Tag Archives: Writing Exercise

Prompt Group: Personality Traits

7 Apr

Yes, I finally went to my prompt writing group again. Crazy, I know! Nicole and I even went to a book store before and I only bought two books are you proud of me yet? Well you should be. At group this week we all introduced ourselves along with a favorite personality trait to pass on to our characters. Mine was re-telling the same story over and over to the same person, something that unfortunately runs in my maternal family (I feel bad for anyone having dinner at my parents house when my grandma is there; that’s three generations of the same stories!). The traits were then paired together in sets and we had to write a character that had all of the personality traits listed.

As per usual, I’ll give you the prompts and time we took to do them and then you can give them a whirl as well! My responses will be below. If you do post yours, please link back here so I can see your awesome writing.

  1. Anger Issues and Indecision (5 minutes)
  2. Bad Memory and Impulsive Liar (5 minutes)
  3. Bad-ass, Indomitable Spirit, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (5 minutes, but 7 would be better)

 

My Answers

Number 1
It would take me, how long, twenty minutes to get back to work? I had twenty five, so that meant I only had another five minutes to pick out my sandwich. Easier said than done for me. If you don’t know, Jimmy Johns has 17 sandwich options and they each sound delicious and have a funny and quirky name, like “Turkey Tom.” There are a handful of nu-numbered options, each with its own fun name. So I’ll have to read each one.
Standing off to the side, I’m glaring at the menu, often interrupted by what those at the register are ordering.
“Number 7!”
“Slim 4, add mayo.”
What? There are slims? That adds another six options, oh God.
I think I’ve finally got it narrowed down to the Vito or the California Club when I hear someone order their sandwich “on Wheat.”
“What’s wheat?” I ask to cashier whose elbow I’ve been standing at for almost ten minutes already.
“You can order any of our sandwiches on wheat bread.”
I furrow my brow, not ready to make another decision.
“Are you ready to order, sir?” he asks me.
“No!” I snap, frustrated at my own indecisiveness.
“Would you mind stepping to the side?” He’s treading lightly around me like I’m going to explode. How does he know?
“Oh, sure, I’ll step to the side.” I’m glaring at him as I take one precise step to the left. He checks over his shoulder at a chubby woman I assume is his manager. Like she can stop me from doing anything.
“I’ll be ready to serve you whenever you’re ready sir,” he says with a forced smile.
“I’ll have the JJ Gargantuian on Wheat.” I smirk, knowing I’ve ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, which must be the best choice.
“Would you like to chips, cookie, pickle, or a drink?”
“WHAT?!”

Number 2
I was out with the guys.
Oh, fun. Where did you go?
To the bar.
With who again?
With Mike and Chelsea.
You said with the guys.
I’m using ‘guys’ in the loosest form possible. Chelsea really wanted to grab McDonalds.
Was this before or after the bar?
Um, before.
So what time did you get to the bar?
What’s with the third degree?
You tend to lie.
I’m not lying about Applebees.
You went to Applebees?
I just told you this, Jesus Christ. The bar, we went to the bar.
So Applebees is the bar?
Yes.
And you went to McDonalds first?
I told you, Amanda really wanted McDonalds fries.
You said Chelsea.
Well, she did too. They both wanted McDonald’s.
So it was you, Amanda, Chelsea, and Mike?
No, the guys were there too.
All of the guys?
Some of them. Do I pass your test yet?
What did you order?
A stripper and a lap dance.
Aha! I knew it.
Are you serious? You think I’d give in that quickly? I ordered the onion rings.

Number 3
His cape was ‘super pressed’ without a wrinkle in sight. His powers were precision and practiced to the point of obsession. But he was a lethal weapon and lint free to boot. Would you mess with him? Would you really? Don’t lie; I know you’re just saying that.
Well, there was someone who did mess with him once. We thought the guy was crazy because there was no way someone as big as him, as overweight and unkempt as him (really, he looked like a drunk homeless man) would stand a chance against the killing machine that was Mr. Wonderful. No way.
But this homeless bum had found his Achilles’ heel. It wasn’t a gun the bum pulled out of his pocket, but a bottle of cheese wiz with a range of about four feet. Mr. Wonderful reached into his back pocket, pulling out some wet wipes and stain removing pens and explained the proper way to remove cheese stains under his breath.
The bum ran up while Mr. Wonderful was distracted and kicked him in the thigh. Of course, it didn’t hurt him at all, but Mr. Wonderful now had a muddy footprint to deal with on his nicely pressed blue slacks. Again, the wipes and stain pen.
It went on like this for forty minutes, the longest anyone has lasted against Mr. Wonderful. But in the end, the bum ran out of ways to ruin his clothes and hair and Mr. Wonderful put him down with one quick punch. He’s still wonderful.

Nicole’s Prompts

How are your prompts? I can’t wait to read them!

Until next time, write on.

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Prompt Group: Character Development Exercise

5 Dec

After a hiatus for NaNoWriMo, I finally returned to my prompt writing group. We did an exercise about character development that I liked. I might be able to turn this into a short story? I’m not sure I want to? Is it obvious I’m hesitant?

