Category Archives: weekend workout

Weekend Workout: How To Be

Just because it’s NaNo month and I’m on Team Pantser this year, doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing my long-hand exercises. I’m sure a lot of people (especially Pantsers) type everything straight into their computer. During NaNo month, far more of my first draft definitely happens through my keyboard. But, I almost always warm up with a hand-written exercise and when I get stuck, I always reach for a pen. Writing by hand, for me, opens me up creatively,  frees my ideas, my blocks, and my editor.

Whether you are participating in the NaNoWriMo this month or not (and cheers to you if you are), I’ve cooked up a little exercise that you might find helpful at some point when developing a character.

A few weeks ago, the students in one of my classes read How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor. A sweet middle grade story about a girl who must live in a car with her mother and brother after their father leaves them with no money and they are evicted from their apartment. Her mother is working two low-wage jobs in order to come up with rent and deposit for a new place. The girl decides she’s going to help her mother raise money by stealing a dog. She’ll wait for the owner to post a reward and then bring the dog back for the reward.

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I didn’t find anything particularly surprising or eye-opening about the story, but I did like the concept, the characters, and the voice. I think voice is one of those things that’s difficult to teach, and even to explain to writers, but you kinda know it when you see it.

In the book, the main character creates a list of instructions in her journal on how to steal a dog. The assignment I gave to my students after they read the book was to write their own instruction list for something in the form of a poem, vignette, or short story (for example, one wrote instructions for “How to Make Someone Uncomfortable When You Pass them on the Sidewalk ).

It was a great exercise, so I decided to use it another way. What if the character in your story wasn’t giving someone instructions  on how to DO something, but how to BE something. What about how to be them? This might be a great way not only to develop voice, but backstory, motivation, wound, etc. In other words: character.

YOUR WORKOUT

Set your timer for 15-20 minutes. Put your character in a place (so we know who her audience is): a psych ward, the waiting room of a dentist office, an auditorium, school lunchroom, or maybe just home in bed writing in her diary.

Your start line is: To be me, you have to…

Write without stopping and see where that takes you.

Don’t edit, cross out, or re-read while you write. Keep the pen moving!

If you like the exercise, try it again with another character.

And have a great weekend!

NaNo NaNo!

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Weekend Writing Workout ~ Really!

My friend Jennifer and I were walking in the park yesterday with her daughter, enjoying a crisp late afternoon under a canopy of bright leaves. When I grew thirsty, she offered me her tic tacs.

“Wow,” I said, “I haven’t had one of those in years.”

“Just put one in your mouth,” she said. “Trust me.”

I did as I was told and instantly had a memory of a shopping mall where my best friend and I bought treats on the way to school.

“It tastes like the 70’s,” I said, sucking on the tiny white thing. “And  bit medicinal.”

“I know, right!” she said, excited. “They’re really small, but so potent. You only need one, and, BAM, you’re transported back in time.”

She was right. There was something about that kick of taste that brought me back to my childhood.

What small, simple objects transport you back in time?

What small, simple objects transport your character back in time?

This weekend, write about a memory that strikes your character without notice. That hijacks their thoughts. That intrudes on their mood, their day, their conversation.

YOUR WORKOUT

1) Pick one of your characters to use for this exercise.

SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line:
She/he stopped in her tracks, for on the ground was a …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line:

“What’s that!” she/he exclaimed, pointing to the …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

Now write a SCENE in which this object INTRUDES upon your character’s activity, be it a walk, a fight, a conversation, a meal. Have it invoke a memory, and a feeling along with that memory. Have it TAKE THE ACTION in a new direction.

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

 

And have a great weekend!

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Hellooooooo! Weekend Workout: We Got Talent

Wow. It’s been over a month since I’ve blogged. I’ve been trying to get back to it, but life kept happening. I won’t go into all the details, but let’s just say the circumnavigation included a computer death, a back injury (unrelated to the computer death), 3 elementary school visits (also unrelated to the back injury), a flashmob, a haircut, completing my latest rewrite on a new novel (yay), a dream about a roller coaster for executives. And this:

steaming jar of

The back injury happened while falling into a pile of logs trying to retrieve this one for my garden:

garden log

Okay, the part where I carried this by myself to the car may have exacerbated my back injury a bit. But lookie how cool my garden driftwood log is! And my free beach log only cost me $300 in massage and chiropractor expenses!

So, while I was grumbly and lying around recovering, I entertained myself by watching 2 seasons of The Killing – a really fantastic series (oh, but don’t tell my husband I watched season 2 without him) and inspirational youtube videos of X Factor auditions.

I’ve never watched X Factor, American Idol, The Voice, or any of these other singing shows, and I don’t think I’d watch a whole show or a whole season. But what I loved over and over again was when the person auditioning  took the judges by surprise. I loved when what they expected was turned on its head.

