Saturday, December 27, 2008

Different Ways to Review Books

You've already been asked to review books on this blog, and the assumption is that you already know how to review books, whether you learned the skill in high school or on the job. However, there are actually techniques to review books, and there are several questions that you can ask yourself as you are reading. When you answer these questions, you can then start writing a book review that is filled with criticism, not a simple relaying of the story that you read.

Here are a few questions that you should ask yourself while reading. If you can, print them out and write your answers down as you read:

1. AUTHOR AND TONE: Who is the author, and what is his or her tone? Does it fit the book's plot and theme?

2. DIALOGUE: How well-crafted is the dialogue? Do characters have their own tones, or does everyone sound alike? Is the dialogue well written, or do conversations sound stilted? Is the language that the characters use appropriate to the setting, plot, and themes of the book?

3. PLOT: How plausible is the plot? Does the story flow well, or is it forced? Are there any loopholes?

4. SETTING: Could this story have been set in any other time and place, and would it still have turned out the same? How unique is the story to the setting?

5. CHARACTERS: How well formed are the characters? Do all the characters act alike? Are they moving the plot along, or are they being moved, helplessly, by the plot? Who stands out? Who doesn't?

6. EMOTIONS: Did the book excite you, move you, make you want to read more, make you sad that it all ended? Or was the book dragging, ordinary, unable to elicit any emotions, and one that you could not wait to put down?

7. IMPROVEMENTS: How would you have made the book better?

8. WRITING: What are the book's high moments? What are the book's low moments? (Here, “high” and “low” mean periods of great writing and periods of poor writing, respectively. They do not refer to exciting or dragging parts of the book) How well-edited is the book in terms of grammar, punctuation, and syntax?

9. RECOMMENDATIONS: Would you recommend this book to other readers? What kinds of readers will like this book? What kinds of readers will not?

10. OVERALL CRITIQUE: Did you like the book? Why or why not?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Different Kind of Review: The E-Book

When asked about their opinion on e-books, some people will say that they prefer holding a “real” book in their hands, because it allows them to smell the paper, to feel a book’s spine, and to turn real pages. An e-book, on the other hand, needs clicks and constant adjustment of a window on one’s computer screen; e-books are also tiring to read because you have to stare at a computer screen for a long time. Although e-books have been formatted to fit mobile phones and other smaller, less clumsy devices, they still haven’t completely eclipsed real books in popularity.

Now, it’s your turn to see the difference. There are many places for you to download e-books online, and for free. You can transfer them to your phone, to an e-book reader, or to your computer. You can read the e-book anywhere, and you need to review it; however, there is one more thing you need to do. You need to review your e-book experience as well.

How did you like reading an electronic copy of a book? Did it affect how you enjoyed the book? If you like, you can read the e-book version of a book that you’ve already read in hard copy format. How different is your reading of the book this time? Will you read an e-book again?

Although e-books don’t look like they’re replacing hard copy format books anytime soon, they still allow a lot of readers the chance to get their favorites without having to go to the bookstore. Is there really a difference between reading a soft copy and perusing a hard copy? this Christmas, you'll be the judge.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Goo on Some Characters

Here are four possible characters for a story:

Adam Michael Anita Maria

Now, here are four characteristics that these characters might have:

insane caring pathetic reserved

Let's play goo!

You need to write descriptive essays that detail the backgrounds of these four characters. In fact, you need to write 16 essays, matching each character with each possible characteristic. For instance, what made Adam insane? In another scenario, what made Adam caring? In yet another scenario, what made Adam pathetic? The same goes for all the characters: talk about their lives and what made them assume a particular characteristic, and why they turned out a certain way.

Your essays must be no more than 150 words each. You need to be concise and yet descriptive at the same time. When you are done, pick your best essay and post it in the Comments section.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What Do You Do When Things Go Wrong?

It's time to get to know yourself again! Fill in the blanks in the questionnaire below. See how you function as a person: who do you associate with? Who do you talk to? How well do you interact with people? Moreover: how creative are you in expressing your emotions?

The best writers don't just write: they know. Are you wise and observant enough, especially of yourself?

1. When I get exasperated with someone, I ___________.

2. If someone hurts me, I think ____________.

3. Once, ___________ said something hurtful, so I responded with __________ and I decided that I should _____________.

4. If someone breaks your heart once, you ___________; if that person breaks your heart again, then __________.

5. I believe ___________ is impossible if you love someone; __________ is impossible if you hate someone; and ____________ is impossible if you just don't care.

6. The saddest thing about loving someone is _____________; the nicest thing is ___________.

7. I wish the person that I love would just __________, because I am sick of him/her being so _________ when they should be _____________.

8. I know that things will go wrong if I see that ____________, and my way of responding to this “omen” is to ___________.

9. I don't understand why ___________ is such a __________ when he/she could very well be _________ and not hurt me.

10. It's sad to see _____________ doing so little with his/her life, since he/she can really be a good _________.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Throw it Into the Fire and Dan Brown it on Each Side

If you’ve been living under a rock, then you will have no clue what The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons are, or much less, who Dan Brown is. The popular press has turned Brown into a superstar authors whose novels can easily be turned into movies. But on their own, and as books, how good are the works of Dan Brown?

This is your chance to critically review popular books, and your chance to critique a book above and beyond its ability to stay on top of the best-sellers’ list. This doesn’t mean that you have to rip the book to shreds. It only means that you have to read without being afraid of critics and Hollywood worshippers.

Read each Dan Brown book and scrutinize everything, from grammar and syntax, to plot and character development. Which characters stand out? Which need to be developed better? How well-developed is the plot? What are the loopholes? How could the books have been improved? Why are they so popular? By answering these questions, you can get your finger on the pulse of the reading masses, and you can learn an important lesson: not everything that sells is perfect.

You are not required to review every Dan Brown book; as of late 2009, you will have 5 to choose from. Pick one and read like a pro. You may end up encouraged to write your own bestseller when you’re done.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Post-NaNo: Ways to Celebrate

National Novel Writing Month has already come to a close, and you’re all ready to party! Set that novel aside. Put your pen down. Stash your sheets away. Save that file and hide it for a few months. You need to step away from your work.

Stepping away from your work will allow you some space to think. While you’re out of the novel-writing universe, you are offering your brain a chance to think things over, to meditate on how good (or bad) your novel is, and to find new ideas that can enrich your masterpiece. When you finally look at your novel again (hopefully at least a month after you’ve set it aside) you might find things that you want to change, and you could edit out anything that sounds like it came up from the Black Lagoon of Bad Writing.

While you’re stepping away, here are a few ways that you can celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo:

* Sleep. This applies especially to anyone who stayed up all November and slept for an hour each day if only to get an additional 1000 words into the daily quota.
* Watch a brainless movie. Look for something that doesn’t require brain power, but that you can still enjoy without you getting irritated by the stupidity of the entire thing.
* Take a walk alone (or with a friend, if you decided to isolate yourself in your attic during the entire November).
* Talk to people. Remember, you write better when you can tell your stories better – and when you have believable characters who talk to readers and to each other. When you start producing characters who sound like they read their words off a badly-written script (you can tell when you start cringing at your own writing), then you need to get out and talk to people.
* Do menial work. Clean your house. Do some gardening. Clean out your closet. Do anything that will tidy your life and clear the clutter around you. This can miraculously clear out the clutter in your brain, too, sometimes. You might even get a great idea while turning the soil over in your backyard, or while you are emptying your pantry.
* Dance. Exercise. Take care of your body. Was NaNoWriMo the month of sitting down and typing? Let your muscles get some oxygen now!
* Eat. Eat well. And drink lots of fluids. This should apply to every single month in the year: take care of yourself and your brain will never fail you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You're the Scholar Now!

