Category Archives: weekend workout

Weekend Workout: For the Sheer Pleasure of It

Sometimes when I’m working on the White Forest series I find myself worried, overwhelmed, and slightly stressed about it all. I feel a pressure to deliver each story as good, or preferably even better, than the last. Sometimes the romance of writing gets lost in the day-to-day nitty-gritty of having to produce.

Sometimes I have to remind myself of my more “innocent” days of writing. When there was no pressure but to write for the sheer pleasure of it.

Hence, lately, I’ve been blogging about those “secret projects,” the ones no one knows I’m working on, where I can experiment and play, try a new form, a new direction, a new genre for the sheer pleasure of it.


by Alison Woodward

This morning I started thinking about the “sheer pleasures” of my series protagonist, Brigitta. As the series continues, as she faces greater and greater dangers, she has much less time for daydreaming in the lyllium fields, languishing in the mist of Precipice Falls, or interpreting shadowfly dances. She has her own pressures and responsibilities (that’s also mistakenly called “growing up,” because really, we should not forget our sheer pleasures).

What do your characters do for the sheer pleasure of it? Not just your heroes and their allies, but the villains, antagonists, and monsters, too. Even Hitler loved art and was wild about the opera. That doesn’t detract from the monstrous things that he did. As a matter of fact, there was a curated art show a few years ago depicting Hitler as “a perverted artist” and theorizing about how his artistic aesthetic was echoed in his politics and Nazi pageantry.

I find it particularly sinister when an “evil” character has time to sit back and enjoy a piece of music and at the same time have no compassion for his victims. How could someone like Hannibal Lecter, for instance, recognize the beauty of a song and at the same time violently destroy a life? In the average person’s mind, the two cannot be squared.

How can you use a character’s “sheer pleasures” to demonstrate losing innocence (as Brigitta’s story does) or complement / contrast a character’s twisted nature?

Your Workout:

Set your timer for 5-7 minutes.
Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

1) My Protagonist/Antagonist/Villain has an uncanny talent for…

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

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7-10 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

2) My Protagonist/Antagonist/Villain sees great beauty in . . .

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

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10-12 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

3) My character’s appreciation for beauty becomes obsession/repression/twisted when …

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

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

Happy Weekend!




Filed under truth and beauty, weekend workout, writing exercises

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)


Filed under 50 First Lines, Calls for Submission, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: The Fabulous What If?

I know, I know . . . I’ve mentioned my timed “what if” exercise before, but I’m too lazy to go back and see what I said about it. I bring this one back to you this weekend simply because I used it this morning while writing and found it useful.

There is something simple and wonderful about a good “what if” exercise. I always seem to find what I need from it. I use it with kids and adults and probably more so than any other “what do I do now” exercise when I’m stuck writing or editing.

click for source

click for source

There are a few ways I use my “what if.” Sometimes I already have an idea and just set the timer (10 to 15 minutes), and start with the line “What if … ,” writing spontaneously to work out the idea. Other times I make a list and write as many “what if” scenarios as possible, or I keep listing them until one suddenly pops out as “the answer.”

For example, I used this latter technique a few days ago when working with one of my young writers. She had to create a short story starting with the line “I looked out the classroom window and the playground was empty.”

“Cool,” I said, “let’s make a ‘what if’ list!”

She started writing her list:

-What if it was summertime?
-What if there had been a flu epidemic?
-What if it was the janitor looking out the window?
-What if school had been closed down for some reason?
-What if the school was about to be demolished?

We both looked at each other when she wrote that last one.

“I like it,” I said. “So do I,” said she.

“Okay, what else? Why is the narrator standing there? Start another ‘what if’ list.”

-What if the narrator was going to sabotage the demolition?
-What if he was a teacher who wanted to see it one last time?
-What if he used to go to that elementary school?
-What if he was the one demolishing the school and it was his old school?

Yeah! We knew she had it with that last one. What a great little vignette she could now write about a man who comes to revisit his past just before demolishing it.

She could have done a third “what if” with that last one. What if someone comes in and catches him crying? What if he refuses to cry? What if he remembers a painful moment in elementary school? What if that were the moment he shut himself off to love? And so on.

This is such a helpful brainstorming technique you can turn to, with no pressure, when you’re stuck (or not!). You can start brainstorming a story idea with a “what if” as in the example above, or you can use it to explore one particular idea in the middle of your story.