A few of my favourites included:

Jeffery Adam Gutt
Panda Ross
Tate Stevens
Luke Lucas
and from Britain’s Got Talent, Charlotte and Jonathan

The list goes on, really (I probably watched 100 videos). And it’s made me think both about expectation and inspiration. We can’t help but to judge people the moment we see them. It’s human nature. And I find it completely inspiring when my own expectations are blown out the door.

YOUR WORKOUT

Literary agent Donald Maas, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, says that to make your characters universal, you have to make them unique, which sounds like an oxymoron. But, he explains, that our uniqueness is the universal thing about us.

What’s unique about us might be a talent – a small one or a large one or a quirky one. Remember in BREAKFAST CLUB when Claire (Molly Ringwald) placed her lipstick between her breasts and put it on without her hands, claiming it was her only talent? John Green’s protagonist in AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES  has a talent for making anagrams.

What is your character’s talent? Is it integral to the plot or a bonus character trait? Does your antagonist or villain have a talent as well?

1) Pick one of your characters to use for this exercise.

SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line:
If my character had nothing to do all day, he’d occupy himself by…

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: My character is most proud of the way he…

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

Now write a SCENE in which another character comes upon your character doing this thing at which he or she is so talented.

Make the scene awkward for the character by either a) making the character ashamed of being caught, or b) making the person who catches him in the middle of this thing either critical or snide about it.

Start with the line: Character X walks into the room and laughs …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

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Weekend Writing Workout: Add a Little Magic

I’ve developed a course called Introduction to Speculative Fiction and there’s a particular brainstorming exercise where students do sub-genre mash-ups to generate stories.

Once when I was teaching the class there was a woman in the front row who spent most of the class scribbling in her journal. She was a contemporary fiction writer working on a semi-autobiographic story. I thought she wasn’t interested in the class and was off on her own adventure. Turns out she had been inspired by the exercise.

She told me later that she had been stuck in her writing and depressed about it. She had been having trouble letting go of parts of the story that weren’t serving it because they were “true.” Even though it was a work of fiction, she was attached to these “truths.”

After our genre exercise, just for the heck of it, she decided to add a magical realism element to her “real world” story. She said not only did  it make her story more interesting, it freed her from this need to stick to “reality.” She apologized after class for spending the whole time working on her story and I said, “by all means, it was a perfect use of the time!”

from Wikipedia:

As recently as 2008, magical realism in literature has been defined as “a kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the ‘reliable’ tone of objective realistic report … fantastic attributes given to characters in such novels—levitation, flight, telepathy, telekinesis—are among the means that magic realism adopts in order to encompass the often phantasmagorical political realities of the 20th century.”

YOUR WORKOUT

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 10 minutes.

Think about a moment in your life when you had to say good-bye to an inanimate object (a car, a dress, a book, a couch).

Start with the line:  It was time to say good-bye to …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 12-15 minutes.

Now make the object animate in some way. Give it a magical property. Have it visit you in your dreams. Give it some way to communicate with you.

Start with the line: The (object) looked at me and …

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 20 minutes.

And now write the SCENE between you and the object if you haven’t already.

Start with the line: In this scene …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

Have a great weekend!

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Weekend Writing Workout: Invasion of Space

I’ve been reading an excellent book called SelfDesign about the life long educational philosophy of Brent Cameron. In it he states that in order to stay balanced within ourselves and our relationships we have to learn not to extend ourselves into other people’s domains, violating their boundaries. He theorizes that if we stay 2/3 in our own space and share a consensual space of 1/3 each, we can keep our relationships in balance.

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Think about the over-bearing mother who smothers her child and is 3/4 in his personal space. He will definitely find ways to express his anger.

I haven’t tried this one yet, but I thought it made an interesting idea for an exercise about what transpires when characters invade each others’ space.

I think ideally this ends in writing a scene between two people who have “space” issues, but take it wherever it goes.

Your Workout

1) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes.

Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

The demon my character always keeps at bay looks like . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

2) When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7-10 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

My character’s personal space is violated by his (mother, sister, brother, uncle, etc) when  . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

3) When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10-12 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

To assert his personal space, my character…
OR
My character’s inability to assert his personal space stems from…

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

4) NOW, set your timer for 10-15 more minutes.

WRITE THE SCENE in ACTION and DIALOGUE ONLY (to keep you moving forward – don’t get caught up in the minutia of description) in which this character is confronted with this invasion of space.

Use the start line:  Character B stepped closer to Character A and . . .

Even though you are writing a scene, just WRITE, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises and your scene, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

And have a fabulous, healthy weekend.

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Weekend Writing Workout: Seven Deadly Sins

I’ve been zonked with a nasty head/chest cold this week and am feeling a bit behind. But, since I feel behind most of the time, I’m not going to fret about that. I do wish I could breathe through my nose, though.

