Hump Day Prompt #13: Dread

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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Dread

Hump Day Post #13Dread

Let’s think about a word today: DREAD.

It’s a verb that means to anticipate with great apprehension or fear. It can also be a noun that refers to the actual apprehension or fear itself.

A dread is something you know you have to do, but–please, God–you don’t want to. You really don’t want to. When I think about dread, I think about that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. The way it can make it hard to take a good breath. I think about the blood leaving my limbs, leaving my hands and feet cold and tingly. The way reality sort of splits apart when I finally just do it, and for a minute I’m certain I won’t survive. The adrenaline that courses through you and helps you push through. Or run away.

Dread kicks your fight or flight instinct in.

We actually seek out dread sometimes, don’t we? I went to the water park with my family last weekend and for the first time since I was in high school I went on one of those super steep, straight-down slides. At least part of the fun is fighting through that feeling of dread when you’re at the tippy top, looking down, knowing you’re going to push yourself over the edge. That adrenaline rush is why you’re there, right?

When the thing we dread is something we don’t want, something we are fighting against, that adrenaline burst can lead to bad things.

Today, spend sometime thinking about something one of your characters dreads doing.

My Turn

My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern Las Vegas. I decided to use my character, Guy Gisborne, for this exercise. Guy is my protagonist’s rival.

The thing that Guy dreads is the moment when he has to accept that he will never have Mattie (the Marion character.) She will never belong to him, because she is in love with Rob. Rob and Mattie have the kind of fated love that Guy wants, but knows intuitively he’ll never have.

Through out the story, Guy fights the truth that whatever he thought he might have with Mattie dissolved when Rob came home. That feeling–the dissociative one–drives Guy to take bolder and riskier and more intense steps to try to fight the inevitable. He tries to tie Mattie to him by sheer force of will.

As it becomes more and more obvious that he’s lost (and that, really, there was never, ever a contest), Guy gets more violent and more irrational. He knows that he’s headed toward a moment when every shred of hope will be lost and he will lose something that he can’t bear to lose.

The situation narrows to a point where either he has to do what he dreads–let go of Mattie–or do something drastic to avoid that eventuality.

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: Tense + 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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The Who + How Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy-The Who + How Assignment (2)

I thought this week we’d talk about a more technical aspect of writing. Tense and Point of View.

Tense refers to when in time your story is taking place. Point of View refers to who is telling your story.

Tense

The two main forms tense takes in fiction are past and present. There are multiple ways to write both past and present, and then there are future tenses as well, but we’re just going to talk about regular old past and present today.

Past is written from some point in the future, looking back. A good example is Harper Lee’s book To Kill a MockingbirdThe story is told from the point of view of Scout as an adult, looking back on an incident from her childhood.

“Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.” —To Kill a Mockingbird

Present is written in the here and now. Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games books are a great example of present tense done well. The story is told from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen as the story is unfolding.

“This is the first kiss that we’re both fully aware of. Neither of us hobbled by sickness or pain or simply unconscious. Our lips neither burning with fever or icy cold. This is the first kiss where I actually feel stirring inside my chest. Warm and curious. This is the first kiss that makes me want another.” —Hunger Games

There are pros and cons for both. Past tense is easier to write, in my opinion. It can be hard to stick in present tense and not slip out of it. Present tense has more urgency. It’s very popular with young adult books for that reason. But, the trade off for that sense of urgency is that there is very little room for reflection. There isn’t any time for thinking about things or analyzing them as they are happening. When you write in past tense, your narrator has the benefit of some hindsight, which gives your reader the same benefit.

Point of View

Point of View is lens the reader gets the story through. The story can be told in the first, second, third, or omniscient point of view.

First person point of view is told using the pronoun ‘I.’ The narrator is telling their story directly. If you think of point of view as a telescope, first person is a very close view of the story. Both To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hunger Games books are written in the first person point of view.

