Monthly Archives: March 2014

Writer’s Block And Writing Prompts

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This guest post is by Chris Musgrave. Chris is an urban fantasy and flash fiction writer. Follow Chris on his blog, chrismusgravewriter.com, and on Twitter (@feardorcha82).

 

Woo hoo, guest blog! Check out all this space. It’s so much nicer here than back at my place.

Hello…hello…hello…

Echo…echo…echo…

Okay, that’s enough of that…

Writer’s block (that sucked all the fun out, didn’t it?). Two words that instil fear into the hearts of writers the world over. Some say it’s a temporary state, some think it’s permanent and others don’t even believe in its existence. I don’t just believe it exists, I’ve suffered from it.

I struggled with writer’s block for five years whilst studying for my degree, and hated every minute of it (the writer’s block, not the degree…well, maybe the degree, but definitely the block). I couldn’t develop ideas beyond a basic concept. My writing didn’t flow, sounding stilted and forced. It got so bad that I almost gave up altogether.

What is Writer’s Block?

“[Writer’s Block is] an inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than lack of basic skill or commitment” – Mike Rose, Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension.

I can’t argue with that definition. It sums it up pretty succinctly. In reality, no one knows what causes it but it’s often linked to the writer’s own feelings of anxiety over previous or current works. It typically manifests itself in the following ways:

  • Inability to form ideas
  • Inability to commit to an idea
  • Inability to put words on paper
  • Inability to progress past an outline
  • Self-doubt
  • Fear of rejection

The list goes on…

Now for the good news, it is only temporary.

Beating the block with writing prompts.

Writing Prompts, especially those that provide a first sentence, offer the ideal opportunity to reignite the creative spark. They allow us to create without tying ourselves down to a project or even investing too much in the quality of our work. They are meant to be fun, to rekindle the joy of just writing and the best thing is, no one but you has to read them.

So, how do we use them? That’s simple.

1. Take a prompt (selected at random) and just write. Don’t edit, don’t even think about what you’re writing…Just write. Whatever is in your head, get it down on paper. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, don’t even stop to read it.

2. Write for as long as you want but try to write for longer than five minutes.

3. When the time runs out, or you choose to finish, read it back. You’ll be amazed at the nuggets of gold and ideas you’ve generated.

4. Rinse and repeat.

As well as beating writer’s block, this tool is great for sparking ideas or refreshing your commitment in a long-term project. It can even give a welcome break from your current work in progress. How you use it is up to you.

Homework

Before you all go wandering off – sit down, Smith! – I thought I’d set a little bit of homework. You can do this on your own or in a group. The results are for your eyes only or, if you wish, to share on your blog.

Here it is. Your prompt for this evening:

The attack was over in seconds…

Have at it.

For any of you wishing to share, I’d love to read your work. Either put your link in the comments below or email me at chris@chrismusgravewriter.com

Writing Prompt Resources

For those who want to take this further, I’ve included a list of websites I’ve used in the past to generate writing prompts.

Questionnaire of Threes for Writers

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Several days ago, writer and blogger Jodie Llewellyn posted a questionnaire (thanks goodness for spellcheck) that I know some people have been participating in. I’ve been a bit clueless as what to post lately, so here it goes…

THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF:
1. My car’s color has been called green, yellow, kiwi, and gold. I think it looks like snot – or puke.
2. I like fast cars. I want to drive a Lamborghini on the Autobahn once I turn twenty-five.
3. I live in Germany, so the Autobahn is just outside my door. Until now, I have never driven a car I trusted enough to go more than 160 km/h, which is approx. 100 mph. (I don’t know why I am only talking about cars.)

THREE THINGS THAT SCARE YOU:
1. Spiders. I’m not copying Jodie on this one, and those of you who know me even just a bit will affirm this.
2. Empty parks.
3. “Zombies.”

THREE OF YOUR EVERYDAY ESSENTIALS:
1. A gadget with internet access.
2. Clothes.
3. Food. Sorry, can’t think of anything.

THREE OF YOUR FAVORITE HOBBIES:
1. Writing.
2. Cooking – if I am not writing, which is rare.
3. Listening to music. Yes, that is a hobby. When possible, I always have music playing.

