Ninja Writers Academy: Found Poetry

Ninja Writers Academy: Found Poetry. Come join us for The Hidden Words Assignment. Share your work on Facebook and come by Sunday for Office Hours!

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 Hidden Words Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy-The Hidden Words Assignment

I’m not a poet, at all, but there is one type of poetry that I think is not only fun to create and never fails to impress me, but is also a great way to really look at the words of other writers.

Found poetry is essentially looking at a page of someone else’s work and picking out words or phrases to make a poem. Wikipedia calls it the literary version of collage.

This week, I’d love for you to open a book to a random page and see if you can turn what you find there into your own work of art.

Here are the rules:

  1. Turn to a random page of the book closest to you.
  2. You can use words or phrases from that page only to make your poem.
  3. The words have to be in the same order they appear on the page. (In other words, you can pick a word from line one and a word from line ten, but they can’t be next to each other unless you haven’t used any words from lines two through nine.)

What I love about this assignment is that it gives you the opportunity to really look deeply at a small piece of writing. What words did the author choose? Why? How can they mean something different from what the author intended? How is your poem different from the page it came from?

My Turn

I just happened to get Tabitha King’s book Caretakers in the mail today and it was sitting on my desk as I wrote this post, so that’s the book I chose. The random page was 96.

Here’s what I came up with:

Wicked Gets to Heaven

How’s the terrible, honest man,

broken by grunts of pleasure?

Reduced to a pile of bones,

scoured and rinsed in the lake.

Brave to take on the bugs,

cross-legged on the grass,

she laughed.

Somehow, something

wicked gets to heaven.

My poem took a pretty dark turn. That page in the book was a conversation between people eating fish they’d just caught for breakfast at a campground. It wasn’t a particularly menacing scene, but when I look at the words I pulled out, I can see that there is an intensity behind it that I might not have noticed before.

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 a piece of found poetry. Use the rules in this post and HAVE FUN!

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.

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Ninja Writers Academy: Writing Natural Dialogue

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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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This week we’re going to work on a pretty straight-forward academic aspect of writing.

Dialogue.

Specifically, we’re going to talk about writing natural dialogue. You want your dialogue to make the reader feel like they’re eavesdropping, or even having a conversation with the characters. The dialogue, if it’s natural, will put the reader right into the story.

The Way We Speak Assignment

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Ninja Writers Academy: Scene vs. Exposition

Ninja Writers Academy: Scene vs. Exposition. The Unpacking Assignment will help you understand the importance of putting your reader right into the story with your hero.

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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This week’s assignment is designed to teach you the difference between scene and exposition.

Scene is SHOWING. It’s putting the reader into the story.

Exposition is TELLING the reader that something happened, without putting them into the story.

Scene is spending an amazing, life-changing weekend in Mexico where you are swept off your feet by a Latin lover, have an epiphany about what you want to do for the rest of your life, and maybe win the lottery while you’re there.

Exposition is watching someone’s slideshow of pictures from their weekend in Mexico.

Scenes have dialogue (interior or exterior) and action and they move the story forward on multiple levels.

Exposition has telling.

Scene is the difference between telling your reader that your character is in love, and your reader falling in love right along with them.

Chuck Wendig has a fantastic, somewhat NSFW, essay about exposition and what to do about it.

The Unpacking Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy: Scene vs. Exposition. The Unpacking Assignment will help you understand the importance of putting your reader right into the story with your hero.

So this week, I want you to look through your work in progress and find a bit of exposition. A sentence or paragraph where you told your readers that something happened.

And then I want you to open it up into a scene.

My Turn

My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern day Las Vegas. Last week I told you about my hero, Rob’s, safe place. This scene happens there.

Here’s how this could have been exposition:

Rob went to the pool he’d spent his childhood swimming in with Mattie to get some space from the crush of mourners. When she showed up, he could finally breathe again. He could finally start his own mourning.

Here’s my draft of the way I wrote that as a scene:

He took two flights of stairs, two more hallways, and finally went through a set of glass double doors. He inhaled as the fresh desert air hit his face, gasping in a hard, deep breath like he wasn’t sure when he’d get another one.

A small swimming pool shimmered in front of him, lit so that its million tiny blue tiles looked like jewels. His father kept it perfectly maintained for employees, but when Rob was growing up it was mostly only him and Mattie that used it.

He kicked off his Nikes and reached down to pull off his socks and roll up his jeans. Maybe he’d go home and change before he went back into the ballroom. Dressing properly might make it easier to face the people in Ballroom A.

Before he could sit down and put his feet into the water, a wave of guilt washed over him. All those people waiting to tell him how sorry they were that his father was gone—and he couldn’t face them.

