Hump Day Writing Prompt: The Power in a Name

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I grew up without a nickname. At the time, it seemed like a tragedy to me.

Not only did I not have a nickname, I had this weird first name at a time when all I really wanted was to be just like everyone else. I was in elementary school in the 1970s and all I wanted was to be named Jennifer, called Jenny.

My best friend was named Belerma, and while she had a nickname–we called her Bele–we both struggled with having strange names. We actually lamented the fact that we couldn’t get personalized hairbrushes or pencils at the mall.

So, from the first grade I called her Katie and she called me Nicky. Even though we’ve both come to terms with our names, we still use those utterly made up names.

I think the name a person calls you has power though. So, my characters almost always have a couple of them.

For today’s Hump Day Writing Post, I’d like you to think about the name of your main character and whether or not there are any nicknames that the other characters in your book call them. What kind of power is there in those nicknames? How do the names make them feel?

My Turn

I’m writing a Robin Hood retelling set in modern day Las Vegas. My main character is Robert Huntington.

The only person who calls him Robert is the antagonist, his father’s business partner who never calls anyone at all by a nickname. Because no one else uses his proper name, it feels stiff, almost distancing. As if the man is keeping Rob, and everyone, at arms length.

The first person he comes in contact with in the story is an employee who calls him Mr. Huntington–his father’s name. It’s hard to take that, when his father has just died. He starts to ask him to call him Rob, but he can’t make himself do that. Even though Mr. Huntington is far more formal than Robert, there is an affection in it. He’s called Rob Mr. Huntington since he was six years old, and even though he uses the formal name, he is affectionate with Rob. There is a sense that he would do anything for Rob.

His best friend calls him Robin, which was the name his mother (who died when he was six) called him. He likes that. It grounds him. Sometimes his friend’s father calls him Robin, too.

He thinks of himself as Rob, and most everyone calls him that. His father called him Rob, most of the time. They hadn’t been close for a few years.

Your Turn

Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with! Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links. Help spread the Ninja Writer word! Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Send a link to it to one writer friend.

And, if you really want to jump into Ninja Writers with both feet, join the 31 Days to Being a Ninja Writer challenge! Just click the picture.

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Ninja Writers Academy: Shiny New Thing Syndrome

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, Click Here.

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The Dealing with Squirrels Assignment

I posted a question in the Ninja Writer Facebook group asking what topics you guys would like to see me explore. Shiny New Thing Syndrome–the writerly tendency to get a great new idea smack in the middle of executing the last great new idea–came up from several people. I thought that might make a fun Academy post.

Or maybe fun isn’t exactly the right word.

The struggle is real, Ninjas! Seriously. This happens to me every single time. I’m super excited as I start. Act I flows like honey–not too easy, but sweet and smooth–everything is awesome. And then BAM! Two things:

  1. I hit Act II and my story slows to a crawl.
  2. Another idea–even more shiny and more new than the one I’m already working on (that may or may not have shown itself when I was in Act II of my last shiny new idea) springs up like magic.

And because I’m constantly fighting against my writer’s brain’s dedication to protecting me (and itself) from the hard work of actually writing anything, of course it seems perfectly obvious that the right decision is to drop everything and get straight away to work on that great new thing that’s going to be the thing that propels me into the career of my dreams.

Would J. K. Rowling have put of Harry Potter just because she happened to be working on some mediocre-at-best thing when the idea came to her?

Seriously.

Here’s the thing. I can almost guarantee you that in the course of writing Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling had shiny new ideas. That woman most definitely has a writer’s brain, after all. The reason Harry Potter is Harry Potter is because J. K. Rowling stuck with it and finished.

She did not succumb to Shiny New Thing Syndrome.

And neither should you.

If it’s your goal to be a working, professional, successful writer, then you have to learn how to write through the middle of your story. It might feel draggy and saggy and boring. After all, Act II doesn’t have the brand-spanking-new thing going for it that Act I does, or the sliding-into-home thing that Act III has.

Act II is hard work. Doing that hard work opens your brain up to Shiny New Things that might give you a good excuse not to write, but that will let you still feel like a writer.

Dang. Our brains are so stinking tricky.

I have a couple of tips for showing your writer’s brain who exactly is in charge here.

Set Your Expectations

If Shiny New Thing Syndrome is something you suffer from, I think you need to have a daily goal for yourself. Something that you’ll meet, no matter what. I’ve written before about the magic of tiny goals, so I’m not going to spring “write 2000 words on your current WIP every day” on you.

My recommendation is actually very simple:

Make a commitment to yourself to move your current WIP forward every day. It can be a chapter, a page, even a paragraph, whatever. Editing before you’re done with your first draft doesn’t count. You need to make tangible forward movement on your story every day during drafting.

I can almost here you saying to yourself: but my WIP really sucks! Why should I keep moving forward with it if it’s complete and utter shit and no one will ever want to read it in all the future history of reading?