Today I needed Brigitta to have an encounter with something new and awesome and frightening. It dawned on my right away that she would meet the Eternal Dragon. But what would it do when it met her?

“What if she meets the Eternal Dragon and It . . .”

REMEMBER if you do the list to actually WRITE IT BY HAND and write the words “what if” each time to keep your thoughts moving. GREAT exercise for teachers for creative writing assignments.

If a 12-year-old can do this exercise successfully, so can you.

Have a great weekend.


Filed under weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend Workout: Too Much Information (in a good way)

This is a tardy Weekend Workout, but all my ‘Merican friends were probably digesting for the past two days and couldn’t write anyway.

I was planning to do a rerun this weekend, but ran across a note to myself about using TMI (too much information) to create conflict (big, small, serious, humorous). I was specifically thinking about it because of a real life example. Okay, my 74-year-old mom has discovered boys again. I think this is great, since my dad died 6 years ago. But there’s only so much I want to hear about my mom’s escapades. Can you imagine writing that scene into a comedy script?

That’s a minor conflict, but there are other ways TMI can create serious internal and external conflicts, like if your character learns something she doesn’t want to know or shouldn’t know. TMI can put your character’s marriage, job, or life at risk. Maybe she knows her sister is having an affair, maybe she knows her boss is bribing the mafia, maybe she knows (as in one of the Cloud Atlas stories) that a report about an unsafe energy source is being hidden from public eye.

You get the point.

I put this brand spanking new exercise together based on this idea. If you try it, let me know how you think it worked.

your workout

Set your timer for 5 minutes.
Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

1) My protagonist is in EXTERNAL conflict when she learns . . .

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

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

1) My protagonist is in INTERNAL conflict when she learns . . .

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

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

3) Too Much Information for my protagonist means that she must . . .

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

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

Happy (Thanksgiving) Weekend!



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Filed under weekend workout, writing exercises

Tour Thanks and Weekend Workout

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a weekend workout. I knew that would happen, though, as I’ve come to the conclusion that writing and blogging do not get done while I’m on tour.

If you wanna just scroll down to get your workout and skip all the “thank you” stuff, there’s a visual marker below that says WEEKEND WORKOUT.

Before I get to the workout, I want to express my appreciation for all the people that made my tour a tour. I want to thank all the teachers, parents, principals, students, and especially the librarians at Regnart, Murdock-Portal, Blackford, Christa McAuliffe, and Gardner Bullis elementary schools, Gale Ranch Middle School, and Wingra School who all hosted me as a guest.

a 6th grader works on her imaginary world

I want to thank to Laurie, Bridget, and Christine at the Weekend With Your Novel Conference, Alison at the Wisconsin Book Festival, and all the citizens of Madison, WI for being fantastic human beings in general.

Sesame Street Birthday singalong at the capitol in Madison

I want to thank all the people at the indie bookstores who work so hard in their communities, sponsoring readings and launches, selling book at schools and festivals (and who now carry copies of Brigitta of the White Forest and The Ruins of Noe):

Kepler’s Books and Magazines (Menlo Park, CA)
Hicklebees (San Jose, CA)
Read Booksellers (Danville, CA)
Room of One’s Own (Madison, WI)

I want to thank my friends and family who treated me to coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, and gasoline, let me sleep on their couches and in their guest rooms, and adopted me for Halloween.

And thanks Life in General for the numerous surprises that kept my tour interesting: getting to see/hear Michael Chabon interviewed at Kepler’s Books, getting to hang out with thousands of people at a Bruce Springsteen Barack Obama rally, discovering what a gem Wisconsin Icon Michael Perry is, and getting to drink beer and explore Madison’s Children’s Museum with hundreds of other 21+ children (once a month their Children’s Museum is Adults Only!).

It was a pleasure through and through! (okay, it was a little stressful, but over all a good time was had)

Oh, yeah.

I have friends who are at every stage of writing a novel right now. A few just started something brand spanking new. A few are in the middle of NaNoWriMo. A few are editing and a few doing total manuscript overhauls. And my rewrite is so off course I might as well call it a new book.