Here’s the exercise for you all if you want to try it. I’ll include my answers and writing at the end. If you give this a go, please let me know if it worked for you and if so, how it went.

Step 1: Take five minutes and write descriptions of two characters. What’s their name, age, occupation, hair color, eye color, quick personality traits, etc. Probably about four lines each.

Step 2: In three minutes, write down what each person wants, either long or short-term, that they will work for. What’s their motivation?

Step 3: Answer the following questions about each character.

  • What is their greatest virtue?
  • What is their greatest weakness?
  • What angers him/her the most?
  • What is he/she afraid of?
  • What is his/her secret?
  • What is his/her biggest regret?
  • What is his/her attitude toward:
    • Love?
    • Death?
    • Religion?
    • Money?
    • Politics?

Step 4: Once you’ve done this for both characters, take fifteen minutes to write a scene between the two characters.

Got it? Now do it. My answers are below.

Character 1
Jamie. 32-year-old, lives alone, Engineer. Sandy blonde hair, average height. Brown eyes. One solid friend, Aaron. Bachelor-pad apartment. Clean-ish. Likes music, especially 80s rock.
Goal: Save enough money to move to Ireland. wants to quit to work at a recording studio there.

  • Greatest virtue? Truthfulness
  • Greatest weakness? Single-minded
  • Angers him? Interrupted music
  • Afraid of? Being an engineer forever
  • His secret? Afraid to commit to anything
  • His biggest regret? Not majoring in music
  • His attitude toward:
    • Love? Blaise. If it happens, okay. Not actively seeking it.
    • Death? Only after a long life
    • Religion? Be a good person
    • Money? Saving it, he’s cheap
    • Politics? No opinion as long as it doesn’t interfere with his travel plans.

Character 2
Tom. 59-year-old Banker. Divorced, 25-year-old daughter lives in town. Male pattern baldness, wears grey suits to work
Goal: Retire to Florida and be alone.

  • Greatest virtue? Hard-working
  • Greatest weakness? Cynical
  • Angers him? His own failure.
  • Afraid of? His daughter not loving him.
  • His secret? Goes to visit prostitutes because he’s lonely
  • His biggest regret? Daughter having to live through his divorce.
  • His attitude toward:
    • Love? It doesn’t exist.
    • Death? “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
    • Religion? Strongly against. Ex-Christian.
    • Money? It’s his job. It comes easily to him so he spends liberally.
    • Politics? ‘Angry Republican’

And finally, my scene:

Jamie felt his car jolt from behind. He groaned aloud, already summing up how much this would put him behind in his savings. He put on his blinker and pulled onto the next side street. The road was slick and he’d been dreading being rear-ended all winter and his bitterness was already stored up, waiting for this moment.

The car that pulled up behind him was a nice, slick BMW. He rationed to himself that someone with such a nice car was sure to have insurance as he reached into the glovebox for his own. The man who stepped out had a sour look on his face as he marched to his front fender to inspect the damage. Jamie got out of his Mazda and joined him to stare at their collision.

“It’s not terrible,” the man said, looking at Jamie’s bumper.

“It’s hanging off of the car!”

“But at least it’s only your car. Mine’s fine.” It was true, his bumper had buckled, but it would pop out and with some touch-up paint no one would ever know.

“Can I have your insurance? I’ll have to replace the bumper and I need to have it covered.”

“On that piece of junk?” the man looked the Mazda over, taking in its rust stains and dingy cloth seats inside. “Couldn’t you just replace it?”

Jamie shook his head. He didn’t want to explain that the car was only needed for another two years before he left the US for good. “I don’t need a new car, I just need a new bumper.” He offered up his own insurance card as a sort of peace-offering. “I can give you my information if you need it.”

“Is everything alright, dad?”

Jamie looked up and for the first time realized there was a passenger in the BMW. The girl had raven black hair and she looked frustrated.

“Just stay in the car, Katherine.” He shot her an annoyed glance before she rolled her eyes and closed the door, shivering at the outside cold. “Here’s my card,” he extended it toward Jamie. “Can you take down my information in your phone?” Jamie nodded and pulled his phone out of his pocket, flipping it open and finding the notes app. “Jesus Christ, son, you still have a flip phone? Are you stuck in the stone age?”

“It gets me through,” Jamie said, starting to grit his teeth. “What’s your name?”

 

How did yours turn out? Was this exercise helpful? Leave a comment and let me know.

I hate to ask, but if you could spare the seconds to click over to my Facebook Fan Page (link on the right) I’d appreciate it. I’m three people away from being able to see analytics! Thanks, guys.

Until next time, write on.

7 Things I Learned About Myself Doing NaNoWriMo

26 Nov

NaNoWriMo is almost over for the rest of the world, but it ended for me a week ago, on the 19th. I hit 52,872 words and declared my first draft ‘finished.’ It was an awesome feeling and now, with a week’s worth of space, I’m ready to reflect on what I learned about myself.

