Category Archives: 50 First Lines

End-of-Year Plerk-out!

It’s funny how little down time I allow myself by before I feel the need to get something done. My husband’s the same way. We like to be productive.

During the “holidays” one would most likely find us in our respective offices brain-deep in some type of creative or career project: digitizing rare audio cassettes, typing up old journal pages, writing a proposal for a conference, a class, a book.

Between the productivity we take a walk to a local coffee shop and the subject of how we rarely relax comes up. “It’s because we like our work,” I say to him. “But our work is our play. We don’t work; we plerk.”

(SIDENOTE: we discussed the spelling of the combination of “work” and “play” and decided against “plork” because no one would pronounce it right.)

Plerking for me is writing this now. It’s editing a manuscript. It’s jotting a poem down, capturing a melody, brainstorming TV movie ideas. Plerking is when one enjoys the work of one’s life so much that it doesn’t feel like work – which is not to be confused with the ease of the endeavour.

Play can be just as challenging as work. Have you ever played sports? Sports are challenging physically and mentally, but we never ask, “what sport do you work?” Not even to professionals.

A few weeks ago I gave myself (and invited others) the challenge of writing a short story by the end of the year using a paragraph from the 50 First Lines exercise. I posted my top 5 and ended up choosing the following paragraph:

Green, red, blue . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge? He lay his head back down on the institutional hospital pillow. The nurses didn’t know what to do with him. He had red blood spurting from a gash in his arm and green blood coming from his nose. He reached up and touched it. His nose. Where Karmen had punched him.

EDITING YOUR PLERK

I was on a panel about editing at VCon with four other authors. All of us had different techniques and rituals around editing. The only thing we all completely agreed upon was the importance of it.

When someone asked if it was possible to spend too much time editing, I said, “Perfectionism is the opposite of done, but I have never heard anyone say, ‘Wow, that was a great story, too bad it suffered from over-editing.’ It’s a bit of a balance.”

Here are some basic steps I take when I edit a short story:

-After I pound out the first draft, I usually read it over a few times and do some straight intuitive editing.

-I tend to explain too much in the first drafts of my short stories. If I explain anything I first ask myself, is this information necessary? If so, is there a way to show it in action or dialogue instead?

For instance, here’s a doozy:

Karmen had always loved attention, had loved flaunting her nerdy boy toy with his natural, baby-faced good looks. One-hundred percent human, not like those trendy “mutants” with their artificial modifications. She liked showing him off like a pet, daring any man, woman, or hermaph to challenge her claim.

Instead of explaining all of this, I could have a scene where she takes her boy toy to a party and threatens someone or makes a snide remark about a “mutant.”

-I examine each character individually. What is her motivation? What is his character arc? Who is this person? I visualize each character in my mind doing something. I think it’s important to visualize them in action, not just what they look like physically.

-Once I’ve edited it a few times, I give it to one or two people in my crit arena. I get some feedback, take some notes, read over my notes, and then set them aside. (I don’t obsess over notes. If something clicks, it will reveal itself in the rewrite)

-I PRINT the story out and read it OUT LOUD. This is vital. I read every line for “sound” and “sense.” Meaning, does it sound good and does it make sense for the story.

-I question my “darlings.” If certain lines make me feel clever, I examine them in the context of the story. Yes, cleverness is good, but I was a bit in love with the last line of my story so that each of 3 versions of the ending still contained that final line. I wanted to make sure the last line actually worked.

-I look for the logic of the story. The overall holds-together-ness of it. If I look at it objectively, do the pieces of the story fall together so that the outcome is believed to be a necessary conclusion?

Sometimes when I’m editing I freeze up and procrastinate, fearing that I will somehow “ruin” the story by editing. That I’ll make it worse. I can’t say that has ever happened. I have to remind myself of that. I always save each new version just in case, but I rarely find that I need to refer back to it.

Your End-Of-Year Plerkout:

If you’ve started a short story, use that. If not, find something you’d like to “plerk” on that needs finishing (assess that it is finishable in 6 days). A poem, a song, a collage, even a novel – but only if you’re that close to the end.

The idea is to FINISH something, as in, ready for submission. An actual edit and polish so that you can start the New Year with a brand new story to toss to the story-catchers.

Have a Great New Year and Be Safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weekend Workout: End-of-Year Short Story Challenge! (or 50 First Lines Redux!)

I’ve been jumping up and down in my mind (I do that) to use some material from the 50 first lines exercise I started months ago. I used this exercise, another of my favourites, for a writing contest back in February and the results were terrific.