Second person point of view is told using the pronoun ‘you,’ as if the reader were the point of view character. This is very rare, but it happens. Bright Lights, Big City is an example.

Third person point of view is told using the pronouns ‘he, she, they.’ It tells the story from a wider, one-step-removed point of view than first person. This is sometimes called third person limited, to distinguish it from third person omniscient, because the point of view is limited to which ever character is narrating at the moment. The narrator or narrators of a story with a third person limited point of view only knows what THEY know. The Game of Thrones is a good example of limited third person with lots of POV characters.

Omniscient point of view is the widest lens of all. It tells the story from far away, looking down at all of the characters at once. You could think of it as God’s point of view. Omniscient point of view is not limited to a point of view character, since the narrator is all knowing. The narrator in this type of story knows everything that everyone in the story knows. This is a rather old fashioned way of telling a story and it’s rare these days. The Book Thief is a good modern example of an omniscient narrator (it’s narrated by death.)

Your story will have at least one point of view character. In some cases, the POV character isn’t revealed to the reader, as with the Harry Potter books. In many books there is an alternating POV, so that in one scene or chapter you’re in the head of your protagonist, for example, and the next in the head of the antagonist. Many stories are told through the point of view of the main character, but any character can tell the story. In The Great Gatsbyfor example, the point of view character is the protagonist’s neighbor.

Head hopping happens when the point of view mantel moves around from one character to another within the same scene. Do your best not to let that happen, especially if you’re a new writer. Stephen King and Christine Feehan can do what they want–and so can we when we get to that level. We aren’t there yet. A good rule of thumb is to stick with one POV per chapter, or at the very least per scene.

My Turn

My work in progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern Las Vegas. The story is told in the past tense from the limited third person point of view of both my Robin character and my Marion character (Rob and Mattie, respectively.)

Here’s an example of Rob’s POV:

The house smelled of Jack—cigars and the expensive cologne that was his one vanity. His books lined the walls. There were clean dishes in the drainer.

Mattie had been right. Jack’s ghost was here. Rob wanted his father, suddenly, so hard that it hurt like someone had reached into his chest and squeezed his heart. His father would know what to do about Guy. He’d know what Rob could do or say to make Mattie okay.

His father could tell him why he’d given the Nott away and why Guy Gisborne was living in Locksley.

“You should have waited for me.” Rob turned and saw Mattie standing in the doorway with her hair damp, wearing sweat pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt despite the heat outside. “I would have come with you.”

“I know you would have.”

“Do you want me to leave?”

He shook his head. He’d thought he wanted to be alone, but he needed her here with him. “Please don’t go.”

She closed the door. “Are we looking for something specific?”

“I don’t know. Probably not.” Rob started toward his bedroom. “I’ll pack some things to bring over to your place.”

And Mattie’s:

Guy had a look on his face that Mattie didn’t particularly like when she turned back to him. Gloating. Smug. When he was standing in front of her, she said, “This is insane. You know that, right?”

Guy came closer to her. He hesitated when she backed away, but didn’t stop until he was close enough to run his palm over her cheek. She froze, her stomach and heart both turning over.

“Please, don’t touch me,” she said, quietly.

“I love you, Matilda. You have feelings for me, too. I know you do.”

“I don’t,” she said. When his face fell, she added, “Not the way you want me to.”

“But, that night—“

“That night,” Mattie said, wishing she could suck that night back in, “was a mistake. It never should have happened.”

He inhaled, tilted his head closer to her. “Come to Locksley with me.”

“You aren’t listening to me.”

“We’re good together.” Guy took her hand, holding it tighter when she tried to pull it back. “I know you can see that.”

“We aren’t together.” She didn’t want to hurt Guy. He seemed fragile to her, like her rejection might break him. She stopped trying to take her hand back. “We’re friends. That’s all.”

He shook his head, lowering his gaze to their hands. “You’re really going to friend zone me?”

“Guy.”

“It’s Rob, isn’t it? He came back, and now we’re just friends?” Guy threw her hand away and she stepped back from him.