  1. When I want to, I can type a lot. I did a ton of word sprints during NaNo. In 15 minutes, I could pound out 600-1,100 words. On average it hit 900. You can disagree, but I’m going to say that’s kind of a lot. I’m making no claim as to the quality of said words, but they get down on the page.
  2. I have a tendency to skip major holidays. In science fiction this doesn’t matter, but my NaNo was the second instance of me following a calendar and skipping over Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other commonly celebrated holidays. I don’t think of them when outlining and my blinders go up and I skip them. Luckily I’ve realized it and I go back and fill them in. That contributed to my last 5,000 words of NaNo.
  3. I’m very motivated by deadlines. My first WIP ended up being 49,000 words and that took me about seven months. Why? No deadline, no push to finish. The pressure and competitive nature of NaNo pushed me to finish well before the deadline and without it seeming like too much of a chore.
  4. Social writing is highly productive. I think part of what kept me plodding along with my first WIP is that there wasn’t anyone pushing me to finish it. Since that time, I’ve joined writers groups and made friends who share my interest in writing. Having those around me who are writing makes me want to write. We can write together, we can bounce ideas off of each other, we can recommend books. It’s wonderful. Having the community of NaNo was an even greater boost. My fellow Novel Girls are on board and we were able to back each other up the entire time and I thank them for their support and I promise to be waiting at the finish line to see them over the line.
  5. I don’t need an outline as badly as I thought I did. That’s right, highly organized and slightly OCD Sam doesn’t need an outline! Some of what I think are the best parts of my draft were nowhere in my outline. Truthfully, I didn’t reference my outline very often. I knew where the plot needed to go and it just went there. I was familiar enough with my story to keep on track. I need to trust myself more.
  6. I am not looking forward to editing. I have this love/hate relationship with everything I write. I know that a lot of it is terrible and needs a ton of work, but it’s so hard for me to see my work go down the toilet that editing is an emotional experience. As I wrote this story, I was thinking about how much it would need to be edited and how much I’m dreading that process. I’m letting the story sit now and I’m saying it’s because I want the distance, when in truth it’s because I hate it but don’t want to hurt/edit it.
  7. My characters are a lot like me. At least, this first time through they are. Maybe it was the word sprinting but I found that my character, who started based on someone I used to work with, became more like me as her character developed. Her character development was slightly autobiographical, except for the Alaska part and the baby part, but I’d hoped I could separate myself from the writing enough to not see myself in her. When I go through that terrible editing process, I’ll have to make sure that she finds her own unique voice apart from mine.

For those of you who have finished, what did you learn about yourselves? Will you do NaNo again? Let me know, Reader!

Until next time, write on.

Novel Girls: Emotion, Implication, and New Adults

15 Oct

The Novel Girls are at it again! This time around, Nicole came over and we each went through a new chapter. My husband is a little sick and he stayed on the couch, contributing his two cents whenever he could (annoying English majors).

The first thing I want to address is emotion-driven conversations. I have a very critical and emotional conversations between two of my characters in the scene Nicole reviewed today. I concentrated so much on what was said that the first part of the conversation is mainly dialogue. In the second part, I add in some action and reaction. Nicole’s suggestion was to add in some action because the emotion of the dialogue was lost without descriptive reaction. She thought the scene was rushed and needed to be slowed down with some action because it’s very crucial to the plot.

The second thing we talked about is when something is implied in the text.  Some authors will allude to a fact as a part of foreshadowing and some authors will allude to something so that they don’t have to say it outright. This is a very tricky area between being obvious enough and being too obvious. I think the best way to get through this is to have people read your manuscript.  If several people (in your target age range) pick up on what you’re implying, then you’re good to go.  If more than one are left hanging, then you may need to come on stronger.

The last thing we discussed is something dear to our hearts: books. To be specific, books that we as 20-somethings can relate to. Nicole’s WIP is about college-age woman and my NaNo WIP is going to focus on a woman in her mid-twenties. With books like Fangirl getting so much attention, we wondered where books about 20-somethings were before? Part of this is the emerging New Adult genre. When I did my two-hit Google research, I saw a lot of mixed feelings on the genre. Before I read about it, I defined New Adult as books written for (mostly) women in their 20s and 30s who like the simplicity of YA writing but want content more geared toward themselves. This genre sits precariously between YA, contemporary literature, erotica, and romance novels. That’s a lot to balance!

One of my hits was an article from the Huffington Post that went out to defend the New Adult novel. I happen to agree that this is a wonderful genre and that it is very different from the aforementioned genres. I’ll take a second to explain my reasons:

  • YA: While the writing style might be similar, characters will be older in age, probably 19-29 or so, and will be experiencing things teenagers don’t.  The content can be more sexually explicit and contain a lot about coming of age alone in the real world (not finding yourself in high school with your parents around).
  • Contemporary Literature: The themes in a lot of main-stream literature is much more complex than the theme of a New Adult novel would be.  The simplified theme is what makes New Adult stand out and appealing to people who previously read YA.
  • Erotica: The purpose of erotica is purely for what its name implies; erotic.  New Adult does tend to have more sexually explicit scenes, but unlike erotica, they serve to move the plot forward and are not the end-all of the piece.
  • Romance Novels: This genre focuses on the romantic relationships between (normally) a man and woman.  While this is a common theme in New Adult, many New Adult novels are more ‘coming of age’ or ‘finding myself’ novels that may or may not have romantic relationships involved.