My answer to that is to remind yourself that once upon a time, your current WIP started out as a shiny new thing. It doesn’t suck, no matter what your writer’s brain is telling you at the moment.

Go ahead and write that down and tape it to the wall where you can see it: My WIP does NOT suck.

Put Blythe in her Birdcage

Blythe is my inner editor.

She sucks donkey eggs.

You can read here about Blythe’s bird cage. 

My advice to you, if you have “this story sucks, why am I even doing this” running through your head like a mantra is to lock your Blythe away. Get rid of her until you need her (during EDITS, silly editor.) Do not let yourself start judging your story when you’re only halfway done writing it.

Store the Shiny New Things for Later

Lastly, I want to make one thing crystal clear.

I do not want you to ignore those Shiny New Things.

You’re going to need them! Eventually. Just not right this minute.

So write them down. Even spend a little time using the How to Develop + Test a Story Idea system of idea development on the especially juicy ones. Having them recorded will ease your poor writer’s brain and let you move onward and forward with your current WIP.

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Make a Commitment!   Grab a notebook and write IDEAS across the front cover. This is your handy dandy, super duper Shiny New Thing containment unit. Commit to writing those bright ideas down and not let them stick you in a never ending loop of writing half a book and then deciding it’s crap when the next Shiny New Thing comes along.

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

Come by Facebook and share your commitment. Just come on by and voice your determination to FINISH THAT FIRST DRAFT.

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link.

P.S.

I’m giving away 5 FREE Spots in The Plotting Workshop. You can enter to win right here!

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3 Ways to Win Nanowrimo Your Own Way

If you’re reading this, you probably already know what it means to win Nanowrimo.

Just in case, though: Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. Every November gozillions of writers all buckle down and try to write 50,000 words in 30 days. If you’re involved in any sort of writing community, you’ll notice the general excitement and mayhem that falls on writers everywhere in November.

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Here’s my Nanowrimo story:

I finished my first first draft in November 2004. I was very pregnant (Ruby was born on December 8) and miserable and I needed something to help me get through the longest month there has ever been. I was pretty certain that December was never going to arrive and having something to occupy myself with in November helped.

I’d also wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old and I wanted to know if I could actually write a book-length story.

I could, and that changed everything. It didn’t even matter that the draft I finished sucked. Badly. Once I knew that I had it in me, I realized that the rest was just mechanics. I dug in to learn them. I’m still learning them.

But Nanowrimo gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get through that first terrible first draft. And that first terrible draft was what made me a writer.

Here’s what Nanowrimo is really, really good for: Getting you over the hump between wanting to write and actually writing. But, sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you might hope.

Sometimes, someone starts Nanowrimo and doesn’t win. They don’t get to 50,000 words.

Sometimes, that person feels so bummed out that they stop writing until next November.

Sometimes, someone wins Nanowrimo over and over again.

Sometimes, that person ends up with files full of 50,000 word first drafts that aren’t really finished and definitely are not polished.

You get the picture. Sure sometimes someone writes a first draft during Nanowrimo, polishes that sucker until it shines, and because a world-wide best-selling phenomenon. And sometimes–not so much.

I personally believe that it takes more than 30 days of speed writing to write a novel that is worth publishing. I’m a big advocate for slowing down and learning to write well; spending time on your craft. But, I also think that if you’re willing to look outside the box, there is real merit in Nanowrimo.

Here are three ways to do that.

Set your own goal

Here’s a secret, Ninja Writer: The 50,000 word Nanowrimo official goal is totally arbitrary.

Use the month of November to get a good start on a daily writing habit–but set your own goal. Maybe it’s writing 500 (or 200 or 2000) words a day. Maybe it’s writing Act I of your new story. Maybe it’s working your way through plotting your next book.

Pick a goal that will push you, that you know you can finish, and that will move your writing career forward. Those are your new rules. It’s entirely fine if your goal isn’t writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

Think of November 30 as the start, not the finish

I know several writers who have a whole collection of 50,000 word Nanowrimo manuscripts that they finished on November 30 and never looked at again.

That’s so not the point.

Whatever you do in November should be the start of something awesome. Even if you do finish a first draft in that month, it’s just a first draft. If it’s 50,000 words long, chances are good that it’s not long enough to actually be a novel. And if you don’t keep working on it, it’s just a fancy placeholder on your hard drive anyway.

Use Nanowrimo to get a good start, and then KEEP GOING. Finish the draft. Use it to learn how to edit. Polish that baby. And then send it out into the world where it belongs.

Use Nanowrimo as an opportunity to build community

The very best part of Nanowrimo is the part where gozllions of writers are coming together for a common purpose.

There isn’t a better time, all year long, to reach out and become involved in a writing community.

