Category Archives: writing exercises

Weekly Workout: Creating Suspense

I’ve posted my first post on my new website here: danikadinsmore.com. We’re still tweaking that site, but it’s up and running.

I will eventually stop posting to this site.

If you want to keep getting my posts, and I hope you do, you’ll have to subscribe to THAT site.

 

 

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Weekly Writing Workout: Get Your Purpose Straight

How many times have you heard the phrase “I have to get my priorities straight”?

I worked off of that idea for years without consistent success. I had trouble discerning through the daze of “to do” what exactly my priorities should be, especially when it came to social media. I thought maybe if I only had more discipline I would be able to prioritize action items more effectively. I was the QUEEN of To Do Lists, but every action swam in front of me with no clear purpose attached.

I eventually realized that I can’t get my priorities straight if I don’t have my purpose straight first. How can I even make priorities without purpose? I learned that getting my purpose straight practically wrote my priorities for me, and that it was perfectly fine to drop actions that didn’t serve this purpose.

For instance, this idea of “rethinking social media” came from going back to what my purpose is around social media. If my purpose is to build an audience, then I need to think of actions to build that audience. Should I hang out in online forums? Many forums are great places to exchange information, but not really audience builders. Perhaps I should limit how much time I spend in them.

If my time is really limited, it would serve me better to simply find the one thing I can do that best serves this purpose and focus my energy on that one thing rather than using a scattershot approach.

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by Gizem Vural

On a grander scale, I can create purpose for my entire life. My purpose on that scale might be: to be joyful in my creative endeavors or to share my creative expression with others. If that’s the case, perhaps I decide to spend less time on social media in general and more time expressing myself creatively, since that brings more joy into my life. Or, simply become more creative in my expression thru social media.

It doesn’t matter if my purpose is to “sell books” or “have fun.” It’s MY purpose. It’s just that my actions will look different accordingly, and I can prioritize by asking myself if that action serves my purpose. Whenever I go to a conference now, for instance, I create a purpose around it. I might decide my purpose is to have fun. I might decide it’s to have meaningful dialogue. I might decide it’s simply to sit back, listen, and learn.

In the book The One Thing by Gary Keller (with Jay Papasan) “The most productive people start with purpose and use it like a compass. They allow purpose to be the guiding force in determining the priority that drives their actions . . . The prescription for extraordinary results is knowing what matters to you and taking daily doses of actions in alignment with it.”

“Purpose provides the ultimate glue that can help you stick to the path you’ve set.” ~Gary Keller, The One Thing

Note that doing something because you think it will make you happy is different than doing something because it serves your purpose, which, ironically, will help you find happiness.

 

YOUR WORKOUT

Several weeks ago I wrote about what a character “needs” vs. what a character “wants.” On the other side of need is where the “better self” lies. I think the same thing goes for purpose.

When your character’s purpose becomes clear, it becomes a driving force. Through the trials and tribulations of your character doing what she “must” and going after what she “wants” her purpose eventually becomes clear.

At the beginning of your story, your character might think a specific thing will make her happy. But what she thinks will make her happy might not be what she needs to actually live a more fulfilled life. If along the way she finds purpose, this will lead to what she needs. It will also drive her actions. As her actions are thwarted and things get in her way, she reacts in order to stay on purpose.

And presto, your story moves forward.

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line: At the beginning of my story, My Character thinks she’ll only be happy once…

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: My Character realizes her purpose on her life journey is really…

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 12-15 minutes.

Start with the line:  Driven by this purpose, she can now confront…

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

And have a great week!

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Quick and Dirty (okay, mostly quick, but made you look) with a bonus repurposed writing workout

So, no new Writing Workout yesterday because I was here all weekend:

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With people like this:

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Doing things like this:

hair party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(photo credit to Sander Feinberg for all but hair shot)

 

 

 

 
And next weekend I’ll be HERE.

Doing things like this:

At the Book Signing

Going to panels like THIS.

And readings like THIS.

And parties like THIS.