THREE CAREERS YOU’RE CONSIDERING/YOU’VE CONSIDERED:
1. For a while (pre-teen/teen years), I was serious about becoming a teacher.
2. Writing.
3. HR/Accounting… What I do.

THREE BOOKS YOU HAVE RECENTLY READ:
1. Divergent by Veronica Roth.
2. Blackout by Connie Willis.
3. Help! for Writers by Roy Peter Clark (currently reading).

THREE THINGS YOU ARE WORKING ON, WRITING WISE:
1. I am desperately trying to figure out how and where to start the story in Hidden People. I have made some major changes, and I am basically writing a new first draft.
2. I am sticking to one project at a time – in this case, Hidden People. I do write a piece of flash fiction or a random blog post in between.
3. I am working on getting better at critiquing other writers’ work. I’m not very good at this. At all.

THREE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE:
1. Refer back to questions about myself. 22o km/h would be cool. That’s the minimum. I’d have to see how brave/reckless I am in the moment. Otherwise, maybe more.
2. Publish a book and make at least a bit of money on it. 😀
3. There aren’t many things I would say that I have to have done before I die. I like to think in mindsets and “lifestyles.” Until I die, I want to live according to God’s will. If that includes marriage, singleness, children, health, sickness, financial success or not, I want to accept it and make the most of whatever is given.

THREE CELEB IDOLS (or crushes):
1. Liam Hemsworth.
2. And I’m already blanking… I am not too crazy about celebrities. Mostly, I like characters in a movie, and I pay little to no attention to the actual actor and his personal life. It usually ruins them for me. (Oh, maybe Channing Tatum.)
3. will.i.am. I only like him on The Voice UK. He’s brilliant.

THREE QUOTES:
1. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot (I may write a blogpost on this one in case it doesn’t make sense to some.)
2. “Wherever you are, be all there.” – Jim Elliot
3. “Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.” – Jonathan Edwards

 

I think this questionnaire is cool, and I love reading about other people. So if you are reading this, you are obligated to write a post about it. Once you do or if you already have, link it in the comments so I can read it!

No One Will Understand

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At least once in their life, everyone has the right to talk of things no one else will understand.

But maybe they do understand. Maybe they know how you’re feeling – not exactly and they can’t read your mind, only the words; but they have a connection with those words because they’ve felt that way. They have felt misunderstood – or not understood at all. Most likely, they don’t even understand their feelings.

I don’t understand the way I feel. I don’t know why.

Feelings – one big heap of mess, piling higher and higher. A mountain of garbled thoughts and emotions. It needs to be sorted out. I need to sort it out, but I don’t know if I want to, afraid of what I might find. Intentions, desires and needs, deep-rooted longing.

What if I hurt people in the process? What if I leave the mountain? Will it erupt and cause more damage than I ever imagined?

Everyone’s got their mountain, and they’ve formed for different reasons. How did this happen? How could I have let it happen?

The mountain. Thoughts. Emotions.

Thoughts are wild.

Emotions, often untamable.

But I have to tame them. It’s not about doing what you feel, how you feel, what you think is best, what you think will make you feel better. It is about doing what is right. Thought processes need to be conform with truth. Stray from that and you are lost. You play with irrationality, stupidity; and kiss common sense goodbye. But it doesn’t even have to be common sense. Common sense does not equal what is right. Common sense shifts with culture and society. Truth is eternal, and that is my anchor.

Don’t be controlled by emotions. Be controlled by truth, and it will set you free. Wrong thinking should be given no room to fester in your mind, poisoning not only yourself but potentially ruining others as well. Don’t be so selfish as to let the way you feel affect others in a negative way. Think of others before self.

Others.

I feel worse when I think about myself and when everything is about me and how I can feel better. Go out, and try to give instead of take.

Yes, that mountain needs to be flattened and destroyed. It should not be ignored, but dealt with. Deal with it.

Change that attitude, and keep your chin up. You can’t see much with your head hanging low.

