Writing Prompts for December 2014

Summer Memory
Summer Memory

I know that I’m a day late, but … well, November seems like such an innocuous month and then, kapow, there’s no time for anything–and I celebrated Thanksgiving in October! Anyhow, here’s hoping I can stay on track a little better now. I hope those of you south of my border had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and that you’ve all been able to squeeze in some good times with friends and family.

Once school is out at the end of next week, I will definitely be hunkering down in front of the fire with some much-needed journal time. I find that writing with pen or pencil on paper really helps my creativity, and I have a lot of projects waiting for my attention right now. I write for other people on my computer, and for me in my journal. Do you find that changing your writing tools makes a difference to your output?

Here are the last writing prompts for 2014. Have fun and I hope you can find some creative time in the busy holidays ahead.

1. Use one, some, or all of the following words in a story or poem

  • smart phone, cup, nail, sky, bend, yellow
  • envelope, bowl, mist, date, wind, light

2. See if one of the following titles suggests a story to you: The Black Castle, Blue Eyes,  Dream Keeper, Once Upon a Crime, On File, An Elf’s Life, Christmas Love, Holiday Harry, The Next Morning.

3. Here are some opening lines for you to try:

  • You can’t be late.
  • The screen went black.
  • Joe always wanted to know what his father looked like.
  • There are times when it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Sir, there are only enough supplies to last for three more days.
  • Explain to me again why it was a good idea to volunteer for this.
  • No one expected to hear a noise from underneath the stairs.

4. What scene can you imagine from these lines of dialogue?

  • This came in the mail for you.
  • Fine. Just leave it there.
  • Aren’t you going to open it?
  • Look at the return address.
  • Henry, did you hear what I said?
  • Sadly, yes.
  • So what are you going to do about it?
  • Absolutely nothing.
  • Hey, look at this!
  • What is it?
  • Dangerous.
  •  Mike, what are you doing here?
  • Thanks for making me feel so welcome.
  • I’m glad you didn’t think I was being too subtle.
  • You’re hiding something. Show me.
  • Here.
  • Oh.
  • Now what do we do?

5. Take some time this month to get to know your characters better. Chat with them over coffee (while no one is around of course) and find out what they’re thinking. Have you been giving them too much trouble, or not enough? What secret to they have that you didn’t know about. Ask your characters the ten Bernard Pivot questions that James Lipton asks his guests on the Actor’s Studio. Think about their answers. What have you learned about your characters that you didn’t know before? For fun, ask yourself the questions, too!

  • What is your favorite word?
  • What is your least favorite word?
  • What turns you on?
  • What turns you off?
  • What is your favorite curse word?
  • What sound or noise do you love?
  • What sound or noise do you hate?
  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  • What profession would you not like to do?
  • If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

If you’re looking for gifts for your teen or pre-teen, please check out my books page.




7 Editing Questions – Reprise

First Draft
First Draft

I revisited this blog post from 2010 as I was thinking about the next phase of my current writing project. I still have a few thousand words to go and a major plot point to figure out, but I’m eagerly awaiting typing “The End” and finally getting to the fun stuff. I love revising and editing my work. It means the tough part is over, and now I get to create the story I had in mind when I started. My first hurl of words onto the page is always a struggle. I feel set free once the words are finally down, and I get to play. Below are some self-editing questions that I will ask myself as I go through my work. Maybe some of them will help you, too.

1. Where does the story really begin?

Reread the first two to three pages of your story very carefully. When does the action really start? A major fault with many first drafts (mine, included!) is too much background material at the beginning before the conflict is introduced and the characters finally take over the story. In my case, I can almost bet that my story doesn’t really begin until about half-way down page three, so out go the first two pages. If the material I have cut is essential for the reader to know, I find ways later, through dialogue or thoughts of my characters, to get the information to the reader. My later insertions are never as long as those original two and a half pages and the pace of the story gains needed speed.

2. Is this adverb necessary?

Chances are, if you are using a lot of adverbs, you are telling and not showing. Think about the character that has just won the lottery. Rather than have her yell hurray ‘joyfully’, why not have her jump up and down screaming so loudly that her cat runs under the bed in terror and it takes her twenty minutes to get it out. Maybe she runs to her closet and throws all of her old clothes in the garbage while “If I Had a Million Dollars” blasts in her iPod. Both of those pictures show how the character reacts instead of telling and are certainly livelier than the word ‘joyfully’.

3. Is this adjective doing its job?

Look for those empty adjectives and replace them. ‘Amazing’, ‘interesting’, ‘exciting’, ‘awful’, ‘ugly’, ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘scary’, and other adjectives like them need to be replaced with sensory details that bring to life what you are describing. Find places to get the readers’ senses working; it means you are making the story real for them.

4. Whose problem is it?

Your main character has the problem; the main character needs to solve it. Make sure that your protagonist remains the chief actor in the story and doesn’t become solely the reactor to another character’s influence. Sometimes in longer pieces, characters other than your lead can start to steal your attention and your imagination; this can be especially true of villains and ‘comic sidekicks’. Be careful that these characters don’t become so charming that they threaten to steal the book from your hero or heroine. (I speak from some experience here. I created a villain in an historical romance that I liked so much, he eventually got his own book!)

5. Are the grammar and spelling perfect?

Yes, I mean perfect. The most that an editor needs to read of a short story in order to make a decision is approximately three paragraphs; a novel might get three pages. If that’s the only chance you have, don’t blow it by showing your lack of ability in spelling and grammar. Of course, publishers have people whose job it is to make sure that the copy they publish is correct in every way, but there’s no way they’re going to waste that person’s time on writers who haven’t bothered to do their best the first time. If you are self-publishing, correct grammar and spelling are key to your work being thought of as professional and being recommended by readers.

6. Have I read my story out loud?

One of your best proofreading tools is the sound of your own voice. Reading your story aloud is a great way to find awkward or incomplete sentences, clumsy phrasing, and inconsistencies in verb tenses and pronoun agreement. If you hesitate when you are reading or if you have to reread a sentence or phrase, then that’s a section of your story that needs a rewrite.

7. Have I applied the Stephen King rule?

Stephen King concludes his autobiography, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, with an editing exercise. He shows you the first draft of a story he has written and then shows it again full of his cross-outs, inserts and editing marks. He explains his edits and why he makes the choices he does. King’s revision rule is: “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” We have a tendency, as writers, to believe that every word we write is precious and are very reluctant to cut our material–after all, we remember how hard it as to get it down on paper the first time. However, editing is about making our prose lean, and exciting, and compelling the reader to turn the page. See what you can do with ten per cent fewer words.

Consider revision a reward. Remember that if you are revising, you have finished a project–and how neat is that? Try these seven questions to kick-start your editing and begin your pursuit of a great final product. I can’t wait to start!

Writing Workshops for K-W Teens

Once again, I am offering a free series of writing workshops for teens through the Kitchener Public Library. The workshops begin on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 and will be at the Forest Heights’ Branch from 4 to 5 pm.  I’ll be working with teen writers to help them  develop story ideas, write dialogue, create characters and add action and  suspense to their writing. Check the KPL website for registration details.

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