So, in the meantime, here’s a recycled writing workout I think you’ll enjoy…

YOUR WORKOUT

When you get to what I call the “sloggy” part of your story, when inspiration appears to have left the building and you are dragging yourself to the page, it’s time for some good old fashioned spontaneous writing.

(even if you’re not in the slog, you can still play along)

Pick whatever piece of writing you’re working on. See where you are and think about what comes next.

Step 1) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes. At the top of your page, write the start: The scene that needs to be written is… because…

After you finish with that thought, write This scene needs to be written because… and start the next thought. Keep writing This scene needs to be written because… until you hit something, an idea, and then take off! At this point, no more punctuation. Just write in one long stream of consciousness. REMEMBER to write without stopping, without crossing out, without editing. If you get stuck, you can always start again with This scene needs to be written because

Example:

The scene that needs to be written is the scene where Mabbe confronts Croilus because it gets Mabbe outside of her burl. This scene needs to be written because it’s where Zhay learns that Brigitta was telling the truth. It needs to be written because it’s where Zhay loses it and all his anger about being abandoned by the Ancients bursts forth and he attacks Mabbe but she’s too strong for him and she strikes him down and when that happens the spell seed falls to the ground and they…

Step 2) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes. Pick one of the following as your start line:

In this scene my protagonist learns…
In this scene my protagonist reveals…
In this scene my protagonist proves…

You can also put in another character if that works better for you. In this scene my villain… my antagonist… my protagonist’s mother… feel free to make it work for you.

The important thing is that a character learns or reveals or proves something. This will help move your story forward.

Again, total stream of consciousness, no punctuation, no editing, no stopping. Allow yourself to write the first thing that comes out of your pen. It’s not permanent! We’re getting ideas

example:

In this scene Brigitta proves that she can fight the force of the green zynthia and she believes it has to do with her having both air and water elements now and she discovers that she is more powerful than before and the extra element has made it easier to manipulate her environment and there is no way to give it back and maybe it was her first true element…

Step 3) Set your timer for 3-5 Minutes. It’s time for a “What if” wild flow! By wild I mean don’t discount any thought or idea. Let the What Ifs fall where they may. This is a list that you write as fast as you can. You can simply start with What if… on each line, or use any of the following prompts:

During this scene, what if…
After this scene, what if…
After my protagonist reveals ____, what if…
After my protagonist learns ____, what if…
After my protagonist proves _____, what if…

example:

After Brigitta reveals that she can overpower the zythia…
what if Croilus realizes the prophesy is coming true?
What if Devin and Ferris attack Zhay?
What if Brigitta thinks Croilus is going to attack the White Forest?
What if Zhay tries to kill Croilus?
etc.

Usually at least one lightbulb goes on during this exercise. Just let go and allow the ideas to flow. Write as fast as you can, keeping pen on the page. Afterwards, you can go back and mark items that you like.

You should now be sufficiently pumped to write the next scene. I know I always am.

Have a great weekend!

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Weekly Writing Workout: Three Ring Circus Part Three – MUST

My post is a bit late this week, mostly because in British Columbia we were celebrating our new holiday: Family Day! Where the Family Day bunny comes down the chimney to hand out turkey wishbones to all the good kids, and we have a walnut cake eating contest. The first one done wins the golden carrot. (Okay, so we’re still working out the mythology around this one, give us a few years.)

In truth we just ate a lot of sweets, drank a lot of wine, and played games.

Onward… to MUST

A few years ago, I was working on a concept for a screenplay: a single hippie mom living out of her van for 15 years with her son decides to try to settle into the “normal” world.

It was really only half a concept, because I had no stakes for her yet. I needed to figure out what she MUST DO OR ELSE.

If you think about it, the entire Harry Potter series can be reduced to this: Harry Potter, a young wizard, must defeat Voldemort, an evil wizard, before he takes over the world. This must might not be so prevalent in the first book, but as it becomes exceedingly clear that if Harry doesn’t defeat him, he and all the people he loves will die. This is the basis for the entire series.

