Hump Day Writing Prompt: Home Base

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Did you ever play tag when you were a kid?

Remember how there was always some spot that was home base? A tree. A bike. Someone’s mom.

If you got home, you were safe.

For today’s writing prompt, think about the concept of home–deeper and bigger than a house. (Although, where they live might also be their home base.)

If you really want to dig into your story, do this assignment for your hero AND your antagonist. Just think about where they’d run to, if they were being chased. It might be somewhere internal. A memory, maybe? It might be a person. It might be a physical place.

Write a paragraph or two describing your protagonist’s (and antagonist’s if you have time) safe place. Use all your senses.

***

I’m working on a middle grade story right now called Wonder Roo. My narrator is a boy named Gideon. He’s telling the story of his neighbor, though–a quirky girl named Roona.

Roona’s home base is a thing. Her baby blanket. She believes that being wrapped in it during a house fire when she was a baby saved her life–and that when she wraps it around her neck, cape style, it turns her into Wonder Roo.

It’s a very plain blanket. Soft pink, lightweight cotton with an open weave and a satin binding. After twelve years of all kinds of use, it’s very worn. Her blanket is also her only real connection to her father, who she believes joined the Air Force soon after the fire when she was a baby. She hasn’t seen him since.

Here’s the scene where Roona first shows up in the story, with her blanket:

What caught my attention though, and yanked me right out of my sourness, was everything else about her. She wore cut-off jeans and a white t-shirt. Pretty standard stuff.

She had rainbow-striped socks pulled up to her knobby knees and roller skates that looked like blue and yellow running shoes strapped to her feet. And over her clothes, she wore a red swimsuit with a stripe running down each side. She had something tied around her neck, flapping in the hot, dry breeze as she skated in slow circles on her porch.

“What in the . . .” Despite myself, I was curious enough to open the car door and step my first foot in Ne-va-da.

“See, there’s a kid next door,” Dad said, rubbing my head as he passed me. “You’re going to be fine.”

This story doesn’t have a villain. The antagonist is Roona’s mother–more specifically her mental illness. Or the way she is now. Her home is an activity. Miranda Mulroney is a baker on a soul level. Roona believes that her emotions get baked into her cakes and pies and passed on to the people who eat them.

When things get hard for Miranda, she bakes. She stays up all night losing herself in her ability to turn out perfect cookies or scones. It’s the thing she turns to when nothing else makes sense.

Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

 

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Use the Right Words

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In a 1895 essay called “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” Mark Twain listed as one of his rules that writers “use the right word, not its second cousin.”

More than 120 years later and “Use the right word, not its second cousin” is still excellent advice. (There’s a whole book of essays on writing by Mark Twain, by the way.)

We can so easily get caught up in choosing perfect words that we stop forward motion on our stories. I’m just going to come right out and say that if you have to pull out a thesaurus to find the word, you’re probably courting a second cousin.

And you don’t want to do that. I have a feeling it’s frowned upon even more now than it was at the end of the nineteenth century. In every possible interpretation.

Choosing the right word is also key in the showing vs. telling battle.

In the same essay, Twain writes, “When a person has a poor ear for music he will flat and sharp right along without knowing it. He keeps near the tune, but it is not the tune. When a person has a poor ear for words, the result is a literary flatting and sharping; you perceive what he is intending to say, but you also perceive that he doesn’t say it.”

Let’s work on tuning our ear for words today.

Write a scene where your protagonist is frustrated. Use your word choice to show the frustration without coming out and telling the reader how the main character is feeling.

Here’s an example from my work-in-progress, a middle grade story called Wonder Roo. 

Sometime during our endless drive through the state of Tennessee, I decided that I would never, not ever, forgive my parents for dragging me to live in some dirt town in rural Nevada.

Not Nev-ah-da. Nev-a-da. (A-like-in-apple right in the middle.) Better learn to say it like a native, Dad said, or they’ll make you move to California.