This time he didn’t bother trying to hold back the hard bubble that burst in his chest, although he still only felt pain instead of tears.

How could his father be gone? It was like trying to wrap his head around the idea of the sun deciding one day that it was done shining.

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

A hand slipped into his and Mattie was there.

She pressed against his right side, her forehead against his shoulder. She didn’t say she was sorry. She didn’t have to say anything. He kept her hand and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her closer.

Her hair smelled like apples. She’d cut it since the last time he’d seen her– short in the back, with long layers that fell forward and covered her face as she pressed her cheek against his chest.

Tears finally fell, releasing the mask of pain. Mattie wrapped her free arm around him and he finally cried for his father.

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 today turning one bit of exposition in your work-in-progress into a scene.

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.

 

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Ninja Writers Academy: Where Does Your Hero Run?

Ninja Writers Academy: Where does your hero run? This week we're talking about your hero's lair--their safe place.

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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This week’s exercise should help you to flesh out your main character (MC) and bring them into brighter focus–make them more of a living, breathing person–by placing them in their space.

The Lair Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy: The Lair Assignment. This week we're talking about your hero's safe place.

I want you to close your eyes and conjure up a good mental image of your MC. Think about what they look like, how they hold themselves, what kind of clothing they wear. When was the last time they slept? Do they need a shower or are they always meticulously groomed? Do they wear vintage thrift store clothes or J. Crew straight out of the catalog or haute couture? How do they wear their hair when no one is looking? Do they wear lipstick when they don’t expect to see anyone?

No go a step further. Think about your hero’s surroundings. Where are they most comfortable? Where are they the most at home? Where do they feel safe?

Is it their bedroom? Their cubicle at work? A corner booth at a local bar?

Really look around. Get nosy. Poke into drawers, open the medicine cabinet and the fridge, look between the mattress and the box springs. Read their journal. Peek into their closet.

What color are the walls? How does their lair smell? What can they hear? Who is nearby? Who would they never invite in? Who do they wish they could share their space with?

Everyone has a lair. I bet you do. I know for sure that I do. We all have the place we go when fight-or-flight kicks in and we run. This week, I want you to think about what that place is like for your hero.

My Turn

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

Rob Huntington is seventeen years old. He holds himself with the easy grace of a teenage athlete who has grown up knowing that he’s the Prince of Las Vegas. He’s been away at boarding school, but for him the whole world is the Nottingham Casino–and he has always known that he would inherit that world someday. He is the center of it and he has never wanted anything else. He wears basic teenage boy clothes–blue jeans, t-shirts, hoodies–but of a high quality. His father was white and his mother was African American. He inherited his mother’s coloring, except for his father’s light eyes. He wears his dark hair cut very short. He’s strong and capable, but a little pampered when the story starts. He’s aristocratic and a little arrogant.

Rob Huntington has lived most of his life in a ‘villa’ on the property of the Strip casino that his father owns. It’s modest, which captures the imagination of the city–sad Las Vegas royalty, grieving the loss of their wife and mother. For as long as Rob can remember, it has just the two of them in it. His best friend, Mattie, and her father live in the villa next door. The villas are mid-century two-bedroom cabins designed to be rented to guests.

Rob’s lair isn’t in the villa, though. The place where he goes when he has to run somewhere is the little swimming pool that was built for employees to use, but that really belonged to Rob and Mattie. Barely bigger than a hot tub, shallow and shimmering like an oasis, the pool had gone unchanged in the sixty years since it was built. It’s lined with a million glittering tiles in different shades of blue and surrounded by small, shrubby desert trees growing in planters. It’s tucked away, where guests can’t access it.

Rob and Mattie thought, when they were younger, that they were sneaking into it, but Rob’s dad knew they are the only ones who use it. They were safe in the pool and running around the casino because his employees keep an unobtrusive eye on them. They were literally surrounded by adults who are dedicated to keeping them safe. They’d run through the casino in their swimsuits, kick off their sandals as soon as the first blast of hot hair took their breath away, and sprint across the burning concrete like fire walkers. They’d splash into the water that was sometimes almost too warmed by the unrelenting sun that beat down on it, and duck into the shade of the little trees. The pool water smelled of chlorine and left their eyes red-rimmed and their vision tinted with rainbows. Mattie’s blonde hair had a green tint to it in the summer from all the time she spent swimming with Rob. The day that Rob comes home from boarding school, the day he finds out his father has died, when he can’t bear the weight of one more grieving person’s condolence, he runs to the pool and Mattie knows exactly where to find him. He hasn’t seen her in nearly two years, but when he does again, in that place, he can finally breathe and start to mourn.