MUST is a great way to discover your story, whether it’s an epic fantasy or an indie dramedy screenplay. It’s HOW I found the basic plot for The Van Goes. I asked myself what was at stake for Shasta (the nomadic hippie mom). I started with – what’s the WORST thing that could happen to her?

Answer: She could lose her son. Not literally, but she could lose her relationship with him, and in this story, those were big enough stakes. 

So, I thought, what if she actually DOESN’T WANT to settle down? What if she wants to keep living nomadically from commune to commune, but HER SON wants to leave the road. He’s discovered computers and masturbation and wants access to technology and privacy. And what if they get in a big fight over this?

The result of this line of thinking: Shasta MUST figure out how to live a “normal and settled” life or else risk losing her relationship with her son.

by Gizem Vural

by Gizem Vural

YOUR WORKOUT:

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line: If my Character doesn’t act, she is in danger of losing the confidence/trust/loyalty of . . .

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: My Character fears what she must do because . . .

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

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

Start with the line: My Character must do this thing or else . . .

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

And have a great (rest of your) week!

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If you are a blogger who would like to post your own weekly workout exercise with me every Monday, please write to info (at) danikadinsmore.com

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Weekly Writing Workout: Three Ring Circus Part Two – NEED

Quick post today because I have a FULL week ahead. As a matter of fact… I have a full few months ahead of me as I make my way toward the launch of BOOK THREE of my Faerie Tales from the White Forest series on April 15. Can I get a squee?

And from today until April 3, you can enter to win your very own print copy. CLICK the IMAGE below for the GoodReads Book Three Givaway Page:

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Last week I talked about the three ring circus that is my head and gave a character exercise around WANT. Want is pretty easy to figure out because it’s the exterior goal. He wants the girl (or boy), she wants the grail (or tiara), the Detective wants to solve the murder, the Clown wants to perform for Cirque du Soleil.

Want marks the plot of the story, the trajectory the protag (or other character) takes to get this thing. But NEED marks the inner journey. It’s what the protagonist has to realize or face in order to become a better person, to become the person he or she is meant to be. And generally, we want our protags to emerge as better people (or faeries or dragons or giants)

In the movie Gattaca, a character driven near-future sic fi with Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, Hawke’s character  is a “genetically inferior man” who assumes the identity of a superior one (Jude Law) in order to pursue his childhood dream of going into space. That’s what he wants… but what he really NEEDS, what has been eating at him his entire life, is to confront his older brother and prove to himself that he is not inferior. It’s a great story about perseverance, about not letting other people’s views of who you are get in your way.

And as an audience, I don’t think we’d be completely satisfied without that moment. It’s a fist pump “yeah!” moment.

YOUR WORKOUT

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line: The inner block my character has, that is getting in his way of being all he can be, is …

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: If he confronted/faced/addressed this block then…

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 12-15 minutes.

There should be a moment where what your character wants is in conflict with what he needs. Perhaps addressing this need will get him into trouble. In Gattaca it’s when the MC challenges his brother to a swim in the ocean. He could die, they could both die, but he’s going to friggin’ prove himself.

Start with the line:  The moment when my character reaches a threshold, on the other side of which his better self lies, happens when…

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

And have a great week!

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If you are a blogger who would like to post your own weekly workout exercise with me every Monday, please write to info (at) danikadinsmore.com

 

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Weekly Workout: Three Ring Circus Part One – WANT

The other day I was having trouble focusing my thoughts enough to prioritize my day. There was the yoga routine I had been neglecting, the Book Three Lexicon to get to my copy editor, the paperwork to be filled out and mailed so I could stay in Canada, the book launch plans to, well, plan… I equated my mind to a Three-Ring Circus. Too many things calling for my attention all at once.

This made me think about how complex we are, how things we want (I want to be in good physical shape, I want to have a successful book launch party) and things we must do (I must fill out this paperwork or I’ll get booted out of Canada) and things we need (I need to create balance in my life) pull our heads and hearts in various directions, how we can get blocked when there are strong emotions around any of these things.

Today at Three Ring Circus Central I thought we’d deal with the idea of WANT.