Whatever. I didn’t want to be a native of Nev-a-da or Nev-ah-da or anywhere but Wildwood, New-Jer-sey.

“You’re pouting so hard, Josiah, I can hear it.” Dad tilted the rear view mirror so he saw me through it. I barely suppressed the urge to stick out my tongue.

“Will we be in Tennessee forever or what?” I asked.

He flicked on the blinker and slowed, swerving toward the shoulder. “Would you like to be?”

I scrunched in my seat, arms crossed over my chest. “No.”

“You’re sure? I bet we could find a circus around here somewhere who’d buy you cheap.”

“Dad!”

“So,” he lifted one shoulder like it didn’t matter to him one way or the other, “you want to keep going?”

“Yes.”

“Right-o, Boss.” He shot me a little salute and somehow turned things around so that continuing this long, long drive west in a SUV pulling a trailer full of our stuff was my idea.

My sister Harper leaned forward in her booster seat and said, “Hey, Josiah’s not the boss. I’m the boss!”

Mom made a little sound suspiciously like a laugh and I turned my scowl out the window and waited to get to Arkansas.

Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Collecting Nouns

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I am on a major Ray Bradbury kick lately. I made a little mini-zine for Patreon patrons using my favorite Bradbury quote. Part of that quote is my 2017 motto. I just finished reading Zen in the Art of Writing for the third or fourth time (It’s so good. If you haven’t read it, remedy that right now, please.) AND I’m reading a short story from Bradbury Stories every day for 100 days (there are 100 stories.)

Also, I’m taking his advice and writing a short story every week this year.

Whew.

So, since I have Bradbury on the brain, I thought I’d share one of his brilliant ideas for coming up with story ideas.

Collect nouns. Bradbury kept a list of them, and if you read either (or both!) of the books above, you’ll see how that worked out for him. He talks a lot in Zen in the Art of Writing about how his nouns lead to some of the stories in Bradbury Stories.

Here’s what he has to say about it:

These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.

The lists ran something like this:

THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.

So, this week’s Hump Day Writing Prompt is to open your notebook to a fresh page and start your own collection of nouns. Start thinking about things that creeped you out when you were eight. Things that you come across at the weirdest times. What you got for Christmas last year.

I was at my county’s Democratic Committee meeting last night and found myself making a list of related nouns in my notebook: Energy, name tag, candidate, committeeman, sign, winner, loser, canvassing, campaign, clock, low-level official, constituents.

I have no idea if those will ever go anywhere, but having a nice, fat collection feels good.

Extra credit: Take one of your nouns and brainstorm on it. Open it up and see what comes out. I’ll use committeeman as an example. I like the word. It has a good mouth feel. And it sounds a little absurd, which makes it excellent, story-wise.

What is a committeeman: Very low-level local politician. He’s the one who gets an earful, because he’s barely one step above a citizen and he’s there.

What does a committeeman do: He votes in more important people. He tries to tell those people what his constituents (their constituents) want, but is usually unsuccessful. He tries to get people in his precinct registered to vote and then get them in the voting booth.

Would I want to write about a committeeman in the past, present, or future: Not past. Present would be interesting, since politics are so tense right now. Future might be interesting, too. What would a committeeman 100 years from now do? It would be an interesting way to think about the future of current ultra-divisive politics.

So, what’s my idea? A story about a committeeman in the future, with a focus on the fall out of utterly divisive politics. Maybe my committeeman finds himself caught in a feud between next door neighbors–one on the right, one on the left.

Your turn, Ninja! Start your collection of nouns today. And if you’re feeling energetic, stretch one out into a short story idea.

Come on over and share some of your nouns with us on Facebook.

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Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level!

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The Art of Being an Autodidact: A Homegrown MFA

autodidactI’m right at the start of my second semester of work toward an MFA in creative writing at Sierra Nevada College. It’s a low-residency program, which means I go to school for 8 days, twice a year, and do all the work at home working remotely with a mentor.