“We’ve only ever been just friends.”

“Does he know that we’ve been together?”

A deep, sharp pain shot between Mattie’s eyes. “We aren’t together, Guy.”

Guy took her shoulders in his hands and dragged her closer to him. “We could be. Marry me.”

“Marry you?” A burst of laughter escaped just as she saw he was dead serious. “Guy, I can’t marry you. I’m not even old enough to get married.”

“Your dad will sign the consent.”

He sounded so sure. Mattie really was going to be sick. “You’ve talked to my dad about this?”

Guy went down on one knee.

“Oh, Jesus.” Mattie looked at the door to the conference room and considered making enough noise to bring Philip or one of the attorneys to come help her. “Guy, don’t do this.”

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.

Nail down your POV and tense. If you just aren’t sure, think about rewriting a scene in another tense or point of view.

Come by Facebook and something that reflects your story’s POV and tense. I’ll be there tomorrow at noon PST for office hours.

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 every week to the Academy post and an invitation to my Sunday office hours.

If you want some extra accountability for your Academy work, check out the Ninja Writers Kick-in-the-Butt Crew. It’ll help you get it done.

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Ninja Writers Book Club #6

He that loves reading has everything within his reach.Read more at- http-%2F%2Fwww.brainyquote.com%2Fsearch_results.html-q=reading

Every Tuesday is Book Club day at the Ninja Writers Facebook group.  Ninjas post about the books that they’re reading or a book that has inspired them or that they loved. It’s so much fun, and I always end up with a list of books that I can’t wait to read. I thought it might be fun to actually link to those books here on the blog every week. Click any of the covers to be taken to its Amazon page.

Here are the books from this week’s Ninja Writers Book Club Tuesday. If you’re looking for something to read this week, here’s a great place to start!

(These are affiliate links. If you buy using one of them, a few pennies will go toward supporting Ninja Writers. Thank you so much!)

This week I added Better Off by Eric Brende, The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker, and the first book in Sherilynn Kenyon’s League series to my TBR pile. What about you? Share it in the comments!

Non-fiction

Thriller + Mystery

Children’s + YA

Romance

Speculative

Christian

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Hump Day Prompt #12: Getting Dressed

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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Getting Dressed

Hump Day Prompt #12Getting Dressed

Clothes make the man (or woman.) Right? That’s how the saying goes, anyway. And I kind of think it’s true. What you put on your body is how you present yourself to the world, right? My friend Stasia at www.thriftmepretty.com calls it inside out congruity–making your inside self match what you present outwardly.

I’m fascinated by how this translates for people like us, creating world and characters. How can we use the detail of what our characters wear to help make them more real for our readers? How can what they wear indicate where they are in their journey?

I mean, let’s say you have a MC who starts the story super comfortable with themselves in their ordinary world. Maybe they dress one way–a way that comes close to indicating inside out congruity, right? But what if when they make it to the special world of the story, what was congruent in the ordinary world doesn’t fit anymore?

Today I want you to think about your MC’s clothing. Dress them for their ordinary world, then think about how that changes as they progress through the story.

My Turn

My work in progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern Las Vegas. My protagonist is Rob Huntington–Las Vegas aristocrat, wealthy, sure of himself in his ordinary world. As the story progresses, he loses his money and his status and finds himself living in vastly different circumstances.

Rob is an athlete and comfortable in his own skin. His father is a locally-popular casino owner and Rob has always been an heir apparent. He’s always had enough money and has never really spent much time thinking about it.

He starts the story fairly uncomfortable with what he’s wearing. He left his boarding school immediately after learning that his father has died and shows up at the casino wearing clothes he was working out in with his track team. Later he has to wear his father’s shirt and tie to the reading of the will.

In general, though, he wears casual, higher-end clothing that fits well and is an outward expression of his status.

When things go sideways and he finds himself relying on people at the opposite end of the social spectrum and living in a place that’s as far removed from his ordinary world as it’s possible to get, his clothes are very out of place and mark him as someone who probably can’t be trusted.