It's time for another search, and you're about to get a scholarly plot! Let's get acquainted with Google Scholar. Through Google Scholar, you can get access to journal articles that can help you read more on research done in different fields, whether it be molecular biology or political science. In this case, you need to use Google Scholar to get your story started. Follow the steps below:

1.Visit Google Scholar at

2.Type in your first name, followed by your favorite subject in school

3.Click on the very first link that appears. Read the title of the document.

4.Turn that title into the title of your short story – but DO NOT READ the entire document. If it so happens that you have no access to the journal article (not all journals will be free), then just try to get the title of the article. If it's a book chapter, use the title of that book chapter, whatever the title is (if all you see is the chapter number, you may need to use the first sentence of the chapter instead).

You have only a thousand words or less for your story. You need to keep the title of the journal article. When you are done, post your masterpiece in the Comments section, or post a link to your work.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Last Sentence for NaNo (Pardon the Delay!)

True, NaNoWriMo is long gone, and novel editing is about to come. But you can still add your ending, over and above the 50,000+ words that you already have. Or you could start work on your next novel! Try out this last sentence and work your story around it for some finger+brain exercise.

"She never looked back."

Write a novel, short story, or book series. Just use that last sentence to fuel your story. Good luck!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Taking Time Off from NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month has just come and gone. If you joined in this year's contest, then you may have won yourself the big prize of Personal Fulfillment for Having Finished a 50,000 Word (Or More) Novel in Less than a Month. If you didn't win, don't fret: you can still continue your novel. At least you have a few words written down, and that's always the start of something!

Whether you won this year or not; and whether you joined this year or not, here are a few tips that you may want to take into account when you've finished your writing spree. These tips are equally, and even more, important when you have finished writing the first draft of your novel.

1. Do not be afraid to step away. Your novel is your friend. It's your baby. It's the pet that you've cared for and lost sleep over. But remember: you lose people when you smother them; your baby won't grow up properly if you're keeping too tight a watch on it; and your pet will be spoiled if you aren't giving it enough space. Stepping away will give you a chance to later see your novel from the outside, looking in. You'll be able to see inconsistencies in your narrative and characters, and you could edit your work better.

2. Engage in work that is routine or repetitive. Mow your lawn. Clean out your closet. Crochet or sew something. Keep a notebook handy, though: because repetitive or routine tasks relax your brain, you can sometimes get ideas about your novel at the most unexpected times.

3. Rest your eyes. Stay away from your PC as much as you can. If you won NaNoWriMo this year, chances are, your eyes are still smarting from the hours you've spent in front of your computer!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's Not Always About the Money

Whenever someone tells you to be practical, you may immediately think, “This is about money.” This may lead you to think that you have to write to get money, and that you have to write to appeal to the people who will give you the most sales and therefore allow you to earn the most money. After all, when you finally get all the money that you want, you can do pretty much whatever you want to do – and for that matter, you can write whatever you want to, right?

I won't say that it's wrong to want money. But when you start writing only to get money, you may end up producing something that is not only up to par with your standards; but something that you might not even want to be remembered by. Granted, not all money-making writing projects are bad or are expected to be badly written. But remember, when money is the only thing that drives you, you can burn out quickly. Your writing can turn into a duty, and not an enjoyable one, at that.

The complete opposite may not be advisable either. Completely eschewing money and writing for free will work only if you already have a lot of money to begin with, are living off your parents, or if writing is a side job for you. The key is to balance your work: you might want to have some paid projects that are not exceptionally brilliant but that pay your rent; and you might want to have some projects that don't cover the bills, but that you enjoy doing nevertheless.

When you write something for the money, try not to think about getting just the money, but actually reaching out to your audience. Chances are, you can get more writing jobs in the future and you can fatten your wallet. On the other hand, if you are writing something that you enjoy, try to avoid thinking about what to write to earn the most money. Remember, you have to enjoy writing. When it stops becoming enjoyable, then you may need to stop writing first and rest.

In the end, you can please no one but yourself. Take a look at your writing, whether you are earning money from it or doing it for the sheer pleasure of writing. Is it good? Would you read it? Would you buy it if it were on your newsstands or on a shelf in your bookstore? Would you borrow it from the library? When you start writing to make yourself happy, then you might just come up with something that people will actually like.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A First Sentence for NaNo

National Novel Writing Month is almost over, but if you have that spare chapter to write and that last hurdle of ten thousand words to go, then maybe you need a first sentence prompt!

Here's something you could try to get your neurons firing:

"It was blue."

All right, maybe that isn't so neuron-firing-magenic. But still, you could try it! Now, go ahead and write as many words as you want. You're nearing the finish line! You can do it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A "What If" for NaNoWriMo

Here's a "What If" that you can use for encouraging yourself while National Novel Writing Month rolls along. Write a short "What if" essay on your novel.

Specifically, tell your readers what your life would be like if your hastily-written, one-month-to-finish novel were published. Would you be famous, starring in your own movies, making the rounds of the talk shows, and getting millions of dollars stashed into your bank account? Would you still be joining NaNoWriMo?

You have only 1000 words at your disposal, so use them wisely. Post your answers in the comments section, or put in links to the page where your essay is posted. Happy fantasizing!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Special NaNo Unblocker: Why Should You Keep Writing?

Thanks to National Novel Writing Month, a lot of writers are away from their blogs and typing away at their computers. However, not all writers are lucky enough to get words out. Thanks to the tension that a 30-day novel brings, some writers can get cobwebs, not literary freedom. Might an unblocker help?

If you're in the mood for writing but can't get anything out, then you may want to try this. Take a piece of paper and a pen, or open up a new document on your computer. Now, you have exactly 30 minutes to answer the following question.

"Why am I doing this?"

Now, you don't need to be in NaNoWriMo to answer the question. You can let it be an open question. Why are you doing what you're doing? Why are you studying? Why are you writing? Why are you looking at random roadkill?

Now keep on writing...keep on clearing out those's free writing, after all, and no one is correcting you.

Enjoy the NaNo unblocker!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Critics Don't Have That Much Power

We read critiques everywhere, and everything nowadays seems to be subject to criticism. We may not always believe the critics when they say that this movie is the worst thing to ever hit the cinemas, or that this book is impossible to put down. Still, critics form a good part of today’s print media, and they can influence what books sell, what movies earn money, and even what restaurants can go from anonymity to standing-room-only.

Critics can also influence writers. In dictating what books sell, they can unduly push writers toward certain styles, plot lines, and even characters. This can constrain a lot of writers, you included, especially if you want to make it in the world with a voice that is as unique as it is independent.

One way that you can avoid being imprisoned by critics is thinking that they don’t have the power that people give them. It sounds very New Age, but think about it (and fix up your mindset so that you don’t end up being a slave to critics):

* People can choose not to read critics. No one is ever forced to read critics, much less agree with them. People have a choice, and lucky you if they choose to read you over and above what any critic will say.
* Critics are people. People have opinions. Opinions will differ. There is no right or wrong opinion: it’s JUST AN OPINION.
* Critics are not the barometer for what’s good or what will sell. It’s up to a lot of readers. Besides, best-sellers’ lists are not the barometers for what is considered good writing either. Remember, not all good writing sells; and NOT ALL THAT SELLS IS GOOD WRITING.
* Critics can be swayed by freebies. For instance, some critics can review books favorably because the author handed them free copies, or promised them free books for life, or gave them a goodie bag that had nothing at all to do with the book. Granted, not all critics are like this, but remember, people’s opinions can change because of many things, not just because of a book.