I hope this explains what I believe are the biggest differences in the New Adult genre.  It’s a genre I think is going to stay relatively small due to the low number of readers in that age group (many of them being college age or with young children).

Reader, what are your thoughts on the New Adult genre?  Do you like it? Write it? Read it? Was my writing advice helpful this week?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Prompt Group: Vessel of Place, Using Other Senses, and a few Tips

10 Oct

Time for my prompt group yet again!  We did some exercises this time that were not exactly prompts, but were designed to teach us to write better.  The first was one my friend MB did at a writer’s conference.  It was: Imagine a situation with a strong emotion attached to it and pick an object to describe it.  This is called Vessel of Place, a way of saying that an object can have more emotional memory attached to it than the memory of an event.  (I hope that makes sense.)

The second one was a two part exercise.  We first were instructed to describe a place we had recently visited.    The second part was to use other senses.  Specifically, we had to take out all references to sight.  Mine didn’t have that much, so I worked instead to add more senses into the prose.  I’m including only the second here.  Please criticize me if I used too many visual references.

The final prompt was to take an object from the second prompt and do another vessel of place exercise with it.

Please post your exercises as well!  I’d love to see them.  I’m posting my responses below and then will end this post with some brief writing tips we went over.

Prompt 1

The wine glass was half filled so by default it was half emptied.  I stared at it and saw the reflections of the lights from around the dining room glaring back at me and hurting my eyes.  Looking through it, I could see him sitting on the other side of the table, his own glass of wine in his hand.  He swirled it around and around, mixing the sweet wine with a bitter bite to it.  I took a drink myself and what had previously seemed sweet and aromatic now seemed bitter and ashen.  It was funny how a few words could change the taste of a vintage wine.

I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure I lost more than my taste for wine that night.  The glass slowly drained in the same way the life slowly drained out of him.  What was before savory had turned ashen.  Link the life blood draining out of him as he left this world, the red wine into my mouth and disappeared forever.  The reflections in the glass faded as the night ended and the light in his eyes slowly went out over months of illness.

The pattern on the tablecloth that night reflected strangely in the base of my wine glass and looked like a cross.  I now believe it was a plus sign.  It was telling me, “It’s a plus that you’re with him now.  It’s a plus that you get to see this happen to him before it happens to you.”  But it was a plus for HIV positive, which is always a negative.

Prompt 2, Part 2

The ground was soft and muddy.  Most of the sites had ground the consistency of a baby’s diaper and the ones that weren’t were none too common.  When we finally found a place, the rain let up just enough to make us brave enough to venture out of the car.  Only one site had both a grille and a fireplace, both critical things in our opinion that the site director didn’t seem to find important.  A square of flat land had a few sticks that we threw into the woods so that they wouldn’t poke us in the back all night.  We should have considered that we’d want them later for firewood.  My husband opened the trunk and we got out the small tent, only then realizing that I’d forgotten the big tent at home.  This isn’t exactly what you want to realize 3.5 hours from home when you’re on a budget camping trip.

$106 later we were back with the roomiest tent in the site and were happily setting up for our other friends to arrive.  The sun was finally coming through the clouds and the humidity started to dip below 100%.

Prompt 3

The car smelled like a wet dog.  The carpets had mud rubbed into them from the college friends who didn’t bother to wipe their boots after hiking.  I found an entire McDonalds meal under the passenger’s seat.  It seems someone didn’t listen when I asked them to take their trash out when we left the car.

The squished bug on the inside of the back windshield will still be there six months later and the smell of spilt beer will never really leave the trunk.  The back seat still smells like river and the driver’s seat will always feel like shiver exasperation at the follies of men and boys.  I saw the ‘emergency tent’ we bought when I went to put my summer beach bag away for the winter.  It reminded me that even if you forget the shelter, you can remember to bring over 5 gallons of beer, as long as you have your priorities straight.  That’s enough return money to buy another 12 pack, in case you’re interested.

 

A Few Tips

I won’t be too long winded here, but we discussed a few tips and techniques for writers to utilize.  The first tip was to start with a list of names so that it’s easy to grab a name for a throw-away character while writing and you don’t have to stop and look around for one.  One member of our group suggested BehindtheName.com to look for names based on origin and meaning.  I’ve used this site for a piece I’m working on and it’s very helpful, I highly recommend it as well.

The second is something most writers know already; that every detail about your character and the words they say should give meaning to the character.  For example, I can say that Joe ate breakfast.  All that says is that Joe’s hungry.  If I say Joe ate a cold Poptart, you might think “Joe’s in a hurry and a bachelor.”  If I say that Joe had bacon and eggs you will probably think “Joe’s a family man with a wife who wakes up really early.”  Either way, the detail of what he ate tells you who Joe is.  All details should tell us about the character.

