Description Writing Challenge

bloom blooming blossom blur

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Before we could talk too much about description and imagery, we had to have descriptions to pull from. Writing Excuses’ Mary Robinette Kowal had a great prompt, that, while sometimes infuriating, is an absolute must for any writer to try.

The campers were taken to a garden on campus, and had to write a description of our setting for thirty minutes non-stop. Pens moving across the page the entire time. The first five to ten minutes are pretty easy, but after that, you need to dig deep, expand your senses, and really get creative.

It’s a fantastic exercise that feels a little like running. It’s not so bad when you start, then halfway through you hit this moment of “I’ve got nothing left,” but when you push through it, you hit your stride and discover an entirely new layer to describing things.

I would recommend any writers take the time to do this for each setting their manuscript or short features, because it will give you vibrant, less obvious descriptions to pull from throughout your story.

In all seriousness, give it a try.

Using Blocking to Change the Meaning of Dialogue

art materials art supplies blocks blur

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Yesterday, my creative writing campers practiced writing a short story entirely in dialogue. Good dialogue should tell you more than the words the character is trying to say. It should give us insight into the character, their situation, their setting, and their relationship to the topic and the person they’re speaking with. The voices should be distinct enough not to require tagging (in a dialogue only story).

Tagging is great, but often writers rely on it to convey how something is being said, or to provide redundant information.

“What did you say?” she asked provides absolutely no additional information compared to… “What…” she whispered, murder gleaming in her eyes, “do you mean?” where we get mood and inflection.

Like all things in writing, variety is king. Sometimes, you just need a , she said, to move the conversation along and clarify who is speaking. But when every line of dialogue ends the same way, you have a problem.

Ideally, every bit of exposition added to the dialogue should convey more information or new insight. Consider the difference between.

“I’m just hungry.”

And

“I’m just hungry,” she sobbed. She couldn’t seem to take her eyes off the pulsing blue vein on the softest part of his neck.

In addition to getting insight into what the character is feeling, suddenly the words take on a new meaning.

So today’s exercise was to take their dialogue only story, and use blocking (how the characters move within their space and what they interact with) to change the meaning of every single line.

I had some amazing results. Want to try? Share your exercise in the comments below.

Stories Told in Dialogue

Dialogue

This week’s creative writing camp is all about economy of language. I’m hoping to teach my students to give every word multiple jobs.

The most overt example of this is dialogue.

Good dialogue should tell the reader more than the words the speaker is saying. You should be able to tell who is talking, what they think of who they’re speaking to, how they feel about what they’re saying, and get a feel for their personality while they’re at it.

For an example, we looked at the story “They’re Made Out of Meat,” by Terri Bisson. Without a single description or tag, the Bisson constructed a rudimentary setting, goal, worldview, and character dynamic. We know the two beings speaking are co-workers, we can tell one out ranks the other, but we also know they’re friendly beyond their work roles because of the way they speak to each other.

Of course once they read a story entirely in dialogue, they had to write one of their own. Every student wrote their own story, and the students had to guess the setting, who was speaking, relationships to one another, and attitudes toward their topic.

Want to give it a try? Post your dialogue story in the comments below.

 

 

Random Plot Generator

Writing Resources, #amwriting

In Creative Writing Camp today, my students were challenged to firmly ground the reader in the story in three sentences that convey the setting, goal, and character.

It’s a super fun exercise that everyone should try (credit to the idea from Writing ExcusesMary Robinette Kowal who had a tweet about healthcare go viral this week).

Step 1: Go to Random Plot Generator

Step 2: Choose a Main Character, a Setting, and a Situation

Step 3: Set the scene in three sentences.

Step 4: Change only the setting and write it again

Step 5: Change only the character and try it again

Step 6: Change only the situation and try it again

Here were mine from today.

Scenario 1: A foolish man in his thirties at the fair being left for good.

So maybe he should have told her about the motion sickness before sitting next to her on the tilt-a-whirl, but how was he supposed to know it would both tilt and whirl? 

“Forget my number,” she snarled, slinging chunks of his birthday dinner off her designer dress.

Whatever, it was still an improvement from his thirty-second birthday when he’d gone scuba diving with the piranhas. 

Scenario 2: A foolish man in a castle being left for good.