These are only a few things to keep in mind when you start writing your novel. I’m not teaching you to hate critics: I’m teaching you to see another side of the issue; I’m teaching you to look beyond what people expect you to produce. Good luck, and happy writing!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Yet Another Unblocking Exercise

Unblocking allows you to write whatever you want, at a pace that doesn't allow for editing, and sometimes, in an atmosphere that does not require a lot of thinking. Mind you, unblocking can be therapeutic as well – and it's time to show you how.

Write or type as much and as fast as you can. Don't worry about grammar or syntax, or whether you are logical and making enough sense to make Plato happy. Just write and let all your emotions out. Use this as your first sentence:

The one man that I don't think I could ever stand...

When you are done, walk outside, take a deep breath, and, if you can, don't read your work. Throw it out and use a new page for your next exercise. Sometimes, we have a lot of worries that entangle our thoughts and create unnecessary cobwebs in our heads. Unblocking is one way for you to get rid of your worries. Unblocking can even give you ideas for your writing!

Ready? It's time to use your emotions! Happy unblocking!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What the Dickens!

Rumor has it that Charles Dickens was paid to write by the word, so his works are extra-long for that extra-special treatment for his pocketbook. His stories, however, are still loved the world over, whether they talk about ghosts of Christmas, or young people finding love in all places.

Reviewing Dickens is also a challenge, and on many different levels. Working against the background of the Industrial Revolution, Dickens’ work has to be critiqued according to the times in which it is set, and how these times affect the goings-on in his works. Moreover, many of Dickens’ characters have become staples in common parlance (Micawber, anyone?), so they need to be critiqued not just in the context of the work, but in how they have transcended the pages of a book to become part of everyday language.

Speaking of challenges, you will review a novel by Dickens. There are many ways for you to attack this activity. You can critique the characters and whether they are moved forward by the plot too much and appear too helpless to withstand the many challenges that come their way; or they move the plot forward and take their lives by the reins.

You can critique the plot and see how the story is influenced by Dickens’ life and time. You can critique the little stories that weave to form part of the bigger story that the novel strives to tell. You can critique even from a feminist perspective and see how Dickens empowers (or disempowers) women in his work. You can select which novel you want to review by visiting, picking a novel, and then either visiting your favorite bookstore or ordering it. If you already have a copy, lucky you!

Whatever it is you choose to do, good luck on your review! Reviewing Dickens can be an invigorating experience. It can allow you a glimpse into the life and work of one of the greatest literary masters, and it can allow you to understand what makes his work timeless.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A What If for the Brokenhearted

The what ifs exercise is meant to open up your imagination and make you write stories that can go anywhere from realistic to out-of-this-world. But what happens when you get a what if that is an inevitable part of life – a what if that is almost impossible? Moreover: what if the potential answer was too idealistic and sweet?

Here's a challenge: come up with an essay that is engaging, descriptive, and yet entertaining all at the same time. You can write as many words as you want, and you do need to post your essay (or a link to it) in the Comments section of this blog.

Oh, and here's your What If:

What if there wasn't such a thing as heartbreak?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

You are Not the Best Writer on the Planet

It may not sound like the most encouraging piece of advice, but sometimes, you need to get a really nasty reality check before you move forward.

When you know that you are not the best writer on the planet, you need to take steps to improve your craft. Not only that, you need to constantly learn more. You need to go to workshops, mingle with other writers, and edit your work. You need to turn your writing into an art and a profession, not into a job that you can do haphazardly. Instead of moping in despair about not being a great writer, you need to find ways to make yourself better.

Compete with your own standards, and do your best to avoid comparing yourself with other writers. Whenever you start comparing yourself to other writers, you can mislead yourself into believing that you are improving – when in fact, you are just being a better someone else.

Besides, how can you compare your craft to someone else who is writing from another perspective, from other experiences, and with another background culture? The best that you can do is to compare grammar. As for styles, they will differ from writer to writer, so there isn’t a better one or a worse one. There are just different styles, and different ways to say the many different things that make up our lives.

So what are you as a writer? You are you – be the best you, and be a better you every single day. And, when you find that you are disappointing yourself, don’t stay down in the dumps. Find ways to improve your craft and make your work much better than it ever will be.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Your Favorite Movie

You'd probably squeal while watching your favorite movie, or laugh so hard that you don't care how bad the jokes are, or even cry your eyes out even if you'd ignore the storyline in a heartbeat. There's a certain bias that you have for your favorite movie, whatever your favorite movie is. Could you possibly point out what's wrong in your favorite movie?

Try this exercise on for size. Watch your favorite movie and review it as though you were the Fault Finding Committee for your flick. Look at all the technicals and see where the costuming, make up, or even music went wrong. Examine the plot in great detail: are there loopholes that should never have been put on paper, or are there characters that can be done away with? Speaking of characters: who is acting their parts out well, and who is doing a splendid hack job?

There are many aspects of your favorite film that will be imperfect, but you shouldn't be discouraged. Just think of yourself as a balanced critic, not an avid moviegoer destined to be jaded when finding the slightest mistake.

This exercise should help you critique even yourself fairly. You need to know what makes your writing tick, and what makes it weak. If you can see both sides of the issue in any work of art, be it film, books, or your own work, then you can be a better writer – and you can take criticism better, too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Your Favorite Fairytale

One of my first formal book reviews wasn't for a novel. It was for a short story; in particular, it was for my favorite fairytale. I chose an obscure one by a French author. He who had penned Cinderella had also written in a character named Riquet of the Quiff (I hope I have the name right!) into Love and Be Wise, a story about going beyond outward appearances to find the beauty and brains of every individual. I enjoyed doing it, and I vowed that I would share the experience with the world.

Pick your favorite fairytale. You can look through your children's books if you already have a family, or you can go online and pick a fairytale that you've never ever heard about. The Brothers Grimm have a rather bloody collection, so try your hand at the real Cinderella instead of going for the sanitized version.

Treat your fairytale as a true blue story. Who are the characters? What are they like? Who is good? Who is bad? Is it easy to tell? Are there areas of gray, or is all black and white in the world of fairytales? You can even choose to write review on an adaptation of a fairytale. How did the author tell the story? How was it different, and was the adaptation well written?

These are only a few questions that you can ask yourself as you review a fairytale. This is a simple exercise, but it is meant to teach you how even the simplest stories contain entire universes of meaning and symbolism that you might have missed when you first came across them.

So pick up the tale, write the review, and welcome to fairyland! Happy reading and happy writing!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Orchestrated Search #3: What's In Your Name?

This week's orchestrated search is simple. All you need to do is type your name (it can be just your first name, just your family name, or the whole shebang) into your favorite search engine, and then click SEARCH.

You might find someone on the other side of the world who shares your first name, or someone who has long left this world actually holds the key to your knowing your ancestry better, or your name is an anagram for someone else's name! In any case, look at your search results.

Now, pucker up some courage. You are going to write a letter.

If someone shares your name, you will need to write that person, whether living or dead, about yourself. Write a 500-word email that introduces yourself in whatever tone you please. You don't even have to send it; you just need to write that email.

Are you ready for the real exercise? You need to put yourself in that other person's shoes and write a REPLY to your own letter.

This is an exercise in sympathy and empathy - it's also an exercise in imagination. What would your namesake's culture be like, and how would it affect his or her reply? Is he or she a gentle or strong person? Does he or she even share your gender? You will need to take account of all of these aspects of writing and personality (and more) in your 1000-word reply.

Now get to writing!

Ah, and dear writer, don't forget to post your letters in the comments section, or at least links to them, so that you can share your craft with the world.

And yes, this does sound like you're drawing out another personality from deep within you - but isn't that exciting?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Preparing your Novel: How Well Do You Know Your Characters?

