Showing posts with label Writing Challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing Challenge. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 28

Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: What Scares You The Most? Describe Yourself Confronting It.

Happy Holidays! How was your Christmas? I hope it was filled with love, laughter and great food.

I'm feverishly working on my new book, on track for a soft launch by January 3. SO! Today I thought I would share a writing prompt, something to keep our collective muses happy as we head into the New Year.

Writing Prompt: What Scares You The Most? Describe Yourself Confronting It.

The Challenge: In 250 words or less write about:

What scares you the most? Describe yourself confronting it.

 That's it! Please share your creative scribblings.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I would like to recommend the book that inspired today's writing prompt, 642 Things to Write About: Young Writer's Edition, by 826 Valencia. This book is one of the few paper reference books on my shelf and I use it regularly. I love these prompts! They're fun; I think of them as candy for creatives.

Sunday, April 6

Parts of Story: What Is Narrative Setting?

What do we mean by "narrative setting"? It's simple: the setting is where the events of the story take place. The story world includes the physical environments the characters encounter as well as the cultural groups they interact with. You can create these environs from nothing but your imagination or you can set the story in the actual world. 

Conjuring a story world from nothing but the materials of your imagination may save long hours of research, but it must be consistent and plausible. A happy medium between these two is to set the tale in a fictional world but to use the actual world as a starting point. By changing aspects of the actual world one can often produce a setting that is both unique and plausible.

However you go about crafting your story world, the most time consuming, intricate and important aspect of a character's environment is their social environment.

What are the rules of your world's societies, both written and unwritten? What sorts of pair bonds are sanctioned? What are their norms, their unwritten rules? Are certain practices, certain actions, sanctioned but discouraged? 

Getting finer grained, what kinds of groups, or sub-groups, does the society contain? By this I mean any kind of group: political, recreational, medical, artificial, criminal, natural, sanctioned and unsanctioned. And if you see fit to give your world something like the internet, don't forget online groups!

Arguably, the most important environment for social creatures such as ourselves is our social environment; our family, our friends, the groups we belong to. But, of course, your protagonist need not be like us! Let your imagination run wild. Anything is fair game as long as it's believable.

Above all, think about ways to introduce opportunities for conflict when creating a story world.

The Elements of Setting: Time

What time of year is it in the story? Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter? If this is a fictional world, does it have seasons? How much time passes in your story? Hours? Days? Months? Years?

Is there anything unusual about the flow of time in your narrative? Is your story written as a stream of consciousness? Does your novel employ time-jumps for flashbacks to convey the story? 

The Elements of Setting: Place

Where does your story take place? What is its geography? Is it an unexplored wilderness or is it well populated? Does the story take place in a town? A city? A tropical jungle? A rainforest? Is the place barren? Lush? Isolated? Densely populated?

Is there much water nearby? Is the air dry or wet? Is there snow at Christmas time? What sports or hobbies could a person easily engage in given the features of the area? Snowboarding? Skiing? Swimming? Surfing? What sports couldn't your characters do? For example, could your characters swim without risking hypothermia in December?

The Elements of Setting: Circumstances

What social groups is your character involved in? Are they religious? Spiritual? Politically involved? Do they have a large family? Small family? No family? If they're a loner, do they have a network of friends online? What kind of social groups is your character a part of at work? Are they self-employed? Unemployed? Are they the first one at the water cooler in the morning, gossiping, or do they keep to themselves? Do they get along with their boss? 

What are the signs of group inclusion? Do your characters have an accent? Do they wear a uniform, or some sort of special clothing? Do they have markings that identify them as part of a particular group?

Do different groups, different societies or cultural groups, have different accents? Different ways of speaking?

How do these marks of social inclusion, these accents and languages, differ from those which existed a century ago? A millennium ago? Also, what will these groups, these societies, be like a century--or a millennium--from now?

Setting As It Relates To Each Scene

I've touched on some of this information, above, but let's get specific. Stories are made up of scenes and most scenes occur at a place and a time. 

For each scene, in addition to knowing what season it is, know (if outdoors) what the weather is like, what characters are in the scene, what happened just before the scene started and what will happen just after the scene ends, and know what time of day it is. Is it high noon? Nighttime? Twilight? The witching hour? 

What associations do the main characters have about this time? What memories might it provoke? For instance, a character might wake during the witching hour and remember a nightmare they had as a child. (This introduces conflict: the character would like to sleep but the nightmare, and now the memories invoked by it, trap them in the waking world.)

Place: Indoors? Outdoors?

