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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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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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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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 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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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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Ninja Writer’s Academy: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook

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 Capturing Ideas Assignment

Ninja Writer's Academy-The Capturing Ideas Assignment

I thought we’d talk about something a little different this week.

Do you keep a writer’s notebook?

Basically a writer’s notebook is just what it sounds like: a notebook that a writer carries. It’s a place for keeping the ideas that come at you, the little bits of dialogue you overhear, the character sketches that just can’t wait until you’re at a computer.

They’re also a good place for old-fashioned hand writing when you can fit in a couple of hundred words at a time when you’re not able to type.

I have a section of my notebook set up with three or four pages for each of ten or so story ideas that I have at different levels of development. When something hits me about one of them, I can jot down a note.

The problem I’ve always had is I don’t always want to carry a notebook around with me.

So, I also use a Hipster PDA, which is essentially a bundle of index cards held together with a binder clip. It fits in my back pocket and I always have it with me.

In addition to cards for things like my daily to-do list and my weekly schedule, I keep blank cards in my hPDA. I use them as a portable writer’s notebook.

My habit is to transfer my notes just before bed. Some of them get re-written in my notebook. Any handwriting I do is transcribed into my WIP.

It seems like extra work, and of course it is, but it forces me to evaluate the notes I’ve taken and the writing I’ve done that day and organize it.

Analog works for me. You might use Evernote on your smart phone or some other way of keeping electronic notes.

Here’s your assignment for this week. If you don’t already have a writer’s notebook system that works for you, spend some time getting one set up.

If you do have one, but you aren’t using it the way you’d like to, try to evaluate why and make some changes. Maybe share your struggle on Facebook and let us help you figure it out.

If you’ve got the perfect (for you) system up and running already, that’s awesome! Come over to Facebook and share it with us. Maybe you’ll inspire one of your fellow Ninjas!

I’d love to see a picture of your notebook or hPDA or whatever it is that you use.

Once you have a system set up, use it! Come share one of your notes or ideas or snippets of dialogue with us on Facebook.

My Turn

Here’s my hPDA.

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Here’s something that’s been kicking around my various writer’s notebooks for about twenty years. Someday, I’ll use it. Somewhere.

When my older kids were very little, I was on a city bus with them. We drove past a broken down muscle car–it was bright blue–on the side of the road with it’s hood popped up and steam or smoke pouring out from under it. It was summer in Las Vegas and intensely hot, well over 100 degrees. The car’s driver was kneeling on his bare knees on blacktop that must have been soft and sticky and excrutiatingly hot. Praying. Hands folded, face lifted to the sky, his mouth moving.

I only saw him for a few seconds as the bus rolled by, but he’s stuck with me all of this time. Eventually the perfect situation for him will come together and I’ll use him in a story.

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.

Set up your writer’s notebook, if you don’t already have one. And either way, use it today.

Come by Facebook and share your writer’s notebook as well as something you wrote in it today. I’ll be there tomorrow at 5 p.m. 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 Academy: Putting Your Reader There

Ninja Writers Academy: Putting Your Reader There. This week we're talking about how setting description draws your reader into your story.

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 Passport Stamp Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy: The Passport Stamp Assignment. This week we're talking about using description to make setting real for your reader.

Setting is so important in a story. A city can become like a character. A building, a room, a country, it doesn’t matter how big or small the space is — learning how to describe setting in a way that puts the reader there is a key to becoming a good writer.

Here’s why: it’s the landscape of the narrative dream.

The narrative dream is the state a reader finds themselves in when the real world falls away and they are completely immersed in their story. With setting, you set the scene for the reader. This is your opportunity to help them stamp the passport in their heads and hearts with the places you’re taking them.

What stamps does your reading passport have? Narnia? Oz? Wonderland? Reading Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s gave me a stamp from New York City. Nancy Farmer’s book The House of the Scorpion gave me a stamp from a little made-up country between the US and Mexico called Opium.