This particular program features one residency for every two year program that’s outside of the US, so I got to spend 8 days studying in Jamaica at the start of January. Beautiful. Inspiring. Warm. Regardless of where it happens, though, there is nothing quite like submersion in writing for more a week or so.

There are definite benefits to an official MFA program at an accredited university. A big one being that it’s a terminal degree that will allow you to teach at the university level, if you choose to. The residency gives you a chance to connect on a deep level with your fellow students and working closely with a mentor for months is a great experience. It can also lend you some

But it’s also very expensive and not for everyone.

So, I was thinking . . . it might be interesting to think about how someone could do the work of an MFA, without the expense (or the benefits of an official degree.)

Let’s call it an NFA: a Ninja of Fine Arts degree.

An autodidact is a self-taught person. So, an NFA is an autodidact. Cool, right?

Here’s what’s involved in a low-residency MFA program:

  • Lots and lots of reading. (I’m required to read about 10 books per month.)
  • Fiction writing and revision. (I turn in about 40 pages per month, 20 of new writing, 20 of revision.)
  • Work with a mentor.
  • Workshopping with other writers.
  • In-person classes during residency.

Here’s how I think that could translate:

READING

Read wide and deep. Read in your genre and in every other genre. Read craft books and do the exercises in them.

Keep a running annotated bibliography (go ahead and use the MLA format, it will make you feel official.) Annotation can be as simple as a note about what you liked or didn’t like about the book. Look at the book as a writer–what did you learn from it?

Keep a reading log. I just write the title and author of every book I read in a special notebook.

A good place to start is 10 minutes of reading every single day. No matter what. Also carry a book with you. Keep one in the bathroom and in your car and anywhere else you might have a minute or two to read a page or two.

Start to build a writing craft library. Here are some of my favorites to give you starting point:

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

On Writing by Stephen King

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

WRITING

The goal is to consistently create new work. Be brave. Take risks. Write stories that you don’t feel ready to write. Write in formats that you’re not familiar with, in genres that make you uncomfortable. Stretch.

My recommendation, always: write at least 10 minutes every day. You’ll be shocked at what this tiny goal does for your writing career.

Ray Bradbury suggests writing one short story a week for a year. He says that it’s impossible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. I think this is a fine place to start. At the end of the year, you’ll have 52 short stories and some of them will probably be worth exploring as possibilities for expanding into novels.

Or write a novel in a year. A Novel Idea will help you with this. You can get access to that via Patreon.

Start to carry a writer’s notebook with you everywhere. Use it. Make notes on story ideas, on conversations you overhear, on places you visit

CLASSES

Seek out opportunities to learn in a classroom setting.

One idea is to check out the community education courses offered by your local community college. They often offer non-credit writing courses.

Take it a step further and sign up for a university writing workshop.

I offer two free courses, How to Develop + Test a Story Idea and a version of The Plotting Workshop.

Click on the Ninja Writer’s Academy tag here on this blog and check out those posts. Work your way through them.

Twice a year, clear your calendar and dedicate a week to immersing yourself in learning to be a better writer. If you can swing it, consider spending a weekend in a hotel, just writing without the distractions of home.

MENTORS

Join Ninja Writers on Facebook and reach out. Ask questions. Interact!

Join an in-person writer’s group. Check with your local library or book store, or if you’re in a city you might find a chapter of a larger writing group like Romance Writers of America or Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

If you can’t find an established group, put an ad in Craig’s List (or come over to our Facebook Group!) and try to get one started.

Workshopping with other writers is invaluable.

Try to attend at least one writer’s conference a year. You’ll meet other writers, including published authors who are at least a few steps ahead of you in the process, and have access to workshops. More importantly, you’ll be inspired to work.

 

 

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Ninja Writers Academy: Setting Development

We’re going to have a live plotting workshop in our Facebook group in December. Make sure to sign up below to get signed up!