If the scene takes place outdoors what's the weather like? Is the sun hidden behind clouds turning day into night? Is it nighttime, yet lightning flashes make the landscape bright as day? Is it snowing? Raining? Is it sunny, with the unbearable heat of the desert baking everything to a brittle hardness? Are the characters in the Antarctic? Are they isolated by distance and the unbearable, bitter, cold? What associations might they have to snow? How about rain? Lightning? 

For example, while an adult might hate to wake up to a winter wonderland, a child would likely be overjoyed--especially if it means a snow day!

If the scene takes place indoors, what are the characters' surroundings like? Are they lavish? Poor? Shabby? Drab? Colorful? Ostentatious? Is it a human-made structure or natural, something like a cave. If man-made, were they invited here? Are your characters comfortable here? Does it make them feel at home or are they unsure how to act? 

A room could be lavish and yet make a character uneasy because, while they have always desired it, they are unused to such luxury. Another character, one equally uncomfortable in such surroundings, might feel the urge to destroy it while yet another might relax and feel at home. This touches on the topic of how setting can be used to develop character, but before we examine that let's briefly look at the importance of being able to use setting to generate conflict.


I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating. One thing all stories must have, whatever the story world, is conflict. Political parties battle each other. Countries go to war. Social groups hold diametrically opposed yet strongly held views about what constitutes appropriate conduct.

What do your characters believe? Where in this ever shifting maze of interconnectedness do they fit? What groups do they belong to? What do they believe about the world? Which social practices, which social institutions, do they embrace? How do these preferences generate conflict both within a character and between characters?

It is one thing for a character to understand what sort of behavior a particular society expects from its members, and quite another whether, and to what extent, they will go along with it.

Writing Challenge

Select one of your favorite books and try to answer the following questions: 

- What is the setting for the story? 
- Does the world have seasons? If so, during what season--or seasons--does the story take place? 
- How much time elapses during the story? 
- What is the geography like? 
- How many distinct social groups exist and what characteristics distinguish one from another? 
- Which aspects of the setting created the most conflict and how was it generated? 

Here's the sort of thing I mean. Imagine two societies are remarkably similar but one--Lakehonor--helped defend the surrounding region against an enemy while the other--Broomoward--did nothing. As a result, many citizens in Ladehonor despise Broomoward. It's winter, food is scarce, and a fire has ripped through Broomoward destroying its food reserves. Many in Broomoward accuse Lakehonor of setting the fire. One thing is certain, unless Broomoward gets food many of its citizens will starve to death. What will Broomoward do? Attack the city that defended it? What will Lakehonor do? Share it's food reserves with the city that not only didn't help defend against the enemy but that now accuses them of sabotage?

Given this setting, who would be your protagonist? I think I would choose a child from Broomoward who discovers evidence that their food reserves were destroyed by the enemy they thought Lakehonor had defeated. But will he be believed?

Friday, February 14

A Pattern of Character Emotion

Every day I complete a writing exercise to help stretch my writing muscles. Lately, I've been thinking about sharing these exercises with you folks. On YouTube. 

The thought of getting behind both a mic and a camera is scary, but I've decided to experiment, to stretch myself and try it out. At the very least, I might become more comfortable behind a mic! I've embedded the result at the top of this page. What follows is more-or-less a transcript of the video/podcast, above. It is the first time I've tried something quite like this so ... be warned! (grin)

Writing Exercise: A Pattern of Emotion

Today, I decided to try and create an emotionally compelling character in 500 words or less. But that's not all, I wanted to create the character according to the steps Dwight Swain talks about in his book.

So, for better or worse, here are a few of the steps I'm going to use to try and create an emotionally compelling character.

The Pattern of Character Emotion

How do we create an emotionally compelling character? 

1. The stimulus. Something external, observable, happens to a character.

This stimulus should be something external and observable.

Perhaps someone asks your character to marry him or perhaps she's in a car accident or maybe she learns a wildfire is about to engulf her home--and just yesterday she paid off the mortgage! What would she take? What would she leave behind? What would she be glad to leave behind?

Or perhaps someone is going to ask your character for a divorce.

It could be, though, that something nice happens, perhaps your character discovers she's won the lottery! 

2a. This change in your character's state of affairs causes a change in their state of mind.

The main point is that the stimulus doesn't just create a change in the story world, it creates a change in your character. The focal character. 

For example, if the stimulus is a man pointing a gun at your character's chest then focus on how this affects your character. And, initially, your character is going to react emotionally, internally.

Given that your character understands the situation, what would they feel? That will depend on what kind of a person they are. It depends on your character's character. (I wish there were another way of writing that!)

What will her first thought be? Of her child, her pet, of the things she hasn't done. 

