What Did You Learn?

March 23, 2011

Writing Exercise #14- If You Could Meet One Person…

Filed under: Writing Exercises — Tags: , — ax20 @ 5:34 pm

One of the typical college essay questions is “if you could meet one person, who would it be and why?” Taking that question one step further, write what you imagine would take place if were to meet that person.

Things to consider:
-Where/When is this person from?
-How would they speak?
-Is this a planned encounter or a surprise one?


Writing Exercise #13- An Object’s POV

Filed under: Writing Exercises — Tags: , — ax20 @ 5:30 pm

Think about Toy Story, an entire movie where something inanimate comes to life to create an entire story. Pick an object and write a scene from that inanimate object’s perspective. (You can either write the scene so that the object is an observer or you can write it so that the object comes to life.)

One of the most creative stories i’ve ever heard was a story a kid in my writing class wrote from the perspective of a Cheerio in the box as they deal with the coming apocalypse (specifically, being poured into a bowl and eaten).

Writing Exercise #12- Writing with a Friend 3

Filed under: Writing Exercises — Tags: , — ax20 @ 5:26 pm

Come up with a short story idea together (general plot and some important plot points). Then both of you write the story from the first person perspective of a different character. When you’re done, compare!

You can learn a lot by seeing what choices you each make and what does or doesn’t work. You can also see how the choice of main character impacts the way a story develops.

Writing Exercise #11- Reimagining Someone Else’s Work

Filed under: Writing Exercises — Tags: , — ax20 @ 5:21 pm

Find a scene in a book and rewrite it from a different genre (if it is horror you can turn it into romance, a children’s book into a thriller…etc). This is a fun exercise to test your creativity.

Writing Exercise #10- From the Headlines

Filed under: Writing Exercises — Tags: , — ax20 @ 5:13 pm

Story inspiration can come from anywhere, but sometimes you find yourself stuck and uninspired. One good place to look for an idea is in the newspaper. Scan the paper until you find a story that interests you to use as the basis for either an entire story or just a scene.

You can also simply find a newspaper headline for inspiration. The headlines are often creative and give you freedom that the actual story may not.

March 16, 2011

General Writing: Main Character

Filed under: Character, General Writing — Tags: — ax20 @ 6:54 pm

In your book, especially those written in first person, the main character cannot rely on a colorful supporting cast in order to hold the audience’s attention. To capture the readers’ interest and imagination, they must be unique and interesting in their own right. (Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t have quirky friends and acquaintances.)

Some Examples:

  • Katniss in the Hunger Games. She’s strong and able, supports her mother and sister, sacrifices herself for her little sister, mourns for the loss of her father, and ultimately inspires and leads a rebellion. That’s forgetting her inability to choose between two men she cares deeply about.
  • Harry Potter. His parents are killed while trying to protect him, he is famous for being the only person to survive the killing curse, he has some abilities given to him by the wizard who tried to kill him, he is stubborn and determined and goodhearted.
  • Thomas in The Maze Runner. He is the last boy to arrive in the mysterious glades, he has no memory of his past but is accused of being in collaboration with the people who have put the boys in the maze, he can communicate with his mind to the only girl to ever arrive. He is brave and daring and is always willing to fight, for himself and others.
  • Lyra from the Golden Compass. Lyra has been raised basically as an orphan by scholars who do not know how to handle her, she is wild from a lack of education, her parents are both directly involved in the politics and mis-dealings of the land. She ends up being the only one who can read the compass and has a big destiny as laid out in a prophecy. She is innovative and quick-witted and a risk-taker.

These are only a few examples, but notice that each of the characters has a complex backstory and distinctive character traits that impact their behavior. Not everything is under their control, many things they have done nothing to cause. But those events shape them and their understanding of the world. All of these characters are also active. They do not simply allow things to happen to them while they remain passive (which is to say, even when they are thrust in a bad situation, they step up and fight).

Make sure your main character has a fully imagined personality and has a deep enough back story (so that the readers can discover things about the character over time). One of the places where a book tends to fail is when their main character is bland or unrelate-able.

March 2, 2011

General Writing: Quotes About Writing/Books

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , — ax20 @ 6:05 pm

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any. ~Orson Scott Card

The concrete is better than the abstract. The detail is better than the commonplace. The sensual is better than the intellectual. The visual is better than the mental. ~Ellen Hunnicutt

A novel is a chance to try on a different life for size. ~Marion C. Garretty

We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, ’cause it was, you know. It was the best. ~Doctor Who

Books may well be the only true magic. ~Alice Hoffman

Only bad writers think that their work is really good. ~Anne Enright

General Writing: Names

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 5:41 pm

Choosing your characters’ names can be an important part of your story. Some things to think about:

  • the meaning of your character’s name
  • the gender of your character’s name whether it is gender appropriate, opposite gender, or gender neutral
  • the sound of your character’s name (does it sound rich, poor, common, unusual)
  • the origins of a name (where it comes from, time period)
  • religious associations of a name
  • other associations with the name (famous actors, movie characters, etc)
  • possible nicknames
  • how common a name it is (is it a popular name that many people have or an unusual, rare one?)

A character’s name/nickname can say a lot about their personality, their lifestyle, their parents, their origins. Think carefully before you choose a name, you will be stuck with it for a long time.

General Writing: How Long Should Your Manuscript Be?

This isn’t a question that can really be answered in a short, concise answer, as much as you would like that. For one thing, there are varying opinions on the matter, and for another, you will often get the answer “write as much as you need to tell your story.” Plus, each genre has varying standard lengths. But there are some things to consider.

The downside to very long books:

  • At least until publishing becomes completely digital, longer books cost more money to print. This also means the book will have to be sold for a higher price to compensate, which ultimately means you will be losing your audience to other, shorter, less expensive books.
  • Longer books also require more time and effort to prepare.
  • A bigger book takes up more space on the shelves and so bookstores are likely to stock less of them (unless you are already a well known writer–note, this is why series tend to get longer from one book to the next)
  • Oftentimes (particularly with first time authors), a long book can signify that a writer does not know how to edit themselves and their story. They include every little detail. In memoirs especially, they say “but it really happened!” Publishing Houses don’t want to have to sift through your work to find the good parts and when the book gets too long, often the bad outweighs the good.

The downside to very short books:

  • If a book is too short, a publisher might think there simply isn’t enough substance for a full story (this isn’t always true, there are novellas obviously, but when it is intended to be a novel not a novella…)
  • A much shorter book will require a lower price tag so that people will feel they are not being overcharged and this will mean a comparatively smaller profit for the publishing house.

Now that I have explained some of what the publishers are thinking, for the length suggestions themselves:

Standard fiction
Typically ranging from 70,000-90,000 (some publishers will occasionally allow for as short as 50,000 and as long as 110,000)

Same as fiction, 70,000-90,000 (a memoir is not meant to give a play by play of your entire life it should be focused on a particular journey, in many ways, a memoir is essentially a true novel)

Science Fiction and Fantasy
Typically ranging from 85,000-125,000 (the word length is more flexible here because you have to take time to actual build an entire world with new rules instead of the ones that we already know and are familiar with–note that if you write a story set in today’s world with some added elements, it should be shorter than if you create an entirely different reality)

Middle Grade
Typically 30,000-45,000 words

Young Adult
Typically 40,000-80,000 words (the sci-fi/fantasy ones are on the longer side while general fiction is shorter)

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but this is the standard. Make sure to check the guidelines for places you are submitting to in order to be sure.

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