Some novels are driven by a plot: such novels will often be fast-paced, and might feel out of control, especially if you want to know the people in them better, and if you aren't content with cardboard cutouts for characters. The biggest advantage to plot-driven novels is that they often make the top of the best-seller's list because they are easy to read, easy to follow, and go light on the emotions.

On the other hand, some novels are driven by characters: they may be slow-paced, but when well-crafted, they can feel real. Characters in such novels jump out of the pages, take control of your daily life, and make you feel like you are part of the book. In fact, many novels don't even feel like books! They feel like friends, like stories that can no longer be seen as unreal, like real situations that could actually be happening next door, around the corner, or even in your own house.

Whether you have a slam-bang plot or a host of unforgettable people in your work, you still need to know your characters better. If you already have a list of characters in your work, then you need to start getting to know them better. After all, if you, as their creator, know next to nothing of their personalities, then how will your readers ever appreciate them? By knowing your characters, you might also be able to write them better without constantly wondering, “What would do?”

Here are a few things that you can do with your characters if you already have them:

1. Draw up a list of your characters. Complete their names. If you can, provide some lineage or ancestral information. This way, they become real people to you, and you may be able to write them better because they feel real. Keep this list handy so that you don't forget who's-who in your work.

2. If you have the time, pretend that you are interviewing your characters. This is is a little bit tricky, but if done well, it might help you out better than just memorizing what your characters do. Of course, you have to do this in private, or you could risk getting scuttled off to the nearest Mental Institution even before your novel is finished.

First, pretend that you are facing your character. Take note of what he or she looks like. Describe your character by taking down notes, as though you were truly at a real interview. Next, ask questions that you know will provide insight into a character's background, motivations, and needs. What does your character need in life? What does he or she want? What does he or she value? What does he or she despise? Take note of the answers and write them down.

Don't knock outward appearances! What does your character look like? How does he or she talk? How your character appears can play into where your character came from and where the character is going.

If and when you hit a roadblock in answering your own questions, then you know that you are on to something. This might be a missing piece in your character, something that you should give dimension to, and something that may make your character more believable.

Lastly, make your interview a conversation. Share thoughts with your character, and see how your character reacts. This does sound insane, doesn't it? But if you do this well, you could turn your characters into your closest friends – and aren't those the most believable stories? The ones that we tell about those whom we know best?

3. When editing, keep your character notes handy. You'll never know if you come across ra flaw in your work that might contradict how your character talks, behaves, thinks, and acts.

If you still don't have characters, then you may want to start drawing up a list of potential players. However, if you are more comfortable starting with a plot, then go ahead. You can put your characters in later and check their nuances and unique points when you have finished polishing and fleshing out your story. In any case, never underestimate the power that your characters hold!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Last Sentence Exercise: Not Quite Stating the Obvious

There's nothing like a great last sentence to cap off a great piece of work. But you don't always have to write out “The End,” especially when you don't think that things are over yet. Can you think of an event that might turn your tale into the cliffhanger of the decade?

Plan out a quick story: tell it like you were telling a friend about something that you had just heard. Or, better yet, tell it like you were telling a friend about something that mattered to you, something that shook you up. In fact, you don't need to write a piece of fiction. You can simply write your story.

You need less than one thousand (1,000) words of prose, and you have to fit this in as the last sentence:

“I didn't think it was the end.”

Post your story in the comments section, or provide a link to it so that people can start reading your tale. Good luck, and happy writing!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A First Sentence Exercise: Something for the Seasons

Dear writer, wherever you are in the world, the weather and climate will be different. You might be in the United States, where leaves change their color at this time of the year. Or you might be in the Far East, where storms come and go every week like friends who decide to trash your house and leave you helpless. What is the weather like where you are right now?

Tell the world about it in a few paragraphs. About 3 or 4 will do. You need to be creative, and you need to describe the weather without sounding like you're rattling off the Weather Channel's script. Moreover, you need to use the following first sentence when you start off your work.

“Today, I looked outside.”

Do share your work in the comments section of this blog, or provide a link that readers can go to so that they can read your work. Good luck, and happy writing!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Complete it: It's Time to Go Back to Dreamland!

Not everyone dreams; and even if people do dream, they don't remember what they dreamed about. But sometimes, we dream so lucidly and vividly, we forget that we aren't in the world of reality at all!

The nice thing about dreams, however, is that sometimes, we can get the best stories from them. Discoveries, masterpieces, whole novels were made from dreams! Could you be the next big Dreamer?

This exercise aims to get you to remember your dreams, and to make you creatively articulate those dreams as well. All you need to do is to fill in the blanks. You don't have to write your answers down. You can talk them out, answer them in your head, or even use the Comments section of this blog to share your answers with the world!

Ready? Start dreaming as you start answering!

1. The best dream I had was ______________________. However, there is one thing or event that I really, really want to dream about, but never have; this is ________________.

2. If I could make people dream about me, I would choose _______, whom I now designate my special dreamer, to dream about me all the time. In that dream, I will _______________ and ______________, which will make my special dreamer feel ________ for/about me.

3. I once had a nightmare about ____________, and it was the worst nightmare that I ever had. To make sure that the nightmare didn't ruin my day, I ________________.

4. If I could control my dreams, I would dream about _____________ every night so that I can feel ______ when I wake up!

5. If you dream about ________, it means that you need to ___________ your ____________ so that you can feel _______________.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Sandwich Triad!

Behold the almighty sandwich! Purveyor of goodness, bringing of full stomachs - and now, the star in your story!

This is fast fiction, so have only about a thousand words (or less) of a tale that involves these three sandwich fillings:

1. Ham
2. Cheese
3. Lettuce

The sandwich can be the star, or a special supporting cast member, or the fly on the wall (or should we say the spectator on the table?). Now, get to work on that story and post it in the comments section (or leave a link) for everyone to enjoy - and consume.

Happy writing!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Something to Chew on for the Not-So-Young

"Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young."
W. Somerset Maugham

Friday, September 12, 2008

Let's Ask the Big Question: WHY?

Let's Ask the Big Question: WHY?

Put down your pen and set your sheet of paper aside. Turn off your computer. Don't touch that typewriter. It's time to think.

Whether you're in the throes of a writing frenzy or sinking deep into the mire of Writer's Block, you have to stop and think for a minute.


Is it for money? Is it for fame? Is it for revenge? Is it for personal fulfillment? There are thousands of reasons that anyone on the planet can think of for doing something. So what's your reason for writing a novel?

Don't write the answer down. Talk it out: you can be in answering the call of Nature in the toilet; you can be washing off the day's dirt in the bathroom; or you can simply be at home. Find yourself a private spot where no one can hear you, and where no one will think that you're insane.

Next, talk to yourself, but make sure that you start with the following words: “I want to write a novel because...”

Talk to yourself for as long as you like. You can think of this as a personal brainstorming session that can allow you to clear out the cobwebs and get yourself motivated. You can also think of this as an unblocker that doesn't involve any writing. You need to get the words out. You need to talk. Gesture and gesticulate to yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror. Pretend that you're talking to an audience of thousands. Pretend that you're on a big talk show, telling your story. Talk and talk. Talk for as long as you need to.

When the therapy is done, you can pick up your writing tools again, turn on your PC, or get back to your typewriter. Or you can sleep and rest, and perhaps wake up refreshed.

So, what's your story?

Friday, September 5, 2008

An Introduction: It's all in the head...

Writing a novel is not just about writing well and getting ideas. It's about knowing why you want to write. Are you out to get money and fame? Do you want to tell the world your story? Are you hoping to reach out to people in need?

When you know why you write, then you know what fuels you. And when you know what fuels you, you can use it as a reminder to keep on writing and hoping even when you feel that you've been squeezed dry of creativity. You need to have the right mindset.

