Ninja Writers Academy: Dialogue Between More Than Two People

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 Three’s a Crowd Assignment

Ninja Writers Acadmey-The Three's A Crowd Assignment

Continuing our little series on writing dialogue, I thought that this week we’d talk about writing a conversation between more than two people.

There are some special considerations to keep in mind when you’re writing dialogue that involves more than two people. Attribution becomes more important. When two people are talking it usually looks something like this: A, B, A, B, and so on. Two people generally take turns talking, which makes it super easy for the reader to keep track of who is saying what.

But, add in even one more person and suddenly things are way more complicated. Because three people don’t usually take turns the same way. A three-way conversation doesn’t usually look like this: A, B, C, A, B, C. It’s more like A, B, A, B, C, B, A, C, B, C, B.

You’ll need to attribute more often. You can do that with simple attribution: “Dialogue,” she said.

Or with a beat: “Dialogue.” She did something.

Or with one character saying another’s name, which is something that happens more often in natural dialogue when there are more than two people involved.

Often there is a focal character in any round of dialogue. One person who both (or all) of the other characters are talking to. The cadence would look like this, then: A, C, B, C, A, C, B, C, B, C — and so on.

I will pretty much always fall on the side of less wordiness, so my advice is to use as few words of attribution as you can get away with. If you have three people talking to each other, but two of them have a back and forth, the reader should be able to follow that without attributing every line. Beats should always do double duty, attributing AND somehow moving the story forward with character or plot development.

My Turn

Here’s a little bit of dialogue from my work in progress, a Robin Hood retelling. This is a confrontation between my Robin, Marion, and Guy of Gisbourne characters. Robin and Mattie arrive at Locklsey, Robin’s childhood home, and find Guy living in it.

This is a good example, because you can see how Guy is the center of this conversation. Rob and Mattie take turns talking to him. It’s more important for me to attribute Rob and Mattie’s lines of dialogue than Guy’s, because he’s speaking every other line. There’s also a part where Rob and Guy have a back and forth, which doesn’t need as much attribution.

“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 do you think you’re doing, 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

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.

Write a piece of dialogue that involves more than two people. Pay attention to how you keep who is talking straight.

Come by Facebook and tell us about your MC’s clan. I’ll be out of town tomorrow again, so office hours are TODAY at 5 p.m. PST.

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 Prompt #17: What’s For Breakfast?

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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What’s for Breakfast?

Hump Day Writing Post #17What's For Breakfast (1)

Sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference when you’re writing about a character. The things that might not seem important on their own, but that open your character up to the reader.

Think about this for me. How intimate and sort of exciting is it to know what your significant other likes to eat for breakfast? Not what they’d order in a restaurant. Not what they will eat if someone else is serving them. I’m talking about what they’d eat at home, when they can choose anything.

Is it a cold Poptart? A bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup? Scrambled eggs and sourdough toast? Leftovers from dinner?

Today, take a few minutes and think about what your hero eats for breakfast. Who do they eat it with? How do they eat it? When do they eat it? Is there some food they have to have in the morning that they’d leave the house for if they woke up and found they were out of it?

My Turn

My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern day Las Vegas. My hero is Rob Huntington, whose father owns a small casino on the Strip and who grow up as Las Vegas royalty. After his mother died when Rob was six, he and his father lived on the Casino grounds.

Even though Rob has access to just about every breakfast food known to man–he could eat at a buffet every morning if he wanted to–his favorite breakfast, growing up, was eating with his best friend Mattie at the cabin next door. Most of the time they ate cold cereal at her kitchen table. He has a sweet tooth and she doesn’t, so he spoons sugar over his Cheerios.

He’s been gone for a while, nearly two years, but Mattie still knows that he takes sugar in his coffee or tea. He’s grieving after the death of his father, they both are, so he draws comfort from the fact that Mattie knows him well enough to know these little things about him. She fixes him a cup of tea the first night he’s home, in the middle of the night when ghosts won’t let him sleep, and he notices that she doesn’t have to ask before she spoons in the exact right amount of sugar and keeps her’s black like she always has.

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: Writing Beats

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 Little Things Assignment

Ninja Writers AcademyThe Little Things Assignment

Last week we talked about attributing your dialogue. Today I want to go a little deeper into the idea of using beats to enhance, direct, and clarify your dialogue.

