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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Weekly Workout: Out of One’s Era

I like technology. I’m no techno whiz, but I can get a pretty good geek on. Sometimes, though, the pace of technological advancement astonishes me. It’s overwhelming. I keep joking that one of these days I’m just going to put my foot down and say, That’s it, no more, I’m staying here. Others have. I know people who refuse to text. I know people who won’t shop online. I know people who will never, ever, ever get rid of their stereos or watch TV online.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I mean, I plan on being the writer on the panel at some future convention who goes, “[insert new technology]? No, I don’t do that kind of thing.”

Who cares if I write speculative fiction? I’ve met plenty of science fiction authors who don’t use modern technology. Why would they need to? They live elsewhere, and I do most of the time, too.

I’m sure many people get impatient with the man holding up the line because he doesn’t have a cell phone to show his electronic ticket and what the heck is an electronic ticket anyway? But this could be a great character.

(UPDATED NOTE: I’m not speaking of a character who doesn’t have access to technology and would like to embrace it, but rather someone who has stopped in time while the world moves ahead without them.)

by Stefan Zsaitsits

by Stefan Zsaitsits

The exercise I came up with for today is just for the fun of it. You don’t need to be working on anything whatsoever right now, just jump on in.

In my writing group yesterday, one of our writers said, Just give me a line, I want to write something. Out of that line, she came up with a household of characters in five minutes. This inspired me to create an exercise where at least one new character was manifested.

And, btw, if you ever do use any of these exercises and want to share the results, feel free to add a link to it in the comment section.

YOUR WEEKLY WORKOUT

The image I have is of a character out of his or her era. You know, they haven’t changed styles in 30 years. They get upset because they can’t get this item or that service they used to get 10 years ago (what do you mean I can’t buy film for my camera?). They might express anger when what they really are is afraid. Maybe they are afraid of becoming obsolete, afraid of falling behind, of becoming a victim, of losing themselves in the past, of being forgotten…

This could run from the realistic to the ridiculous – like someone stuck in the 1980′s or the 1800′s or someone in a futuristic society hundreds of years from now.  And it doesn’t have to be about technology, just the idea of staying put and being afraid.

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line: S/he just stood there, staring at it like …

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: Deep down s/he was afraid of …

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

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

Write a SCENE (action/dialogue – no description) in which your Out of Era character CONFRONTS his/her daughter, son, neighbour, store clerk, etc (someone younger than s/he is) and this fear emerges.

DO NOT LABEL THIS FEAR, HAVE YOUR CHARACTER ACT FROM THAT SPACE. (i.e. He does not say, “But I’m so afraid you’ll forget about me). Question, misdirect, accuse, or something else, just don’t come out and say it on the nose.

Start with the line: Character X throws the [object] down like a child and …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing

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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: Did Someone Say Resolutions?

(Weekend Workout is now Weekly Workout and posted on Mondays. Skip to the bottom of the page to go straight to this week’s workout)

Currently Reading:
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stievater (I am digging this book more than I thought I would)

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Yesterday, author Kelly Barnhill wrote a lovely post about making a list of intentions for the new year (rather than one of oppressive “resolutions”). Strangely, her intentions list was almost identical to mine – other than the no “erasing” documents, because I’m queen of saving versions of manuscripts. Oh, and the fact that I do intend to learn a new instrument (or rather, pick up an old one) this year. That’s a subset of my overall intention for the new year, which is: to have fun.

(What I also love are Barnhill’s non-intentions, which help you get clear about what you are not intending to do for the next 12 months.)

I jumped off the New Year’s Resolution band wagon years ago for many of the same reasons as others have, but after reading Barnhill’s post, I started to think that perhaps resolution is just getting a bad rap. It’s not the word “resolution” that is the problem, it’s more that we tend to make our promises to ourself unwinnable or out of our control (i.e. I can’t say with absolute authority, “I will get an agent this year” because I only have control over the sending-out-the-best-query-I-can part, the other part is up to an agent). Then I might give up hope, get depressed, and blame the poor four-syllable noun (curse you Resolution!).

If I said, I’m going to write one completely polished short story this year, I could win at that. I could feel great about myself and maybe even write a second one and feel even better. Holy cow, I’ve just done twice as much as I said I would! But no, something about my brain won’t let me do that. Something in my hardwiring says, Don’t be ridiculous, that’s a wimpy goal and you can do better. So, I often set my standards way too high and then beat myself up for not reaching some completely arbitrary goal.

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by Stefan Zsaitsits

I do like the idea of intentions, or even just: this is what I’m looking forward to this year! On New Year’s Eve, everyone in my Tribe (even the kidlets) said ONE thing we each wanted to get out of the upcoming year. One Thing, and everything else can fall into that. As I stated above, I told everyone I wanted to have FUN this year.

Just for kicks I looked up the word “resolution” and yes, one of the definitions is of course a determined resolve, a firm decision to do or not to do something. But only 2 of the 5 dictionaries I looked it up in had it listed as the first definition. It’s also, of course, the act of finding an answer or solution to a problem or conflict. And as a writer, I find the RESOLUTION such a wonderful place to swim around in. I always feel like I’m bearing down on the finish line when I get to my resolution in whatever draft I’m working with. I can taste my resolution coming, its bittersweetness (my favourite kind of resolution).

Also resolution is from the Latin resolutio, from resolvere ‘loosen, release’

Ah, maybe we can use THAT definition at the beginning of the year from now on, and instead of RESOLVING firmly that we are going to DO this thing or NOT DO this thing, what if we released that which no longer served us (i.e. that which was creating conflict in our lives) and loosened ourselves up to new opportunities. Or perhaps it’s a way of looking at all the unfinished business of our lives and taking any next steps toward completing them.

No matter how you decide to take on the New Year, here’s to 2014.

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YOUR WORKOUT

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

I was using my Antagonist for this exercise, but you can use your Protag or any other character who has an arc.

Start with the line:
My character’s “unfinished business” looks like…

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

 

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line:

In order to resolve his/her inner conflict, my character must let go of …

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

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

Write a SCENE (action/dialogue – no description) in which another character CONFRONTS your character about his or her unfinished business. Have this character make accusatory statements. Volley denial, anger, resentment, etc, and in the end, try to come to a CONFESSION of some sort if you can.

This might not become an actual scene in your story, but hopefully it will deepen your understanding of your character and build motivation.

Start with the line: Character X turns to Character Y and says, “Why do you always do that?”

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

 

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