The young king watched impassively as his wife bared her neck for the guillotine, trying to figure out why she looked so upset. If she’d given birth to a son instead of a daughter, this wouldn’t be happening. Next time, he’d find a woman approaching her forties; with age came wisdom, and with wisdom, sons. 

Scenario 3: A naive old man in a castle being left for good.

The king was flirting with his wife again, but Old-Man Bob wasn’t worried. His young, beautiful wife had a stable life without all the problems riches brought with them. Surely she’d reject the King’s advances. 

Scenario 4: A naive old man in a castle giving a dog a home.

Old man Bob squinted his eyes at the puppy dragging an elk out of the castle moat. “Here boy,” he whistled as the puppy bared teeth the size of his arm at him and left out an earth trembling growl. “Let’s get you in out of the cold.”

Want to give it a try? Post your 3 sentence scene in the comments below.

 

 

Blood and Other Matter is LIVE!

Blood and Other Matter

Red Moon Rising

Derrick Hernandez and Tess D’Ovidio have been best friends forever. There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another. But their childhood bond is put to the test when Tess shows up on Derrick’s porch covered in blood…

Tess has no memory of what happened. She’d gone to a bush party with one of the football players. She remembers the bonfire…and then, nothing. Working backward, Tess and Derrick learn that she and seven other players were the only ones to make it back from the party alive.

During the next few weeks, each of the survivors is plagued with nightmares that reveal fragments of memories from the horrific night. But when the young men start dying under mysterious circumstances, Derrick can’t figure out if Tess is next—or if she’s somehow responsible. All he knows is that he has to save his best friend—or die trying…

Blood and Other Matter is live now. Order it Today!, and check out a free sample here.

 

 

 

Blood and Other Matter is Available for Pre-Order!

Blood and Other Matter

Red Moon Rising

Derrick Hernandez and Tess D’Ovidio have been best friends forever. There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another. But their childhood bond is put to the test when Tess shows up on Derrick’s porch covered in blood…

Tess has no memory of what happened. She’d gone to a bush party with one of the football players. She remembers the bonfire…and then, nothing. Working backward, Tess and Derrick learn that she and seven other players were the only ones to make it back from the party alive.

During the next few weeks, each of the survivors is plagued with nightmares that reveal fragments of memories from the horrific night. But when the young men start dying under mysterious circumstances, Derrick can’t figure out if Tess is next—or if she’s somehow responsible. All he knows is that he has to save his best friend—or die trying…

Blood and Other Matter releases on April 17th. Pre-Order today, and check out a free sample here.

 

 

 

The Performance Genre

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to editThis is a short and sweet genre that focuses around a big performance. A play, a big game, a race. The subgenres must be strong in this one, because that big event has to really matter to the character in order for the reader to interact with it. Rocky is a good example of a performance genre piece.

Next week, we will be moving out of external genres and into internal content genres, which focus more on what’s happening inside the character as opposed to the outside forces working within the plot. Can’t wait!

 

FAQ Friday: How will SPOILER impact Persephone in the long run.

Question mark in a blue bubble. Repeating icon for the frequently asked questions in the Daughters of Zeus series a young adult greek mythology retelling by Kaitlin Bevis

 

Super spoilerific post for anyone who has not yet read Iron Queen. Fair warning…

A reader who just finished Iron Queen emailed the following. “This can’t be where Persephone’s story ends! The pantheon hinted that Zeus killing his parents might have been part of what drove Zeus crazy. Plus she’s a triple realm-ruler now, and she lost her mother, and Hades seemed to be a bit unhinged at the end. So what’s in store for her in the future? Are we ever going to see that?”

Short answer:

Yes.

Longer answer:

The sanity thing was just Athena speculating. Zeus was unhinged from birth. Something about his father attempting to kill him, his mother hiding him by tying him upside down to a tree for years, and spending his early years training him to kill his father. The whole slicing his dad open and rescuing his siblings thing only to find himself at once their savior and an outsider to their very tight inner circle, formed by years of being all they had in The Before was also fairly hard on his psyche.

As for the weight of ruling three realms, losing her mother? That gets explored quite a bit in the Aphrodite trilogy. Persephone’s adapting to her new role as queen of the Pantheon and her grief/trauma from everything that happens in Iron Queen. She gets a few POV chapters in Venus Rising to really emphasize that arc, but the Pantheon as a whole has to do a lot of adjusting throughout the trilogy. In the Persephone trilogy, the gods of the Pantheon were separate entities. They were used to working around each other, but they hadn’t truly worked with each other in centuries until the end of Iron Queen. Now they’re realizing they can’t just ignore each other until a big epic battle. That’s the very mentality that left them vulnerable to Zeus. There’s a lot of growing and adjusting that needs to happen.