This blog will also feature a set of activities that can help you relax and even get back into the writing groove. Sometimes, you just need to remind yourself what got you excited about writing in the first place. Oftentimes, your little reminders can get you excited about writing all over again.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Putting Exclamation Points on Period Flicks

There are movies that I can never say no to: costume dramas. I love period flicks. I love watching the scenes being acted out, the costumes, the art direction, and the language. I love history, and if I really love a period flick, then I start doing a lot of research on the time period in which the film is set. If a period film is REALLY good, I end up making my own novel set in that same time period.

It's understandable why some moviegoers tend to shy away from period flicks. For one, they often feel that the storylines are dated, and that there is little to relate to in a period movie. Because many period films are scripted according to the language of the times in which they are set, some people may find the language difficult to grasp or stilted (Really now, who in Ancient Rome ever said, “Are you ok?”). And because period films are historical, people might think that the much dreaded History Lecture has hopped right out of school and is haunting them even in their most brainless entertainment.

Try your luck at period films by writing a period film review. This can be especially tricky if you are used to watching films set in modern times that involve little to no writing, and are filled with car chases and guns a-blazin'. If this is the case, you may want to ease yourself into the genre by going for Westerns or war movies. This can also be tricky if you like modern love stories that are slap-happy and whimsical. You may want to get period films that have a love story as the main focus of the film, such as Pride and Prejudice.

Reviewing a period film can be exciting and quite draining at the same time. For one, you are delving into history, and if you love stories of the past, historical or period films may be a lot of fun to write reviews on. However, you will need to scrutinize costumes, music, dialogue, and perhaps even the historical accuracy of the film! The trick is to pick one or two aspects to look at in detail, and then write passing reviews on the rest.

There is still debate on what constitutes a period film. After all, if you're writing in 2008, the 1960's are certainly SO last century. Use your best judgment on which film to get: you may want to do a series of film reviews by taking yourself back in time, say Quiz Show; to Saving Private Ryan; to Emma; to Jude; to Artemisia; to Braveheart; to Gladiator; to 10,000 BC. These are just examples of period or historical pictures that you could look at. There are thousands of films out there that are up for reviewing grabs.

So what are you waiting for? Look for a period flick, sit back, enjoy, and review! Don't think of it as a history lesson: think of it as your way of enjoying the past through the magic of the present. Happy watching, and happy writing!

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's time for a bit of literary cleanup!

Your job, dear writer, is to clean up this mess.

The Literary Trash Fairy decided to scatter five words to the winds. The only way that this mess can be remedied is if you can incorporate all these words into a short story. The short story must be no longer than one thousand (1,000) words. It must be readable. You must not force words into the story for the sake of cleaning the mess up. You can use one word as many times as you want. The important thing is to use the words in their pure form (so that means no conjugation, no pluralization, no singulars, no changes – nothing!) and to have a story that makes sense.

Here are the five words:

elf yellow leaf arrow book

Good luck, and happy writing!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Here's Something to Help You with Photo Prompts


This blog has shown a few pictures and asked you to write. But sometimes, photos don't really push you to tell a story. Thanks to Kelly DuMar, you now have a few pointers to help you on your writing way.

Read the article posted through the link above, and you can get more info on how you can turn that photo into a story. By breaking the process down into the components of what your story might turn out to be, as well as what makes up your photo, you could have an easier time getting the photo to speak how you like.

Monday, August 25, 2008

All Green on the Road, All Words on Your Sheet

This photo should help you write a short story of about 1000 words. Pick your own plot, characters, setting, and everything that you need. All you need is this photo to inspire you.

Post your stories or a link to them in the comments section.

Good luck and happy writing!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hunting Out Words, Getting a Story: A 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 FOREST to get words like tore, rest, for, fore, or foster. Or you could take the word INSTANT apart and come up with tan, sat, sin, tin, or taints.

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: TELECOMMUNICATION.

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thinking of Publishing After NaNo?

The nice thing about National Novel Writing Month is that you can get to be a part of as big group of writers all rushing toward a single goal: feeling the fulfillment of finishing a 50,000-word (or more) novel. But did you know that NaNoWriMo also regularly links up with a press in order to get its winning novels published?

Check out for details on how you might be able to get your work published. Lulu press is a great big marketplace, with writers, musicians, and photographers all working (and hoping) for their own shot at fame. There are several packages available for writers who want to have their work edited or their covers designed by professionals, but you can opt to upload your own cover, along with your own edited work.

Now, doesn't the thought of getting yourself published (albeit non-traditionally, and on your own) make you want to finish that novel?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Last Sentence #2: How's this For Even More Ambiguity?

You need to write a 1000-word (or less) story. The characters, names, locations, and plot are all yours. All you need is a good word processor, fingers ready to do some typing, a brain ready to do some writing, and yes, your last sentence.

"There was nothing left."

Now, build your story around that last sentence. Do post your link to your story (or even your story, if you wrote a really short one) in the comments section. Good luck and happy writing!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The First Sentence #2: How's This for Ambiguity?

All right, novelists, short story writers, and writers of the planet! It's time to start your fiction once again!

This week's First Sentence task requires you to stay within a 500 word limit. This is flash, quick fiction, with very little word allowance, and a lot of creativity required. So there it is: you need to write a short story that is, at the very most, 500 words long, and with this as the first sentence.

"At last, it happened."

Now don't forget to post your stories or links to them in the comments section. Good luck! Happy writing! And happy snipping and editing, too!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What If #2: You're About to be Famous!

...well, at least, only in your writing. Still, you get to pretend a bit - and this time, you might have to stretch your imagination a bit further if you've never played, or at the very least, never liked sports.

What if you were a sports star? Pick your favorite sport, or better yet, pick a sport that you don't necessarily like, but one you know that you could excel in if you were given the chance.

What if you were a world-famous star in that sport? What would your life be like? How would you deal with the media attention? How would you balance training with your numerous commercial endorsements?

Now, think of all your answers to these questions, and then write them in the form of a diary. You will need to write only one entry: it can be as long or as short as you like, and it should be set at the end of a long day spent doing what you think a famous sports star does. Pretend that you have all the time in the world to write a diary entry; pretend that you're that famous sports star who has a real life and personality behind the image.

When you're done, you can post either your entry or a link to it in the comments section. Good luck!

Happy pretending, and happy writing!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Unblocker #2: Life's Many Possibilities

The objective of an unblocking exercise is to remove all sense of limit and fear in you. You need to write whatever it is that comes to mind, and whatever it is that you want without worrying that someone will correct you.

This implies that unblocking can also relieve some of the pressures that our rational world can exert. For instance, you might think: what if there were dragons still alive today? In the next thought, however, you could dismiss it entirely and think that no rational person would pursue such a strange, not to mention insane line of thinking.

But guess what? A lot of writers started out with insane ideas, and they pursued the idea to the end. You don't have to write a fantasy story, or go into science fiction and start hitting the science books - but you need to let go of a lot of things that hold you back, and sometimes, reason can do that.

Here's an unblocker for you. Start your sentences with "What if...?" and then pursue the thought without thinking of rationality or sanity. What if I were a princess and I had to fight a war with goblins? What if I had gotten my promotion early and I had to choose between work and my family? What if I had eaten way too much and I turned into the vegetable I had for lunch?

Pursue a thought until it exhausts you, and then start again with a new "What if...?" You'll be surprised at how imaginative you are, and how funny your work can be.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Orchestrated Search #2: Simply Music

Songs don't just tell stories - they can BE stories. All you need is a playlist. If you have songs in your My Music folder, load them into your media player. If you have a portable MP3 player, set it to shuffle. If you can't have it shuffle, then you'll have to play it and see where it leads you.