A beat is a small bit of action that is attached to a line of dialogue. Instead of writing ‘she said’ or ‘he asked’, a beat not only lets the reader know who is speaking, it builds the scene by giving the reader a visual. A beat can also help with character and setting development.

It’s always a good thing when your writing is multi-purpose. A straight up attribution does one thing: it tells the reader who is speaking. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Hump Day Writing Post #16: The Kiss

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 Kiss

Hump Day Prom

Reading Truman Capote’s novella ruined the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s for me. (If you ever want to read a truly perfect story, pick up this one.) Even though the book is a thousand times better than the movie, the film version still has one of my most favorite Hollywood kisses of all time. Everything about the end shot of the film is just right–the rain, the silly wet cat, Audrey Hepburn’s face, Moonriver playing in the background, and that kiss.

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Ninja Writers Academy: Attributing Dialogue

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 Said What Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy-The Who Said What Assignment

Whenever I ask what Ninjas would most like to learn about writing, dialogue always comes up. It’s one of those things that is both super important and often difficult. I thought we’d take the next few weeks and break writing dialogue down to a few elements.

Let’s start with attribution.

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Hump Day Prompt #15: Meltdown

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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Meltdown

Hump Day Prompt #14Meltdown

I found a list of “power words” online, closed my eyes, and randomly picked one for today’s prompt. Here’s what we got, Ninjas:

Meltdown.

Fun, right?

Write something to do with your current work-in-progress, using the word meltdown as inspiration.

Maybe you could write one of your characters having a meltdown.

Or your characters might have to deal with the meltdown of a relationship.

What about a meltdown of their physical health or the health of someone they care about?

Just have fun with this one.

My Turn

My WIP is a Robin Hood re-telling set in modern Las Vegas. What came to me when I thought about this prompt was my Sheriff of Nottingham character, Philip Mark. Philip is the business partner of my protagonist’s father, John. Philip wants what he wants so badly, so single mindedly, that he’s become a full on villain to get it. He couldn’t have John, not the way he wanted to, so he’s determined to have all of John’s casino. His legacy.

And Rob constantly thwarts him. Philip expects Rob to be easy to deal with. He’s a pampered, aristocratic kid after all who has had far, far more than he deserves just handed to him by virtue of his birth. The anger and frustration he felt over his conflicted feelings about John transfers into a dangerous level of animosity toward Rob.

Here’s a scene here Rob sees, for the first time, how deeply disturbed Philip is. Philip has just told Rob’s best friend Mattie (my Maid Marion character) and her father that they have to leave their bungalow at the casino.

“You can’t do this,” Rob said. “My dad wouldn’t want you to do this.”

Philip stopped walking. He turned slowly back to face Rob. When he spoke, his voice was low. “Do you think that you know better than I do what your father would want me to do?”

Rob took a half-step back from the fevered look in Philip’s pale eyes. “What?”

“I said, ‘do you think that you know better than I do what your father would want me to do?'”

Right. Rob heard him the first time. The second time didn’t help. “Frank and Mattie have lived here for more than ten years.”

Philip looked from Rob to Frank. “You have until the end of the week.”

“No.” Rob stood up. “No, this isn’t right. They don’t have to leave.”

Philip put his hands on the back of a dining room chair, his knuckles went white. “They have until the end of the goddamned week.”

“The will says they can stay, as long as one of them is working here. Even that doesn’t sound like my dad, if you ask me, but it’s what the attorney read.” Rob went to stand with Mattie, who had an arm around Frank. Looked like she was the only thing holding the old man up.

Before he reached her, the chair Philip had been holding flew past Mattie. She ducked, pulling Frank down with her, and the chair landed like an explosion against the kitchen counter. The coffee pot broke and spilled coffee down the cupboards onto the floor, and the canisters of flour and sugar fell over.

Worse than the mess and destruction, Philip let loose a wordless scream that made Mattie actually cover her ears with her hands. Rob couldn’t find his own voice. He moved to Mattie, pushed her away from the counter, further from Philip.

The front door opened and Guy came in, first barreling through like he was headed to a fight, then coming to a skidding stop when Philip screamed again and reached for another chair. The chair was in the air when Guy reached his uncle. As soon as he took it away, Philip’s temper tantrum deflated. He actually looked to Rob like a balloon losing it’s air.

Philip looked confused first, his mouth opened and closed like a fish’s and he looked from Guy to Rob and back again. Then his leathery, too-deeply tanned skin flushed from under his tie, over his neck, right up over his face. His mouth hardened into a flat line before he said through his teeth, “You have a week.”