Whether I’m writing something new or rewriting, I’m constantly checking and rejigging my sequence and beat sheet (my version of an outline). Stories are organic, sometimes plots twist differently than I intend or characters appear where I had none planned. Like today…

I was trying to figure out a way to increase the stakes and tension in an escape sequence, so I decided to trap Brigitta and Jarlath between two search parties coming for them from either side. How would they escape? There was no way out. Unless there was a secret way that only one person knew about. Which meant, I now needed an ally to appear to show them the way. The ally who appeared was a complete surprise to me, but made perfect sense. And she wasn’t even a blip on my original outline. Adding her changed the direction of the sequence and a new adventure ensued.

I forget, sometimes, that one way of changing the scene’s dymamic is to introduce a 3rd character to that scene. It could be an ally, enemy, or stranger – each would cause the story to go in a different direction.

Your Workout

Pick a scene you’ve been working on or are about to work on that is a 2-person scene. At some point in the scene, have another character enter into the scene and see how it changes the action, the tone, the dynamics, the tension, etc. Try different scenarios! Drop an ally in, then a stranger, then an enemy. Write out the scene each time (or at least outline it) and see if it works BETTER than it did before.

Have a great weekend!

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Filed under Book Tour, novel adventures, Rewriting, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend Workout: More NaNo / Novel Prep

In two days I’ll be off on a 3 week book tour in the U.S. so my posts might be sporadic (or simply reruns). But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about you.

For those in preparation of NaNo, I’ve collected a few things for you:

From Bob Ray and Jack Remick’s Writing Blog: New Tips for the 2012 NaNo

This post covers setting, character, backstory, subplots, and structure. This is not just good advice for NaNo writers, it’s good advice for anyone starting any novel any time. And Bob and Jack have plenty of other exercises to keep you going for the entire month. This is an extremely helpful site for people working on novels run by two of the best writing instructors I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

And if that’s not enough, there’s an entire PAGE of NaNo Prep advice, exercises, and offers on the NaNo site itself. Again, there’s plenty of information here for those not participating, but going to the site might inspire you to do so. I know it inspired me last year.

I wish I had time to write a new post for you. But, I did pop over to last year’s NaNo Prep and found THIS POST about how I prepared. It’s part inspiration, part permission, part practical preparation.

And just for kicks and giggles, here’s my NaNo Day One: Don’t Panic! post from last year if you’ve never NaNo’d before.

Have a great weekend!


Filed under NaNoWriMo, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend Workout: Prepping fo NaNo (or not)

I still haven’t decided whether I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year, which begins, according to the ticking clock on their website, in 19 days, 12 hours, and 42 minutes, and 30 seconds (29… 28… 27…)

Regardless of whether you are going for NaNo 2012, starting a new project, or editing an old, I cannot stress enough the fabulousness of the Sequence and Beat Sheet. It is both inspirational and practical. I used to be much more of a “pantser” when it came to writing, but being organized beforehand has done wonders for my writing process AND saved heartache while editing.

I posted about this last year before NaNo and wanted to do so again for those about to begin. So, pardon the repeat post, although it has been edited and updated.


Basically, this is a form of outline for a story. Because of my screenwriting background, I tend to think of stories in sequences, beats, scenes, etc. Studying screenwriting is extremely helpful when learning about story structure.

After I’ve done copious amounts of prewriting (i.e. I basically know what the story is about and where I want to go), I write my first Sequence and Beat Sheet.

SEQUENCES are series of scenes that act as mini-movies. They have a set up and pay off and end in a change in status quo. Large “reversals” and “reveals” can happen at the end of a sequence to make the story go in a new direction (extremely important if you want readers to keep reading).

Writing out the sequences breaks a story down into manageable “chunks.”  In novels, those chunks usually turn into chapters, although you don’t really have to worry about that just yet.

Beats are the smaller steps inside each sequence that get you from the beginning to the end. For example, in one sequence these might be your beats:

-Anna gets a horse for her birthday.
-She starts riding lessons and has natural talent.
-Anna’s father loses his job.
-Parents can’t afford to keep the horse, or the lessons, Anna devastated.

See the change in status quo? Anna started happy and optimistic, praised for her natural talent, the world is her oyster. Then, boom, no more horse, no more lessons, no more rosy future, and new tensions in the home.