There are local Nanowrimo groups and literally any writing community online will be full of people buzzing about their work in November. You can visit the Nanowrimo website to get involved. You can come on over and join Ninja Writers on Facebook to hang out with us. Send out a Tweet to your friends and the chances are that someone is planning on doing Nanowrimo this year and would love to hook up with you for sympathy and motivation.

Writing is such solitary work and it tends to attract introverts. But you now what they say: no writer is an island. Or something like that.

I really do hope you’ll join us on Facebook. Ninja Writers is the most amazing writing community I’ve ever been part of, and a bunch of us are jumping into Nano in November–our own way. You’ll get support and encouragement from the Ninjas as you spend a month building a writing habit that will help you build a writing career.

If you want to go into Nanowrimo with a plan–maybe that’s thinking-outside-the-Nano-box step one. The Plotting Workshop will help.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: A Resting Place

Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.

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A Resting Place

Stories are all about pacing. The up and the down.  And pacing is one of the hardest things to learn.

So, I thought that today we’d use the Hump Day Prompt to explore the concept of pacing a little.

Your protagonist needs to have ups and downs throughout the story. If you have all ups, the story is boring. If you have all downs, it’s too unrelenting for the reader.

Today I’d like you to think about a scene where your hero has been struggling, they’ve been fighting and maybe losing, definitely not getting what they want. And then think about a win you can give them, right in that moment when things seem so hard, so difficult, that they’re struggling to hold on.

My Turn

My story The Undergrounders is a Robin Hood retelling. This scene happens at the end of the first sequence. Rob, my hero, is mourning the death of his father. He’s surrounded by mourners. All he wants is to see his best friend–who is his love interest as the story goes on. The first time Rob sees Mattie in this book is a breath for him (not just of fresh air. Of any air.) It’s rest from sadness for the reader, too.

How can his father be gone? It’s like trying to wrap his head around the idea of the sun deciding one day that it was done . Yesterday he was still angry that his father didn’t want him to come home for the summer. Again. Angry enough to ignore his emails. Yesterday feels like a thousand years ago now.

The world has changed since then.

The door behind him opens with a soft whoosh and a burst of refrigerated air. Rob keeps his back turned, trying to pull it together before he has to face another mourner. “I’m sorry, I—“

A hand slips into his and Mattie is there.

She presses against his right side, her forehead against his shoulder. She doesn’t say she’s sorry. She doesn’t have to say anything. He keeps her hand and wraps his arm around her waist, pulling her closer.

Her hair smells like apples. She’s cut it since the last time he’s seen her– short in the back, with long layers that fall forward and cover her face as she presses her cheek against his chest.

She holds onto his t-shirt at the small of his back, her fingers digging into his skin. She whispers something and it takes a minute for him to work out what she’s saying.

You’re home. You’re home now. It’s okay.

Tears finally fall, releasing the mask of pain.

Your Turn

Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with! Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links. Help spread the Ninja Writer word! Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Send a link to it to one writer friend.

The Plotting Workshop will help you mark 'write a novel' off your bucket list. And it's free!

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A Novel Idea: Story Ideas As Chinese Take-Out

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, Click Here.

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There are a couple of questions that I get asked very regularly. Maybe the top of that list is: where do you get your ideas.

It’s a pretty standard question that authors everywhere get, I think. The answer is, of course, that ideas come from everywhere. They’re literally laying on the floor.

I think that one skill a writer has is the ability to notice those ideas and pick them up.

Ideas, for me, are generally a combination of three things: a character, a setting, and a situation. Someone, somewhere, doing something.

A lonely boy, in England, who goes to wizarding school.

An unhappy girl, in Kansas, who is sucked up into a tornado and deposited in a magical world.

An orphaned boy, on a moisture farm, who becomes a Jedi.

See?

So here’s what I do. I have three running, ongoing lists. One for characters. One for settings, one for situations. When something occurs to me–I see a news story about an interesting person or I visit a place or I get a random ‘what if’ idea–I write it where it belongs on my lists.

And then, sometimes, I just start playing around. I take one from column A and one from column B and one from column C, just like ordering Chinese take-out, and I see how they mix. If I’m intrigued, I go through the How to Develop + Test a Story Idea process to see if it’s got merit and can hold up a whole novel.

I spent a lot of years living on the edge of panic. I’d get one idea and start writing it, and constantly be afraid that this might be my last good idea. What if I never, NEVER had another one? Having a stable of developed ideas and a list of the bare bones of new ideas waiting in the sidelines, has taken away that anxiety.

My Turn

I spent all week going through H2DSI on our Facebook group with one of my ideas. You can read my assignments at these links.

Day one: Character

Day two: Setting

Day three: Situation

Day four: 5 Key Plot Points

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Start your own idea factory!   Get out a notebook and start your lists of characters, settings, and situations.  Head over to Teachable and get signed up for H2DSI for free, it’ll walk you right through the process. Then, get started. Pick a character, a setting, and a situation. That’s all. Just one sentence: this person, in this place, did this thing.