The whole 50 First Lines exercise is a blast and it works. I’ve proven to myself over and over again that it works, and now I have an excuse to use some of my results.

There’s an open call for a short story anthology I’m interested in submitting to and the deadline is Dec 31st, so it’s perfect timing. If you’d like to join me and submit to this anthology (or to any other anthology or magazine or just want to finish a short story by the end of the year), you can play along. You can play along regardless of anything, but having a goal and a deadline is a great motivator.

If you did not participate in February and want to catch up, or start over again, here’s the whole exercise:

STEP ONE: Write 50 first lines. Seriously. This is not as difficult as it sounds. I recommend doing it in one 30 minute sitting. Just crank them out off the cuff. Don’t think too hard or you’ll crush the gems.

For inspiration, here are the winners from the first round of the contest last Feb.

STEP TWO: Pick your Top 10. Here were mine:

It was the colour of vomit… probably because it was vomit.

The clown nose was the last straw.

The idea was half-baked – – but then again, she liked things a little raw.

The horse was her neighbour’s and they were both studs.

Green, blue, red . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge?

It was a perfect morning for picking mushrooms.

I was taking a short cut through the cemetery when I spotted it. Him. It.

If he had told her about his origami-folding autistic idiot-savant brother in the first place, they wouldn’t be in this jam.

“I think it can be reattached,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time she had been arrested for bar-fighting, and the other time wasn’t her fault either.

STEP THREE: Write 10 first paragraphs.

After you’ve chosen your Top 10 first lines, write the first paragraph for each. Again, just crank them out as quickly as possible in one sitting. Don’t edit, don’t over think, just write.

Here are the winning paragraphs from the contest.

STEP FOUR: pick 3-5 of your own that you like

Here were my 5 favourite paragraphs:

Green, red, blue . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge? He lay his head back down on the institutional hospital pillow. The nurses didn’t know what to do with him. He had red blood spurting from a gash in his arm and green blood coming from his nose. He reached up and touched it. His nose. Where Karmen had punched him.

 ~ ~ ~

It was a perfect morning for picking mushrooms. Green and misty in that way that spring teases. If she could identify them, she’s pick them now. They had sprouted up overnight, literally overnight, on the median across from the bus stop. But she couldn’t tell the difference between the poisonous and nonpoisonous ones. Nor did she know how much of the poisonous ones to add into a tincture, so that it would be just this side of magic, and not lethal.

 ~ ~ ~

I was taking a short cut through the cemetery when I spotted it. Him. It. The limping coyote. I had always assumed it was a he. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and I was glad he was safe, although not glad it was almost dark and that I was alone. I shifted my grocery bag to my left arm. Was I supposed to make myself big or small in the face of a coyote? Run towards him, back away, play dead?

 ~ ~ ~

If he had told her about his origami-folding autistic idiot-savant brother in the first place, they wouldn’t be in this jam. Instead he had told her to “wait” outside the non-descript building while he went inside. When he reemerged, sheepishly introducing Simon to her, almost apologetic, she was pale as a ghost. Unresponsive, even when he waved his hand in front of her face. He had no idea what had happened in the 20 minutes she had been sitting there on the bench. He was spooked, but Simon seemed to be all right. His brother placed his paper crane in Marion’s lap and she snapped out of her trance.

 ~ ~ ~

“I think it can be reattached,” he said.  He examined the finger more closely.  The wires had fried, but the finger itself seemed functional. “Here,” he said, handing the finger to ROY, “hold onto that until we can get back to the garage. I’m going to collect some more conch shells from the beach.”

 ~ ~ ~

STEP FIVE: Pick the paragraph that “clicks” for you, ignites the proverbial light bulb, and write a draft of that story by NEXT FRIDAY (Dec 21). That’s one week for a short story (2,000-5,000 words). You can do it. That still leaves 10 days to edit it for submission.

If you’re having trouble choosing from among your brilliant 5 paragraphs, try working on each one a little and see what happens. Since the anthology I’m submitting to is themed (it’s about heroes coming home) it helped in my selection. I looked for the “hero coming home” in each one. I started three different possible stories until one took off.

You’ll know when it does.

NEXT WEEKEND WORKOUT: We’ll edit and polish them by the end of the month.

Have a great weekend!

P.S. Someone just told me writer couple Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch suggested starting a short story each Monday, finishing it during the week, and submitting it that Friday. Now that sounds like a great challenge, and with 50 first lines, you’ve already got a year of stories waiting for you. (Hmmm, I smell a 2013 writing challenge for me)

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Wednesday Winners: Final Round, Feedback, and Book Draw

Thank you to all who participated in any stage
of the 50 First Lines Challenge!