His attitude changes a lot as the story progresses as well, and suddenly the expensive clothing that he really never thought about before aren’t in line with his new world view. He is inside out incongruent and I can use a wardrobe change to subtley show him realigning as he grows and changes.

I officially love this prompt, because I just realized that having Rob give away a piece of clothing that was important to him will be a great way to show him crossing an important threshold.

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 Prompt #11: Soul Cities

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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Soul Cities

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Okay, Ninjas.

I’m done with my day job! I just walked in the door from a trip to Nashville that has left me inspired and ready to take on the world. I’ve kind of flown right over the mid-week hump this time around, and I want to take you with me.

We’re going to do a little setting work today.

I was taken completely by surprise by how amazing Nashville is. I didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t to find myself falling in love with this incredible city. It occurred to me while I was there that sometimes you go to a place and even if it isn’t your place, it feels like it feeds your soul. New York City is like that for me. A teeny nothing little town in central California is like that for me. And now Nashville.

Tell me about your soul place. Somewhere you’ve been that just wrapped you up and made you feel like home, even though you’d never been there before. Use lots and lots of detail. Make me feel like I’m there with you.

My Turn

Nashville is hot. I’m from hot (Las Vegas gets far hotter than Nashville can dream of), but Tennessee gets wet, sticky hot that I’m just not used to. Every time I looked out a window, I saw green and blue and a light breeze and my desert-girl brain thought I bet it’s beautiful out there. And then I stepped outside and the wet, sticky, heat took my breath away.

But I didn’t care. I wore linen shorts and flip flops and a Johnny Cash t-shirt. None of the dry-heat tricks for staying cool were right for the South, but I marveled at how well air conditioning works when there’s water in the air.

And I fell madly in love with this city.

The music underlies everything. And it’s good. It’s so good. The little girl singing in the open window of a restaurant. The teenager playing the guitar in the middle of the mall. The singer/songwriter/teacher. The singer/songwriter/personal trainer. The Beatles tribute band playing on Saturday night in the suburban town square. The seven piece gospel band at the Cowboy Church.

The music was magic. Of course Nashville creates incredible talent. I think it draws it like the pied piper. I have no musical ability, but even I sat at a bar listening to the singer/songwriter/teacher wondering what it would take to really learn to play the guitar.

Nashvillians (Nashvillites?) take hospitality to a whole other level. A new friend invited me to Cowboy Church an hour after I landed in her city. Cowboy Church is 50 minutes of heart-stopping music and 10 minutes of preaching. I think that the best part, for me, was that new friend didn’t seem at all surprised that I showed up on Sunday morning. Of course I did. Of course.

 

Nashville is steeped in history in a way that is foreign to me. The little town I stayed in was founded in 1799. The buildings are made of brick, mostly, and the fixtures are made of wood. There are Civil War bullet holes in some of the oldest houses.

There are boot stores everywhere that give you two pairs for free if you buy one. No matter how hot it was, everyone wore them. I live in the Old West, but Nashville is Cowboy Country for sure. The trees are aggressively green and vibrant. There is a sense that if Nashville stopped for a second, nature would reclaim it. There’s no parking problem and even rush hour traffic isn’t bad. Gas costs fifty cents less a gallon in Nashville than it does in Reno and you can buy a whole plate of pulled pork for $5.99.

There is a sense that everything about Nashville (the music, the people, the food, the trees, the heat) does what it can to exceed expectations. And it all succeeds.

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: Developing Strong Characters

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 Bring Them to Life Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy: The Bring Them to Life Assignment. This week's assignment is all about character development.

I was talking to Zach, the wonder assistant, this morning about how excited I am to get back to writing on a more regular basis now that my day job has ended. We got around to talking about how we both are addicted to a good story and we have to be careful about not letting out character development slide in favor of plot.