2b. External change. The stimulus creates a change in your character's state of affairs.

Continuing my example, folks in real life might have various different reactions depending on the kind of homo fictus they are. A policeman or soldier might attempt to disarm the attacker. A mother with a young child might plead for mercy. A diplomat might try to negotiate.

The important point is that you show a change in the focal character's situation. 

3. Make sure that you show that the character's status quo has been irrevocably changed.

Not all changes in your character throughout the course of the story will be big, life-altering changes. But the change in your character's story world, the change that breaks the character's status quo at the beginning of the story (and here I'm talking specifically about genre stories) should be big, huge, life-shattering. 

Or at least it should be for this exercise!

4. Show the character's status quo before the change and then again after. 

How does one show change? 

A horror movie I watched yesterday showed change in a family's life by showing a child playing with a beloved family pet--a beautiful, friendly, loyal, dog. Something creepy happened that the dog (but none of the humans--silly humans!) reacted to. The dog refused to come into the house that night and was found dead the next morning. We then see the children and their parents reacting to the loss.

It was effective in illustrating a change in the status quo.

Here's another example. Let's say our character is a child waiting in line with her mother at a bank. A man pulls out a handgun, yells for everyone to be quiet and lie on the floor, then he shoots a bullet into the ceiling for emphasis.

That, the man pulling out a gun and shooting it, is the stimulus our character--the child--will react to. Before the man pulled the gun out, the child was bored. Now she's terrified.

Her observable reaction: she hugs her mother, buries her face in the woman's waist, and sobs.

The Exercise

Attempt to create an emotionally compelling character and do this by going through the steps we've just talked about.

1. The stimulus. Have something external, something observable, happen to a character.

2. Show your character react to this stimulus. 

2a. Internal change. Your characters first reaction will be a change of feeling, a change in her state of mind.

2b. External change. The stimulus will also create a change in your character's state of affairs.

3. Make the change a big, irrevocable, change. Make sure your readers know that your character's status quo has been irrevocably changed.

4. Show the character's status quo before the change and then again after. 

Good writing!

Question: What kind of change did you show? 

Saturday, March 9

Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Random Sentence

Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Random Sentence
Chuck Wendig has issued another Flash Fiction Challenge, but he's mixing it up!

The Challenge

This time the challenge is to generate 10 or so random sentences from this random sentence generator and use one in a story of up to 1,000 words.

Be sure to let everyone know what your random sentence was!

When you're done, post it on your webspace and leave a link in a comment to Chuck's post: Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Random Sentence. Your tale must be finished and the link posted by Friday, March 15th, noon EST.

Fun With Randomness

Get ready for crazy, nonsensical, sentences. It's great! Here are some of the ones I generated:
Can the year nose?
The hook objects to the war. (A pacifist Captain Hook?)
The teenager lurks next to the centered chestnut.
How can the touch flash? (Someone faster than Flash Gordon?)
The exciting weapon revolts behind the inventor.
When I saw the last sentence all sorts of light bulbs went off. First thought: An ancient scientist turns away from his latest creation, but as he does it becomes self-aware and attempts to escape.

Or something.

What sentence(s) did you generate?

Other links you might like:

- Stephen King Talks About Doctor Sleep, Winnebagos & A Movie Prequel To The Shining
- Handy Guides To Avoiding Mistakes In Grammar
- Beware Alibi Publishing, John Scalzi Warns: "This is the worst book contract I have ever encountered"

Photo link: "_IGP5461 | 70" by Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, February 23

The Importance Of Finding Your Own Voice

The Importance Of Finding Your Own Voice
Kris Rusch has written another awesome, inspirational, post: Out! All of You!

It was just what I needed. Over the past few days I've been getting back into the habit of writing after taking a break for my shoulder to heal and it's been tough.

Ignoring Your Inner Critic

Whenever I sat down to write all sorts of jabbering voices rose up like mushrooms after a rain, each telling me I was writing crap, that I would always write crap, that my crap was so crappy no one would read it.

Of course we have to care what other folks think about our work. After all, we need to pay the rent and eat occasionally. But it's easy to forget that the person we are writing for, first and foremost, is ourselves.

This isn't self-indulgence, it isn't ego. As writers, as creative beings, we need to stretch our creative muscles, we need to grow and continually develop our unique voice.

How do we do this? We write what our souls call us to write, regardless of what anyone else will think about it, regardless of whether anyone else believes what we're doing is valuable, or good, or even remotely sane!

Finding Your Own Creative Voice

In Out! All of you! Kris Rusch writes about finding your creative voice. She says that to have a long-term career, you need to learn to roll with the punches AND "you need to believe in yourself with a fierce passion. You need to know that your vision is the correct vision for you, and then you need to defend it."

