Monthly Archives: May 2011

Writing Exercises (Part II)

Hello! I’m back, and I’m here to give you more writing exercises. Woooo!! So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Exercise 2: Think about someone or something that you know really well. It works best if it’s something that instills a strong emotion in you, like love or hatred. When you’ve got that person/place/thing in mind, write about it as if your reader is someone who has never seen this person/place/thing before and can only imagine it through your writing. This is a pretty legitimate thing to assume about your reader since even people who know you might not know this thing you are writing about. This exercise will help you practice description, and it will (hopefully) remind you that even if something is clear as day in your head, that doesn’t mean your readers will have any idea of what you’re talking about. The level of description you’re going to use for this exercise will probably exceed the amount you should use in any story (see Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make Part IV for more explanation about description) but since this is just an exercise, you can get away with it. Below, I am going to write an example of this type of description. I am going to make my dog the subject.
My dog’s name is Savvy. When she was a little puppy, she seemed innocent enough, but now my mother and I joke that the name is short for “Savage.” The poor thing is so full of energy, she will often miscalculate how much force to put behind her affection, and end up leaving a pattern of stripes on your flesh to show where her claws have been. Savvy is part Chow, part Doberman, with a few extra breeds thrown in on the side. Mainly, she looks like a small, red Doberman with a less pointy snout, a purple and black tongue, and a curl of a tail. When she pants, it looks like she’s smiling a smile unlike any other. It is a smile that says she is so delighted to be alive and a dog and sniffing things and sitting or eating or whatever else she is doing. She often walks up to us when we are sitting on the couch and gives a half-woof then sits back, wags her tail, and looks at us expectantly. If this does not get the reaction she wants (and God knows what that is) she will lift up a paw and slap it on one of our knees, leaving it there and looking at us with big, brown eyes until we get up and play with her. Savvy might also be part mountain goat, as she is rarely content with simply sitting on the couch. More often than not, she can be seen scaling the couch and lying on the back of it, especially if all the normal seats are occupied by humans. That’s even better for her, as she likes to use us as stepping stones to make her climb up to the top of the couch easier.
Okay, I’m going to stop now. So, hopefully you have a good idea of my dog now. Here’s a picture, just so you can get the idea:
She’s cute, I know. That’s my T-shirt by the way.  ANYhoo! On to another exercise, which is somewhat linked to this one…
Exercise 3: Think of a memory from your distant past. It can be good, bad, scary, epileptic, whatever. Now all you have to do is write that memory. This exercise can be very useful for developing tone and voice. For example, you can write the memory from first person, third person, past, present, or any number of things. If you’re writing about your childhood, you might consider practicing the narrative voice of a child, your younger self. (Warning: This is much more difficult than it seems!) Also, if the memory has a certain emotion attached to it, try to convey that in the tone of the piece. As always, here is an example:
Every Friday night when I was little, unless we had other plans, my family would celebrate Shabbat. We had a delicious dinner, Challah, grape juice, and a pair of candles that my mom usually lit. They always went on the counter that acted as a partition between the cooking area of the kitchen, and the dining area. When I got old enough, she taught me how to light them myself and then say the prayer, and I tried to imitate the exact way she waved her hands over the flames before covering her eyes to sing the Hebrew words. This was a time when God was still a possibility in my mind. He was like some jolly, old fairy godmother who sat in the sky all day and did magical, Godly things. I remember wondering how He managed to hear our prayers every Friday when he was so far away, and in order to answer my own question, I conjured an image in my mind of an old man, not unlike Santa Claus, who was sitting in a comfy armchair. Every Friday night, I imagined him reaching over to an old-fashioned radio, the kind that was really just a speaker and a couple knobs, and turn it on, but instead of music, he would hear my family’s prayers and it would make him smile.
And there you have it! Hopefully you have the idea now, and this should keep you busy for a while because you can do this exercise again and again. Of course the ultimate test is to have someone read these exercises after you’re done and give you some constructive criticism. Remember not to get defensive, or you’ll blow up and die. No, I mean you won’t really, but you should never become so attached to your work that you’re afraid to change it. Advice and criticism should be your bread and butter. Like that right there…that was advice. If you take it, then that’s good, because it means that you have some idea of how to take advice, so good. Okay, enough with the run-on sentences. Happy writing!
Word of the Day: Magnanimous (adj) – Generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness.
Hey, “vindictive” is a great word! So it’s your lucky day because I’m going to make that the word of the day, too. It’s my blog, and I say I can do it.
Word of the Day (Again): Vindictive (adj) – Disposed or inclined to revenge; vengeful
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Writing Exercises

There are a lot of writing exercises out there. There are websites full of them, and I’m sure other bloggers have them, too, so I thought I’d share a few of my own.

