Category Archives: prose

Weekend Workout: Paragraphs to Stories

I had a superb time writing first paragraphs from my first lines last week. Again, I didn’t think too much about what I was writing, I just wrote. I didn’t plan anything out, I just went where the line took me. I did it all in one sitting.

I think the “not thinking” and “all in one sitting” are important to the exercise. Timing yourself could help, too, so that you don’t get stuck staring at the first line and trying to THINK something out of it. Go with your gut!

The really fascinating thing is that this exercise works, really works, some incredible magic. From nothing but a quick thought  springs an idea you didn’t even know was there.

This exercise can take an intimidating process – the act of sitting down to write without any ideas – and make something amazing and fresh.

Again, from my original 50 first lines I picked the 10 I liked the best. Then I sat down and wrote 10 paragraphs from those first lines. Here are my FIVE favourite opening paragraphs from those first lines:

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?

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.

It wasn’t the first time she had been arrested for bar-fighting, and the other time wasn’t her fault either. What was it about her eyes that made people want to punch her? Looking at someone wasn’t a crime. . . but looking into someone could make them act out. Make them strange.

Interestingly, four out of my five favourite paragraphs are all a bit paranormal. I didn’t plan that, but I’m going to run with it.

This weekend I’m going to flush one of these out further. I’m guessing the mushroom one – there’s something about that one I like.

If you don’t like any of your first paragraphs, do another 10 from your original 50 and keep going until you do. With 50 first lines, you’re bound to strike gold at some point.

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Weekend Workout: 50 First Lines

A few years ago I went through a micro fiction phase. I was inspired by a “postcard story” contest. Submissions had to be stories told in 250 words or less. I thought if I cranked out a 250 word story a day for 10 days, chances are I’d like at least one of them.

I didn’t win the contest, but I did end up with the first five chapters of a flash fiction series I intend to finish one of these days. I discovered how much fun flash fiction can be, especially if you don’t attach any expectations around the work and just keep cranking them out.

The first thing I did when I sat down to write them is I just started thinking about random start lines. Each day I would pick and expand on one of them. I can’t think of the author who has the “50 first lines” exercise… if you know who it is, let me know. I just remember that you’re supposed to start the exercise by writing 50 first lines.

So, there you go. Excellent weekend workout. Write 50 start lines! Who knows… the lines could turn in to poems, vignettes, short stories, or even a novel.

Don’t spend too much time on them. Less than an hour. Just write them as fast as they come. Don’t judge them, with 50 first lines you can throw out 90% of them and still have lines to work with.

Here are my first 5:

1) Picking up the chipped coffee cup he wondered what Thelma would have to say about him being fired.

2) From the surface of the moonblue water, a tail emerged like a telescope.

3) Her credit card was maxed and her bank account was dry, but by God she was going to have a good time at the space station.

4) Mumphy paced back and forth in front of the delivery room and wondered if it were too late to tell Chelle he no longer wanted to be a part of the experiment.

5) “I wouldn’t get on her bad side if I were you,” Kris said as I studied the woman who he claimed had some kind of holy control over his life.

Have fun and have a great weekend (workout)

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We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Poem . . . The Accidental Novelist does have an actual accidental novel

I know it seems like there’s a lot of poetry on this site for being called “The Accidental Novelist.” And that would be because there IS a lot of poetry on this site. Poetry is my first love, it will be my last breath, and I believe every writer could improve his/her craft by creating room for poetry practice.

Poetry has made my work visual and given rhythm to my words. It teaches economy and breath.  I am a better screenwriter and novelist for it.

This post isn’t about poetry, though, it’s about the accidental novel that was accidentally launched last year, and is now making its very purposeful appearance!

If you don’t know the story, I originally wrote Brigitta of the White Forest as a feature screenplay several years ago. I decided to adapt it as a novel and that’s when I discovered I actually liked novel writing. No, more than that . . . I discovered that I could live inside it. I seriously had not thought of myself as a novelist, nor had I plans to become one. (And if I had thought romantically about it, I would have pictured some brooding journey of self and not a middle grade fantasy adventure about faeries.)

It was a happy accident.