The third trick might sound like my earlier post about strong language, but it’s not to use ‘lazy’ words.  For example, everyone wears shoes.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word.  A woman wears stilettos or boots.  A child wears tennis shoes, a grandpa wears Oxfords.  ‘Shoe’ is a lazy word that doesn’t give us much description.  Someone can be ‘nice,’ but it’s better if they’re friendly or pleasant.  Try to stay away from very general words when a stronger noun would do better.

The last is one that I think is critical for good characterization and it’s to use a ‘language bank’ for each character.  We each have a vocabulary that’s uniquely our own and when we speak we say something differently than someone else would say it.  Also, individuals have phrases that they use a lot that another person might never use.  My example of this is Jay Gatsby who always says ‘old sport.’  Once it’s established that Gatsby is the one saying this, Fitzgerald could even leave off dialogue tags because the reader knew that was part of Gatsby’s vernacular.  I plan to do this with my WIP characters.  I want to take any scene in which a character talks and put the dialogue into one document.  It should read almost like a stream of consciousness from that character and individual quirks about how the person talks should be evident in each one.

I hope these tips are useful to you.  Please leave a comment and let me know or leave a comment with your own tip.  Thanks for reading. 🙂

Writers’ Workshop Advice: Tighter Prose

8 Oct

Hello, blogosphere!

Once a month I go to a writers’ workshop.  The participants vary though there are a few regulars.  I thought with my Wednesday night job that I wouldn’t be able to attend anymore, but I had no appointments this week and was able to go!  One of our regulars is a professional editor who is always handing out great writing advice.  A few of his sticking points have to do with writing on the ‘word-level.’  By this I mean that it’s not focused on voice, flow, or technique as much as on engaging a reader through word choice.  I took notes on his advice and I want to do an experiment!

I found an old prompt that I wrote a while back.  The prompt was: Write a death flashback scene of a villain’s life.  I want to go through it and work on the four things this editor recommended for tightening up one’s writing.  The four things (I’ll go into reasons later) are:

  • Adverbs
  • Adjectives
  • Forms of the verb ‘to be’
  • Prepositional Phrases

I’ll mark up the writing using the key above (ex. adverbs in dark purple, adjectives in green, etc.).  Then, I’ll go through each of the editor’s suggestions and explain why it helps to tighten up writing.  Then, I’ll re-write the passage with those suggestions in mind and you can tell me which you prefer, what parts you like best, and why.  Here we go!

David felt his heart clench inside his chestFrantically, he stumbled toward the phone in the living room but collapsed on the rug ten feet short.  He started to crawl, but the pain was too intense.

There was no one else in the house and he knew he was having a heart attack.  No one ever visited the big farm house.  No one would even know he was gone until he didn’t go around to pay the wages, and pay day was four days away.  David’s heart clenched again, this time in fear.  He was going to die alone.

There was no wife to rush to his side and cry over his body.  Jeanine had left twenty years ago and there were no children.  David had regretted how he acted, but he didn’t know another way.  He spent all day talking to his workers, treating them like the scum of the earth that they were; it was hard for him to come to Jeanine at the end of the day and be polite and loving.  His personality wasn’t a switch to turn on and off.

No friends would be his pallbearers at the funeral.  Come to think of it, there was no reason for a funeral at all.  The closest thing he had to friends were the men he bought fertilizer and farm equipment from in town twice a year.  They knew his name, did that mean they would mourn his passing?  UnlikelyMaybe the banker would mourn him.  David visited the bank frequently to inquire into his stock values and interest rates.  The banker would notice he was missing.  But he never came to visit so David couldn’t be saved.

His mother might arrange a funeral, if she was still alive.  When he’d left home, David had never looked back.  He was so determined to build a life for himself as far from the one-room house on another man’s ranch that he’d severed all ties.  He hoped his father was dead so that he didn’t have to bare this embarrassment in his father’s mind.  David remembered hearing that you shit yourself after you die.  His father would only laugh at that.

The room grew darker around him, but David could still make out the dear possessions in his living room.  The television set he never watched, purchased only to see the looks of jealousy on the faces of everyone else in the general store.  There was a bookcase filled with classics and first editions of which he’d never cracked the spinesPriceless art hung on his walls and David couldn’t help but wonder who would inherit it after he was gone.

A single tear rolled down his face.  It wasn’t from fear of death because David knew that Death would be a welcome ending.  It wasn’t from pain, as David considered himself above pain and suffering.  It was a tear of loneliness, one solitary tear.

So there’s the starting point.  Now, I’ll go into the four suggestions and talk about how they can lead to stronger writing.

Eliminate adverbs: This same topic came up on The Daily Post last week.  The basis of this argument (shared by many writers, including the great Stephen King) is that an adverb can be removed and replaced by a stronger verb.  Writers who find themselves using adverbs to excess are likely using the same basic verbs over and over, making for repetitive, boring, and weak writing.  The advice: use them sparingly if at all.

Minimize adjectives: This is a similar argument to the adverb argument.  Adjectives describe a noun.  Someone overusing adjectives is using weak nouns.  By minimizing adjectives, the writer forces himself to find more varied, unique, and impactful adjectives (now there’s a list of adjectives I should eliminate in a revision).