The next sequence might be like this:

-Anna convinces parents to wait one more week before selling the horse.
-Anna gets a job at the stables to support her horse-riding.
-Anna falls from a loft and breaks her leg.
-She learns her leg will never heal properly without surgery, which they can’t afford. Good-bye horse-riding.

In this sequence, Anna goes from a new optimistic and rosy-future, only to crash even farther than the first time (also important for storytelling, intensify the complications as the story enfolds). These changes from the character getting closer to her goal, and then the goal being yanked from sight, are called “reversals.” This is how we empathize with characters – we want them to get their goal, and something gets in their way.

Sometimes I know exactly what’s going to happen in a sequence and my beats are more detailed. Other times I get to the middle of a sequence and I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I know something must happen, so I write something vague and add in some questions:

Anna makes an ally at the hospital (male/female? a love interest?)

For an even more detailed post about the Sequence Approach, CLICK HERE

art by Jose Manuel Merello, click for source


When writing out my sequences and beats, the first thing I think about is how the “status quo” is going to change at the end of the sequence, then I write out the beats it will take to get there. I also name my sequences (what is the mini story I am telling here?)

I use this Sequence and Beat sheet as an outline when writing the story, AND I rewrite it before I do my first big edit.

Here’s the second sequence of Intergalactic (the YA Sci Fi story I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year). This is the rewritten version, not my original.

SEQUENCE 2The Rethulan Gig
For this sequence, I wanted IdoLL to start nervous and impressed with the palatial quality of this venue, only for something major to go wrong so that the gig is a bust.

I came up with main beats for this sequence:

*IdoLL and the Intergalactics land on Rethula and meet the intimidating queen, who immediately dislikes IdoLL.
*IdoLL learns that she playing a private birthday party for the princess, and she’s not the main act.
*When they arrive at the venue, it is filled with children.
*An obnoxious mini-com call interrupts her tribute to Rethula.
*IdoLL storms out of the concert.

If I need more information, I sometimes go back and fill in a few details (bitty beats), to make sure that each scene has TENSION (as well as set up and foreshadowing). For instance, in the scene where she meets the queen – I added the following smaller beats:

*IdoLL meets the Rethulan Queen:
-IdoLL is uber-impressed with the palace and all the pomp and circumstance
-The Queen appears and has a creepy way of gliding on one foot.
-She mauls IdoLL’s face with her finger nodes to make sure IdoLL is “non infectious.”
-She throws IdoLL and her bandmates into a cell-slash-greenroom and won’t let them leave due to security reasons.

The character of IdoLL is a bit of a brat, so I wanted to create a sequence where we would sympathize with her, where she is devastated and we are devastated with her. There are bits of unexpected foreshadowing with the way the queen moves and her mauling IdoLL’s face with her finger nodes, which come to fruition later in the story when the princess stows away on IdoLL’s ship. Everything here is intentional and serves a purpose in the larger story.

handwritten Sequence and Beat Sheet

Does this sound like a lot of work? It can be. But when I’m writing the story,  I’m always SO glad I have my beat sheet to follow. Even if there are some blank spaces and vague ideas. I can always fill them in when I get to that sequence.

Let me know if you have any questions about any of this! And let me know if you try your own beat sheet and, if so, how it goes.


Filed under behind the scenes, Intergalactic, NaNoWriMo, The Sequence Approach, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: Inspired by Images

In my workshops I often use writing exercises around objects and images. They make excellent jumping off points for writing practice, but you can also use these exercises as a way to move deeper into your story. Below I have included 3 different exercises you can use to inspire your writing.

art by Gizem Vural. click for source.

You’ve probably heard writers chant SHOW not TELL a hundred-thousand times. One of the ways to do this is to constantly come back to the image. As you’re writing, ask yourself, if this were a movie, what would I see on screen?



Here’s a nice warm-up exercise if you just want to write, but aren’t working on anything in particular.

Take a walk outside for 10-15 minutes. Do not talk with anyone, do not write anything down, simply observe anything and everything as you walk. Make a mental note about what you see. Sometimes I say hello to the images as I notice them. It sounds silly, but it works. Something like: Hello tennis shoe hanging over telephone wire… hello dead crow in the green grass… hello blonde twins boys on the monkey bars… hello ant playing tug-a-war with another ant over a bread crumb… Any image that strikes you, make a mental note.