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For the next few weeks, we’re going deeper into the basics of story elements during Ninja Writers Academy. Last week we talked about Character. Today, we’re talking about Setting.

Setting is, of course, the place where your story takes place.

You’ll probably have more than one in a novel-length work. Maybe your main character will have a literal ordinary world and special world of the story. (Like Dorothy’s Kansas and Oz or Harry’s muggle world and Hogwarts.) Maybe your antagonist has their own setting.

Even a story that takes place in a limited area probably has more than one actual setting. I’m thinking about the (devastating) book and movie Room. The setting in that story is a character in and of itself. It’s a garden shed where the narrator has lived his whole life. But there’s also a truck and the narrator’s grandmother’s house.

Thinking about where your story takes place can actually give some shape to it. It’s a good way to start thinking about things like pacing and scene.

Today I’d like you to think about all the different settings that your story is going to need. Then develop at least one of them using guided free writing. (You’ll probably want to develop all of them, eventually.)

Here are the questions I use:

  • Is this the ordinary world setting for your hero, or the special world setting, or both?
  • How does the setting uniquely belong to your MC?
  • How did your MC get to this place?
  • Why is this setting important to your MC?
  • Who do they share it with?
  • How do they feel about this setting? Claustraphobic? At home? Calm? Aggressive?
  • Will they end up in this place as their new ordinary world when the story is over?
  • What does the setting look like? Use as many details as you can.
  • What does the setting smell like?
  • What does the setting sound like?
  • Is there a taste or touch sensory experience related to this setting?
  • What role will this setting play in your MC’s story?
  • How would a stranger coming into this space feel? What’s the vibe?

My Turn

Last week, I shared the character work for a new idea.

Here are the settings I think I’ll need for Will “The Face” Sorren’s story:

The overall setting is Las Vegas.

Will lives in a pretty standard Las Vegas McMansion: white stucco, red tile roof, cookie cutter.

He performs in a showroom on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.

His best friend lives in a smaller, more homey home–also in Las Vegas. Maybe a condo?

Will’s grandmother lives in the same mean little Salt Lake City house that she raised him in.


The Showroom at Fitzgerald’s is Will’s ordinary world setting, but it also plays a part in the special world of the story. It’s where he plays as part of an 80s nostalgia show, and it’s his personal hell. He can’t leave, because there isn’t anywhere else for him to play. No one is offering him stadium shows anymore. Staying is killing him. It’s just big enough that when it’s half-filled, it’s particularly pathetic.

Will’s best friend, his band’s bass player, has a different view of the Showroom. It represents stability to him. A steady paycheck. The means to continue to play music instead of getting a day job. His acceptance of their situation makes things worse for Will.

Every night, Will stands on the stage and sings the same songs he’s sung for nearly thirty years. He looks out at the sparse audience an he sees middle-aged women. It used to be that the women (who were once the beautiful girls screaming for The Face) would swoon over him. They aren’t even doing that anymore. Not the way they used to.

The Showroom seats 500 at tables and chairs, not even stadium seating. Cocktail waitresses wander between the tables, bringing drinks and taking Keno bets. There’s a stage in front, a mediocre setup. The whole place smells of stale cigarette smoke and spilled beer. The sound of slot machines and a busy casino filter through between sets.

To the people who come to see Will and the other bands play, the showroom isn’t anything special, but it’s not as pathetic as it feels to Will. It’s a date night or a place for girls night out. Somewhere to go for a little fun while the kids are home with a sitter. They like the nostalgia that irritates Will.

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Develop a Setting. Make a list of settings for your story. Use the questions in this post to guide you as you free write about one of them. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Don’t let yourself get bogged down with perfection on this one.

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

Come by Facebook and share your work for feedback.

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

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

 

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Third Act Twist

Hump Day Writing Prompt: Third Act Twist

I went to see the movie Inferno last night. (It was very good, by the way. A nail biter.) It inspired this week’s writing prompt.

Let’s think about our third act twists.