Here’s my take on that: Stories are my jam. They are my mojo. To me, a good story is everything. The way to my heart, the balm for my soul — for my entire life, since I was a three-year-old begging my mama to teach me to read to myself, stories have been it. But the thing that takes a story from really good to life-altering is character.

When I think about the stories that have stuck with me over the years, it is always a strong, amazing character that’s made the difference between a book that I enjoyed and one that changed my life. When I read a new Outlander book, it’s exactly like walking through a (fabulous, incredibly interesting) neighbor’s back door, into their kitchen, and getting caught up on their adventures. When I revisit Narnia, it’s always to check in with Aslan and Mr. Tumnus and the Daughters of Eve and the Sons of Adam. When I re-read a book, it’s the story that matters the most to me, but it’s always a character who calls me back.

I’m not big on character worksheets. If you want one of those, there are a ton available with a Google search.

What I like to do when I’m developing a character is guided free writing.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you’re developing not only your hero, but any character:

What does your character want? What do they need? What’s the difference?

What’s at stake?

What makes your character vulnerable?

Who does your character love? Who do they hate?

What is your characters biggest vulnerability?

What are they willing to do to protect it?

What’s something that happened in their childhood that has shaped their reaction to their current story?

What can tip them over into the place they need to be to get through their ordeal (bravery, audacity, past the fear of failure)?

One thing that I think is super important is remembering that every character in your story is at some point in their own story arc. They aren’t just scenery or furniture in your hero’s story. They hero of your story is the love interest or mentor or villain in someone else’s.

My Turn

My work in progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern Las Vegas.

Here’s my character sketch for my mentor character, John Little.

John wants to keep his little band of people safe. He wants to provide for them. They’ve become his crew, his soldiers, and his whole world revolves around taking care of them. What he needs, though, is to find a way to forgive himself for the things that haunt him in his sleep.

If John can’t figure out how to trust Rob (the hero of my story), and give up some control of this underground world he’s built, he risks losing his crew all together. He risks holding them back, at the very least.

John’s rigidness makes him vulnerable, because it makes him brittle. He suffers from PTSD, which is another vulnerability. He’s willing to do almost anything to protect himself from exposing that vulnerability–he distances himself from everyone. He is deeply in love with a woman named Vivienne and lost her to another man because he was unwilling to allow himself be vulnerable to her.

John’s father was killed in Afghanistan when John was a teenager. In his mind, his father is the ultimate hero. When he compares his father to Rob’s–a flamboyant, wealthy casino owner who stole Vivienne from him–it makes it very difficult for him to do what he needs to do in order to keep his people safe.

It’s Mattie, the Marion character in this story, who finally tips him over into a place of being willing to follow Rob’s lead. She shows him that taking a risk is the only way to move past his own fear.

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.

Do a free write for one of your characters. Use my questions to guide you, and come up with some of your own. There’s no need to limit yourself to just one character, either. Spend some time thinking about which ever characters you’re writing this week.

Come by Facebook and share your character sketch (or two, or three!) I’m out of town this weekend, so I won’t be able to hold regular office hours this week. There will be a thread, though, where you can post your questions and I’ll answer them throughout the day.

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 every week to the Academy post and an invitation to my Sunday office hours.

If you want some extra accountability for your Academy work, check out the Ninja Writers Kick-in-the-Butt Crew. It’ll help you get it done.

 

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Hump Day Prompt #10: The Mentor’s Story

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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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The Mentor’s Story

I love mentor characters. Sometimes they can feel a little magical–someone who is in the right place at the right time with the right skills or tools to help the hero just when they need them.

In fact, it’s important when you’re writing one to try to keep from making them too magical. Otherwise the author’s hand is too heavy on the story.

One way to help make the mentor read authentically is to remember that they are the hero of their own story. They are (usually) further along in their story arc. They’ve already been through what the hero is going through, which puts them in the position of being able to be a mentor.

The hero/mentor dynamic is like two stories meeting as they cross paths.