(click for source)

(FEEDBACK questions to you in blue)

THE PLAYBACK

In Round One, you were challenged to come up with 50 first lines and pick your top FIVE. We chose FIVE lines as finalists.

(FEEDBACK: do you think this worked well? should we require a link to the person’s blog to prove they did 50?)

In Round Two, you had to use either your five lines or the finalists’ five lines and come up with 5 first paragraphs. You sent us your top 3 and we picked our TOP THREE(FEEDBACK: do you think everyone should have to use the same five finalists’ lines?)

In the Third Round, you had to pick one of the top three paragraphs and tell us what that story was about. (FEEDBACK: I’ve never tried it this way before, any comments or ideas for a different 3rd Round challenge?)

THE WINNERS

For each round, every participant got an entry into the drawing. If one of yours was chosen as a finalist, you got an extra draw.

For the DRAWING, and a choice of a print or ebook version of either Book One or Two of the Faerie Tales form the White Forest series:
Charissa and Esther Jones!

The judges consensus is that

4 AM Writer (Kathryn J) had the best storyline in Round Three (congrats 4 AM), so with a total of 6 points, you are the grand prize winner!

Not only do you get a choice of the books from above, I’m going to mail you a special prize. Once I knew it was you, I picked a prize I thought you’d really like.

Congrats to all. Thank you so much for playing. And thank you to our judges and tie-breakers (Tod, Jennifer, Natalie, and Yvette).

I won’t be around due to the book fair, but there will be some time release posts coming and some guest bloggers. I’ll try to check in from Bologna if possible.

FURTHER FEEDBACK: which was your favourite round? your least favourite? the one that challenged you the most? And – would you play again?

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Round Two Winners and Round Three Rules: The 50 First Lines Challenge

The 50 First Lines Challenge

Round One challenged you to write 50 First Lines and submit your Top Five.

Round Two challenged you to write Five First paragraphs and submit your Top Three.

From all those paragraphs, we picked OUR Top Three.

(click for source)

It was tough for our judges to pick the Top Three. Seriously tough. It took 2 days to whittle it down and we had a new guest judge (a Vancouver writer/actor/producer) to break the ties.

Without further ado, the Top Three First Paragraphs are (in no particular order):

1 – TAMARA WALSH (I don’t have a blog link for her)
I blame everything that happened on the orange chicken. Nobody would’ve ever known it was me who spray painted, “Steve Sucks!” across his barn if the dumb chicken hadn’t gotten itself caught in my crossfire. You’d have thought I’d sprayed it with acid instead of paint. The damn thing came at me like a pit-bull on steroids, pecking at clucking and flapping its wings. I couldn’t help but holler. When Steve’s father rushed out of the house to see what all the ruckus was about there I was—still swinging the can of paint, flailing about like a feathered fool in the moonlight. And there was the orange chicken, its claws dug firmly into my hair—still trying to peck my eyes out.

2 – 4AM WRITER
Nobody wanted to claim the abandoned baby on the hill. Not a single hunter from the King’s clan and not one farmer from the Queen’s clan knelt in admission. That hill, with its concealed scorpion pits and live landmines, was supposed to keep the two clans divided as part of the War treaty. But the baby had all the markings, proof that the hill had been crossed. He had the silvery eyes of the Kings and the ruddy skin of the Queens. His secret will not last long. In time, the family birthmark will bloom. Announcing to which hunter and which farmer the baby truly belonged. And then the spooks will come after them.

3 CHAR
Waves rolled in, one after another, slowly erasing the bloody evidence. A lone seagull swooped above the breakers, curious about the swirling red in the pounding surf. Not far away, an old man in a parked BMW watched stone-faced as the last traces of his obsession were claimed by the sea. He sat motionless for another quarter of an hour, staring down at the log-strewn beach which, just an hour before, had been the scene of grisly violence. Turning the key in the ignition, a smile crept up his face as he reveled in what he had done. Avra would be so proud.

Congratulations! Each of the finalists gets an extra entry into the final drawing. And bragging rights, of course.

AND NOW … It’s time for the finale:
ROUND THREE!

And once again, ANYONE can play!

I’ve never done this challenge in this manner before, so after it’s all over, I’d love your feedback. Typically, as an exercise I give to my students, I have them write 50 first lines, 10 first paragraphs, and then one short story.