As for Hades…this is lightly addressed in Aphrodite, and addressed more in depth here, but broad strokes, he’s not unhinged. He’s just mildly traumatized. He went through a lot in Iron Queen. Dealing with Zeus brought up a lot of horrible memories for pretty much everyone in the Pantheon. He also felt every second of Persephone’s torture, and he had to rip her arm off, and she’s waking up from nightmares where Zeus wore his face. That’s a lot to deal with even without the fact that he’s dealing with the fact that Zeus, Demeter, and Apollo are dead. They don’t think of each other as siblings, but that is millennia of history, good and bad. Then there’s the fact that he just kind of destroyed Zeus’s soul, and there’s some emotional baggage with that. And he also witnessed one of his worst fears (that his past will hurt the people he loves), come true for Poseidon.

It’s a lot. And I included that final scene to show that what happened with Zeus didn’t just happen to Persephone. She and Aphrodite weren’t his only victims, and they aren’t the only ones who need to come to terms with the events of Iron Queen. If Hades, the guy with millennia of experience getting over horrible things and a library full of self-help books, is rattled, you can bet every other god in the entire mythology is. And that will be explored quite a bit in the Aphrodite trilogy.

 

 

The Society Genre

The Story Grid, genre chart, #amwriting, #amediting

Society Genre stories tend to be idea stories, and there’s a lot of interplay between them and dystopian stories. They’re often used to present an argument for or against a political argument, they tend to be of the “let’s follow your logic to its conclusion” slippery-slope thought process.

These tend to focus on multiple POV’s to get a better look at how the issue impacts others, but that’s not a requirement. Some of the most famous examples only follow one character.

These absolutely require a sub-genra, so the specific beats are going to be dependent on which sub-genre you go with. The Handmaid’s Tale is absolutely an idea story and a society story and a woman vs. society story and a horror story and so on.

Some sub-genres within this sub-genre include, Domestic Society.  This focuses on the family dynamic. The core value tends to be the well being of the individual vs. the family unit. The core event tends to be a showdown where what’s good for one clashes with what’s good for all.

Women’s Society tends to concern the struggle of the individual woman versus the patriarchy. The core event of the story is the rebellion or submission of the female protagonist (think Handmaid’s Tale).

Political Society (I would argue all of these are to some degree political, especially women’s society) deals with the struggle for power. The core value is power vs. impotency, and the core event tends to be a revolution. This Les’ Mis, though that also falls squarely under…

Historical Society where any one of the above approaches is used but in a hind-sight being 20/20 kind of way. For this genre to be successful, it needs to be applicable to the modern day. Like how The Crucible, a story about the Salem Witch Trials, was also about McCarthyism. Coyne goes on to say that “using historical details enables the writer to comment on a particular taboo or highly charged moment in contemporary life through the prism of the past.”

Coyne also lists biographical stories within this genre, but I think biographies are something unto themselves. It just depends on how the person telling the story decides to frame it.

The War Genre

Book cover for The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, #amwriting, #amediting, book review, how to write, how to edit The War Genre tends to be pretty straightforward. There’s a war, people fight in it. Pro-War Stories focus on Good VS. Evil, like Wonder Woman. There might be a nod toward the fact that fighting is bad, but at the end of the day, one side is fighting for the betterment of mankind, the other is evil. The war was necessary, in other words. It was right.

Anti-War stories like Once Upon a Forest focus on the shades of gray and how both side are good and evil and war sucks for all involved.

Neither of these are wrong or right, just different approaches to the same type of event.

The core emotion in a war story is either excitement, fear, or intrigue. The core event is a big battle.

Shawn Coyne identified a subplot within war stories called the brotherhood variation. It has a core value of honor vs. disgrace, and the subplot focuses on friendships and relationships among those affected by the war. Love stories are another oft-used subplot within war stories. These two technically follow the same beats, it’s just what the focus is centered on that makes the difference.

War Stories have definitely been used in YA books as sub-genres, particularly in dystopian stories. Even I dabbled in this sub-plot in my novel, Venus Rising.

What are your favorite war stories?