start off your unblocker with the following sentence:

He is...

And then, you will want to write more...and more...and more...disregarding all notions of grammar, syntax, punctuation, sense, and sensibility. Moreover, EVERY SENTENCE HAS TO START WITH "HE IS." That is the only rule that you need to follow.

You will want to either have a typewriter by your side as you do this, and a way to get your paper in quickly. Or you can have your pen and paper handy; or have your laptop/desktop computer up and running so that you can burn the word processor with enough words to clear your head. In any case, just write, and don't think. Let the words flow.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

And Now, for Some Food in Threes...

Your challenge for this triad is two-fold. First, you must not set your story in a kitchen, in any Mediterranean country, or in a garden. Second, you must not talk about cooking at any one point in the story. If you still don't get why, here is your triad:


You have five hundred words at your disposal to write an ultra-short story involving these three things. You are in charge of the plot and characters, and you can take as many liberties as you wish as long as you follow the rules stated above. When you are done, post your story in the Comments section, or provide a link to it if you want to take readers to your site.

Good luck, and happy writing!