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: Upgrading Adverbs

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 -ly Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy-Upgrading AdverbsThe -ly Assignment

I thought that we’d talk about a technical aspect of writing this week. Adverbs.

You know adverbs, right? Those pesky -ly verb-describing words that are so easy to use and so often overused. They’re too easy.

She moved quickly.

He yelled loudly.

Mary believed strongly that–

Frank doubled over miserably.

Sometimes these adverbs are okay, even necessary. But lots of the time, they’re cop outs. They are simple words you use instead of opening up a scene and letting the reader in more deeply. Or they are weak words you use instead of finding the right strong word.

It can be as simple as: She ran.

Or: She bolted. She sped. She jerked. She slid.

He yelled loudly? Is there another way? He yelled, just that, is stronger.

If you need more, describe the tone of his voice.

He yelled, his voice raising in a crescendo to a pitch only dogs could hear.

Or describe the effect his yelling has on the person he’s yelling at.

He yelled and she froze, like a deer in the headlights.

For this week’s homework, I’d love for you to do a search through your manuscript for “ly” and see what comes up. Pick an example and see how you can do better.

My Turn

I’m working on edits for a story called WASTED right now. When I did a search for “ly” I actually found the exact same example as I used above. “He stopped abruptly.” Let’s see what I can do.

When he pushed through the last of the short, shrubby trees, though, he stopped abruptly. There was a fire in the pit. The clearing was already occupied by Smith’s only true homeless person. Sandy the Sketch. That was what his mother used to call him when he asked her for money outside the grocery store. She always gave him a dollar.

In this scene, Noah, who is fourteen, has run away from his grandmother’s house. He goes to a clearing in the mountains where kids in his little Nevada town go to party or just hang out and get stoned. He expects to be alone there, but he stumbles on his community’s only homeless man smoking meth.

So, what’s going on with him when he stops abruptly?

He’s surprised, thrown off balance. His anger is cut by concern for his own safety, when he finds himself all of a sudden alone in a remote, isolated place, with someone who may or may not be dangerous to him.

When he pushed through the last of the short, shrubby trees, though, he stopped like he’d come up against an invisible wall. There was a fire in the pit. The clearing was already occupied by Smith’s only true homeless person. Sandy the Sketch. That was what his mother used to call him when he asked her for money outside the grocery store. She always gave him a dollar.

I like that. It highlights the problem that Noah’s having at the beginning of his story–nearly everything is out of his control. The idea of an invisible wall evokes the idea that there isn’t anywhere for Noah to hide. he can’t stop Sandy from seeing him and he can’t control what Sandy might do now that Noah has shown up.

I think I can do better though.

When he pushed through the last of the short, shrubby trees, though, he slid to a stop and then fell on his ass when a branch swung back and smacked him in the chest. There was a fire in the pit. The clearing was already occupied by Smith’s only true homeless person. Sandy the Sketch. That was what his mother used to call him when he asked her for money outside the grocery store. She always gave him a dollar.

I like this one, too. Maybe even more. It’s physical. It shows that seeing Sandy threw Noah physically off balance. It makes him feel stupid in front of this man who he isn’t sure how to behave with. It shows the reader that Noah is a little clumsy and not quite comfortable in his own skin, which is something pretty common for boys his age. This is my fix.

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.

Search your manuscript for ‘ly’ adverbs. Pick at least one and make the writing stronger.

Come by Facebook and tell us about your MC’s clan. I’ll be there tomorrow (Sunday) at noon PST for office hours so you can ask any questions you might have.

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 #14: Description

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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Description

Hump Day Post #14Description

My dad and I started a little two-person book club when he was here visiting two weekends ago. Our plan is to work out way through 50 great books at a pace of five per year.

We’re starting with Virginia Woolf’s book To the Lighthouse. We picked the book for the descriptive writing. Woolf loves super long sentences (really, paragraph-long sentences), and has a stream-of-consciousness style of writing that makes her book fairly difficult to read. There is almost no story–this is a purely literary character study. Some books I get lost in. Some books I gulp down. This one I have to take in sips. But that’s okay. The whole point is to read books that stretch us.

Woolf’s descriptive writing, though, my goodness. It’s incredible. Here’s one of my favorite examples:

  • The vast flapping sheet flattened itself out, and each shove of the brush revealed fresh legs, hoops, horses, glistening reds and blues, beautifully smooth, until half the wall was covered with the advertisement of a circus: a hundred horsemen, twenty performing seals, lions, tigers . . . craning forwards, for she was short-sighted, she read it out . . . “will visit this town,” she read.