This week, spend some time thinking about your hero’s mentor and their story arc. Just freewrite about it. Here are some questions to guide you:

Who is the mentor?

What part of their own hero’s journey are they on?

How can they help your hero?

Do they want to help your hero, or are they a reluctant mentor?

Does your hero want the help?

What are the stakes for the mentor if they refuse to help? How would refusal affect their own story?

My Turn

My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern Las Vegas.

My hero, Rob Huntington, has more than one mentor, but my favorite is John Little.

John is fifteen or twenty years older than Rob. He’s a veteran and struggles with PTSD. He’s also a recovering alcoholic. He was homeless once, because he had no choice. He’s stayed on the streets because he’s found a calling there that’s saved him.

John was quietly in love with a social worker who fell in love with Rob’s father–a flamboyant, wealthy casino owner. Even though he’d never told Vivienne how he felt about her, he’s hurt when she tells him that she’s pregnant and getting married. He funnels all of that hurt onto Rob’s father, and later onto Rob.

It is so tempting for John to refuse to help Rob. This little shit is coming into his space, into this world he’s created from nothing, and threatening everything.

Rob wins him over, but regardless, it’s not in John’s DNA to refuse to help someone so obviously in need. He’s a man who is hardwired for service. He’s a human Atlas, big and strong enough to hold the weight of his world on his shoulders, and inclined to step up regardless of his own feelings.

He’ll spend the rest of his life in regret over not telling Vivienne that he loved her when he had the chance. When Rob shows up at the entrance to his underground world, John is struck by a viseral desire to hurt him. It’s overpowering and makes John sick with himself. His reaction to Rob, coupled with tragic news about Vivienne, triggers John’s PTSD.

The point where John and Rob meet is Rob’s lock-in moment, but it’s John’s main climax. The dark night of his soul. What he does next determines the fate of his new ordinary world.

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: Using Strong Verbs

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 Choosing Your Words Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy-The Choose Your Words Assignment

There are a few writing–I hesitate to use the word ‘rules’ when it comes to creative work, so let’s go with ‘suggestions’–that changed the way I write forever once I learned, internalized, and mastered them.

Maybe the biggest one was understanding how to use strong verbs. In particular, once I understood that using the combination of to be (or  a thought verb) + a verb was weaker than just using the verb itself, it changed everything.

Let me give you an example.

John was watching Mary eating lunch.

A stronger way to write that sentence:

John watched Mary eat lunch.

The biggest problem with this sentence is that falls on the wrong side of the show versus tell line. It also doesn’t tell us much of anything, except that John is noticing Mary. Let’s go a little deeper.

John watched Mary eat lunch and could remember a time when she always ate lunch with him.

It seems pretty strong right? But still tell-y and the word ‘could’ is distancing. And it’s unnecessary. Let me show you.

Instead of telling your reader that John watched Mary, let the reader watch her, too. In other words, instead of telling us that John watched Mary, show us what he sees.

Mary ate with her attention on her friends instead of on her food. John remembered a time when she always ate lunch with him.

If John is remembering that time, then of course he ‘could’ remember it. He is remembering it. Removing the ‘could’ making the sentence stronger, more concise, and more pointed. If we go one step further, we can unpack why John is notcing who Mary is eating with.

Mary ate with her attention on her friends instead of on her food. John watched her to avoid looking at the empty seat next to him. She never ate lunch with him anymore.

Now you’re removing the thought verb all together and unpacking the sentence a little. John isn’t just remembering eating with Mary. He’s hurt by her absence and he doesn’t like being faced with the evidence of it.

In these two little sentences, we learn something about how John handles disappointment and what he feels for Mary.

Can you see how each iteration becomes more complex and stronger?

Here’s your assignment for this weekend: print out the first scene (or the first chapter, if you’re feeling ambitious) of your book and use a highlighter to mark every instance of weak verbs.

Look for every time you use a to be verb. Sometimes, of course, you’re going to need them, but lots of times they flag a weak verb.