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

Come by Facebook and share your idea sentence. I’m out of town this weekend, so no office hours, but I’ll be around Facebook off and on if you have questions.

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link.

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Ninja Writers Academy: Writing a Query Letter

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, Click Here.

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The Sell Your Story Assignment

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We’ve been talking about query letters some in the Ninja Writers Facebook group, so I thought it might be fun to carry that through to this week’s Academy post.

A query letter is a sales tool. It’s a one page sales letter that introduces you and your story to an agent or publisher, with the goal of enticing them to request the manuscript.

That is the query’s only goal: to encourage an agent or editor to request your manuscript.

Your query letter is successful if some of the people you send it to send you back a note that says something like: this sounds intriguing, go ahead and send me the manuscript as a word document.

If you send out your query and no agents or editors request the manuscript the problem is with your letter, not your story.

My personal strategy is to send the query out to ten people. If I get one request, then I send it out more widely. Publishing is very, very subjective and a ten percent request rate means you have a successful query.

A query letter basically follows this guideline:

A short introduction

The very first paragraph of the query tells the person receiving it why you’re sending it to them. Maybe you saw them post a manuscript wishlist on Twitter. Maybe you saw on their website that they represent science fiction. Maybe they represent an author you like. For sure you’re seeking representation or a publisher.

If you have something that will make your story or you more attractive to an agent or editor, front load it in your letter. Agents and editors are human. They might not read your whole letter. The first paragraph is important.

An introduction to the story

In a paragraph or maybe two, introduce your main characters and their situation. This is tricky, but these paragraphs should reflect the tone of your story. If your story is humorous, the description should be funny. If your story is dark, this description should be as well. If you’ve met the agent or publisher somewhere (a conference maybe), then this is where you remind them of that.

A more technical introduction to the story

Here’s where you let the agent or editor know the genre of your book, the word count, and maybe give them a comparison title or two.

A little about you

The next paragraph is where you can talk yourself up. This is a professional letter, though. Think about what you’d tell a prospective employer about you. Probably not that you live in Reno with your family and a dog. Give work experience if it’s relevant. That means, tell them you’re a lawyer if you’re writing a legal thriller or a teacher if you’re writing picture books. They don’t need to know you’re a nurse if you’re not writing anything with a medical bent.

This is the paragraph where you’ll put any writing credits you might have. If you’ve been published anywhere professionally, list that. Don’t list your church bulletin or family newsletter. If you’ve been published on a major blog, I think it’s okay to list that. If you have a degree related to writing or what you’re writing about, list that. If you have a degree in accounting and you’re writing a romance novel, don’t talk about your education.

If you have any sort of platform or fan base, make sure to include that.

Sign off

In the last paragraph, just thank the recipient for their time and attention and ask for what you want: may I send you my manuscript?

That’s it. I know it’s easier said than done! I think the key is to remember that your query letter is a sales tool. It doesn’t have to be perfectly written, but it should be free of obvious mistakes like typos or poor grammar. You should never, ever do a mass mailing to a whole list of agents or editors in one fell swoop. Address the letter to one person. Spell their name right. Get their gender right.

There are a few things that can happen after you send the letter out.

You might get no answer at all. It’s common these days for agents and editors to have a ‘no reply means no’ policy. If you don’t hear from them for 90 days or so, they have passed. You’ll never hear from them unless they want to read your manuscript.

You might get a form rejection. There is a double standard in publishing that you just have to live with. You can’t send a ‘dear agent’ letter and expect it to work, but you will likely collect a whole stack of ‘dear author’ replies. These are copy and paste rejections with nothing personal in them at all. They’ll sound something like: Dear author, thanks for thinking of me, but your story doesn’t fit my needs right now. Good luck!

You might get a helpful rejection. Believe it or not, these are good. They mean that the agent or editor read your query letter and maybe a few sample pages, and while they don’t want to represent you, they saw something worth commenting on. Maybe a little note about why the story doesn’t work for them. Maybe some encouragement about how you’re not quite there, but please keep writing. Maybe an offer to read your next query when you’ve read something else.

You might get a request. This is the goal! If an agent is intrigued by your query letter, they’ll send a note asking you to forward them either your full manuscript or some part of it. It’s pretty common to get a request for the first 50 pages or first three chapters of your book.

Next week I’ll write about what happens after you’ve sent out your requested manuscripts.

Formatting

You are almost always going to send your queries electronically, through email. There are very few agents or publishers who prefer snail mail these days.

Start your letter with the name of the agent and the agency name.

Address the letter to ‘Dear Mr. Agent’ or ‘Dear Ms. Agent.’ If you’re unsure of the gender of the agent, it’s worth doing a little research to find out.