Then, go inside and LIST as many of the images that you saw. Don’t do anything other than list them at this time:

Black tennis shoes hanging on telephone wire
Mutilated dead crow in green grass under tree with spring blossoms
Blonde twin boys in blue jackets swinging towards each other on the monkey bars
Black BBQ in the empty parking lot at the firestation.

Give yourself 5-10 minutes to make this list.

Then, go through and circle the images that speak to you. When I do this in my workshops, I have other people pick three lines for you. Pick ONE line and use it as a starting off piece for a poem or a piece of prose. Write for 7-10 minutes without stopping. (you know the drill)


A black BBQ in the empty parking lot of the Fire Station as if
young men had to interrupt hamburgers on a warm blue day
to attend a meeting
no sense of emergency
lid closed
who would secure a lid if sirens were blaring?
who would take time to bring in the mustard if
flames leapt across homes?
who would bring in the trash, the bag of buns, the relish
who would manage the utensils
if bells were jarring the senses?
no, everything from this picnic walked away
the blue-uniforms still wear their crumbs
there may even be dishes to wash
but for now they digest their bit of summer’s end
and let the BBQ rest
for there is no rain



If you’d like to do some backstory work for your W.I.P., pick a character from your current story and think about images that come to her mind when she thinks about her childhood.

We all have images from our childhood that we’ve attached meaning to. When I think of my childhood, some of the images that come up for me are the huge almond tree in my front yard that delivered bitter nuts, my dad’s tools in the garage, the 500 National Geographic magazines my parents refused to throw away, and our enormous square record player that was more a piece of furniture.

Think about your character’s past. What images come up for her when she thinks about her childhood? Make a list of at least 10 images, the more, the better.

Once you have your images, select one. Let’s say my character thinks about her father’s broken watch that sat on his desk for months. Take that image and set your timer for 7-10 minutes. Write about the associations that come with that image. Do not stop or edit your work.

Startline: When my character thinks about ____________, it always reminds her of…


When Polly thinks about her father’s broken watch on the counter, it always reminds her of how many broken things she has in her life. Things get broken and don’t get put back together. The basement window, the lawn mower, the reclining chair… how many things have to break around her until she breaks? Until she can no longer be put back together…



Using the same idea of image listing, pick a scene from your story that you’d like to work on. Let’s say I want to work on the scene where “Mavis confronts Prof. Herbert’s wife, Terri.”

Take 5-10 minutes and do an image listing exercise around this scene. What do I see in my mind as this takes place? Set your time and do not stop listing images, even if you are unsure of them. You don’t have to use them for anything later, and you don’t want to miss anything that comes to mind.

(BTW – if you ever need to think about a scene before you start, simply write “The scene I need to write next is the scene where…” and write spontaneously for 5-10 minutes)


Mavis kicks Terri’s door
Terri in a grey sweatsuit with paint stains
Mavis in her nurse’s uniform
Terri and Mavis drinking wine on the back porch
Terri showing Mavis a photo of her son
The full moon when Mavis steps off the porch

Then, write the scene starting with whichever image you want. It doesn’t have to be the first thing that happens in the scene, it just needs to launch you into it. Keep all the other images in mind as you write.


Terri and Mavis sit on the back porch, feet on white stools, a bottle of red wine between them. Mavis has removed her nurse’s cap and Terri has a bathrobe on over her sweats.

“He’s no demon, you know,” says Mavis.

“I know,” says Terri, “It’s just easier to think of him that way.”


Have a great weekend writing!


Filed under Show and Tell, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: Reversal of Fortune is an intense virtual writing workshop through which, having done your due diligence, the organizers of the site present your manuscript and pitch packet to their agent and publisher contacts. It’s a fantastic concept, and it’s a lot of work. Work you have to be willing to do as a writer.

One of their requirements is a Plot and Conflict Outline, and as much as this sounds like homework, or strikes terror into your heart, it’s a great way to see how well your story holds together. For instance, do you have escalating complications that get in the way of your protagonist’s exterior goal? Do you have a major reversal en route to the climax?

These are things that were drilled into me during my screenwriting program, and things I have taught in my classes. But oftentimes when I’m writing I don’t even think about them anymore, because storytelling has become much more intuitive for me. Taking a step back and working my W.I.P. through the plot and conflict outline got me thinking about these important plot elements again. In particular, the “reversal.”

