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

Monday, June 19

Writing Exercise: Make Your Own Critter!

Writing Exercise: Make Your Own Critter!

The research vessel Investigator recently explored a 4 km deep abyss along the eastern edge of Australia and found some bizarre critters! A fish without a face, a blog fish, and (this is my favorite) a sponge with GLASS tips. Wow. Now make your own!

What does the head look like? Body? Does it walk? Fly? Swim? Does it have scales? Feathers?

What exceptional quality does it have? Can it withstand fire? Can it breathe fire? Is it poisonous? Can it camouflage itself? Does it lay eggs or give live birth? How long does it live? WHERE does it live?

Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put 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’m recommending a book I’ve read many times, a book that helped shape our understanding of what a good story is: Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, by Syd Field. As an added bonus it’s well-written and a pleasure to read. Yes, it does focus on screenplays as opposed to novels but many of the same considerations apply: story is story. From the book:
“Because a screenplay is a story told with pictures, we can ask ourselves, what do all stories have in common? They have a beginning, middle, and an end, not necessarily in that order, as Jean-Luc Godard says. Screenplays have a basic linear structure that creates the form of the screenplay because it holds all the individual elements, or pieces, of the story line in place.”

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? 

Tuesday, May 7

Writing Exercise: Flexing Your Verbs

Writing Exercise: Flexing Your Verbs

Lately I've been doing a few writing exercises.

I'm going through my favorite books--books by Dashell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, but also newer ones. I love Laurrel Hamilton's Guilty Pleasures. I'll write out a passage I love then rewrite it attempting to use the author's voice.

Melissa Tudell in her article Energize Your Writing With This Easy Trick, advises writers to focus on using active verbs.

1. Be Direct

Avoid "to be" verbs like: is, am, are, was, were, be, being and been.

2. Use active verbs

Rather than use adjectives and adverbs to describe an action, use a strong verb. Here's Melissa's example:

Weak: He quickly poured a cup of coffee.
Strong: He dumped coffee into the mug.

It's interesting that the strong verb comes with a tradeoff. "Dumped" implies carelessness as well as speed.

3.  Let it all fly on your first draft

Debbie Maxwell Allen admonishes writers not to worry about strong verbs when writing their first draft.

She writes:
Sentences that use walked, sat, and thought pale in comparison to stalked, sprawled, and stewed. However, don't label yourself as a failure if strong verbs don't automatically show up in your manuscript. Adding stronger verbs is something you do in your rewriting.

The purpose of your first draft is to get the story on the page, in all it's unedited glory. Once you've got it down, you can analyze it for overuse of adverbs, adjectives, cliches--and wimpy verbs. (Pump Up Your Writing: Using Strong Verbs)
Debbie ends her article with a challenge:
Give it a try right now. Take a random page of your manuscript and highlight every verb on the page. Count how many are "plain vanilla" and substitute some stronger verbs. When you read it again, how much better is it?
I'm going to do that!

Other articles you might like:

- Chuck Wendig's 9 Tips For Writing A Million Words A Year
- Chuck Wendig On Finding Your Voice
- How To Get Over A Destructive Critique

Photo credit: "cute" by CarbonNYC under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, April 29

3 Steps To Better Prose

How To Improve Your Prose

How To Improve Your Prose In Three Months

A few years ago I attended a writing conference at which one of the lecturers made the following claim: If you follow these simple steps you'll markedly improve your prose writing in under three months.

At the time I thought it was too simple to work--just do these few steps every day and in 3 months (give or take) I'd be a better writer. Yeah. Right.

At the time I took the lecture I was skeptical, but now I'm not so sure. I think I might try this.

1. Go through your bookshelves and select a book that you think has terrific prose.

2. Select three pages of the book and copy them, word for word. 

This is only for your own edification so you can delete the pages after you're done. It is the act of typing/writing the words that is important.

Copying out the words will give you a feel for the writer's timing, their rhythm.

3. Write a few paragraphs that imitate the prose you've just copied.

For instance, if the text you chose to copy was a love scene, then you write a love scene. The setting you choose for your scene should be similar to the setting in the text you just copied.

Do this for three or four days picking 3 (or so) pages from different parts of the book. Then pick another book and do the same thing with that one.

After 3 or 4 months of this you will find it easier to write in your own voice and your prose will have improved.

#  #  #

The above is based on notes I took at a writing conference but unfortunately I didn't mark down the name of the conference or when I attended it, but it must have been some time ago. I hate not being able to give a reference but this information seemed too valuable not to share.

Question: Do you have any writing exercises you'd like to share?

Other articles you might like: 

- Book Design: What NOT To Do
- Cliffhangers
- New Minimum Length For Ebooks On Amazon: 2500 Words

Photo link: "Leap Day" by garlandcannon 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.