End your letter with something professional. I use ‘sincerely.’ Under your name, list your address, phone number, and email address. You want to make sure that the person you’re contacting has lots of ways to reach you.

Good form

There are a few rules to querying.

You want to make sure that you’re sending your query to someone who either represents or publishes what you’ve written. If your story is science fiction, it’s a waste of your time and theirs to send your query to someone who has taken the time to write on their website that they aren’t interested in reading science fiction.

Don’t be gimmicky. No emoticons. No funky fonts. No pictures. Do not send attachments if they aren’t asked for in submission guidelines. Don’t send a blank email with only attachments.

Do your research before you send out the query. I use www.querytracker.net to manage my queries. It allows you to search agents and publishers based on genre (along with other criteria.) Each agent or publisher has a page on Query Tracker that lists a link to their website. Their website will have a tab or link for their submission guidelines. Read these carefully. They’ll tell you what they want to see.

Some agents and publishers only want the one page letter. Others want you to include a short synopsis and/or a few pages of the manuscript, pasted under the letter. There are some who want you to include either a partial or full manuscript and/or synopsis as attachments.

Follow those guidelines closely.

My Turn

I’m in the process of querying agents right now. I’ve decided that my letter is good: I sent out the first round of letters about a week ago and had two requests the next morning. I sent it out more widely and I’ve had seven requests for the full or partial manuscript so far. I consider this a successful query. If I don’t get an offer of representation, it won’t be because I didn’t write a good query letter. It will be because there’s a problem in my manuscript.

Here’s my query:

Mary Jones
ABC Agency

Dear Ms. Jones,

(If I have some reason for targeting Ms. Jones, I’ll include it here as a first line.) I am seeking representation for my speculative novel 37-B. My books VIRAL NATION and REBEL NATION were published by Berkley Books in 2013 and 2014. I would love the opportunity to work with you.

When a man trapped forever in the body of a boy meets a girl who is addicted to trying to do the one thing that immortality has made impossible, the world is changed.

Jackson Pruitt was fifteen when he accidentally invented immortality and ruined the whole world. He thought he was doing a good thing, eradicating death. When he sneezed the sneeze that changed everything, he expected to wind up in the Ivy League, on Saturday Night Live, and in history books.

Instead, he is stuck forever in his prepubescent body doing never-ending penance as a nurse taking care of the people who didn’t even know they were his victims.

Immortality didn’t magically make everyone the picture of youth and good health. It just made them live and live and live. Even sick people who should have been allowed the dignity of death. Even old people who had already lost everyone they loved. Even unborn babies. Everyone.

A unique coming-of-age story that turns immortality tropes upside down, 37-B is complete at 56,000 words. My novel will appeal to readers of Andrew Smith’s GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE and Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE.

In addition to my published novels, I have worked as a journalist in rural Nevada and at both major Las Vegas newspapers. I’m working toward an MFA at Sierra Nevada College and I teach writing courses via my online school, Ninja Writers, which is 10,000 members strong.

(If I’ve included some additional material like a synopsis or pages, I’ll state that here.) May I send you the manuscript? Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Shaunta Grimes
My address
My phone number
My email address

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

If you’re working on a query letter, come share it on Facebook.  It can help to get feedback from other writers.

Come by Facebook and share your scene, both ways. Office hours are at 5 p.m. PST tomorrow (Sunday.) See you there!

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Showing Spirit

Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.

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Showing Spirit

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This week let’s do a little simultaneous work on our heroes and our antagonists.

Here’s something to keep in mind: your antagonist is the hero of their own story. And maybe your hero is the antagonist of that story.

So this week, take some time to consider a scene between your story’s hero and antagonist where they are both heroes of their own story. An argument or fight or clash between the two of them, where their individual stories come to a crossroads.

Make sure the stakes for both are high.

My Turn

My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling, so this scene is between my hero, Rob, and my antagonist, Guy. The third arm of their love triangle, Mattie, is involved as well–but this scene is really about the two of them fighting for position.

“This is my house,” Rob said, even though it wasn’t true.

“No. It’s not.”

“Of course it is,” Mattie said. “Or if it isn’t, it should be.”

“Locksley is mine.” Guy stood in front of the door, ready for a fight. Rob felt it in his blood—adrenaline coursing. Everything inside of him begged for that fight.

He took Mattie by the elbow and moved her back, away from him and from Guy, who came down the stairs toward them. He seemed entirely calm until he reached the bottom, and then he made a guttural noise and launched himself at Rob. The momentum pushed them both backward until Rob was pressed against the sun-heated side of Frank’s car.

“What’s wrong with you? Stop it!” Mattie reached between them just as Guy swung. Rob barely managed to push her out of the way before he felt the impact of the blow.

Another left-handed uppercut. Guy’s go-to. It caught Rob on the shoulder instead of the jaw, though. Guy pulled back to try again and Rob leaned back against the car, giving himself leverage to bring up a foot and drive it into a hard, bony knee.