In one (very long) sentence, Woolf manages to invoke the excitement of the circus and tell us something about the point-of-view character. I can hear the seals and taste the peanuts and imagine seeing Mrs. Ramsay leaning forward, squinting a little because she doesn’t have her glasses.

For this week’s hump day post, I’d love for you to write a paragraph, or maybe a page, using deeply descriptive writing. Use all of your senses. Don’t worry about it moving the story forward for now. Just try to put the reader there.

My Turn

My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern Las Vegas. The main setting for the beginning of the story is the Nottingham Casino. For my exercise, I decided to work on a description of the Nott. Rob, my protagonist, starts out the story coming home to the Nott after his father’s death. Here’s a description from his point of view, when he walks into the casino.

After two years away, walking into the Nott was like diving into a pool of familiar. It was a cannonball dive into everything he didn’t even realize he was missing. The casino smelled of beer and cigarettes and people–a combination that should have been off-putting, but wasn’t. His father had gone to great lengths to preserve the mid-century carpeting on the main floor, an unusual gesture in Las Vegas where it was more common to implode an old casino on itself to make room for newer and bigger and more. Just more.

Rob walked between the rows of glittering, beeping, money-eating machines, stepping from medallion to medallion on the old carpet like they were stepping stones without even realizing he was doing it. It was easy now, easier even than it had been just a couple of years ago. When they were small, he and Mattie leaped from one to the next. Now they were spaced as far apart as his stride. They still kept him from drowning. They would keep him afloat until he found her.

With nearly every step, someone stopped him. They touched him; a hand on his shoulder, a hand on his arm, one woman who had worked as a cocktail waitress all of Rob’s life touched his face. They told him how sorry they were. They expressed their condolences–that was the right term. Every touch transferred a few ounces of their grief to him until, by the time he reached the ballroom where the real mourning was taking place, he was staggering under the weight.

“There you are, Robert.”

He turned toward his name, steeling himself for another touch. Another Jack was so loved, he’ll be missed, I’m so sorry. “I need Mattie.”

“Was your flight late? I expected you at least an hour ago.”

Rob tried to focus on his father’s business partner. Philip Mark was older than his father was–had been–by at least twenty years. His hair was pure white, his face looked like it had been baked under the desert sun. “Have you seen Mattie?”

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: Your Hero’s Allies

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 Clan Assignment

Ninja Writer Academy-The Clan Assignment

Some relationships are pretty easy to understand.

We all know what a mother is, for instance. Sure a mother/child relationship might be complicated, but if you write that a woman is your character’s mother, you’re not going to have to explain what that means to your reader. We all have mothers and we all know what a mother is.

But, what if your main character has someone in their life who is mother-like? Their best friend’s mother, their foster mother, the lady who runs the corner store and made sure they had enough to eat when they were growing up, their older step-sister who raised them from baby-hood when their dad and her mom abandoned them…the possibilities go on and on.

Someday we might talk about blood family, but today I want to talk about the family that your MC builds for themselves. Their clan. Their tribe. They might have the beginnings of the family they create for themselves in their ordinary world–maybe a best friend or two, for instance, or a teacher/mentor character. Chances are good that as their story advances (especially into Act II) they’ll build those relationships. Their tribe will take shape or expand or both.

So, today, I’d like you think about those clan characters. The ones who aren’t the focus of this story, but who play an important part to your MC. These are their allies, the people they have to learn to trust if they’re going to survive their ordeal.

My Turn

My work in progress is a Robin Hood retelling, so I have an obvious clan direction to take. My MC, Rob, starts the story by rebuilding a relationship with his best friend, who hasn’t seen in a while. Mattie is my Maid Marion character. He’ll also have to develop relationships with the outlaws who will become his Merry Men.

Rob starts the story by returning home from boarding school after learning that his father, his only living parent, has died. He’s cut completely adrift, with no blood family now. This causes him to cling tighter to his relationship with Mattie and her father and leaves him in a position to fall into the clan he winds up building later.

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.

Make some notes about your MC’s clan. If they don’t have a clan, think about that. Why not? Would giving them at least one person to build that family-tight relationship with add something to your story?

Come by Facebook and tell us about your MC’s clan. I’ll be there tomorrow (Sunday) at noon PST for office hours so you can ask any questions you might have.

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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