Since I never specified if these were short stories or novellas or novels, I’m not going to require that for this challenge, but perhaps you’ve been inspired by what you’ve written and have big plans to turn one of these into a short story after all. I’d be thrilled if any of these became something bigger. (and please share with us if they do!)

GUIDELINES FOR ROUND THREE

Your final challenge is to take ONE of the THREE winning paragraphs above and tell us what the story is about. Beginning, middle, and end. Stakes and consequences. And you must do it in 10 sentences or less.

It might start something like:
This is a story about a young woman who gives away all the jewelry her ex-boyfriend ever gave her, only to discover that one of the pieces was a charm that belonged to his Hungarian grandmother. This charm has magical properties; it was how he got her to fall in love with him in the first place. Out of revenge, she wants to retrieve it and use it on him … then dump him right back! She goes on a wild cross-country goose chase after it, landing herself in jail after a speeding ticket leads to a fight with a police officer. Her ex-boyfriend bails her out and she realizes, after her road trip ordeal, that she’s no longer in love with him. Together, they find the ring and bring it back to his grandmother, so it can’t ruin any more lives, only to find out it wasn’t magic after all. It was just a story she told him for fun, because that’s what grandmothers do. (okay, that was spur of the moment, but you get the idea)

EVERY entrant gets their name in the draw. The BEST story idea (deemed so by our judges saying YES, I want to read this story most of all!) gets a bonus entry into the draw.

There will be two drawings for prizes, PLUS the person who has the MOST entries at the end (by participating and getting bonus entries) wins the secret prize.

But, again, most of all, this is for fun and inspiration. This is to get your creative juices flowing. So, have a good time with it.

ALL ENTRIES ARE DUE BY MONDAY, MARCH 12 AT MIDNIGHT

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50 First Line Finalists and 2nd Round Rules! Join us!

I have been trying to write this post all day. It’s just been one of those days.

Image by Adam J. Kurtz

For those just tuning in, I am hosting a writing challenge/contest and we have just finished the first round. Anyone can join in the next round, so read on.

First, thanks to the writers who took up the 50 First Lines Challenge (they wrote 50 first lines as fast as possible and submitted their favourite five). Our judges actually had their own challenge, and I had to bring in a tie-breaker to settle things.

Judges included a MG writer/educator, a spec fic publisher and sci fi writer, and an adult fiction writer, so we ran the gamut. One of them exclaimed, “These are so good! It was hard to pick.”

If you did not attempt this exercise, I highly recommend it and I’m sure any of our writers would say the same thing. It’s a fantastic way to inspire yourself.

Without further ado… the top First Lines picked are (in no particular order, mind you, that would have been chaos):

Nothing was tastier than brains, not that he could remember any other flavour.
(by Esther Jones)

Nobody wanted to claim the abandoned baby on the hill. (by 4AM Writer)

There’s no such thing as a good day in Antarctica. (By Annie Cardi)

If you destroy someone’s life, they’re yours forever. (By Annie Cardi)

I blame everything that happened on orange chicken. (By Char)

For each line our judges picked, you receive an entry into the prize drawing.

I think it’s interesting to notice that the top picks were all short and punchy. Perhaps that’s how readers like to be drawn into a story? It’s definitely something to think about.

ROUND TWO
(Goodie!)

Generally when I give this exercise to my students, the next stage is to pick 10 First Lines and write 10 First Paragraphs. You are welcome to do that, but I’m only going to ask you to do five. The five you entered, if you entered.

If you did NOT enter the first round, your job is to write 5 First Paragraphs using the WINNING First Lines above. ONLY SUBMIT YOUR TOP THREE.

I ask you to do five to complete the challenge and to give you some choice. But only submit 3 to the comment section. (you are more than welcome to link to the rest if you post them all on your blog)

Again, the idea is to write them fairly fast, not thinking too much, and go from one right to the next. This could be the start of a novel, a short story, or a piece of flash. It doesn’t matter. You can edit them afterwards all you want, just get the first drafts done fast. Maybe even set a timer for 15 – 20 minutes.

YOU HAVE UNTIL MONDAY March 5 AT MIDNIGHT PST
TO SUBMIT YOUR 3 FIRST PARAGRAPHS!

Here’s a few samples from my own pile:

Green, red, blue . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge? He lay his head back down on the institutional hospital pillow. The nurses didn’t know what to do with him. He had red blood spurting from a gash in his arm and green blood coming from his nose. He reached up and touched it. His nose. Where Karmen had punched him.