Not the one you’ve used. Not the one you think you’re going to use. Think about the possibilities. Come up with a list of at least three third act twists that you could use in your work-in-progress. Go crazy!

My Turn

During NaNoWriMo I’m working on a book called Milk about a girl in the 1980s who realizes she’s babysitting a kid who she’s seen on the back of a milk carton.

Here are my three possible third act twists:

    1. When she can’t convince anyone of the truth, Tessa kidnaps Augie from his kidnapper-mother and takes him on the city bus to his real mother.
    2. Tessa’s wrong. Augie wasn’t kidnapped after all. His real mother gave him to the woman who is raising him in an effort to save him from an abusive situation, then reported him kidnapped.
    3. Tessa goes to find Augie’s birth mother and finds a situation that no child should be in. Including the baby girl she finds there.

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!

Don’t forget to click here and get signed up for December 2016’s free plotting workshop. That’s going to be so much fun!

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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Writing a Novel Takes More Than a Month: Beyond NaNoWriMo

Writing a Novel takes more than a month. It just does.

NaNoWriMo fever is upon the world.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably experienced the phenomenon of working like a maniac for thirty days, trying to pound out 50,000 words. Then, heading into the holidays exhausted and completely burned out.

Forget writing a novel, you don’t even want to read another book for months.

And your 50,000 words just sit there on your hard drive. Right next to all your other NaNo wins.

Or, worse, you throw on a homemade cover and proudly publish your story on Amazon.

What if you used the energy and excitement of NaNoWriMo to kick off a whole year of novel writing?

Here’s an outline of how you can spend the other eleven months of the writer’s year (you know, December to November.)

Set a More Sustainable Goal

Go ahead and spend November shoving writing into every crack and crevice of your day, but the rest of the year? Develop a sustainable daily writing habit by slowing down.

Commit to writing for at least ten minutes every day from December first until next Halloween.

I know, I know, ten minutes? What kind of goal is that?

It’s a goal you’ll keep. It’s so small that it’s psychologically harder to skip it than it is to stick with it. You can capitalize on that head game by getting a calendar and giving yourself a gold star every day that you keep your goal. Who wants a gap in their stars?

(I came up with this printable goal chart and writing log that I call FRED — Folder for Reaching the End of your Draft. You can download your own FRED here. I swear, it works like magic.)

Write for at least ten minutes every day for the eleven months between NaNoWriMos. See what happens.

Evaluate Your Story

What I love about NaNoWriMo is that it facilitates the move from wanting to write a book to actually writing one.

That’s huge.

Once you’ve won NaNoWriMo, though, what you’re left with on December first is a 50,000-word draft that you’ve written with an eye more toward speed than quality.

Let’s be honest. Your book probably isn’t very good in its current form. What it does have, though, is potential.

Before you do anything else, take some time to evaluate your story.

The best way I know to do that is with a plot board. I like analog, so I use a physical plot board. You can also use a digital system, like Scrivner’s cork board.

Read your draft. Don’t worry about editing or the quality of the writing right now. Pay attention to the story. Take a note of each scene and plug it into your plot board.

You’ll be able to see if your story is balanced. You’ll easily be able to see where you have too much or too little. And you’ll have a visual outline of your story that you can play around with before you start working on your actual edit.

Learn Your Craft

I’d like to challenge you to spend the next year learning your craft. Pick eleven writing craft books and read one a month. Don’t skim, either. Really read and implement what you learn.

Here are my favorites to get you started:

On Writing by Stephen King

Steering the Craft by Urula K. Le Guinn

Just Write by Walter Dean Myers

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

It isn’t enough to just read these books. Do the exercises. Use what you’re learning to improve your writing. Try keeping a notebook throughout the year to take notes in. Treat this like an intensive course in creative writing.

Find a Writing Community

Make a concerted effort in the year before your next NaNoWriMo to find a writing community and become a part of it.