Ready? Have a pen and piece of paper ready; or start up a new document on your word processor. You'll have to take note of each song that plays, assign it to the following designations, and yes, write a short story. You have your pick of characters' names and location names, and you can make it as long or as short as you want. Just make sure that you incorporate the themes of the songs that play (NOT the songs themselves, see, but what the songs mean to you. If the song tells a story, you can incorporate that story into your story; or if the song is about heartbreak, then you'll have a heartbreaking thing happening somewhere in your tale).

Now, press PLAY. Don't forward through the songs. Listen to each one and go through each one. No shortcuts!

1. The first song that plays describes your lead character.

2. The second song that plays describes your location.

3. The third song that plays describes the opening of your story.

4. The fourth song that plays talks about how the action builds up in your story (or, what happens that brings about the conflict).

5. The fifth song that plays talks about the conflict itself, the main point of your story, the grand adventure, or whatever the song describes.

6. The sixth song that plays talks about how the conflict is resolved.

7. The seventh song that plays talks about what keeps your lead character alive and kicking (or dying and decaying) through your story.

8. The eighth song that plays talks about the main weakness of your lead character that nearly knocks him or her off balance and sends him hurtling into depression/desperation/insanity/the Abyss.

9. The ninth song that plays talks about what fuels your lead character to do better and resolve the conflict. Note how this is different from the sixth song that plays. The sixth song describes the resolution itself, while the ninth song describes something less tangible that moves your character forward.

10. The tenth and last song that plays describes the final scene in your short story.

Don't forget to post your stories and/or links to them in the comments section. Happy writing!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Triad #2: One and One Make...


In love.

That's right. You are working on a love story. A short story on love. Two people, animals, microbes, things, concepts, what-have-you in love.

And you need these three things in your short story, which should not exceed 1,000 words.

1. A slap on the face.
2. A slammed door.
3. A rose.

And yes, melodrama is welcome.

Please don't forget to post your stories, or share your links to them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chew on This!

"One nice thing about putting the thing away for a couple of months before looking at it is that you start appreciate your own wit. Of course, this can be carried too far. But it's kind of cool when you crack up a piece of writing, and then realize you wrote it.
I recommend this feeling. "

- Steven Brust

Monday, July 21, 2008

Grammar is Your Friend

You might think that good grammar is a myth, a pipe dream, and something out-of-date in this day and age of shoot now, apologize later. Indeed, when text language seems to litter the forums and mailing lists of the Internet universe, and where writers and editors are readily available, grammar doesn't seem so important anymore.

Despite all these, however, good grammar is a must anywhere. Think: how would you react if you received a poorly-worded, poorly-constructed application for a post at your company? Would you let the person in if his or her job demanded great writing skills? Now start getting your grammar skills working!

Not everyone knows everything about good grammar, so you can use the Purdue Owl Website as a guide (access it through When in doubt, do research. You may have to work harder to get your writing finished, but hey, at least you can say you did your best, right?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Photo Prompt: A Blurred City

A blurred city at night, and an onslaught of light. It's time for you to write fiction.

Use this photo as your guide, and don't forget to post your story/chapter/novel/epic/masterpiece in the comments section (or a link please, lest the comments box explode due to text density).

Good luck, and happy writing!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is a great way for you to actually push yourself to write, but critics can often see it as an exercise in pushing yourself way too fast, and over the edge. Maybe into insanity? Or into mediocrity? In either case, you may be going too fast nowhere, so now's the time to see how well you'll fare in November.

Here's an experiment that you may want to try. Do freehand writing, without making any judgments in terms of grammar, syntax, and style. Just write whatever comes to mind. However, set a time for yourself. Say, set a timer to five minutes, and stop writing as soon as the timer goes off. Now, count how many words you've put in. This is your word speed when you're not thinking and just writing like there's no tomorrow.

Pick a time of the day to do this: you can choose the morning, when you wake up, so that you don't have any idea what the problems of the day will be; or you can choose the evening, right before you sleep, so that the day's problems can be washed away through writing. In any case, pick a convenient time, a time when you are not forced to write.

This exercise will allow you to see how fast you write when you are having fun and just letting your ideas fly. You may want to note your speed, just so you know if you're really on a roll (writing at your recorded speed or slightly higher or slightly lower), if your writing might be going a little out of hand (if you're writing way too much, and most likely not making a lot of sense), or if you are getting burned out (if you're going way too slow).

Of course, this isn't your single benchmark for good writing, but it can be a good guide for NaNoWriMo. After all, you do need to know when you should stop writing and start breathing for a moment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Last Sentence #1

Your job, dear writer, is to open your journal and start writing, or open a new file on your computer and start typing. It's time to write a short story of no more than 5000 words, with your choice of plot and characters, and with the style that you want. All that I ask is that you end it with the following sentence.

"She could not weep, but she could harden her heart, until it would break into a thousand pieces and be no more."

Good luck! Share your stories through the comments section, by pasting it (if it's short) or providing a link. Have fun!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The First Sentence #1

Get your writing muscles working. It's time to write. Your task is to write a short story of no more than 5,000 words. Here's your first sentence.

"He promised to call, but he didn't."

Be sure to share your stories by posting links in the comments section!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

And Now, a Movie of Subtitled Fun...

Some moviegoers will balk at the idea of watching “foreign films” because they don't like reading through subtitles. However, not all the films shot in the language that you understand are good; there are many creatively made, wonderfully shot films that are subtitled, raw with their native languages. There is music in language, and you know this as a writer; dub voices over, and you lose a lot of the original beauty of a film.

If you love “foreign films,” then you are in luck; and if you avoid them, then it's time to overcome your fear. Your job is to review a film with subtitles. This is going to be a challenge: you will have to pay attention to how well a movie is shot, how well it is acted, and how great the technicals are, ALL while you read the subtitles and get the story.

The objective of this exercise is to widen your appreciation for film, above and beyond those that fall into your comfort zone. This can allow you to soak in different cultures, to appreciate other languages, and to broaden your cultural horizons. It may sound vague, but with more and more exposure to foreign films, you may find yourself becoming more and more open to other cultures, other worldviews, and other minds. You might find yourself wanting to travel to other countries – and you may find yourself becoming a better writer, too.

There is one more objective to this exercise: you are about to embark on a multitasking quest. You need to scrutinize many aspects of a film while reading the dialogue. Can you do it?

So go ahead: rent the first “foreign film” that you find and start writing your review. It may be easier to do this at home, since you can pause the film to read subtitles. You can even watch the film over without the subtitles so that you can appreciate the technical aspects of it better.

My recommendations: Life is Beautiful (Italy), Cinema Paradiso (Italy), City of God (Brazil), Talk to Her (Spain), Dreams (Japan), Solomon and Gaenor (Wales), Slumdog Millionaire (India), and Mongol (China). Please don't get mad at me for these choices; they're the first that came to mind, and I know that there are thousands of other films out there that are far better.

Good luck, happy watching, and happy reviewing!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What If #1: The Last One on the Planet

"What woke up one morning, and all the people in the world had disappeared?"

You're all alone on the planet. There is no one in sight. You decide to keep a diary of your new life. What would your very first entry be?

For this exercise, write in the form of a diary entry, and with the "What if" shown above. Your entry can be as long or as short as you like. Don't forget to share your work by either posting it, or posting a link to it, in the comments section!

Happy speculating!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Unblocker #1: Think, but Don't

An unblocker is nothing but a prompt, something to make you write freely, without worrying who will read your work or if you're breaking all the rules in grammar. It's also designed to let you free your head of mental cobwebs, and give your imagination a chance to break free of your fears. Are you ready?

All you need is a pen, some paper, and a place where you can sit comfortably. Don't think about grammar, syntax, or even penmanship. Just write.

