Tag Archives: writing exercise

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.

8be40d2f0f

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 Writing Workout ~ Really!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What small, simple objects transport you back in time?

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

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

YOUR WORKOUT

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

SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

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

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line:

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

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

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

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

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

 

And have a great weekend!

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Hellooooooo! Weekend Workout: We Got Talent

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

steaming jar of

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

garden log

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

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

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

A few of my favourites included:

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

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

YOUR WORKOUT

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

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

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

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

SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

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

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

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

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

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

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

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

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

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Weekend Writing Workout: Add a Little Magic

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

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

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

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

from Wikipedia:

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

YOUR WORKOUT

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 10 minutes.

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

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

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

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 12-15 minutes.

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

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

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 20 minutes.

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

Start with the line: In this scene …

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

Have a great weekend!

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Weekend Writing Workout: Invasion of Space

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

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

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

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

Your Workout

1) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes.

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

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

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

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

Start with the following line: 

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

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

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

Start with the following line: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And have a fabulous, healthy weekend.

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Weekend Writing Workout: Seven Deadly Sins

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

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

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

300px-Boschsevendeadlysins

Hieronymus Bosch’s Seven Deadly Sins

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

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

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

YOUR WORKOUT

1) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes.

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

My character is stifled by the sin of  . . .

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

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

Start with the following line: 

She/he must confront this sin when . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

And have a fabulous, healthy weekend.

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