1) Convey some emotion in just one sentence.
This is one of my favorites, and I will explain it a bit more now. In writing, it’s very important for your description to convey the exact message you want your readers to get…sometimes. I mean, there are styles of writing that involve a heaping helping of ambiguity topped with some vague sprinkles, but I don’t usually do that. So, when you want to practice putting certain emotions into your writing, you pick one at random, and try to put it across with just one sentence. It shouldn’t be a part of any of your works in progress. What it should be is a one-liner that you treat as if it’s the only thing your reader will ever get information from, which it kinda is since this is just a writing exercise. I like to use it to help with my character development. For instance, one exercise you can try is making your reader hate, I mean absolutely loathe, a person in just one sentence. Without any other exposition or scenery, that’s a hard thing to do, but I’ll attempt it so you get what I’m trying to go for.
John was going out to fetch the paper when he saw the stray puppy, and he promptly sent a kick into its ribcage, smiling with satisfaction at its yelp of pain.
Animal abuse is a great way to go, no? So yeah, hopefully you hate this John fellow, even though this is the first and last sentence you will ever read about him. Other things you can try: Make your reader fear a person in one sentence, love a character in one sentence, want to visit a place you made up in just one sentence, want to eat a food that you describe in, you guessed it, one sentence. This exercise has limitless possibilities.
I’ll give you another one in my next post, since this one ran a bit longer than I expected it to.
Cheers!
Word of the Day: Eviscerate (v) – to remove the entrails from; disembowel

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Stories Based on Dreams

Finding inspiration for a good story, especially one that will eventually be novel-length, is hard. Nine times out of ten, the ideas you come up with probably won’t make it past the first three pages without a major revision of the idea, or being scrapped entirely. At least that’s been my experience. That’s why it seems like a gift from heaven above when you wake up in the morning, having just had a dream that inspired you to write. And that’s great. Please do it. Just remember a couple things first.

1) Dreams are only a small piece of a story. From interviews with Stephanie Meyer, I have determined that her inspiration for Twilight came, at least in part, from a dream she had. In that dream, as far as I can tell, she was lying in a pretty meadow with some hot guy. And they were gazing lovingly at each other or something. Very chaste and proper. Meyer then went on to write four books. And all four of those books came from this tiny little scene from a dream. Now clearly she expanded on the idea a little bit. Instead of lying chastely in a meadow with some guy, her main character lies chastely in a meadow with some guy who is a vampire…who sparkles, ’cause why not? And there’s an entire story leading up to their lying in that meadow, and some story that comes after. Kudos to her for coming up with material for all that from one scene, but the point I’m trying to make is that if you’ve been inspired by something very small, it is very difficult to take that small thing and make it into something as big and complex as a story. You might even end up writing for the sole purpose of getting to that scene. I wouldn’t know if that’s what ended up happening to Ms. Meyer. After all, I’m not in her head. (Thank God. I imagine being inside there would be like sitting in a preschool classroom during arts and crafts, only the preschoolers are all on crack and their teacher is outside having a smoke.) But the point is that your inspiration could end up being your downfall, so be careful about which ideas you choose to pursue. Also, on a kind of transitory note, don’t get too attached to that inspiration. It might work great in your head (or in your dreams, which are still kinda in your head) but not on paper, and it’s better to man up (or woman up (so many parentheses in this post!)) and admit that it’s not so great than to stubbornly stick to it and end up producing a piece of crap. Right, so on that note:
2) Things work differently in dreams than they do in real life. This might seem obvious, but when you wake up, and you’ve been inspired by dreams, as I have been many times whether I wanted to be or not, you have to take those dreams with a grain of salt. When you’re writing it down, you might be tempted to keep everything as close to the dream as possible. After all, it did inspire you. Why fix what isn’t broken, right? The problem is, without realizing it, writing from the perspective of a dream can cause you to diverge from the reality of your book just a bit. The reason is, everything that happens in a dream feels real. It makes sense in dream-logic. If a horse walks up to you and asks for directions to your best friend’s house, then changes into a bunny and flies away, that’s great! Whatever. Happens all the time. Then you wake up, and it’s not until you’re writing it down for a story that you realize how ludicrous that is. So be sure to use your dreams as a jumping off point, but remember that you might have to tweak it a little, or a lot. I have had exactly three plot-heavy dreams in my life so far, and they all had a beginning and a middle, during which, regrettably, I woke, but there were still gaps. I made my project filling in those gaps, and, more importantly, giving them the ending I so desperately craved. I used the ideas and concepts of the dreams as well as a scene or two to provide the basis for my story, and that’s it. I will repeat, with something like Stephanie Meyer’s dream, you can’t do that, because there wasn’t really a lot to go off of. It would be the equivalent of a pole-vaulter doing a vault with a toothpick. Substance, people! That’s what you need. Your dream should be the flour, sugar, and eggs, and your book should be the cake. Preferably with frosting. Just be sure you don’t use too much, or you end up with, well, sparkly vampires.
ttfn
Word of the Day: Cudgel (n) – a short, thick stick used as a weapon; club

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