Start off with:

"I think..."

If you have a hard time writing things down, then you may choose to write with your laptop or desktop computer. In any case, avoid hitting the BACKSPACE or DELETE key. Just write as though there were no tomorrow, and stop only when you want to. Don't be afraid. Writing doesn't bite.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Orchestrated Search #1

On this search, you will need the Internet and a printed, hard-copy dictionary next to you. Follow each step below, and don't forget to share your stories or essays as soon as they are done!

1. What is the first letter of your name? Open your dictionary to the section corresponding to this letter.

2. In what month were you born? Use your birth month's number in the calendar year for this step: that is, if you were born in June, use 6; if you were born in October, use 10. Now, use this number to get a page off the section of the dictionary corresponding to the letter you got in step #1.

For example, if you were born in June, and your name is Rachel, then go to the letter R section, and then to the 6th page of letter R. If you were born in December, and your name is Xerxes, but you cannot go beyond page 8 or 9 in your dictionary, go back to the first page of the letter X section in order to rotate numbers.

That is, if you are looking for page 12 of the letter X section, but your dictionary has only 8 pages of words beginning with X, then go back to the first page of the letter X section. This will be your page 9. Therefore, the 4th page of the letter X section will be your page 12.

3. Look at the first word that appears on the page that you selected. You will use this word in a Google Search.

4. Go to

5. Type in the word that you found in the dictionary. Then, click "I'm feeling lucky."

6. You will be redirected to a website that ranks #1 in the word that you put in. Look at the front page of the website. Go no further. Note what the website is for, and see how effective the website is.

7. Here is your writing exercise: in 500 words or less, write a story about how you think the website was born. Who thought of it first? Why did that creator think that this website was needed? Is there anything about the creator that you know that no one else does? Your writing exercise can take the form of a story or a creative essay.

Have fun searching and writing!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Relax – watch a movie!

Now, you must be thinking: I'm being told to read when I can't find the time to write, and now, I have to watch a movie, too?

Think about it: you might not be afraid of watching movies. After all, it's something that you can do every day. It's something that you can do without even batting an eyelash or using a brain cell! But that's the point: you don't always need to be brainless when watching a movie. You can turn your movie watching session into something productive: in fact, what you might be afraid of is a little bit of intellectual exercising while you're trying to relax.

No problem: these kinds of exercises won't come too often, and when they do, they're meant to relax your brain and make you have a bit of fun away from the writing. If watching movies isn't your thing, then go buy tickets to the nearest play or musical; or, if you really don't want to spend money, try your favorite TV show. If all else fails, watch people in the nearest cafe.

The key to these exercises is to step away from words and let your eyes do the thinking. You need to be visually stimulated, and you need new images that you can draw new stories from. You don't need to copy a movie's plot or make a spin-off of the next big show on Broadway. What you need is something to stimulate your mind and make you start seeing things in a new light.

Still bewildered? Wait for the next entry on reviewing movies and you might find yourself having a bit of fun!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The best writers are also readers

You must be thinking: I can't even find the time to write, so when am I ever going to get the time to read? The answer? YOU HAVE TO MAKE TIME.

Some writers think that they shouldn't read anything or they might “contaminate” their writing style. The contrary is often true: by reading a lot, you don't only expand your vocabulary; you can also expose yourself to different styles, genres, and plots that might influence you one day. The key word is “influence”: one day, you will find that you have your own voice, your own identity, and your own style. It wouldn't hurt to see who else is out there, right?

In this special set of exercises, you will have to force yourself to read. You will be given a set of questions that will allow you to read a book in depth – this way, you can explore a plot, look at the different layers of the story, and isolate characters from their current situation. You might see shortcomings in how authors mold their stories; you might also see strengths in how they write their work. More than all this, you might be made aware of your own shortcomings and strengths, and know how to make your next big work even bigger and greater than you can ever imagine.

So hit the books! Buy them or borrow them! It's time for some reading!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Triad #1:

Sorry for being away for so long. Vacation was calling: Mother Nature gave me a nudge out the door and kicked me down the garden path. Serves me right for reading and studying too much.

Anyway, here's your first writing exercise! Our aim: fiction. You can write a short story, two paragraphs of something that you want to develop later, a movie script, or even a novel! (Prepare for the grueling month of novel writing come November and you'll walk away triumphant on 11/30/08).

You will need to write fiction incorporating these three things/persons:

1. a gardener
2. a ballpoint pen with purple ink
3. a CD filled with sappy love songs

The aim is not to write the longest story or the shortest one, but to incorporate these three things/persons in the most creative way possible. You can write in any language you like, using any format, as long as you're writing fiction.

Do post your work (or links to them) when you're done!

Good luck and happy writing!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fill in a few _____

It's time to get to know yourself as a writer! Whether you base your characters on yourself or on your friends; whether your characters are people you actually know or people that just sprang out of your imagination, you need to know yourself as a writer. What do you do best? What are the things that need improvement?

Here are a few questions that may help you. You can pick up a piece of paper and write your answers down. You can answer the questions in your head. The key is to be truthful, creative (but not untruthful!), and to take note of the things that you say about yourself. This way, you know exactly what it is you like to do and where you should start learning more so that you can be a better writer.

1. My name is ________, and I am a writer. If my life were a novel, it would be entitled _________. This is because ________________.

2. I love writing ________ because ____________

3. Back in school, I wrote ______________. If I had written a novel when I was much younger, a critic would say that the novel was ___________.

4. I want to write a novel today, but I can't because _________. If I want to write a novel, I should ________.

5. I think my writing is _________. One step that I should take to improve my writing is __________.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

An introduction to completing something

Before you can learn to complete your novel, you need to learn how to complete smaller parts of it. How about a sentence? A paragraph? Sometimes, the most difficult thing to write is something short and sweet, something that means something to you without having it taking up an hour (or more) of your time.

Brevity is the soul of wit, indeed, Master Shakespeare says; so if you want to be a great novelist, you need to start off with something small and start building until you get higher up the ladder of Literary Greatness. Who knows? Maybe one of your smaller sentences could be the root of a big novel later on!

With this brand of exercises, you will be asked to fill in several blanks. You might be asked questions about yourself, or your friends, or even your characters. You can train yourself to know your characters better, as though they were real people. You might be asked to examine situations in your prospective novel in greater detail so that you can produce writing that is realistic, not something that looks like it was coughed out of the Bad Writing Cat's Hairball Collection.

Fill in those blanks and start writing! Happy Thinking!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Chew on This!

'A bad book is as much of a labour to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author's soul.'

- Aldous Huxley in Point Counter Point

Monday, June 2, 2008

Be Original!

The world hasn't run out of ideas for you yet. You can write that next great novel, that next great short story, that great essay you've planning for decades - and you don't have to copy the idea from someone else. True, someone else's work might spark your interest in writing, and you might find yourself scouring the library shelves on your latest research spree after you put that historical fiction novel down. But you need original ideas, and you certainly can't copy someone else's work.

But how do you avoid plagiarism? The Writing Place at Northwestern University shows us how through their "Avoiding Plagiarism" page. The page begins by telling us about the pitfalls of plagiarism, and what writers can do to avoid it. These tips involve changing your wording so that you properly acknowledge your sources, as well as acceptable paraphrasing so that you say things in your own words.

If you are planning to write a report, or if you need to do essays for work or school, read this page. You can also consult the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory for more information on how to write formal reports, and how to format them according to different scholarly styles.

Plagiarism can be harder to deal with in the world of fiction. Lawsuits have been raised over stolen plots and copied characters. In your opinion, how might such trouble be avoided? Is it possible, at all, to be plagiarism-free in fiction?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An introduction to making a mess!