Here’s a little side assignment for today: I’d like for you to make a list in your notebook of the places you feel like you’ve visited through books.

And then I’d like you to work on a setting description from your own Work-in-Progress. The key to description is that it’s both sensory and emotional. Let your reader see why a place is important to the character and they’ll feel that through them. Go beyond the five senses to something more visceral. What is it about the place that you’re writing about that matters so much to the character? What about it will stick with the reader and make them feel as if they’ve spent time there themselves?

My Turn

My WIP is a retelling of Robin Hood set in modern-day Las Vegas. It’s important to me, in this story, to share Las Vegas from the point-of-view of a native. Even the Strip is different when you’re not a tourist. Here’s a description of the MC, Rob’s, father’s office and of Rob’s emotional connection to the casino his father owned, The Nott.

* * *

Until today, he would have gone to his father to tell him that Guy had over-reached his position and put the Nott at risk. Jack would have talked to Philip, who would have chastised Guy.

Now, Rob would have to talk to Philip about Guy himself. Rob had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that he wouldn’t be telling Philip anything he didn’t already know. He’d raised his nephew after all.

Rob reached Jack’s office and opened the door, inhaling deeply as he did. Trying to take his dad into his lungs. He flipped a wall switch and lights came up as the curtains on the far wall automatically opened.

Nothing had changed. Not the 50s memorabilia that had been his great-grandfather’s. Not the neat row of black binders on a shelf above his dad’s desk. Not the framed newspaper clippings or the old-school furniture. Not the smell of cigars and paper. Not the spectacular view of the Strip, lit up and glittering.

That view was why the lights felt like home. He’d spent hours playing in front of that window with Mattie when they were kids. There were no stars over The Strip, but the lights were as startlingly beautiful to Rob. And far more rare. Everyone had access to the stars.

He sat in his father’s chair and closed his eyes. He couldn’t make himself believe Jack was gone. It didn’t seem possible. “How can there be The Nott without you?”

“The Nott was bigger than him.”

Rob sat up, too quickly. The chair tipped back and he had to flail to keep from falling over. “Jesus, Philip, you scared me.”

“You should be downstairs.” Philip came in and sat in the chair across Jack’s desk from Rob.

“I know.” Rob’s face burned. He picked up a pen from his dad’s desk and spun it around his fingers. “I’m sorry.”

“It looks bad that you’re not there.”

Rob put the pen down. It was his responsibility to speak to his dad’s employees. To be the face of The Nott today. “I’ll go back now, but you need to speak to Guy.”

“About?”

“I found him beating on a kid when I came up here.”

Philip stood up and straightened his suit coat. “We have a zero tolerance policy against theft at The Nott.”

So Guy had already told him. Maybe that’s who he’d been on the phone with in the elevator. “Guy can’t go around physically assaulting children.”

“You let me worry about Guy.”

“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.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I was going to wait to talk to you about it until later.”

“About what?”

“I want to buy out your share of The Nott.”

It took a second for Rob to understand what Philip was talking about. “I can’t sell The Nott.”

“Let me take care of your legacy for you. You go back to school, get an education, and take on the world in your own way. You’ll have the funds to do whatever you want to.”

Rob looked out the window again. He’d never even thought of doing anything except take over The Nott when it was his time. He couldn’t take the idea of not being part of The Nott seriously now. Still, he felt a stab of curiosity. “What kind of funds?”

“I’ve set up a meeting with legal tomorrow. We can talk about the details then.”

Rob turned to Philip. “You can’t give me an idea of what kind of money you’re talking about?”

“Not without looking at the numbers. I’m not trying to take The Nott out from under you, Robert. Zero tolerance for stealing, remember?”

Rob shook his head once, hard. The Nott was his father. Even the idea of selling it was ridiculous. “I really don’t think I can–”

Philip put a hand out to stop him. “There’s time to talk about it later. I just want you to think about it. Jack wanted something different for you, Robert.”