What your character WANTS in the outside world is generally in conflict with what she needs. (And with what other people want.) When I speak of “need” in character development, I’m speaking of something the character may not even realize she needs, or something she denies she needs. It’s at the crux of her character arc. It’s the obstacle she needs to find and/or change in her internal world. In the end, it’s what we want for her. (i.e. she thinks she WANTS to become VP of the company, but what she really needs is be more vulnerable with her loved ones)

Sometimes characters get what they need instead of what they thought they wanted, sometimes they get both (they win the race AND they become a better person). Unless it’s a tragedy. It’s sad and frustrating as a reader if our character doesn’t get what she needs.

I am currently reading The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier. One of the two protagonists is a young girl in a land where young girls of certain status have no independence. They are not allowed to go to town without a male escort, let alone have a job of any kind. What the character says she really WANTS is to be a chef. But she knows this is impossible because she’s a girl. In facing the obstacles around this, we’ll find out what she really needs.

I have yet to figure that out. There is another force at work in the story that has not completely revealed itself. But it’s snaking its way in enough to keep me intrigued. She is currently resisting this mysterious force, and I know her wants and needs will eventually collide.

YOUR WORKOUT

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line: At the beginning of my story, my character dreams / schemes of…

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: Directly in the way of what my character wants is…

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 12-15 minutes.

There should be a moment where your character does not believe she will get what she wants (whether she gets it in the end or not).

For this section, start with the line: The moment she realizes she might not get what she wants happens when…

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

And have a great week!

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If you are a blogger who would like to post your own weekly workout exercise with me every Monday, please write to info (at) danikadinsmore.com

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Weekly Writing Workout: Unconfrontable, That’s What You Are

I love to make lists. I’m kind of a compulsive list maker. One kind I make is a list of “unconfrontables.” How do things get on this list? Easy, by not doing them. If I don’t do them long enough, they are labeled “unconfrontable.”

If there is anything I have been avoiding, putting off, sitting around waiting to be fixed, mended, or in some other way taken care of, it goes on the list. Some items are easy, like sewing all the buttons on my pile of things that have lost buttons. Some are daunting tasks, like doing my taxes (an annual unconfrontable for me). Every once in a while I re-evaluate my list to see if I still care about each item. If I confirm that yes, this is something I want done (or needs to be done) and I am not any closer to doing it, it stays on my list. Sometimes I purge things from the list because a) they are no longer relevant, b) I don’t care any more, c) I’m obviously committed to not doing it.

(Eventually I do address the things on the list. Sometimes I have to prioritize them. Other times I do one a day until they are done. At the end of one year a few years ago, I went on an “unconfrontable” binge.)

Once in a while, something gets on the list that isn’t as tangible as buttons or tax paperwork. It’s a conversation that I’ve been avoiding that has possibly fermented into feelings of resentment. Could be talking to someone about quitting a gig or having a long-overdue talk with a loved one. Whatever it is, the way I play it out in my head is never how it actually happens. Darn people for not reading from my script.

Much of the time, though, doing the “unconfrontable” item takes much less time or is less dramatic than my head has made it out to be. And getting through a conversation that has been put off for days, weeks, even months is always a great relief. (But not always good for story conflict.)

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by Rashin Kheiriyeh

What does your character’s “unconfrontable” list look like?
What conversation has your character been avoiding?
What is s/he afraid of?

YOUR WORKOUT

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line: My Character has been avoiding __________ because …

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: My character’s resentment (or anger) looks like …

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

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

Write a SCENE in which your character finally CONFRONTS this unconfrontable situation/person. Please don’t make it easy for him/her! Make your character sweat, worry, fret, try to manipulate the situation in their favour, fail miserable, try another tactic, etc.

As usual, don’t have him/her say exactly what he/she means (i.e. don’t be “on the nose” about it). HAVE YOUR CHARACTER ACT FROM THAT SPACE. Question, misdirect, accuse, or something else..

Start with the line: As Character X approaches Character Y …

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

And have a great week!

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If you are a blogger who would like to post your own weekly workout exercise with me every Monday, please write to info (at) danikadinsmore.com

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