Sally Field Fought For Her Creative Voice

Kris Rusch took the title of her piece--Out! All of you!--from a story Sally Field told in this short (4 min) video clip (starts around 2:45) during her interview on Nightline. It's an excellent video and Sally Field is wonderfully charismatic, it's well worth watching.

The point is that Sally Field believed enough in herself, in her artistic voice, to ignore the advice of her agents, her business manager and her husband and go her own way. And it paid off. She was right about herself. She succeeded.

Kris writes:
What disturbs me every teaching season is the way that writers wait for someone to tell them what box they fit in or what box they should go to. Every year, writers tell at least one of us that we need to give them better instructions. If we give better instructions, the writers insist, then they can write what we want them to write, so that we’ll be happy with them.

These writers entirely miss the point. The point isn’t for us to be happy, but for those writers to find their own voice. Sometimes they’ll fail an assignment and have to do it all over again from scratch. Oh, well. All that means is that they have to invest more time into their craft.

But for a certain type of writer, it means that they have screwed up completely, that they’ll never succeed, that they didn’t receive the help they needed to mold themselves into something someone else wanted.

We can’t help those writers. We try not to teach them, because we teach writers to stand on their own, defend their own vision, and become who they want to be, not who they’re told to be. It’s a tougher road to walk, because it means that there’s no one to blame when things go wrong.

Write For Yourself As Well As Others

Yesterday I wrote a 1,600 word short story in about 4 hours. For me that's good. I'll have to do another pass or two but I'm proud of it.

But I'll never, ever, publish it.

Why? Because it has to do with my father's death. It provided we with a way to say goodbye to him and to explore various issues that lingered, like ghosts, after his passing. (I did this as an unofficial response to Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge: Write What You Know.)

I wrote for myself, and I learnt something about myself and my writing. It gave me new energy, it invigorated me.

Rather than ask a question today I want to issue my own challenge:

Writing Challenge: Find Your Own Voice

1. Write something for yourself. 

Perhaps, down the road, you'll publish what you've written, but don't write with that in mind. Write something for you. If it will help, here is something Chuck Wendig wrote for his Write What You Know flash fiction challenge:
I want you to grab an event from your life. Then I want you to write about it through a fictional, genre interpretation — changing the event from your life to suit the story you’re telling. So, maybe you write about your first hunting trip between father-and-son, but you reinterpret that as a king taking his youngest out to hunt dragons. Or, you take events from your Prom (“I caught my boyfriend cheating on me in the science lab”) and spin it so that the event happens at the same time a slasher killer is making literal mincemeat of the Prom King and Queen. (Write What You Know)

2. Keep it short, 1,000 words or less

The second part of this challenge is to make it a short piece of 1,000 words or less. (Don't worry if you can't keep it to 1,000 words. I shot for 1,000 words and ended up with 1,600, but that was the shortest story I've written for years and was thrilled.)

Try to finish your piece on or before March 2. If you want to share it, post it on your website or blog and leave the link in a comment, below. If it's too personal to share, I'd still love to hear about your writing experience. :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Write A Novel In A Year, Chuck Wendig's Plan: The Big 350
- Plot, Story and Tension
- Patricia Cornwell Vindicated In Court, Wins 50.9 Million Dollars

Photo credit: "To Beseech Thee" by The Wandering Angel under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, January 8

Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge

Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge

I just learnt about Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge from a nice person in John Ward's Writer's Discussion Group

It's a fun challenge that doesn't take a lot of time since your story has to be under 1,000 words. It's nice to write something one can (theoretically!) write and edit in a few hours.

Here are the rules (I've copied this from Chuck's website, terribleminds):
I’m going to give you three categories. You will pick randomly from each category, maybe with a d10 or using a random number generator. From your choices, you’ll have 1000 words to write some flash fiction. Post this fiction at your online space. Link back here. Due by Friday, January 11th, at noon EST.
Chuck gives you a SUBGENRE a SETTING and an item or kind of thing your story MUST FEATURE. Actually, he gives you 10 in each category and then you randomly select one.

It's a fun idea! This way chances are everyone is writing a different kind of story with its own unique challenges. Here's the link if you're interested:

When you're done, don't forget to publish the story on your blog and leave the link in a comment to Chuck's post.

Other articles you might like:

- The Starburst Method: The Hero's Journey, Part 1
- How To Format A Word Document For Uploading To Amazon
- 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following

Photo credit: "5:00am… Wake up before the sun, start to run." by Untitled blue under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.