Guy went down and Rob followed, pinning him to the ground. Guy fought, bucking under Rob to try to dislodge him. Something in Rob roared forward, leaping like a dog straining against a chain at the chance to fight. He couldn’t let go with either arm without giving Guy the leverage he needed to get the upper hand.

As soon as the burst of violent intention came, it dissipated. Rob looked up at Mattie, who had tears streaming down her face, then back down at Guy.

“Stop it.” When Guy bucked again, Rob let go of one of his arms long enough to slap him across the face, once, hard. “Why do you have to be such an asshole?”

The slap did the trick. Guy went slack. Rob looked at him through a breath or two, then started to get up. As soon as he had his feet under him and was baring his own weight, Guy pushed him with both hands and sent him sprawling.

“Enough!” Mattie put herself between Guy and Rob again. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What are you even doing here, Guy?” Rob asked when they were both on their feet. Guy fought like he was protecting his home.

“Jack left this place to Philip. And Philip gave it to me.”

“What are you talking about?” Rob looked around, desperately trying to bring up something. Some memory. Anything that would verify to himself that Locksley was his to fight for. “The will was just read an hour ago. How long have you been here?”

“Your father left it to rot. I’m the one who’s brought it back to life.” He reached a hand toward Mattie. “I was going to show you. Soon.”

“Guy.” Mattie took a step closer to Guy, but stopped when Rob shot her a look. “You had to know this place wasn’t yours. Not really.”

“Jack left it to Philip.”

“Does that even make sense to you?” Rob asked. “My dad’s only been dead for twenty-four hours. Did he know you were living here?”

“You don’t deserve Locksley. You don’t deserve–” Guy shifted his gaze to Mattie, then launched himself at Rob again.

Rob was ready, even desperate for it, but Guy’s next shot was interrupted by Mattie when she stepped in front of him.

Your Turn

Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with! Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links. Help spread the Ninja Writer word! Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Send a link to it to one writer friend.

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Ninja Writers Academy: Third Person Vs. Omniscient POV

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, Click Here.

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Ninja Writers Academy

Someone on the Facebook group asked for an Academy post about the difference between third person and the omniscient point of view. Since I’m in the middle of a revision on my work-in-progress from third person to omniscient, this seemed like a great time to do it.

First some definitions.

Third person point of view is a story told using the pronouns he, she, they.

If a story is told from only one point of view at a time and uses the he, she, they pronouns, it’s called Third Person Limited. There can be more than one point of view in this type of story, but generally the switch happens at a scene or chapter break. When the story is centered on one character’s point of view, the reader only gets to know what that particular character needs.

Omniscient point of view is also third person, but it’s told from the point of view of a narrator who knows what’s going on in the heads of multiple characters. Often this comes across as the story being told from the author’s point of view. Sometimes there’s an actual character, such as in The Book Thief, where the narrator is death.

The main difference between limited and omniscient third person is how much the narrator knows.

If the story is being told in limited third person, you have to stay tightly in that character’s head. You can’t share what any other characters are thinking or feeling, outside what they share with the POV character or what that character observes.

If the story is told in omniscient third person, you can share what the narrator, who is not a character in the story, knows–which can be everything. So, if you have two characters in a scene, the reader can know what’s going on in both of their heads as they interact and how each of them responds to the other.

You want to be careful, when you’re writing in the omniscient POV that you aren’t actually writing in third limited and just head hopping.

Head hopping means switching from one limited POV to another in the same scene, telling the story from first one character’s POV and then another’s, instead of from the POV of an omniscient narrator.

Here’s what head hopping in third limited looks like:

“What are you doing?” He shouldn’t have asked. She looked at him like he’d lost his mind. Like he was doing something wrong, questioning her.

“What do you think I’m doing?” She hated the way he acted like she was doing something wrong, all the damned time. She wanted to lash out, kick him in the balls, something to wipe that look off his face.

“I think you’re doing something stupid. Again.” He didn’t need to do this. He’d had enough. If she wasn’t going to give him a straight answer to a straight question, then he’d stop asking.

And here’s the same scene in omniscient:

“What are you doing?” He shouldn’t have asked. She looked at him like he’d losst his mind. Like he was doing something wrong, questioning her. She was so angry, she felt it vibrating in her bones.

“What do you think I’m doing?” She wasn’t going to answer to him. He could go to hell for all she cared. He felt like he was in hell, so he was halfway there. They both tightened their fists at their sides, each of them holding back from lashing out physically. She wanted to kick him in the balls. He wanted to put her over his knee.

“I think you’re doing something stupid. Again.” Enough. He’d had enough. If she wasn’t going to give him a straight answer to a straight question, then he’d stop asking. Her hands relaxed in shocked reaction to his withdrawal. No. He was bluffing. He cared.