This week’s exercise was inspired by an interview with author Jack Remick. I believe it was the interview on the The Ashley Fontainne Show on Artist First Radio Network: http://www.artistfirst.com/ashleyfontainne.htm

(and even if it’s wasn’t, you should listen to the interview anyway, because Jack gives great interview)

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Hieronymus Bosch’s Seven Deadly Sins

The interviewer brought up the idea of working with the seven deadly sins, which are: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. I’m sure each of us has experienced every one of these sins personally in some way, shape, or form. Perhaps we can relate to one of them more than the others. I’m not so much a wrathful person, but my pride has made me stubborn in the past, and hindered me from looking at something from someone else’s point of view. In the end, it was only a disservice to myself.

Which is how I want you to view these “sins” in terms of your characters. Which sin resembles the cause of each character’s misery? Is it envy that spikes her bitterness toward her sister? Is it pride that won’t allow him to forgive his best friend? Is it wrath that guards her heart?

If you’re not sure, try several of them on for size and see what fits. And try this out on multiple characters, not just your protagonist. Every character deserves a sin!

YOUR WORKOUT

1) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes.

Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

My character is stifled by the sin of  . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

2) When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7-10 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

She/he must confront this sin when . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

3) NOW, set your timer for 10-15 more minutes.

WRITE THE SCENE in ACTION and DIALOGUE ONLY (to keep you moving forward – don’t get caught up in the minutia of description) in which this character is confronted with her sin.

Use the start line:  In frustration, He/She picked up the . . .

Even though you are writing a scene, just WRITE, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises and your scene, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

And have a fabulous, healthy weekend.

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Weekend Workout from FaerieCon West

Greetings from FaerieCon West, where I will be storytelling and causing mischief all weekend.

Danika and Spring Faerie

Before the workout, I have a few announcements:

First, today is the LAST day to enter the drawing to WIN a copy of the FUTUREDAZE anthology of YA science fiction. Co-editor Erin Underwood has generously donated a copy. (I’ll close comments at midnight PST)

Second, the 2013 Nebula Award nominations are in and Hydra House’s own Cat Rambo was nominated for her short story “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” from her Near + Far collection.

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The Nebula’s Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy nominees are:

Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day, David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

CHECK OUT the entire list of nominees and congrats to all (I wouldn’t want to have to pick a winner from this lot).

YOUR WORKOUT

I NEVER PICKED YOU POEM

This is a BRAND SPANKING NEW exercise that has nothing to do with character or plot or editing. I developed it for a recent writing workshop and had such a good time with it I wanted to share it here.

The workshop was for kids, so it’s broken down into small steps. Feel free to take whatever you’d like from it…

STEP ONE:

Create 5 columns across a sheet of paper and write:  Colour, Fruit or Vegetable, Instrument or type of Music, Location, Day of the Week. Then, below each, list something or place you’ve never really liked in this category. Something that doesn’t appeal to you and you’d never choose it voluntarily.

For instance, you do not like the colour brown, brussel sprouts, harmonicas, Los Angeles, or Tuesdays.

STEP TWO:

Next, under each category, write a sentence like this: “When I think of ______, it reminds me of ______.” Example:  When I think of brown it reminds me of camping in the rain with my Dad.

STEP THREE:

Choose one of the things that don’t appeal to you and write for 10 minutes straight using the start line:

I never picked you _____…

(without stopping, editing, or rereading – the more you write, the more material you will have)

STEP FOUR:

From the 10 minute stream of consciousness writing, circle all the images, phrases, and lines that appeal to you and pull them out of the piece. Rewrite them on another piece of paper. When done, it might look like this:

orange reminds me of my softball jersey in 6th grade
we were the “losingest” team that year
I got in trouble for picking a bouquet of orange California poppies that year
orange is like a prison uniform
orange was never in my favour and i never had an “orange phase”
I had a “purple phase,” my bedroom was purple and pink with white curlies on the bedpost
I also had a “green phase” where everything I wore was green and I looked like a forest
I had a very brief “red phase,” I was trying it on for size
Even though sunsets and fire are orange, I still don’t like orange

STEP FIVE

Carve out your poem from these lines. There are many ways to do so: rearrange lines, leave out words, change words to create alliteration, add interesting space for breath, etc. Expand and change the language where necessary. Add more imagery.

never orange

I’ve never picked you orange
as a favour as a phase        my youth
spent through pinks and purples
stringing the edges of my bedroom
with the white curliness
of imagination

orange was never curly it was
twang and offense
a softball team jersey hoisted upon
the losingest team on the playground
where only once      for a moment
I thought I might find comfort in you
orange, the poppies, sprung about the hill
and me picking a bouquet only to be told
those are California poppies,
you can’t pick them
it’s illegal

orange, you betrayer, you
prison sentence
you were never the greens of my wardrobe
of my fern forest         nor were you
my brief liaison with red
when it offered a chance
a sports car
a mini-skirt
a swiss army knife

orange, I’ve never loved you
never let you under my skin
even in your soft sunrise I’ve taken you
for an imposter even in your flames

Have a Great Weekend! I’ll be HERE. 🙂

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