Avoid passive voice to the extreme: I say ‘to the extreme’ because that was what impacted me the most.  More than not using the passive voice (the SUBJECT was PAST PARTICIPL(ED) by the DIRECT OBJECT), this editor recommended getting rid of anything that could be construed as the passive voice and eliminate as many uses of the verb ‘to be’ as possible.  What a challenge!  This again related to the adverb advice: you can use a stronger verb.  ‘To be’ is one of the backbones of English and any language, but it’s such a common verb that it’s vastly over-utilized.  A stronger substitute works better.

Avoid prepositional phrases: There are two caviots to this advice: (1) keep it in dialogue and (2) unless it reads awkwardly without the phrase.  Wow, I would have never thought of this!  We can relate this one to the adjectives advice in that prepositional phrases can many times clutter a sentence with unnecessary description that detract from the message the writer wants to get across

Armed with this advice, I’m going to attempt to follow as much of it as possible and clean up my earlier prompt into much tighter, stronger, and impactful prose.  Here goes nothing!

David felt his heart clench.  He stumbled toward the phone but collapsed ten feet short.  He started to crawl, but pain coursed through him.

The empty house provided little relief from his sufferings.  Few visitors came visiting and no one would notice his absence.  The workers only spied him on pay days and one had just past.  David’s body tensed, realizing he would die alone.

The silence surrounding David struck him.  His wife had left him and their caustic nature never brought on a tendency toward children.  David regretted how he acted, but he’d never learned how to behave.  He spent all day working and treating the employees like scum; he couldn’t come home and fake polite and loving.  His personality didn’t turn on and off like a switch.

No friends would serve as pallbearers.  Come to think of it, a funeral would be a waste.  The men he bought farm equipment from might come but additional seats would remain vacant.  The men knew his name; did that mean they would mourn his passing?  Unlikely.  Maybe the banker would mourn him.  The bank allowed him to watch his money grow.  He and the banker used Christian names together but didn’t visit each other’s homes.  David had no savior coming.

His mother might arrange a funeral, if she still lived.  Once he’d left home, David hadn’t looked back.  He’d challenged himself to succeed and built life far from the one-room house on another man’s ranch his parents called home.  He hoped his father had passed so he wouldn’t have to hear this embarrassing end.  David remembered hearing that the recently deceased shit themselves.  His father would laugh to find David’s pants full of shit.

The room grew darker, but David could still make out the hoarded possessions surrounding him:  the television set he never watched, purchased only to see the clerk’s jealous look;  the bookcase filled with classics and first editions he hadn’t read;  the priceless art smiling sadly back at him. David couldn’t help but wonder who would inherit it all.

A single tear rolled down his face.  It didn’t reflect a fear of death because David knew that death would bring a welcome ending.  He was in no pain, as David considered himself above pain and suffering.  David shed a tear of loneliness; a solitary tear.

So there we are!  An original and a tidied up version.  Which do you prefer?  What (if anything) do you like about the cleaned up version?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Prompt Group: Wyoming and a picture

27 Sep

Every other Tuesday is my prompt group!  This time around, I liked what I did for the prompts.  Instead of posting what I wrote, I’m going to post the prompts first.  If you want to, write them!  You can leave a comment or do a pingback so I know to go read your writing.

  1. The stark, bleak wastelands of Wyoming (3 minutes)
  2. This image:
Prompt picture

Picture provided by Suleman, I’m not sure where it came from.

All right, now that you’ve done that, here’s what I wrote.  I hope we came up with some completely different stuff.

  1. Well, this is where the buffalo roam and the deer and antelope play.  If only a discouraging word could be heard seldom.  Instead, my mother keeps telling my baby brother to calm down and we’re bound to find a bathroom soon.  Though, it seems unlikely since we haven’t seen a person in an hour and then it was some uber-psyco cyclist with seven gallons of water in her saddlebags and a ham radio strapped on the back.
  2. No matter how low I crouch, there are always those smaller than me.  No matter how small I feel, there will always be those lower.  It’s a funny thing in life, that you are never the bottom of the barrel.  There’s always someone lower down, someone looking up to you thinking “Dang, i wish I was where that guy is.”
    This time, they were physically shorter than me.  Their whole lives, the twins had wished they were taller, were able to see over lunch counters, could sit on a bench without jumping first.  And myself?  Well, I despised my height.  Always looking down on people from a height I didn’t want.  I had to duck through doorways, pretend I wanted to wear shorts all year long, and hope the celing was high enough in a hotel shower.
    No matter how low I got, I was never lower than them, figuratively and literally.  Their height brought them down the way mine did.  It’s funny when you’re at extremes of the spectrum, you see the middle in the same light.

How did these prompts go for you?

Daily Prompt: Service

19 Sep

I haven’t been inspired by a Daily Prompt for a while, but this one is getting some creative juices flowing!  Like yesterday, please comment!  Let me know if my dreams are hopeless or at least what I can do to be a better writer.  I’m going to be out of town for the weekend but when I get back I’ll have a Novel Girls post and a book review to post.  Something to look forward to.