Romantic Tension

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This guest post is by Winter Bayne. Winter is a paranormal and sci-fi romance writer. Follow Winter on her blog, winterbayne.wordpress.com, and on Twitter (@winterbayne).
I have always thought of writing as the equivalent of juggling angry, wet cats. As writers we are dealing with several elements all at once. I personally, can’t do it. Each angry cat is handled individually by me in the editing process. If I don’t handle the upset cat appropriately, it will come back to bite me.

Romantic tension is one of those wet angry cats we juggle even if we aren’t writing a romance book. Don’t dismiss romantic elements so quickly. If you have any type of relationship budding in your stories, use it. It can only add depth as a sub-plot. The love doesn’t need to be a blazing inferno. It can be a smoldering flame that builds slowly over time (or series).

Keep them apart – Something always keeps the lovers apart until the end. It can be a physical separation, mental or emotional. Whatever it is, they can’t fulfill their romantic destiny until the resolution of the story.

Love is earned – They can’t fall for each other without earning the affection of the other. Allow one or both characters to play hero. In some way he has to be there for her when she needs someone. The characters should prove to the reader with their actions that they deserve one another. He doesn’t need to be the hero that saves the world, but he does need to be her hero.

Throw a character a curveball – The lovers don’t need to be opposites, but it helps define tension when one has qualities the other doesn’t. The characters will need to adapt to the interactions. Maybe she is impulsive and he is deliberate. It can put your characters in a tizzy when they are together.

Altruistic actions – Nothing says love like being there and doing something for the other without expecting or asking for anything in return. They are there for one another because they want to only love the other. They may not even realize it at the time. Your character will be trying to guess the motivations of the other. At the end, they’ll know it was because they loved each other.

Capture their thoughts – He’s holding his hands behind his back but readers need to know it is because he wants to touch her. Don’t skimp on the inner conflict.

Throw interruptions at them – TV Shows use this a lot. The would-be couple locks eyes and are about to kiss for the first time, when someone bursts into the room for an unrelated matter. The couple gets shocked back into reality where they pry themselves apart and attempt to act as if nothing was going to happen. Naturally, their thoughts and hearts are racing while they look calm on the outside.

One taste and they’re hooked – After that very brief kiss, they can’t stop thinking about the other. When the lovers are apart, they are always in each other’s thoughts. They become aware of themselves when their interest is present. Maybe she blushes while his hands get clammy.

Nothing is perfect – If you think the characters need to be perfect in their interactions, need to be flawless, you’d be wrong. You aren’t writing about an ideal lover in an ideal situation. You’re writing about your character’s ideal. A little reality by making him clumsy or the situation awkward is not a deal breaker for the reader. We find it endearing.

Game players – A very easy way to subtly imply romantic tension is have the characters almost one up each other in every scene. It can be through body language like she smirks at him as she leaves the room and has him wondering what she is up to now. It can be verbal where he wins an argument, proving her wrong.

Make it meaningful – The test of true romantic tension is if you can take it out and the story is fine, then it isn’t romance. Romance is all about the emotion. Every single romantic situation should change the characters. Maybe because of the attraction he feels he can open up to her. She feels she can trust him. It can complicate things and make the action in the plot dire. She’s scared and doesn’t want to get close to anyone, so she runs off when he was helping to protect her. The emotion must impact the characters, no way around this.

I get my ideas from sitcoms. Frasier is an excellent example with Niles and Daphne. If you need inspiration on how to create romantic tension find a sitcom to watch.

If you want an example of page clenching romantic tension dissect Twilight by Meyer. It doesn’t matter what you may think of her plot or writing. She masterfully crafted some intense romantic tension through four books that had females everywhere swooning.

Whatever genre you write, romantic tension can help your reader invest in your characters and story. They don’t call them book boyfriends for nothing.

What I’ve Learned from Literary Agents on Twitter

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If you are an active Twitter user and a writer, you may have come across #tenqueries. If not – basically, a literary agent takes ten query submissions and reviews them each in a 140-character tweet. I am always quite surprised by the results. There seems to be so much junk out there. It also gives me hope.