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 today thinking about your hero’s lair. Where do they go when they can’t fight anymore? Describe their safe place.

Come by Facebook and share your work today. I’ll be there tomorrow at 1 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 do that by clicking here. 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.

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Ninja Writer’s Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer

The Ninja Writers Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer.

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 Ninja Writers Academy: Watch TV Like a Writer. The Boob Tube Assignment.

Okay, Ninja Writers. Today you have my permission to spend your writing time watching TV. It counts. I swear!

One way to become a better writer is to start taking in stories like a writer. You’ve probably heard the term ‘read like a writer’ before. But, watching movies or television, even listening to someone tell you a story orally, like a writer are all just as important.

To take in a story like a writer you need to pay attention to two things: What works for you and what doesn’t. And then you need to analyze the reasons why.

Get in the habit of doing this every time you read a book, watch a movie, or yes, spend an hour in front of the old Boob Tube, and you’ll start to see why it’s so important. You’ll start to see how you can incorporate what other writers do that works for you (and don’t forget, movies and TV are both created by writers) and how you can avoid the things that turn you off.

So, today I’d like you to watch an hour, or a half-hour if you’re into sit-coms, of television. It can be a re-run of a favorite episode (that’s what I’m going to do) or a random something you find on your DVR or your favorite prime-time drama. It doesn’t matter. Just put on your writer hat and sit down to pay attention.

As you’re watching, pay attention to what works for you in that particular episode. Think about character, pacing, setting, the story that you’re being told.

Then ask yourself what the writer did that made you so happy. How did they make that character that you keep coming back for? How did they draw you into that particular setting? What’s so awesome about the dialogue?

Also look for things that make you cringe a little.

What did the show writer do wrong in this episode? Was there something that just didn’t set right with you? How can you not make the same mistake?

My Turn

I watched my very favorite episode of Outlander on Starz. The one I’ve re-watched, oh, A FEW times, while I wait mostly-patiently for the new season to start. The series is based on a book that I love, by Diana Gabaldon. This points out why this exercise is good to do on TV. That book is a bazillion (okay, maybe 800) pages long. It took me a week to read the first time. The episode is an hour long.

So the episode is called The Wedding, and not surprisingly it’s the episode where the hero and heroine, Claire and Jamie, get married.

What really worked for me:

This episode is really well paced. It shifts back and forth from the present (just after the wedding) to the near past (just before and during the wedding.) That adds to the surreal feeling of the whole situation–which is a woman from the 20th century marrying a man from the 18th century, even though she’s already married in her own time. What I learned from that is that getting creative with things like time in your story can have a positive affect.

It’s beautiful to watch. The setting is a church in 18th century Scotland. Claire is given a gorgeous gown by a brothel-owner to wear. Jamie gets to wear his own clan colors for the first time and just emerges as this beautiful man all put together for his wedding day. After watching this episode, I felt like I’d been at this wedding, with these people. All of this is a good example of how just having two people talking to each other isn’t enough. I need to remember to get out of my characters’ heads sometimes and use detail to draw the reader into the story and make them feel like they are a part of it.

I love the way the after-the-wedding part came together. They don’t know each other well, although there is attraction and a general friendship there. To save Claire from a vicious captain in the English army, they have to actually consummate their marriage. They take hours to bond first, which is kind of refreshing and also has the added bonus of letting the audience get to know both of them on a deeper level. The take away here is that sexy-times don’t have to be rushed into. The lead up can be just as tantalizing and exciting.

Diana Gabaldon has manage to create two characters that I’ve cared about for a solid twenty years. Everytime I go back to them, whether it’s a new book or re-watching an episode of the TV series, it’s like visiting old friends. I think it’s the chemistry she created between them that did that. I’m not sure I’d care as much about either Claire or Jamie alone. For my own writing, this reminds me that it takes more than just creating one compelling character. How those characters interact with each other matters a lot.

What I didn’t like as much:

Once the sexy-time part started, it went on FOREVER and was very graphic. I didn’t mind the graphic part, but around the third time they did the deed I was like–really, again? I found my mind wandering to how weird it must have been for the actors to film that scene. It actually pulled me out of the narrative dream of the story (something no writer ever wants to do) and slowed the pace of the story for me some.

Other than that, this is pretty much a perfect hour of television for me.

Your Turn

Watch an episode of a television show like a writer. Think about what worked and what didn’t.

If you’d like a worksheet, I’ll email a download to you if you click here.

Come by Facebook and share your work today. I’ll be there tomorrow at 5 p.m. PST for office hours.