This snippet is based on a character from my first WIP, June.

Daily Prompt: Service

June’s favorite part of the day was after the food was cooked and simmering in the industrial sized pots.  She was sweating and covered in grime, but she usually got a five minute break before the workers started coming to her kitchen.  She had timed it right that day and was sitting on a small stool, giving her feet a break from her weight, when the first children raced to get in line.

The children always came first, racing from the fields and competing to be the first in line.  June usually gave the winner a little something extra, like the biggest slice of bread, but she would also give it to the last child to arrive.  She wanted the children to know they were all worth a little something special.

They called her Miss June and she loved to hear their voices singing to her as they made the mad dash to get in line.  “Miss June!  Miss June!  Did you make soda bread, Miss June?  Is there meat in the soup today, Miss June?  I’m first, Miss June, give me some extra cornbread!”

After the children, the elderly workers showed up.  The supervisors in the field usually let them go first because they walked so slowly, but the children were fast enough to pass them on their way to the kitchen.  After two years, June knew her regular customers and what they would eat.  Mr. O’Conner had no teeth so he got extra soup and no bread.  Mrs. Williamson couldn’t eat anything hot, so June set her soup aside early to cool.  They each smiled and thanked her warmly, nowhere near as pleading as the children.

The women were next, out of courtesy.  June saw the defeat of their position written in the faces.  Many of them were like her; having grown up middle class, their lives were reduced to nothing after the stock market crashed.  She didn’t degrade them with a smile and a pep-talk; they knew as well as she did that these were the worst of times and were only getting worse.  Many of them saved their bread to feed to their children before bed when their stomachs started to grumble again.  June wished she could make more and send them back to work full but it was out of her control.

The men came last, quiet and somber.  They took their hats off to her and she could see the line the sun drew across their foreheads.  Of course, there were a few that were friendly and talkative.

“Afternoon, Miss June,” Jim Boyle always said.  She answered with a polite “Afternoon,” and a smile every day.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Mr. Gambo always said.  June gave him a larger piece of bread because his wife was at home, sick with child and didn’t get fed while she didn’t work.

Marco Amato never said anything; he stared with deep blue eyes that reminded her of Tony.  It made her look away to see those eyes, ones she thought she knew so well, staring at her every day.  Hearing his voice for the first time startled her.  He had a thick Italian accent and she almost didn’t understand him.

“Why you look sad at me, Miss June?”

She cast her eyes down.  “You remind me of someone.”

“A lover?”  Thinking of Tony as her lover made June blush.  “I think that I spoke bad,” he recovered.  “A man that you loved?”

“Yes,” she said with a sad smile.  “Please don’t be offended.  You have the same eyes.”

He grinned.  “You loved an Italian man?”

“Yes, very much.”  She didn’t bother to tell him she still loved an Italian man.  That night, June wrote Tony a letter, explaining why she was sad whenever she saw Marco, but it was a letter she could never send.

Marco continued to talk to her every day, his English becoming clearer and his sentences better formed.  Over time she forgot to be sad when she saw him coming.  But if she looked him in the eye, she could only see Tony staring back at her.

Write Now Prompt: Clouds

18 Sep

I’m going to take some liberties with the Write Now Prompt from yesterday.  It made me think of my NaNo novel in a roundabout way.

I’ve noticed, dear reader(s) that you aren’t much on commenting when I do prompts.  Are you too afraid to tell me I’m terrible and should give up my aspirations of being published?  Nonsense, I’m waiting for the trolling!  Please tell me what you think of this character and this sample.  This is not from my NaNo story necessarily, but is based on it.  Enjoy!

Prompt: The dark clouds rolled in quickly, casting strange shadows across the landscape.

Melissa stared absentmindedly out of the bus window.  The sun set earlier and earlier this time of year.  It was almost that fabled time all Alaskans talk about when the days are shorter than the nights, all leading up to days with no daylight.  Melissa could not say she looked forward to that with any anticipation.

As the sun set quickly, the shadows danced across the lawns on the side of the road.  She watched them become longer and longer until the sun was behind the horizon and it was pointless to look out of the window: she could only see her reflection.

There was only one other person left on the bus when Melissa got off at her stop.  The two had never exchanged words, but had an unspoken relationship as the two who took the same bus every Wednesday.  They exchanged friendly nods in passing and Melissa missed his smile when she was alone on the pavement heading to her grandma’s house.

She’d been in Fairbanks for about two months and was still not used to the bone chilling wind that came after the sun set.  Wrapping her scarf around her nose, Melissa leaned into the wind to offset the weight of her grocery-filled backpack.  The walk wasn’t long, but it gave her enough time to think over all the things that had to happen before her child was born.  She could feel the life inside her and instead of evoking excitement, it felt like a ticking time bomb getting ready to explode.  There were cribs to buy, diapers to learn how to change, and a house to baby-proof without moving things around too much.

