Once again it is time to offer you some opportunities to challenge your writing skills. The writing prompts for the November 17th meeting are as follows:
“Hello,” said the voice on the phone. “My name is _______. I know you never expected a call from me, as famous as I am, but I’ve been given your name as someone who can help me _______. Write a story that follows this line.
Your old villain quit over creative differences, so you’ve put yourself in charge of hiring a new villain for your novel. What questions do you ask? What does the new villain’s resume say? Write this scene as if it were a job interview.
You’ve scheduled a root canal and the dentist finishes up. You pay and head to your car. Once in your car you hear a voice (from the tooth) that informs you that the dentist inserted a government device in your mouth and you’re needed for a secret mission. What happens next?
I have never done anything unpredictable, but that changed today when I woke up, packed a bag, went to the airport and randomly bought a ticket to _______. Write a story that follows this line.
As always, you don’t have to take part in this writing challenge. But you’ll have fun if you do.
The October 20th meeting will focus on writing dialogue and more. Gloria Zachgo and David Heffelfinger will present the double program.
The Writing Prompts for October are:
You’re at your favorite department store buying a birthday present for a friend. As the cashier gives you change, you notice a message with specific instructions scribbled on one of the bills. What do the instructions say? Do you carry them out and, if so, how?
You’re walking home from work one night and taking shortcuts through a labyrinth of dark city alleyways to meet someone on time. Suddenly a stranger parts the shadows in front of you, comes close, and asks you to hold out your palm. You oblige.
Describe an event that changed your life forever, or make up and describe an event that would change your life forever.
How do you know someone loves you, even if he or she doesn’t say it?
If you don’t like any of these prompts, please feel free to make up one of your own.
If you would like the group at the meeting to critique your story prompt, please bring copies. It is much easier to critique if they can follow you on paper and make comments rather than try and remember. Bringing copies is not a requirement to do a prompt – THIS IS ONLY AN OPTION.
I realize that many of the writers in the KWA have found their personal strides. But I am a writer still exploring my creative voice. As both a writer of fiction and a poet, there are several books that I return to time and again to refuel and bring zest to my work. Hopefully a suggestion here will bring you some inspiration as well.
Each of these books is available for sale, but for ease I linked each book cover image to the Amazon listing. Please keep in mind that many of MY copies were borrowed from the public library, but I highly recommend supporting Wichita’s own Watermark Books.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
“Seek those [themes] which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of beauty—describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory.”
These letters are available in a variety of translations, the best of which is the M.D. Herter volume. The advice shared with a wider audience in 1932 remains timeless. A writer doesn’t have to be a poet to appreciate the sentiment that writing is difficult and that writers should find the courage from within to continue.
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Goldberg is my favorite writer for practical writing advice. She combines her Zen practice with her devotion to daily writing, and the result is gracious encouragement for every writer. One of the early chapters, “First Thoughts,” describes the daily writing exercise, even down to choosing a pen that gets you excited about writing.. Goldberg believes you must write through the bad results to get to the good. And writing everyday is the ticket.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
This book literally describes a course of action that aspiring artists and creative people can execute to unleash their own creativity. On a week-by-week plan, The Artist’s Way retrains the brain to look and see the world in new ways, which will begin to feed into the creative life. While written more for the ‘artist,’ each week’s efforts are beneficial for writers. For example, toward the end of week 2 [in the chapter “Recovering a Sense of Identity”], one exercise is to “List your five major activities this week. How much time did you give to each one? Which were what you wanted to do and which were should? How much of your time is spent helping others and ignoring your own desires?” Sometimes acknowledging what keeps me from working on a project motivates me more to manage my time differently.
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
If you write fiction, you must read this book. I had written stories for years before I realized that I was making some basic mistakes by violating the reader’s sense of psychic distance. I am embarrassed to say that I was also quite happily attached to clichés. Gardner essentially breaks down elements of a story, providing great samples and examples of what works AND what NOT to do. Ironically, there are popular genres where certain things Gardner determined were errors are actually acceptable forms—like in Romance, readers accept the easy slide between one point-of-view and another.
Tell us what YOU read!
This list is not exhaustive. There are many other books available to inspire the writer within. The best resources are often other writers. What is your must-have book? Tell us about it in the comment section below!