Rob’s eyes travelled over his father’s office walls. He’d known most of his life that this would have been his office someday. Someday, he realized with a sharp stab to his heart, was today. He was the majority shareholder of Nottingham, Inc. He wasn’t sure what it meant that he was still a minor, but The Nott was his. He didn’t believe that his father wanted anything else for him.

“No, he didn’t.” He stood and reached for the framed clipping of his parents on their wedding day. They looked so in love. Huntington takes an Exotic Bride. “I belong here.”

Philip sighed. “Don’t base your decision on emotion, Rob. That was your father’s problem.”

“My father didn’t have a problem. He loved this place.”

Philip buttoned his jacket. “And it killed 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.

Work on a section of your WIP that describes setting. Use your senses and include some emotional detail.

Bonus assignment: Make a list of stamps in your reading passport.

Come by Facebook and share your description. You can share your list, too–that’ll be fun to see! 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.

Continue Reading

Ninja Writers Academy: Your Writing Space

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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 for an hour 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 Where You Work Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy: The Where You Work Assignment

This week I want you to think about where you do your work.

I really think this is more important than we tend to make it. On one hand, I strongly, strongly advise against being so tied to your environment that you can’t work at all if you aren’t there. But on the other, I think that having an official space for your work is a key to taking yourself seriously as a writer.

That space can be a corner of your sofa or your dining room table. At one point a few years ago we were living in a teeny tiny apartment and my work space was sitting in my bed with a lap desk. For a couple of months, before my parents-in-law moved into our basement apartment, I had a whole room all to myself and that was glorious.

When I’m done with my day job in June, I’m seriously considering joining a collaborative work space–you pay a little bit of money and can show up with your laptop anytime. Lots of people work at Starbucks or another coffee shop. This particular assignment, though, is about setting up space at home for your work. Even if you often work somewhere else, I think this matters.

There are a few reasons why it’s so important to have a space for you to work at home is necessary.

Unless you’re a full-time writer with an office you go to like it’s a 9-to-5, you probably write from home at least some of the time.

It’s hard enough to convince yourself that writing is a real job. In my experience, it’s nearly impossible to convince other people. Like your kid who wants you to make them a PB+J or your husband who doesn’t see a problem with asking you to run an errand for him smack in the middle of your writing time.

Your brain will respond to your environment. Having a space that signals to your brain that it’s writing time will help with productivity.

So here’s what I’d love for you to do this weekend. Take a minute to write down what works and what doesn’t work about where you write at home. What do you do to let your brain know it’s work time? Then list the things that you could do to improve that space. Finally, take a picture of your writing space and share it with us on Facebook.

My Turn

I do best, when I’m working at home, when I’m slightly removed from the chaos going on around me, but not completely shut away from it. So, I wouldn’t like having my office in the basement, for instance. I’d spend too much time thinking about what was happening upstairs. I also wouldn’t do well working in the living room.

My desk at the moment is a folding table. I’d love an actual desk with drawers. Right now my space is in the little den off the dining room. There’s no TV in this area of the house, which is a good thing. Ideally, I’d love to have my own room again, but that isn’t going to happen in this house. We’re bursting at the seams. I also wish I had more wall space. Instead I have a big window with a gorgeous view, though, so that’s okay.

Overall, though, I’ve got a good set up. I’ve been doing this a long, long time. It took me years to find a set up that works for me.

The one little ritual I have when I’m writing at home is lighting a candle. I know it probably sounds a little silly, but I use the candle to welcome my muse. When I blow it out, I thank her for hanging out with me.

I need notebooks and good pens on my desk. I love having something to look at, so a desk facing a wall would be tough for me. I can’t have TV or radio though, or I’d struggle to get anything done. I always try to have my desk face a window. When I worked in my bedroom, I faced out into the room and that was okay.

Here’s my writing space:

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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.

