Category Archives: writing exercises

The Unstickening, Part II

So, a big part of my being-stuck problem on the RSWIP (Romantic Suspense Work In Progress) was not really having an antagonist, which meant my characters were just wandering around bickering for no reason without any escalation of stakes. They had lots of problems, of course, just not the kind of antagonist-driven conflict that makes things, you know… interesting.

I found that it helped to do some outlining – but it also clarified that my lack of antagonist clarity was a big problem. So I did it again!

I treated the antagonist as if she were the protagonist (don’t most antags think they’re the protag anyway?) and went through the same steps.

This was really helpful at showing me where my antagonist was doing things that made sense for her (Act I) and where she wasn’t (uh…. Acts II and III), and helped me think about whether my antagonist WAS my antagonist, or whether she was a minion (still not 100% sure, even though I’m calling her my antag now).

I’m not sure I have many answers, but I think at least now I know the right questions to ask next time my writing partner and I get together.

I’m also a little bit tempted to give my antag a POV – or to write it as a website bonus – like Jenny Crusie did with the Antagonist Monologues on her blog – but for now, I’m going to try to focus on just getting clues about the antag dropped in the MC’s POV pages.

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The Unstickening, Part I

…or should that be “Unstuckening”?

Either way, I suppose I shouldn’t count my chickens just yet. But things are looking up with my whole tumbleweed-mind situation!

So, I decided to try Tess Hilmo’s advice and make myself a foldable outline/plot-diagram thingie, like so:

It was immediately satisfying to have just created the thing, if a bit scary (since it was still all full of blank boxes, and I only had pens). But I figured, if it didn’t work, no harm no foul, right? I would just toss it out.

So I got started, sort of doodling around while some friends played video games and shot the breeze, and eventually the problem occurred to me:

The boxes ask about Main Characters.

My WIP is more or less a romance. That means it’s got two main characters.

Continue reading The Unstickening, Part I

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Getting Unstuck

(done and done)

I’ve been stuck with a blank mind on BOTH of my works in progress for about the last three months.

And NOW I’m at the point where it’s almost intimidating to go back: what if everything I’ve done is terrible? Or, if it’s good, what if I’ve totally lost the ability to write like that?? Or what if it’s terrible AND I’ve lost the ability to do it?!?!?

Obviously this is brain-weasels running amok but it’s still giving me a hard time.

So, I tried some “not-writing,” per Turbo Monkey’s Sarah McGuire (and added her book Valiant to my TBR pile while I was at it). That… didn’t get me unstuck. I’ve had great success with that approach in the past (especially during college, where my roommates would all watch me playing Snood and ask tentatively how the essay was going) but unfortunately my mental landscape just looked like

So I decided to try the 13-step outline suggested by Chuck Wendig at his blog. But that also gave me Tumbleweed Brain (aka “Blank Paper Panic,” an issue that was freezing me in my boots.

Then I tripped over Tess Hilmo’s “Best Plot Help Ever,” a little paper foldable that sounded cute and fun and sort of like those MASH things or a ‘flapdoodle’ (srs education term for a folded-up/cut paper study aid) and I decided I would try one of those for each WIP and see if any gears started turning.

And turn they did — more on that tomorrow!

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Ten Minutes

So, yesterday while I was wasting time on Twitter, I read another blogger’s post about how she wrote a novel in ten minutes a day.

I mean, I definitely waste more than ten minutes a day.

Waaaay more.

But I have a hard time getting into the writing mindset that quickly–and I often waste a bunch of time staring at a blank screen, trying to feel moved or motivated.

I think maybe I need to cut that out…?

So for the month of March, I’m going to try the whole Ten Minutes A Day thing!

Three days a week my Creative Writing class has ten minutes of freewriting a day, so I’ll join them for that instead of using that time for entering attendance, answering emails, whatever.

The other four days I’ll have to come up with some other ten minutes, but I bet I can do it for a month… right?

Anyway, I’ll be tweeting about it, too, so feel free to join me: #10MinMarch

(And now to go put in ten minutes for today, even though March isn’t till tomorrow… woohoo!)

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Lessons from the Classics: Twain’s Dialect

 Note: This is the first in an ongoing series (I hope?) of posts that take what I’m teaching in my 11th-grade American Lit classes and then shows how that could translate into creative writing, using examples of what I’m doing. I welcome feedback, because I’m no expert on American literature–just somebody who’s been teaching it for a couple of years. I would also love to hear how other writers are using these tools! 