Are you in this week? Leave a comment 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. See you on Facebook!

Click Here for a free download of the printable Ninja Writer Story Log and to join the Academy.

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Ninja Writers Academy: Putting Your Inner Editor in Their Place

The Ninja Writers Academy: Putting Your Inner Editor in Their Place. Come learn how the Blythe Assignment can help you learn to deal with the voice inside your head that insists that you're a fraud.

Since I’m deep in revision at the moment, I thought this was a great time to talk to you Ninjas about your inner editor.

Your inner editor is that voice inside your head that tells you that your sentence isn’t perfect enough, your story is stupid, you’re a complete hack–a total fraud–and what exactly do you think you’re doing anyway, writing down your stupid story full of imperfect sentences?

Your inner editor will try to convince you, when you’re working on your first draft, to leave the writing to the professionals.

You have one of those, right? I know you do. I have one, too. Every writer comes with one, standard.

Today I’m going to teach you my trick for coping with mine.

First though, let me tell you something that’s super important.

You actually need an inner editor, so you don’t want to make yours go away completely. It’s only when that voice kicks in too soon that things go pear-shaped. When your first draft is finished and you need to look at your story with a critical eye? That’s when you can invite that editor out to play. And I promise, when the time is right, it won’t be so awful having that voice around.

The Blythe Assignment

Today I want you to personify your inner editor.

Seriously, go ahead and give them a name.

Mine is Blythe. She’s middle-aged and too made up, a bottle blonde, kind of trying too hard not to be frumpy in a weirdly Gothic way. She’s also super smart and really knows her stuff, but she can be a bitch about it. She’s kind of a cross between Mrs. Havisham and Joey’s agent on Friends. Remember her?

Blythe

Now, I want you to give your inner editor a safe place to live when they aren’t working.

Blythe lives in a gold cage in my head. Like a bird cage, with a pretty lavender velvet cover that keeps her quiet until I need to bring her out to do her stuff.

When I’m in revision, and actually need Blythe, she doesn’t have time to tell me that I suck or that if I’m not careful everyone on Earth will realize what a Grade-A fraud I am. She’s too busy doing what she’s really good at–making my story shine.

Here’s what I want you to do: get out your notebook and free write about your inner editor. Give them a name and a description–and then imagine how you’ll keep them in line inside your own head. You can borrow my bird cage, or maybe you need a well to lower them down. Or an underwater palace for them to live in with their Mermaid wife. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s something that lets you imagine having control over when they come out and when they stay locked up.

Remember, when you’re drafting your Blythe needs to be on lockdown. When you’re revising, let them out to do their job. And, always, always, always, YOU are in charge.

Your Turn

Come on over to the Ninja Writers’ Facebook group and introduce us to your inner editor. Tell us about how you keep them in line in their off time. I’ll be around the Facebook group tomorrow (3/27) from noon to 1 p.m. PST for office hours if you have any questions about how to control your Blythe.

Want to join the Ninja Writer’s Academy? Click here to get notification when the next lesson goes live. Members get a PDF of every assignment.

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The Ninja Writers Academy

Ninja Writers Academy: If you have a story to tell and the ability to tell it well, you can change the world. Come learn how to tell it well.

Ninja Writers Academy

Get an assignment on Saturday, share your work in our Facebook Group for feedback, then come back on Sunday for office hours. Are you in?

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The Ninja Writers Academy is completely free.

Imagine blog posts, only interactive and full of way, way more awesome.

Here’s how it works.

–Most Saturdays (I won’t say every, because life and soccer tournaments happen, you know? But, definitely MOST) I’ll post a lesson here.

–You can take it in, ponder it, maybe produce a little work. If you want to share what you’ve done, come on over to the Ninja Writer’s private Facebook group. Trust me, you will LOVE it there. Post what you’ve come up with. Comment on other people’s posts.

–Then, on Sunday afternoons I’ll hold office hours. I’ll be online a specific time for an hour and we can talk, you can ask questions, I’ll answer them.

How fun does that sound? Seriously fun, right?

This is not going to be a high-stress, turn-in-your-assignment type thing. It’s a low-key, super supportive way to learn a little something. The lessons will have a PDF version that you can print out and stick in a binder, so after a while you’ll have a bunch of them you can refer back to.

It’s also a good reason to put your butt in your chair on a Saturday and work.

And one more excuse for Ninja Writers to activate.

Are you in? If you want me to shoot you an email on Saturday mornings when the posts go live, just fill out the form below.

Ninja Writers Academy

Get an assignment on Saturday, share your work in our Facebook Group for feedback, then come back on Sunday for office hours. Are you in?

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