A Poet and a writer, April Pameticky tries to find balance between her professional life as a writer, teacher, wife, and mother. Her chapbook of poetry, Sand River and Other Places I’ve Been will soon be released by Finishing Line Press.
We kept a live blog going during the KWA Scene Seminar with speaker Kirt Hickman. If you couldn’t make it, check out a sample of what you missed! — Erin Perry O’Donnell, Scene Seminar Coordinator
4:19 p.m. Critiques–everyone needs them. Many of us fear them. How do you keep those comments about your life’s work–your baby!–in perspective? Kirt says:
Remember that a critique is not personal. The reader is genuinely trying to improve the writing.
You asked for, and perhaps paid for, their honest opinion. Don’t be upset when they give it to you!
If they don’t point out problems, they’re not doing you any favors. It doesn’t matter what they are, though, because anything can be fixed.
3:30 p.m. Are you one of those writers who hated English in high school? It’s your lucky day! We’re giving you permission to break some of the rules from senior composition — when it comes to writing dialogue.
Sentence fragments. Use them. (See what I did there?). Kirt says anything you can do to compress dialogue will make it punchier and increase the tension.
Use contractions. You do it when you talk, so don’t restrict your characters’ speech.
No long, 50-cent words. Most people don’t use them when they talk.
On the other hand, don’t get so realistic with dialogue that you include every “uh” and “well.” Jump past the pleasantries too, and start the talking when it gets interesting. Think natural, not cinema verite.
3:12 p.m. Have trouble showing your characters’ emotions rather than telling about them? Check out Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood, with tips on 36 different emotions and how to infuse your story with them.
Another dynamic definition for you: What is the difference between suspense and tension? Duration. Tension is momentary. Suspense makes the reader keep turning pages. Tension makes their heart race.
2:13 p.m. How many times have you heard “Show, don’t tell”? How many times have you wondered what that really means? Here’s how Kirt says to think about it: You may state facts. But don’t draw conclusions for the reader. Ask yourself, how does my character know this? What is he experiencing or seeing that allows HIM to draw that conclusion?
11:01 a.m. How to muzzle your internal editor?
Get up early. Skip the coffee. No, really. Kirt says, “Your editor needs the caffeine. Your muse does not. Your muse is up dreaming all night. You can get a good couple hours writing in before your editor even realizes you’re up.”
Write longhand on unlined paper. This will open up your right brain. Typing is a left-brained process, and that’s your editor.
Don’t stop to edit.
10:17 a.m. Kirt’s giving us a great tour through the elements of plot, from starting points to dark moments and resolution. We’re using well-known movies to illustrate some of the points. Who knew the Donkey in Shrek fulfilled the mentor role? Or that your mentor and antagonist can be the same person in romances? (See: You’ve Got Mail.)
9:46 a.m. Amateur pitfalls of character development:
Make each character’s personality different, so they don’t all act and talk the same.
Make your hero strong-willed. If a character does not believe enough in their goal to assert themselves to achieve it, your reader is not going to care enough to read about it.
Don’t make your hero just an observer, watching everyone around them solve the problem.
No cliché character traits: no dumb blondes or mad scientists. Do the opposite of what the reader expects.
Don’t forget your secondary characters. No cardboard cutouts.
9:19 a.m. Kirt on knowing your characters: You need to know a lot more about your characters than your reader ever will. The better you know your characters, the more real they are for you, and the more real for someone else. You should be able to talk about this character as if they were someone you actually know.
9:12 a.m. Our speaker, Kirt Hickman, is going over the basics of self-editing. Two of the things we all know to watch out for are 1) show, don’t tell, and 2) use active voice, not passive voice. What I never considered is that these two things often occur together. When you’re editing your manuscript, you may notice them together but not if one occurs on its own. So, edit for one thing at a time. Focus on one element during one read, then look for the other on a second pass.
As a writer who takes the business of writing seriously, I also like to escape the “seriousness” from time to time. My Blossom stories give me the opportunity to veer away from my many commitments in both life and with my publishers. They give me the chance to just let my imagination roam free. I believe every writer needs to take such frivolous time for themselves. The Blossom stories are definitely not literary gems, but I do hope you allow yourself the chance to take a few minutes to read them and, hopefully, experience a laugh or two.