This week in American Lit, we’ve been talking about dialect (writing that imitates the way people actually speak, including accents, slang, and idiom) and how writers use that to provide indirect characterization.

The story we read is Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a short, humorous exploration of the type of characters populating a rural mining camp in the 1860s. It’s also a frame story,  with an unnamed narrator introducing and closing out the tale in deliberately prolix style, the better to heighten the contrast with the main tale, told by “good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler” (Twain 1). The version at the link has a different ending than the version in our textbook, but the same general ideas are at play in both.

Obviously, Twain’s intent is to satirize both the stuffy narrator, who can’t see the humor in Smiley’s adventures, and Wheeler himself, who’s a bore and a boor and won’t let the narrator escape. We spend time while we’re reading picking out the words that really help characterize the two of them in order to analyze Twain’s use of diction as character. Some of the students’ favorites:

  • The Narrator: compliance, garrulous, hereunto append, personage, infernal, tedious
  • Simon Wheeler: feller, flume, curiousest, so’s, solit’ry, dangdest, thish-yer–and I was very unsuccessful in convincing them that “Well, blame my cats!” should make a comeback in teen vernacular.

There’s clearly a vast gulf here in terms of diction (syntactically, they both tend to run on, but only one of them does it grammatically). It would be very, very easy to label any sentence from this story as spoken by the Narrator or by Simon Wheeler, based on diction alone, because their dialects are so distinct.

So, how do I use this in my own writing?  Continue reading Lessons from the Classics: Twain’s Dialect

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Late for Saturday, or early for Tuesday…?

Sometimes it’s so hard to tell.

The beginning of a new semester is always tricky, but especially when you’re sick (still? again? who even knows at this point).

I have a new bunch of students in Creative Writing this semester, and it’s about half the size of last semester’s class–and 80% male. This is the first time I’ve had enough kids sign up to teach it twice in a year, but with the smaller group I suspect it’s going to be a very different experience. Last semester had a lot of humor and several big personalities, and this semester seems like mostly silent students.

But our first unit is Creative Nonfiction, so I’m looking forward to having them write and design their own Six-Word Memoirs.

I just killed like an hour looking for the one I designed on Canva, but have now given up on that. My six-word memoir: “Learned more from teaching than school.”

What’s yours?

 

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Imitation and Inspiration

spoon river anthologyLast week in American Literature we did one of my favorite projects–unearthed from the vault, so to speak–based on Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. It’s a collection of poems, each written from the point of view of a former resident (now deceased) of Spoon River. The poems are intertwined, revealing the connections between the lives of the Spoon River-ers, showing town life from various angles.

What could be more fun, for a roomful of high school students, than to imitate that?  Continue reading Imitation and Inspiration

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Starting All Over Again

While I’ve been away from the blog, I’ve had several new starts come my way. I got back from Hawaii–which was amazing–and had to start again at work, teaching/planning/grading, trying desperately to get caught up. I’m still flailing when it comes to catching up on writing–I’ve missed the last few pages deadlines for my crit group, and jokingly-not-jokingly told them that my goal this month is to write “EVEN ONE SINGLE PAGE.”

So far nothing.

However, I am trying to get back on the horse just in time for a perennial favorite: NaNoWriMo.

Fifth time’s the charm??

Continue reading Starting All Over Again

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She Hath a Lovely Face: Characterization & Beauty

We’re reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in Novels this semester, and since we’ve been reading about how well Basil captures Dorian’s essence in his portrait, our first creative project is to annotate selfies (or photos of ourselves, for the student who says he refuses to ever take a selfie on moral grounds) to show what our appearances reveal about our true natures*.The Selfie Picture of Ms. Larkin

Portrait of the Artist as a Young (Wo)man – click to see larger!

One of the things that was mentioned in multiple MWW workshops this year was the idea that–to the dismay of Victorians–phrenology has been disproven; that is, there are much more important things about your character than details of appearance. At her MWW one-day intensive session, The Writer’s Survival Kit, Martha Brockenbrough begged us, “Please don’t start with your protagonist waking up in bed and catching sight of herself in the mirror. Isn’t there a whole lot of stuff that’s more important to know about your character than that she has green eyes?”  Continue reading She Hath a Lovely Face: Characterization & Beauty

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