If you can’t find a writing group meeting in person near you, turn to the Internet. I’m partial to Ninja Writers, which is a group on Facebook that I founded after NaNoWriMo 2015. (I’d love to have you join us!)

Try finding a national or international organization for writers in your genre. Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators are two that I belong to. They both have online chapters.

Connecting with other writers is a good way to keep yourself motivated to continue your writing journey beyond November. It’s a good way to find a critique partner or beta reader who you can trade feedback with. And it’s just way less lonely than writing all alone.

Become a Solid Self-Editor

I have one more book I want to recommend. If you decide you only want to read one craft book, make it this one. Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King teaches a single editing principle, then walks you through implementing it in your manuscript.

Learning to polish your own work is important on a couple of fronts. First, it will help you learn how to create a cleaner draft the next time. Trust me, once you’ve replaced 743 weak verbs with stronger verbs, you’ll just use the stronger one in the first place next time.

If you plan to try to publish traditionally, you need to be able to be able to prepare a professional-level manuscript to send to agents and publishers.

If you plan an indie career, being able to competently self-edit will save you a lot of money. You don’t want to pay someone to fix things for you that you could have fixed yourself.

Save Your Pennies for Professionals

The slush pile used to live in the editor’s office. Now it lives on Amazon.

Don’t be part of the slush pile.

If you’re an indie author, you’re a publisher. That means it’s your job to make sure your book is professionally edited and designed.

If Penguin wouldn’t publish your book with your best friend’s edits and your homemade cover, then you shouldn’t either.

If your friend isn’t someone you’d pay good money to for edits, they aren’t someone you should use for free. If no one would pay you for your design skills, you aren’t good enough to make your own cover.

If indie publishing is in your future, spend the next eleven months saving up. Resign yourself to the fact that publishing a novel is not a free enterprise. Your book needs to look and read like a traditionally published novel. It deserves that.

Here’s a calendar of action steps for the months until NaNoWriMo ‘17:

December: Read a craft book. Look for a writing community. Let your NaNo book rest for a few weeks and spend your ten minutes a day working on a palette cleanser. Maybe write a short story or work on whatever project you abandoned for NaNoWriMo.

January: Read a craft book. Make a commitment to yourself to join a writing community and participate in it (even if you’re an introvert.) Set up your plot board. Use your ten minutes a day to start to read through your NaNo book. Write each scene on a sticky note and place it where it belongs on your board, or do the equivalent in whatever program you’re using.

February: Read a craft book. Keep participating in your writing community. Finish your plot board and when it’s completely filled out, evaluate it.

March: Read a craft book. Keep participating in your writing community. Pick up a copy of Self-editing for Fiction Writers. Read the first chapter and spend your ten minutes a day implementing what you learn in your manuscript.

April through October: Repeat March.

(A version of this story was first published at Observer.com.)

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Ninja Writers Academy: Character Development

Ninja Writers Academy-Character Development

First: Our Facebook Group project for December will be a work through of How to Develop + Test a Story Idea and the whole Writer’s Journey part of The Plotting Workshop (which I’ll make available to you for free!) If you’d like to be on the list to get more info, put your email address here:

I thought it would be fun to run a little series of Ninja Writer Academy Posts about diving a little deeper into your story’s basic elements. Let’s start with character.

Character Development seems to be one of those scary things that new writers get hung up on.

You can find complicated, intimidating character development worksheets out there. If you Google around the Internet, you’ll find plenty of experts giving you lists of things that you’re supposed to know before you even start to write your story.

I take a different tact. My favorite way to work on character development is with guided free writing. I have a list of questions that I think about while I’m considering a new player. I start with a name and a basic (very basic) description, and then just start writing.

After all, that’s what we do, right? It’s how we process. Doesn’t it make sense to process something this important to your story the same way?