Look for distancing verbs like could or would. Stronger writing means comitting to a verb!

Look for -ing verbs. They can almost always be made stronger by using a straight past tense. (Was eating vs. ate in our example.)

And, a little more tricky, look for places when you use perfectly strong verbs, but where you could do even better by unpacking the sentence a little bit.

Then, go in and do the work on your manuscript. Make every place you marked a little stronger.

When you’re editing your whole first draft, using the ‘find’ tool to look for every instance of -ing and changing it to a straight past tense verb will help cure you of using that format forever. Trust me on that one.

My Turn

Here’s some proof that I have to work on this all the time. All. The. Time.

This is an excerpt from my example two weeks ago:

“My father fed that kid,” Rob said, turning his face back toward the view of The Strip. “That was his legacy.”

“You don’t need to worry about these things.” Philip hesitated, looking at Robin for an uncomfortably long moment, then nodding as if he’d come to some decision. “In fact, you don’t have to worry about The Nott at all.”

Can you spot the weak verbs?

So, let’s fix it.

“My father fed that kid.” Rob turned back toward the view of The Strip. “That was his legacy.”

“You don’t need to worry about these things.” Philip looked at Robin for an uncomfortably long moment, then nodded as if he’d come to some decision. “In fact, you don’t have to worry about The Nott at all.”

Small changes, but they tighten up my prose. The change in the second paragraph also eliminates a place where I’ve repeated myself unnecessarily. Just showing the hesitation is way stronger than telling the reader that it happens and then describing it.

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.

Print out your excerpt and get to work. Don’t be afraid to play around with your prose and see what works best. This exercise is about strong verbs, but also being a concise, tight writer.

Come by Facebook and share your writer’s notebook as well as something you wrote in it today. I’ll be there tomorrow at noon PST for office hours.

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 every week to the Academy post and an invitation to my Sunday office hours.

If you want some extra accountability for your Academy work, check out the Ninja Writers Kick-in-the-Butt Crew. It’ll help you get it done.

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Hump Day Prompt #9: The Ugly

Hump Day Prompt #9The Ugly

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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The Ugly

This week, let’s spend some time thinking about the person your hero cares about the most.

If your story has any sort of a romantic thread running through it, this is probably the hero’s love interest. It might be a long-time partner who is kind of in the background of the story or someone your hero falls in love with during the course of the novel. The love story might be an important part of the narrative or just some background information about the hero.

If there isn’t a love interest at all, the character you’re looking for here might be a mentor. Maybe a best friend the hero looks up to or a parent figure.

The character you want for this exercise is someone the hero has trouble finding fault with. Someone whose faults they are blind to.

I want you to write about what makes that character ugly. You can choose whether you want to write about physical or interior ugliness. Share a scene where that character’s ugly comes out for the reader to see, even if the hero doesn’t–or just write about a deep flaw your hero’s love interest, mentor, or best friend struggles with.

My Turn

My work in progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern Las Vegas. I have a very definite love interest for my Robin character–his Maid Marion. In this story her name is Matilda Fitzwalter, but to Rob she is Mattie.

I actually had to dig deep to figure out Mattie’s big, ugly flaw. Marion characters are by nature fairly flawless–Robin keeps Marion on a pedastal in the traditional stories, after all.

Then I realized that Mattie’s big flaw is that she failed to stay on her pedestal. Rob put her there, when he went away to school two years before the story started, when they were both fifteen. Somewhere in his adolescent brain, he expected her to stay put, and she just didn’t.

They’ve both always known that they would eventually be together. It has always been Rob and Mattie, since they were children. She was supposed to wait for him, even though they’d never articulated that out loud. She was supposed to stay his Mattie.

And she doesn’t. And not only doesn’t she, but she doesn’t in a way that requires him, when the truth finally comes out, to support her while she deals with the aftermath. She breaks his heart, and he doesn’t even feel like he can wallow in the pain for little while.

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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