A reversal means a reversal of fortune. From good fortune to bad fortune or bad fortune to good fortune. Comedy relies heavily on reversals (the movie “The Jerk” with Steve Martin comes to mind, the way his fortune keeps turning from good to bad and back again). Reversals can happen as a result of your character’s choices and actions or influence their choices and actions. There may be minor reversals in your story (i.e. the shy boy has finally gotten the nerve to ask that girl out, only to find she’s just gotten engaged), but a major reversal has the ability to stop your protagonist in her tracks and change her exterior goal to solve something more immediate and ultimately more important (which addresses her interior need).

For instance, in my W.I.P. Intergalactic, IdoLL’s exterior goal is to save her waning career at all costs, either through her tour or by immortalizing herself in some way so that she doesn’t become obsolete. She’s lost in a false identity and afraid of being a nobody, afraid that who she really is isn’t enough.

She keeps taking a step forward, then falling two steps back as complication after complication curses her tour. A stowaway princess igniting an interplanetary war is the major complication standing in her way. When it looks like she’ll finally get a break and be immortalized at the Hall of Famous Fame, she loses it all when her bandmates are kidnapped, and she must team up with her nemesis in order to save them.

When she finds herself alone with her nemesis, her goal changes and the story addresses her interior need. With the tour demolished, she now seeks to save the people who have been her loyal friends, as she realizes how much they mean to her. Her interior need is to become vulnerable, to express her true self, and she does this through her personal sacrifices. Ultimately, she goes from being self-centered, hiding behind a mask, to being a true and grateful friend.

It is only through this major reversal, when she is stripped of everything and everyone she hides behind, that she can finally get what she really needs.

Art by Alison Woodward, Click for source

Your Workout:

Set your timer for 5 minutes.

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

1) My protagonist is closest to reaching her goal when. . .

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

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

2) Things are looking up for my protagonist until . . .

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

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

3) When my protagonist realizes she won’t reach her goal she . . .

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

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

Happy Weekend!


Filed under Intergalactic, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend Workout – Precious Objects

There are numerous ways I use objects to discover and express something about one of my characters. If a scene feels stagnant, for instance, sometimes I put a “precious” object in the space so characters can interact with it. The object could become a source of tension between characters who treat the object differently. If a character is alone, he or she can reflect on it. You can use this reflection to reveal backstory and it won’t seem as expository if the object triggers it and becomes a presence in the scene.

For instance, in one of the scenes in INTERGALACTIC, IdoLL goes back to her ship to look for something in her trunk. She’s alone in this scene and I needed to get into her state of mind a bit without getting too “talky.”

I thought, What if the trunk triggered some emotion in her. What kind of trunk would do that? It had to be a precious trunk? Why was it precious?

Through a timed writing exercise, I discovered that the trunk was the only item from IdoLL’s childhood that she still kept. It was a gift from her Dad from one of his lengthy excursions to another galaxy. When she was a child, she used to store all the little repaired housebots in it that her dad fixed up for her.

She’s missing her parents in this scene, but she’s really angry at them at the same time. But I don’t say that, I just have her touch the trunk and remember a little bit about its history. We infer from there how she feels.


Pick a character, any character, and think up (first thought – don’t take too much time) a precious object for that character. If they had to give away all their possessions, it would be the last to go.

1) Set your timer for 7 minutes.

Start at the top of the page with the following startline. My character will never throw (OBJECT) away because . . .

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

2) Go to the center of the previous piece of writing and pull that line out. Set you timer and write for 10 more minutes.

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

3) Set your timer for 15 minutes. This time, write the scene in which that object appears.

If the character is alone use this line: My Character places his/her hand on the OBJECT and . . .

If the character is with other characters, use the line: “Don’t touch that,” My Character says and . . .

If you aren’t working on a particular story, you could simply use this as a creative exercise. Write random objects on pieces of paper and then draw one for each exercise. You could even keep a little bag full of pieces of paper, each with a different object listed on it. (umbrella, drum, coffee mug, little red pillow, etc.)

Pick a character (male or female, adult or child) and write: (OBJECT) is precious to this Character because  . . .  You never know where this could take you. It could actually trigger a new story. That’s the power of precious objects.

Have a great weekend!

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Filed under weekend workout, writing exercises