We'll call this exercise GOO. Your job is to make a mess, and then fix it. All you need to do is to follow a few instructions, and then watch how your mess can turn you into a writing whiz. After all, not all messes are bad; and not all messes are un-fix-able. In fact, if you can find order in chaos, you might get yourself a ticket to some great writing.

Conversely, if you can find a way to turn order into chaos – well, you're going to get into rather thorny, complicated issues that might make you go crazy. On the other hand, if you can make drama come out of nothing, then you could turn your drama queen (or king) tendencies into something productive.

So what does goo do? Well, you might get a mess of words, and you might be asked to find something common among them so that you can come up with an essay or a story. You might be asked to unscramble a sentence, or scramble an already decent one to come up with a piece of writing that borders on insanity. Whatever the goo, you can turn it into writing, too!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How do you write?

Some people love the feel of ink scratching across paper. Others love the clickety-clack of the computer keyboard. Still, others can turn the kaching! of the old typewriter into a sign of getting a lot of work done. There are many ways to write besides, and you might have a personal niche that you can sink comfortably into. Which one is it?

If you're serious about writing, you need to do two things:

1) Know what way to write is best for you
2) Explore new ways of writing just to shake things up!

So, how do you know what kind of writing style is best for your novel needs? If you're an experienced writer, you probably already know what your writing comfort zone is. Still, it wouldn't hurt for you to see what else your writing can do: try one of the exercises on this site using another way of writing. For example, if you love writing on the computer, try doing a triad exercise by going off to the woods with your notebook and pen. You just might discover your hidden talent for writing in tune with Mother Nature! (disclaimer: please do not hold this blog responsible for any disasters that may befall you in your writing-in-the-woods enterprise)

If you haven't done a lot of writing, then choose your way to write: take out the typewriter, turn that PC on, or get yourself a notebook and pen. And then, pick a writing exercise - and write away!

When you find that niche, use it to your advantage. You can probably write best using certain stimuli, or under certain weather conditions. But don't stick to only one way of writing. Remember, doing new things and taking on new hobbies can sharpen your brain and make you do better in other tasks, whether writing-related or not.

Best of luck, and happy writing!

Monday, May 19, 2008

A New Class of Tips: Photos!

If a picture speaks a thousand words, can a picture also generate a thousand words? If I presented you with this picture, what would you write about?

This is a fresh category of tips for you to use as you practice writing. What does a picture tell you? How did the objects in the picture get there? Where will they go next? Is there more to this picture than meets the eye? What's really happening? Is there something that you know that no one else does?

All you need to do is look at the picture, maybe follow a few directions - and then WRITE.

Watch this site for more photos and prompts!

Monday, May 12, 2008

A New Class of Tips: NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month happens every November. Participants have to write a 50,000-word-or-more novel within the month. The prize? The fulfillment of having written a novel. The drawbacks? Insanity, sleep deprivation, caffeine overload, and a general air of being pumped with nowhere to go. The excitement, however, is priceless.

If you want to get that novel right out of your head, read more about NaNoWriMo and how you can actually force yourself to get started. I will also post more NaNoWriMo tips as November nears, so watch out for updates!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A New Class of Tips: The Last Sentence

And so the end had come, but the last sentence had no other sentence before it.

Here's an extra challenge in this class of tips: write the start that leads to the last sentence! You can write an essay, a short story, or even a novel chapter - just make sure that you get to the last sentence that I give.

Wait for last sentences, right here on this blog!

A New Class of Tips: The First Sentence

Once upon a time, a sentence stood, all by itself, waiting for a second to come by and join it.

This is your new class of tips, ladies and gentlemen: a sentence. The first sentence, for that matter. I will be sending sentences your way, and all you need to do is take your thoughts from there. You don't have to be profound, your work doesn't have to be perfect, and you don't need to get it published. You just need to write.

Watch for more first sentences!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A New Class of Tips: The What Ifs

Sure, every novel's plot really begins with a "what if" - but what if you couldn't think of a "what if" at the drop of a hat?

These special tips will present you with a "what if" that you can use to start writing. What if you could spend just an hour writing every day? What if you could squeeze in some writing hours and have fun with your pen or word processor? What if you could set your novel free?

Monday, May 5, 2008

A New Class of Exercises: Unblockers

Writers' block is something that everyone has. A block happens for many reasons: a person is tired, a person doesn't think that he or she can write, or a person can have so many ideas bottlenecking into each other so that they block the actual writing process.

So, then, here's a chance for you to take out that block and get yourself writing. Sometimes, it isn't the writing that's hard, but getting the writing started.

Watch this blog for unblocking exercises and free writing work where you can get the chance to just write.

A New Class of Exercises: Orchestrated Searches

Ever been on a treasure hunt? Now, have you ever tried writing about it?

What if I told you to look for the third word in the first line of the hundredth page of the fifth book on your bookshelf? And what if I told you to use that word as the first word of your story?

What if I told you to load your songs onto your media player, set it to random, and write an essay about the eighth song that plays?

There are many ways to get a treasure hunt going, and they can lead the way to a lot of novel exercises. Watch this blog for more orchestrated searches and guided treasure hunts!

A New Class of Exercises: Triads

If I gave you a penny, a pencil, and a pig, what would you do?

Well, you could sit and ponder on the profundity of the three-item situation - or you could write about it.

No, this is not one of them Hong Kong Gangster triads - it's a writing exercise that's meant to bring out the creative genius in you. "Once upon a time, a pig was sold for a penny to a pencil maker..." "Once upon a time, a penny-worth pencil dreamed it was a pig...."Once upon a time, a pencil sharpener fell amongst pigs in a pig sty - and there, it met a penny..."

Triads are meant to make you start thinking about how three things can come together logically (even illogically) in one story, essay, or even novel excerpt.

Hang on for more triads!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A New Class of Inspiration: Stuff to Chew On

A good quote can get your writing going, or it can simply open your mind to new things that you might want to write about. Watch this site for quotes such as:

"Why do writers write? Because it isn't there."
- Thomas Berger
And quotes as desperate as:
"The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with."
- William Faulkner
No matter how funny or sad or totally blah your writing day is, you can stop over for something to chew on.

A New Class of Inspiration: Stuff to Read

I will be posting article summaries from time to time, along with links to the original article. I hope you can get inspiration on how you can write better, or simply get started with your writing. We writers are here to help each other, and you may find that the best writers on the planet are not just those who can open the eyes of your heart, or amaze you with their word-smithing - they're the ones who are willing to help other writers succeed.

Happy reading!

(after all, it takes a lot of reading to make good writing happen)

Want to Write Your Novel Now?

Welcome to the blog that will help you through it!

Of course, I can't tell you how exactly you can do it, and how you can type out words in a heart beat. But I can help you with exercises on getting your imagination going. After all, it's your book, your story, and your words. Nobody can tell you how and when to write it. But you can be guided.


They say that everyone is born with a novel in their heads, and all they need is the right time to set that novel free. A novel, however, is not just words and words of a story, and there isn't any trend to follow words or length-wise. Some of the best classics are quite short (Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter) or long (Tolstoy's Anna Karenina); some of the newest bestsellers also span the continuum of brief (Segal's Love Story), lengthy (there are lots of these!), and even serial (Ludlum's Bourne Series). There is no trend, no best plot, no single way to follow.

Don't let the "critics" tell you otherwise. Bestsellers may have a formula, but once in a while, a great one comes out to shatter all records, and buck all trends.

Could that novel be yours?


Why wait to find out? Start writing! Watch this blog for exercises, useful links for writing, and articles that can help you through the novel-writing process.

Now, it's time to pick up your pen, or open your word processing software and set your fingers on the keyboard.

Let's pick the locks on the prison of your novel.

We're about to set it free.