And, here’s the same scene in limited third person with no head hopping:

“What are you doing?” He shouldn’t have asked. She looked at him like he’d lost his mind. Like he was doing something wrong, questioning her.

“What do you think I’m doing?” Her fists tightened at her sides and he felt his own nails digging into his palms. He’d never wanted to hurt a woman before, never once in his life, but he found himself holding back from putting this one over his knee. Jesus, she pissed him off.

“I think you’re doing something stupid. Again.” He didn’t need to do this. He’d had enough. If she wasn’t going to give him a straight answer to a straight question, then he’d stop asking.

So, third person limited is closer. It’s more intimate. But it also, as the name suggests, is limiting. The reader doesn’t get to know more than the character whose head the author is writing from does. Depending on how close you keep the lens, and from what time in the future you’re telling the story, the story will probably feel more immediate in a limited point of view.

Omniscient is wider and it’s less intimate. It’s told from much further away, so it can come off as distant. The reader, though, gets the benefit of knowing what the narrator wants to share about any character, even in the same scene. While it’s less immediate, there’s lots of room for reflection in an omniscient point of view. If you want to try omniscient, but want to draw the reader closer to the story and increase the immediacy, you can try omniscient present tense.

Here’s how present tense omniscient third person looks:

“What are you doing?” He shouldn’t have asked. She looks at him like he’s lost his mind. Like he is doing something wrong, questioning her. She is so angry, she feels it vibrating in her bones.

“What do you think I’m doing?” She isn’t going to answer to him. He can go to hell for all she cares. He feels like he is in hell, so he’s halfway there. They both tighten their fists at their sides, each of them holding back from lashing out physically. She wants to kick him in the balls. He wants to put her over his knee.

“I think you’re doing something stupid. Again.” Enough. He’s had enough. If she isn’t going to give him a straight answer to a straight question, then he’ll stop asking. Her hands relax in shock reaction to his withdrawal. No. He’s bluffing. He cares.

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

Try writing or revising a scene from your work in progress in third limited and third omniscient to get a feel for both. Give third omniscient present tense a try, too.

Come by Facebook and share your scene, both ways. Office hours are at noon PST tomorrow (Sunday.) See you there!

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Shake it Up

Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about my work-in-progress’s point of view.

Right now it’s written in third person limited, alternating between my hero and his best friend.

My MFA adviser thinks the story might be better served with an omniscient point of view. That scares me a little. Omniscient is very hard to do well. If you don’t do it well, it can distance the reader too much from the story. It can come across as just head hopping.

But, working on an MFA is all about experimenting, so I’m working on revising part of my story to omniscient present tense (from third person past tense) to see how it works and if I’m capable of doing it well.

And guess what! I’m sharing the pain with you. Aren’t you excited?

For this week’s hump day prompt, take a scene from your book and try revising it to a different point of view or tense or both.

My Turn

Here are the first few paragraphs of my story in third person past tense.

Moving through the Nottingham Casino was like navigating the lines of his own palm. Robert Huntington knew every foot of gaudy carpeting, every machine, every table, and more than half of the people working that day, even though he’d been away for two years.

The Nott was home, even now. Even after all. He’d never live here again, but it would always be —

A tug on his hand pulled him out of his thoughts. “Robin.”

He tightened his fingers around hers and said, “I’m here.”

Matilda Fitzwalter brushed white-blonde hair from her freckled cheeks. She chewed at her bottom lip like she always did when she was nervous. “Are you having second thoughts?”

“Too late for that now, Mattie.” He leaned down and kissed the lip she’d bit, then kept walking, taking her with him. This was not the time for doubt. The decision had been made and the only way through, now, was forward.

A security guard stood near one of the blackjack tables. He didn’t look at them and Rob made himself keep his eyes straight ahead as well, but he saw a slight lift of the guard’s chin as they passed.

As they walked, a young woman with long brown hair and bright blue eyes sat at the empty table, directly in front of the dealer.

Alice was smaller than Mattie and in another life, she might have looked even younger. But, hard living had aged her and Rob didn’t think she ran a risk of being carded as she started to play.

They’d chosen her because she didn’t stand out. She was pretty in a way that would have been beautiful given other circumstances. She was just used up enough to make herself invisible, unless she turned on the charm. Unless she tried to catch someone’s eye, no one would remember her being there. That was the whole point.

Rob looked over his shoulder and saw her smile up at the dealer as two men sat to her left. The man to her right did a double take and smiled back at Alice, even though she wasn’t looking at him.

“Now?” Mattie asked.

Suddenly, he wanted to take back his reassurances and get her out of there. Take her away with him, back to the Underground. He looked down at their hands, his dark and hers light. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to open his and let hers go.

She did it for him, pulling her hand out of his. She didn’t move until he finally said, “Now.”

Before she could turn away, he reached for her and took her face in his hands. Her soft brown eyes looked up at him, searching. “We can do this,” she whispered.