The small ranch house came into view as Melissa rounded the corner and walked past her neighbor Julie’s house.  She could see the glow of the TV inside and the shadow of Julie on her treadmill walking in step to the beat of a reality singing show.  Seeing the show reminded her of her parents back in Georgia and how they would always rope her into watching with them.  She had disliked how viewers were encouraged to place so much hope in singers who had only the thinnest chances of ever selling a song in iTunes.  Melissa didn’t like having her emotions toyed with by a host in a sparkling suit.

She put the key in the lock and opened the door slowly, wondering what her grandma would call her.  The day before she had been Melissa, but just that morning she had been Janine, her mother’s name.

“You’re late, Melissa!” her grandma called from the kitchen.  “You’re never this late on Mondays.”

“It’s Wednesday.”

Her grandma didn’t respond.  She got embarrassed when her memory failed her.  Melissa knew that things were only going to get worse.

Melissa found her grandma sitting in front of the TV in the living room watching the same reality show Julie was sweating to.  It made her smile to see her grandma watching the same shows as her daughter.  Or was it the other way around?

“I’ll make dinner,” Melissa called over her shoulder as she headed into her bedroom to change, dropping her shopping by the kitchen door.

“Thanks, Janine,” her grandma said.  Melissa was too happy to correct her.

 

So now it’s time to interact, reader(s).  What could I have done better?  What did you like?  Please leave a comment and let me know.

Daily Inspiration: Acrobatics

15 Sep

I didn’t care much for the Daily Prompt today, but luckily I found Daily Inspiration and their prompt helped me think of a scene.  It was a rather simple one, “Describe an acrobatic scene.”  This takes from the female protagonist in my first WIP after the main action of the novel.  Enjoy!

There wasn’t much else to do the weekend the circus came to town.  Everyone else was going and David begged and begged for June to take him.  She wasn’t one to deny her nephew what he wanted, especially when it sparked her curiosity as well.  One day when John and Dot were at work, she gold David to put his shoes on because they were going to the circus.

His little eyes were wide the second the big top came into sight.  He wanted to see, touch, taste, and smell everything within the circus’s fence: the bearded woman, the tigers, the small stand selling popcorn.  June was afraid his little heart would stop when the ringmaster walked past them.

“Say, young man, are you enjoying yourself today?” he asked David, even though it must have been clear he was with how big the young boy’s smile was.

David nodded, too excited to reply.

“And have you seen the acrobats yet?  They’re the best part of the circus.”

The small boy looked up at his aunt, his eyes wide, pleading to be taken to the circus.  The ringmaster had a twinkle in his eye as he tipped his hat at June.  He had roped her into spending another nickle for the two of them to get into the acrobats tent and he must have known it.

“The show starts in fifteen minutes in the big top,” the ringmaster said and walked away with a smile.

David started jumping up and down with excitement.  “I want to see the acrobats, Aunt June!  I want to see them fly!”

June gave in easily; she loved to spoil her nephew.  They found their way to the big top and found seats in the second row.  David was bouncing up and down as he waited for the show to begin.  When the ringmaster walked to the center of the sawdust-covered ring, David went rigid.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the greatest show on Earth!”  His mustache was moving wildly with the gusto of his speaking and the whole audience was entrapped.  “You are about to see amazing feats of strength, grace, and beauty that will astound and amaze you!  I ask that you please keep silent and let our performers concentrate on their act.  Four people walked into the big top and lined up behind the ringmaster.  “Coming all the way from Europe,” he said with a sweep of his arm, “we have four of the finest performers here for you today.  Please, give them a warm welcome!”

The crowd clapped wildly as the four acrobats gave a friendly wave to the crowd.  Two dashed out of the circle and the remaining two began their routine.  The executed cartwheels, back flips and handstands that left David clapping happily next to June.  She smiled, reminded of her own childhood and the excitement she felt when something new came into her life.

The spotlight turned off on the performers and shone on the two who had run off.  They were standing high above the crowd’s head on small wooden platforms.  The man of the pair held a trapeze in one hand as he waved.  With a leap, he left the platform and sailed through the big top.  On his back swing, he looped his knees over the bar and reached for his partner, who he grabbed easily from the platform.  The two of them flew as one through the air.

June’s heart was caught in her throat out of fear.  She didn’t want to be a witness to the death of one of the performers.  David was clapping while June tried to remember to breath.

The two performers from the ground had made their way up to another platform and one of them struck out on a second trapeze.  The swing of the two timed up and with a might grunt, the first man threw his partner into the air.

The second she spent in mid-air made June tense with nerves.  What if the second performer’s grip slipped?  What if the timing of the act was wrong?  What would happen if she wasn’t thrown hard enough?  The danger of the moment made her heart stop.

When the flying woman’s hands connected with the second performer’s wrists, the crowd broke into a roaring round of applause.  As the crowd around her rose to their feet, June realized she was already standing.  The action had swept her up and she was ready to rush to the acrobat’s aid if she should fall.

The crowd slowly began to sit back down and June joined in.  She distracted herself for the rest of the performance by watching David’s reactions.  She couldn’t bring herself to watch the performers fly though the air.  It was a dangerous performance and June had had her fill of dangerous professions when she was in Chicago.  Thinking of the voluntary risk only made her think of one person and how his career path had cost him everything he loved.