Here are the Character Development questions I use:

  • What is their ordinary world like?
  • What kind of work do they do?
  • Who do they love? Who do they hate?
  • Who loves and hates them?
  • What’s missing in them?
  • What’s important to them?
  • Who has hurt them?
  • Who have they hurt?
  • What do they need?
  • What do they want?
  • Who do they live with?
  • Who is their best friend?
  • Who is their worst enemy?
  • How resistant are they to change?
  • What would it take to get them to embark on big change?
  • This is a biggie: How are they flawed?
  • What makes them heroic?

Don’t list all the questions and answer them. Please. Don’t. Just use the questions to guide you as you write a page or two about this compelling person.

I actually do this exercise with every important character in a story: hero, antagonist, love interest, mentor, sidekick, etc. I also try to do this work in no more than about 20 minutes per character. Set a timer if you have to. It can be easy to get caught up in spending hours or even days in making sure your character development is PERFECT. Don’t do that to yourself!

MY TURN

I’ve had a character on my mind for a while. Here’s how this exercise worked out for him:

Will Sorren. Age, 50. Six feet tall, relatively fit (maybe a little softer than he used to be), over-styled brown hair, highlighted. Blue eyes. Dimpled chin.

Will is an aging rock star. When he was young he was nicknamed “The Face.” He had as much attention for his looks as for his music. He used to play to stadiums full of screaming girls. Now he plays to show-rooms half-filled with the same girls, now middle-aged housewives. He can’t play new music without risking a riot.

Worse of all, he’s not aging well. The public is brutal regarding his looks. What happened to The Face memes hound him. He still has the charisma that set him apart when he was young, but he’s done a little too much to try to hold on to his looks and it shows. Too much surgery. Too much Botox.

Will is still a musician, still playing the same music that he’s been playing for 30 years. He lives in Las Vegas and makes a living doing nostalgia shows with other 80s has beens.

Will married an actress when he was still The Face. She’s aging far better than him and his jealousy of her beauty and his insecurity over the public’s fascination with his loss of beauty is eroding their relationship.

He’s never been able to internalize his success. He had one breakout song when he was twenty-two and it was in a genre outside the pure rock he set out to make. He followed the success and the fame, and wound up a pop star. He still hears his songs in elevators and grocery stores and it always makes him sad.

Will’s mother left him when he was a little boy. He was raised by his grandmother, who was brutal with him. His looks and his music were the things that saved him and when he feels like he’s lost both, he is completely lost.

Will needs to find a way to let go of his youth. He wants to get it back. He’s utterly resistant to change, even when it’s obvious that change is happening whether he’s ready for it or not.

His best friend is the bass player in his band. They’ve been friends since high school. Aaron is far more accepting of their slide from rock gods to pop stars to has beens.

For will to change, he’ll has to have a seismic shift in his perspective of himself. Think George Bailey experiencing Bedford Falls as if he hadn’t been born.

Will’s heroism takes time to come through. He starts the story hurt and stuck in a very shallow mindset.

YOUR TURN

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Develop a Character Use the questions in this post to guide you as you free write about your story’s hero. Or antagonist. Or love interest. Or any character that could use a little development. (Hint: that’s probably all of them!) Set a timer for 20 minutes. Don’t let yourself get bogged down with perfection on this one.

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

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

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

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

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Resistance

Hump Day Writing Prompt-Resistance

We’re studying Steven Pressfield’s classic book The War of Art in the Ninja Writers Book Club this month. (If you’d like to join the book club, sign up here.)

I thought it would be fun to tie that into this week’s Hump Day Writing Prompt.

Here’s what Pressfield says about Resistance (which he always capitalizes): “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

That really resonated with me, because I’ve actually done a pretty good job with not letting Resistance veer me off my path, at least as far as my work goes. (There are many ways that Resistance shows itself.)

I’ve actively avoided being a classroom teacher, even though I think I’d be good at it, I would enjoy the work, and over the last twenty or so years, the money would have certainly come in handy.

I’m scared because some part of me recognizes that being a teacher is my RESISTANCE, all caps. I’ve convinced myself that if I become a teacher, it’s the same as giving up on being a writer. Being a teacher is my plan B and I won’t even look it straight on.