“I know.” There was no room for doubt now. Doubt would only make them stumble, and a stumble would mean failure. And failure would mean prison. If they were lucky.

They had one chance to get this right and he’d ruin it if he couldn’t let Mattie go. He bent his head. She lifted on her toes and pressed into his kiss, then stepped back and slapped him across the face. Hard.

He opened his mouth. Nothing came out. Her eyes went to the camera he knew was behind him, on the ceiling. Trained on them, probably. Almost certainly.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

She walked away without turning back.

After she got onto the elevator that would take her upstairs to the Nott’s executive offices, he turned back to the blackjack table and the dealer, in particular.

And, here’s the same scene from an omniscient present tense point of view.

Robert Huntington moves through the Nottingham Casino and it’s like tracing the lines of his own palm. He knows every foot of gaudy carpeting, every machine, every table, and more than half of the people working that day, even though he’s been away for two years.

The Nott is home, even now. Even after all. He’ll never live here again, but it will always be his home.

A tug on his hand pulls him out of his thoughts. “Robin.”

He tightens his fingers around hers and says, “I’m here.”

Matilda Fitzwalter brushes white-blonde hair from her freckled cheeks. She chews at her bottom lip. “Are you having second thoughts?”

“Not even a little bit.” He leans down and kisses that lip and then keeps walking.

A security guard stands near one of the blackjack tables. He doesn’t look at them and Rob makes himself keep his eyes straight ahead as well, but he sees a slight lift of the guard’s chin as they pass.

A silent, barely noticeable, encouragement.

As they walk past, a young woman with long brown hair and bright blue eyes sits at an empty table, directly in front of the dealer. She is smaller than Mattie and in another life, she might have looked even younger. Hard living has aged her.

Alice is pretty in a way that would have been beautiful given other circumstances. A hollowed out kind of pretty that doesn’t demand to be looked at, which suits the day fine.

Rob looks over his shoulder and sees her smile up at the dealer as two men sit to her left. The man to her right does a double take and smiles back at Alice, even though she doesn’t look at him.

“Now?” Mattie asks.

He has a primal urge to get her out of there. He looks down at their hands, his dark and hers light. He isn’t sure he’ll be able to open his and let hers go.

She does it for him, pulling her hand out of his. She doesn’t move, though, until he says, “Now.”

Before she can turn away, he reaches for her and takes her face in his hands. Her soft brown eyes look up at him, searching.

“We can do this,” she whispers.

She believes that, too, bone deep. She believes it with more conviction than Rob can muster.

“I know,” he says, anyway.

He isn’t as sure as she is and she can tell. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other and her eyes go to the camera on the ceiling behind him. Trained on them, probably. Almost certainly. She imagines the security guard sitting in the surveillance room, watching as Rob bends his head and covers her mouth with his.

She lifts onto her toes and presses into his kiss, then steps back. She slaps him across the face. Hard.

Mattie turns from Rob and presses the button for the elevator. When it doesn’t open immediately, she presses it again, her finger jabbing at it until she hears a ding and the doors finally slip open.

Her palm stings and she can still feel Rob’s kiss.

She’d feel a lot better if he wasn’t nervous, but that’s probably too much to ask. She looks at him and he watches her until the elevator doors close.

Your Turn

Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with! Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links. Help spread the Ninja Writer word! Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Send a link to it to one writer friend.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Your Story’s Soundtrack

Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt-Your Story's Soundtrack

So a funny thing happened at my MFA residency.

I shared a room with a super sweet girl from New Jersey. It was fun having a roommate and living in a dorm room–I didn’t have that experience when I was young. But, it was also slightly strange to work in a quiet environment, but not alone.

So I listened to music, with headphones.

Until that week, I’d never (I mean ever, in my life) written with music on. I didn’t think I could. I thought it would distract me to much. I’ve tried just having music on in the room when I was trying to work and it made me crazy.

Turns out, I was wrong. I still don’t like music on just in the room (I tried again when I got home), but music with headphones is different or some reason, It gives me this weird bubble feeling, like it’s just me, my story, and the music. The rest of the world falls away. Pretty cool.

I thought it would be fun today for us to spend some time thinking about soundtracks for our works-in-progress. Even if you don’t listen to music when you write. Think about a few songs that might inspire your story. If the world fell away to just you and your story and some music, what would that music be?

My Turn

Here’s my soundtrack:

With or Without You: U2
Smells Like Teen Spirit: Nirvana
Fix You: Coldplay
Dissident: Pearl Jam
Try: Pink
Mockingbird: Eminem
Just Like Heaven: The Cure
Slide: Goo Goo Dolls
Ring of Fire: Johnny Cash
Bring on the Dancing Horses: Echo and the Bunnymen
Take me to Church: Hozier

Your Turn

Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with! Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links. Help spread the Ninja Writer word! Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Send a link to it to one writer friend.

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