Spend sometime thinking about your work space. Is it working for you? What can you do this weekend to make it better?

Come by Facebook and share your work space. I’ll be there tomorrow at 5 p.m. 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.

Continue Reading

Ninja Writers Academy: Story Flow

Ninja Writers Academy: The One Way to Skin a Cat Assignment. Use this lesson to figure out one way to get through your story.

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 for an hour 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 One Way to Skin a Cat Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy: The One Way to Skin a Cat Assignment. Use this lesson to figure out one way to get through your story.
*Ninja Writers NEVER skin cats! Yikes.

Where in the world did ‘there is more than one way to skin a cat’ come from anyway? What a morbid way to say that there is more than one way to get what you want.

Anyway, weird and horrible idioms aside, this weeks assignment is all about finding one possible way to get from the beginning to the end of your story.

It doesn’t really matter if you actually follow the flow we’re about to lay out when you’re writing. All I want you to do is get a feel for how your story could go. And to see how pacing works.

If you’ve taken How to Develop + Test a Story Idea, then you know that this is how I test my ideas to make sure they’ll support a whole novel. It’s also a good way to give yourself a frame work for the pacing of your story.

You’re going for waves here. Your story starts in the ordinary world, something happens to pull the protagonist into the world of the story, they struggle, something good happens, they struggle, then something really terrible happens, and then something happens to turn things around, and your protagonist emerges into a new ordinary world.

There are five key plot points. You can read more about them here, at Script Lab. Today I want you to take some time and come up with one way to get your protagonist through them.

Inciting Incident

I like to think of the inciting incident as a question: do you want to come into the world of this story? It can be asked by another person. It can be an act of God. It can be something very interior for the protagonist. The inciting incident is usually the first truly unusual thing that happens in the story.

Lock-in

If the Inciting Incident is a question, the Lock-in is the answer. Of course, if you’re going to have a story, the answer has to be yes. Eventually. Even if your hero gets there kicking and screaming, they have to get there. The Lock-in is the thing that happens that makes them go all in.

Mid-point Climax

This is the second biggest moment of your whole story. If you’re writing anything other than a true tragedy, this will be a big win for your hero. The Mid-point Climax should mirror the tone of the end of your story. So if you are writing a tragedy, this is going to be a huge defeat for your hero.

Main Climax

The Main Climax is sometimes called the Dark Night of the Soul. It’s the biggest moment, and if you’re not writing a tragedy, the darkest for your hero. All seems lost. The reader is turning pages like a crazy person trying to figure out how this character is going to pull through. This is the trench your hero will have to climb out of, somehow.  If you are writing a tragedy, then this is going to be a huge win for your character–the height that you’ll drop them from.

Third-act Twist

The Third-act Twist is the thing that happens to turn your story around from the Main Climax to the resolution. How does your hero pull themselves out of the trench–or alternatively, what happens to push your hero off the cliff into their tragic ending.

Your assignment is to write a paragraph or two detailing the Five Key Plot Points for your story.

My Turn

 

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

Inciting Incident: Rob Huntington’s father has died. When he goes to the reading of the will, he expects to become the new owner of The Nottingham–the casino his grandfather built. Instead, he learns that his father has left the Nott to his business partner.

Lock-in: After Rob visits his father’s office and finds a document that contradicts what he’s been told by the business partner, he decides to investigate.

Mid-Point Climax: Rob has earned the trust of his ‘Merry Men.’ They have a plan to steal back what’s been stolen, and they have their first success.

Main Climax: Their plan is thwarted–and one of Rob’s biggest allies is killed.

Third-Act Twist: A shift in focus changes everything. Instead of working toward getting back what was stolen, the Crew is suddenly focused on finding justice for their dead friend.

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.

Spend sometime working on your five key plot points. Don’t worry about perfection or getting anything right. This is just one possible way for your story to go. It’s totally fine if you make changes as you plan or write your book.

Come by Facebook and share your work 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.

Continue Reading