Here is a list of random tips I have compiled after observing #tenqueries for some time –

  • Pay attention to the guidelines given on the agency’s website. They are important and there for a good reason.
  • Make sure the agent/agency represents your genre.
  • Make your query letter specific. Explain what your story is about and why it is special.
  • In your sample pages, don’t overdo the dialogue.
  • Too much exposition is a no-no.
  • Go for something original and new.
  • Develop a strong voice.
  • Edit your work before submitting!

I have learned a lot by following #tenqueries tweets by these literary agents –

Follow them on Twitter or explore the hashtag #tenqueries.

Where The Story Begins

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After writing Hidden People‘s first draft, I’ve made some major – but really cool – changes. Truth is though, I’m stuck. I don’t know where to begin the story. I thought I did and even wrote a scene or two, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

The upside of writing issues is that I have something blog about and ask you guys. How do you decide where to start the story? What needs to be in place before you can even start? Here are my opinions –

  • Your character needs to be in action. Something needs to be happening that will affect him or her in a way he cannot imagine yet.
  • In order to know what will have an impact on your character and basically turn his world upside down, you need to know who your character is. What are his goals and desires? What is going to happen that will force him to deal with his issues?
  • Keep the reader in mind. Your character might have important things to do, but do we need to read about? Some writers start the story way too early, piling in information that we are either smart enough to figure out ourselves or that can be briefly referred to later while the story is progressing.
  • Don’t start too early; but if you keep having to write flashbacks, you’ve probably started too late.
  • Is your character pressed for time? If the story begins and your character is shuffling through life without a care in the world, you’re likely to lose your readers fast.
  • Will your opening scenes give you the chance to build a world? I think this is my main issue. World building is something I struggle with in general; and finding an appropriate occasion to start the story and weave in the elements of a hidden world is proving to be quite the challenge.

Where does your story start and why did you choose that specific occasion? Do you have any points to add to my list? Either let me know in the comments or you could write a blog post about it and share the link in the comments. I would love to read about it.

Thanks for reading!

NEVER STUCK – Flash Fiction

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What are the three most random songs you have on one playlist? I lost a bet recently, and the winner got to choose a flash fiction prompt.  I am supposedly too German, and my playlists are too organized. I still hold fast to the belief that I have a very random music taste, and I don’t mind losing this bet. There’s been worse. Here is the prompt and what became of it –

“Something very strange is happening in this office.”

Never Stuck

I hardly had time to hide what I was reading before Mom appeared around the corner. Pretending to be buried in homework, I bent over my weaponry book and started copying pointless terms.

“Oskar, I have a meeting in a few minutes,” she said, “so why don’t you run on back to your barracks.”

I didn’t look up, only nodded; but when Mom walked to the bookshelf, I kept her in the corner of my eye while making sure the booklet under my textbook was well hidden. Mom took what she needed from the shelf and went back to the front office. I heard her arrange the chairs at her desk.

“I’m getting myself a drink,” she said. “Have a good week, dear.”

“Yep.” I flipped my book shut and started gathering my notebooks and lose papers. When I heard the door close, I leaned back and took the pamphlet I had been reading. Population Report by Crown Rebekka and Crown Pétur. The birth rate was not high but still proceeded the deaths by far. We huldufólk wouldn’t die unless killed. Otherwise the report was full of statistics and data on demographics, housing, and employment.  The prognoses were sobering.

Being a son of two Crown politicians, I was privileged with connections that got me into the much-desired military training. My career was secured. A less promising future awaited millions.

The office door opened, and I froze as voices trailed in.

“…but it’s unrealistic – no matter how well-meaning.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, but she won’t stop fighting.”

I was hidden around the corner, in the miniature library. They took their seats by Mom’s desk.

The first one said, “I hope she doesn’t, but it is strange to be your own husband’s opposition.”

“Pétur and Iris seemed to have agreed once in their life,” said the other with a hint of ridicule, “and I’m sure they regret even that.”

“Shot his own foot by his population control rules.”

I swallowed. I’d always suspected Mom and Dad married some fifteen years ago because of me. Only married couples were allowed to have children.

“He’s stuck with her now.”

“I don’t think he’s as worried about being stuck with her as he is about her ruining his propaganda.”

I sat still when the door opened, bringing Mom back. She didn’t check if I was gone, and the meeting commenced. I listened.

Two weeks later, all three were dead.