I’ve held off that Resistance by spending years six credits away from a degree that would lead directly to the classroom. I’ve held it off by turning down offers to join programs that would let me work while I was getting accredited.

My husband? He’s done the same work since he was 21 years old. He’s so entrenched in his Resistance that he can’t even imagine doing anything but this work that he doesn’t even like. He’s an artist at heart, but can’t even let himself think about being artistic.

We’re going to talk more in our Facebook group about our personal Resistances and what Resistance looks like for us.

Today, I want you to think about how Resistance affects your story’s hero.

It was easiest for me to think first about the life inside. What does your hero really want, in their heart of hearts? If nothing stood in their way, where would their life path lead?

Then think about their actual life. How far is it from where they wish they were (or maybe even from where they are afraid to wish they were)?

What lies in the space between?

My Turn

My NaNoWriMo story is called Milk. It’s about a 14-year-old girl named Tessa who lives in Los Angeles in 1984 and realizes that she’s babysitting a kid who was kidnapped.

This exercise was interesting to me, because it’s hard to imagine an eighth grade with Resistance. I really had to think about this one.

Tessa has always been perfect. A good student. A good girl. Her parents divorce was sudden. Her father’s 24-year-old mistress got pregnant and Tessa’s whole life imploded. Her dad moved from Denver to LA. Her mom took her and moved to Chicago. She’s on her way to spend the summer in California and she feels pulled apart like a wishbone.

She’s not perfect anymore. She’s weird. A Freak. She can’t throw away her milk cartons anymore, because she can’t make herself throw away the lost and stolen kids printed on them. So she starts to collect those kids like baseball cards.

In Denver, Tessa is an athlete. She dreams of being in the Olympics, which are happening in LA the summer she’s there. Her mom is caught up in some weird second adolescence and Tessa doesn’t have a team in Chicago. The lack of a team only makes her feel more lie a freak. She doesn’t want to visit her dad. She doesn’t want to be in Chicago, either.

No one asks, anyway.

Her pouting is her resistance. It keeps her from pursing her sport in Chicago. It keeps her from letting her dad buy her love with the Olympics when she gets to LA. If she lets it, her anger and bitterness will steal her athletic dreams.

Whew. That was hard!

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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Day 31: You’re a Ninja Writer! Now What?

(Day 31) You're a Ninja Writer!You did it!

You made it through 31 days of assignments. You’ve written every day for 31 days. You’ve read every day for 31 days.

You’ve thought about your platform. You’ve made yourself the boss of your career. You’ve built community and put yourself on the path for learning more about your craft.

Not only are you a Ninja–you’re a freaking ROCK STAR!

And I’m so stinking proud of you.

Here’s what I don’t want to happen though. You know how sometimes you do something big and exciting and you finish it–and then the momentum just fades away. You slowly slide back to where you were before.

God, that sucks.

So, here are some ideas for how to actually be a Ninja Writer, now that you’ve become one.

  • Keep writing everyday.
  • Keep reading everyday.
  • Keep logging your work in your FRED.
  • Visit Ninja Writers on Facebook and actually participate!
  • Start by visiting today and letting us celebrate finishing this series with you.
  • Continue with Hump Day Prompts on Wednesdays and Ninja Writers Academy on Saturdays.
  • There are new things happening at Ninja Writers all the time: participate in those, too.
  • Give yourself a year. Write every day and just see what happens.
  • Join the book club next month.

If you really want to take the next step, enrollment in A Novel Idea is open now. ANI is a year-long course that will take you through plotting, writing, and editing your story. But, it’s so much more than that. It’s a powerful, engaged community full of people who are intensely dedicated not only to their own writing, but in helping each other succeed.

If you want to check that out, click here. The doors close on November 7.

This month has been so much fun for me. I feel like it’s been a game changer for the Ninjas as a whole. Thank you so much for being a part of it!

 

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