The publisher is launching the official first edition (as opposed to the limited First Fan edition) THIS FRIDAY, Feb 11. I do not know when it will be available from Amazon or B&N, but I believe the distributor is shipping to them this week.

Buying directly from a small press publisher is always the most supportive thing you can do.

Also THIS FRIDAY, Indie Debut is officially launching its new website. Indie Debut is a collective of children’s book authors who are debuting books with small and independent presses. Anyone interested in learning about what it’s like to work with a small press will learn a ton from the site. We hope to be a service to those wanting to know more about the industry.

All DAY on Friday (Feb 11) there will be an OPEN HOUSE at the Indie Debut website with various activities. All the authors are offering contests and games and discussions. There will be swag, oh yes.

I am having a Faerie Wing contest over at The White Forest from 9 AM – noon (PST) on Friday as part of the Open House. Come play and win an autographed copy of the book. 🙂

Keep on swimming.

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Filed under Brigitta of the White Forest, prose, writing life

Weekend Writing Workout – Defining Moments

Author Anne Fleming has a brilliant short story called The Defining Moments of My Life, which I use in the classroom to inspire students for one of my favourite writing exercises.

Fleming’s short story is told as a series of moments that defined the character/narrator during her youth. The brilliance of her piece is that it is in two parts, the first part being “The Defining Moments of My Life as Envisioned by My Mother when Pregnant with Me.” This shorter section includes things like:

4. I am an easy baby, gurgling happily in my crib. Each stage described in the baby books I enter into promptly and exactly. At X days, my eyes focus past ten inches and I display an interest in the mobile above my crib . . .

7. I get my period. Of course my mother has lovingly explained my entrance into womanhood before the sacred event. I embrace my womanhood with bashful pleasure, feeling closer than ever to the woman who brought me into the world . . .

8. . . . I continue to be attractive, as my brother also turns out to be. We are popular and have lots of friends. Mothr makes us a nutritious lunch each day . . .

and

10. I have my first abortion.

Sorry. 10. I am valedictorian and give a moving speech, thanking my parents for their support.

The second section of the story is called “The Defining Moments of my Life as Seen by Me” and goes more like:

5. My adopted brother arrives. He has black hair and brown skin and hollers all the time. I can’t believe I ever hollered that much or that loudly, though I am told repeatedly it is true.

6. . . . Timmy Mills calls me and my brother ugly. This follows on my mother telling me gleefully and regularly – every time we se an infant, in fact, cute or ugly – that I was an ugly baby . . .

7. I get my period when I am ten. Not expecting this for a couple of years at least, Mom has not yet given me her Soon You Will Be a Woman speech, but I know what’s going on. I don’t think I’m bleeding to death with some mysterious disease. I know what menstruation is. I have read my friend Elaine’s copy of Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

and

9. At seventeen, I win a part in West Side Story. I am the tomboy, always trying to get into the gang and always getting ridiculed and kicked around instead. My character’s name, interestingly, is “Anybody’s.” My mother is appalled. she knows I could not possibly be Maria, but she thought maybe a chorus girl, maybe even Bernard’s girlfriend, or Riff’s. Anybody but Anybody’s . . .

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Later in the story her brother gets arrested, her father goes to rehab, and it becomes increasingly apparent that she is a lesbian – who then falls for her best friend.

It’s a sad/beautiful demonstration of our dreams and expectations vs. reality and deliverance. (Life is often about surfing that line with grace, isn’t it?)

The EXERCISE I give to my students is to write a chapter poem or short story entitled “The 10 Defining Moments of My Life.”

What is really interesting is that I give this exercise to elementary kids as much as I give it to adults. It’s great fun to see what a 10 year old considers a “defining moment.” 🙂

A poetic version of the above might go something like:

1)
Four year old dance steps tap a frenzy of look-at-me
I’ve got girl graces
I can fly free and free and free
the world watches and applauds
the snake charm sense spinning
the manipulation of the birth
of me

2)
Discover stealing small things
fingering coins, cigarettes, stones
the hidden thrill-guilt in taken tokens
like charm seeds
planting the momentum for
stealing that which I can’t return
the heart of a man
and other beating things

Now it’s your turn! Write in prose or poetry “The 10 Defining Moments of My Life.”

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Filed under poetry, prose, weekend workout, writing exercises