It was a perfect morning for picking mushrooms. Green and misty in that way that spring teases. If she could identify them, she’d pick them now. They had sprouted up overnight, literally overnight, on the median across from the bus stop. But she couldn’t tell the difference between the poisonous and nonpoisonous ones. Nor did she know how much of the poisonous ones to add into a tincture, so that it would be just this side of magic, and not lethal.

I was taking a short cut through the cemetery when I spotted it. Him. It. The limping coyote. I had always assumed it was a he. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and I was glad he was safe, although not glad it was almost dark and that I was alone. I shifted my grocery bag to my left arm. Was I supposed to make myself big or small in the face of a coyote? Run towards him, back away, play dead?

HAVE FUN!!

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Filed under 50 First Lines, contests, weekend workout, writing exercises

No MGM; Campaign Tag; 50 First Lines by Midnight!

My regular blog schedule is out the window. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t expect any more Middle Grade Monday posts from me until after The Campaign and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair are over. So at least March 26.

The 50 First Line Challenge is STILL ON!

You have until midnight tonight (that’s PST – my time – so 3 AM to those in NYC and 8 AM to those in Bologna, Italy) to submit your Top Five. There’s been interest and reposting and lots of hurrah’s, but only a few brave writers have posted theirs so far.

Even if you miss this round, you can still participate in the next.

This is only the First Round of the exercise/challenge/contest. You can still participate in the Second Round. Instructions will be posted on Wednesday. The more rounds you participate in, the more chances you have to win.

Kudos to 4 AM Writer to be the first to post her entire list of 50 first lines on her blog.

I have been triple-tagged

For those of you who missed getting into The Campaign, I will tell you that to make it worthwhile takes a lot of time and energy. But that means, if you give it enough time and energy, it’s worthwhile. With so many writers participating, you’re bound to find some like minds, some interesting work, and some new fans.

One of the things these crazy peeps love to do is play TAG. They post 11 questions on their blogs and those “tagged” have to retrieve the questions an answer them. I have been tagged 3 times and have yet to answer one of those 33 questions. I mean, really, does anyone out there really want to know 33 things about me?

I don’t think I’ll get to them all, but here are the people who tagged me so you can see ALL of the questions (if you really want). And I’ll just answer a few here and there as I get to them.

Here are a few questions each from Playful Creative; Traci Kenworth; Colleen’s Write Brain

Which children’s/young adult book did you only read and LOVE as an adult? I had never read any Kate DiCamillo until I was in my late 30’s because she wasn’t around when I was a kid. I’m not sure that counts, but I adore her writing as an adult, and I’m sure I would have as a kid.

What genre is your current wip? It’s a “pop space opera” – and I bet you can’t wait to find out what that is.

Do you have someone in your live who keeps you on track with your stories? Give them a shout out! My dear friend Yvette has made the most difference in the past few months keeping me focused on my writing career, and I have in turn kept her focused on her acting career. Having a support team is essential.

Do you ever feel over-exposed on your blog? But of course, but that’s the chance I’m taking. Love the dork that I am, or not.

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Filed under 2012 Platform Building Campaign, 50 First Lines, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend Workout: Write Those 50 First Lines!

On Wednesday, I challenged you to the 50 First Lines Exercise.

Basically, you write 50 first lines, in a row, without thinking too much. I like setting a timer for 30 minutes to get that creative rush.

Now, I was hoping to make this exercise/challenge a contest. With prizes (see GUIDELINES – scroll down in original post). But, if I don’t get participants, well, it will just be a great exercise that maybe a few people did.

I really recommend you try it for your weekend workout. If you’re thinking, I can’t come up with 50 first lines in one sitting, then you should try this exercise.

If you’re thinking, And in you want me to do it in 30 minutes? You should try this exercise.

Letting go and timing yourself and not thinking too much about it you will write strange lines, funny lines, lines in genres you don’t normally dwell in, profound lines, surprising lines, etc, etc. I don’t know where some of the lines I wrote came from!

If you get stuck – think of a childhood memory, an embarrassing moment, the last fight you got into, something you saw on the bus… then put that incident in the distant past, in another country, in the eyes of a 12 year-old, in space. Try it with a paranormal twist, a surreal twist, a sardonic twist.

All you need to do to enter is to put your Top 5 lines in the comment section (in this post or the Wednesday post) by midnight on Monday. With 50 first lines, you’ll have a hard time choosing your faves.

On Wednesday, I will pick the Top 5 lines and give the next segment of the challenge. Ha! You thought we were going to stop at 50 first lines? Not a chance.

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