Weekly Writing Prompt 12/31/2015

Last post of the year, and it’s my first writing prompt.  A sign of things to come?

This is a first-line prompt.  Your story may go anywhere you want, but it needs to begin with the following first line (unmodified).

My life savings were still in the front seat of the car.

The Rules

  1. Have Fun!
  2. Prompts will reset on Thursday.
  3. Keep entries between 100-250 words
  4. Post on your blog with the tag #StartYourFiction.  (If you don’t have a blog, feel free to put your story in the comments!)
  5. Drop a comment on the topic post to let me know it’s there.
  6. If you are open to InLinkz, feel free to put your entry on the link-up.  Makes it easier for everybody to see them and comment.
  7. If I didn’t say to have fun… Have Fun!

Click the link below to add yours!  Mine’s in there as well.

get the InLinkz code

 

Entries for this prompt:

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Here’s mine:

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Routine

In the spirit of flash fiction, I found this challenge over at Writing The 200… A weekly writing challenge asking for exactly 200 words.  This week’s challenge:  Timepiece.

Here’s mine.

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Routine

Markov had been awake for just over an hour, interminably long it seemed. He just couldn’t bring himself to get out of bed until it was time.

He sat up, keeping his head low enough to avoid the great spinning gear above his bunk. He slid off and plopped to the floor. He wished he hadn’t woken up so early; he was tired. He allowed himself fourteen seconds to stand there and stare numbly at the floor before hurrying to the closet for supplies.

Already short on time this morning. Pick up the pace. He traversed the great machine carrying a bucket of grease, applying it liberally here and there. As he walked, the cogs spun around him in their silent symphony of motion. He serviced all three levels, sweat soon mixing with grease to the point he couldn’t tell which was coming from him.

He set the bucket down and knew it was time for him to be going. The usual jog took him fifteen minutes, eight seconds. He spun back to look at the great clock and smiled.

9:00 AM precisely. He began his carefully measured jog back. Time to see what he could achieve before noon.

 

Flash Fiction

What do you think about Flash Fiction?

When I first encountered the concept of it, I thought of it kind of like writing for lazy people.  “So you want to write, but you don’t want to be bothered to write something lengthy.”  How hard can it be to spam out a 200 word story?  Come on.

Then I started doing it.  I’ll give credit to Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers to getting me hooked.  I’ve been participating for about a month, and it’s tremendous fun.  Not just to write your own, but to read some of the things I’ve seen put together.

So what’s so special about Flash Fiction?

  1. Every word needs to count.  When you only have 150 or 200 words to play with, you can’t afford to have any wasted baggage.  This causes you to really refine what you are doing.  Sentences start getting cut.  It gets pretty intense when words start getting cut.  But that means you are getting to the good stuff.  How lean can you make a complete story?
  2. It takes you out of your comfort zone.  I guess this is specific to writing prompts and not flash fiction… But flash fiction is less of an investment, which means you are more likely to do it.  Getting out of the comfort zone makes you think critically.
  3. You get to go through the entire writing life cycle.  You plan.  You draft.  You edit.  You proofread.  You publish.  You market.  It’s great.It reminds me of something I read in a book on leadership.  An art teacher split his ceramics class into two groups.  The first group would be graded purely on the number of pots they made.  Group two would be graded on a single pot… So make it awesome.  Group 1 spent tons of time churning out pots.  Group 2 spent tons of time… Theorizing.  Sure, they made their pots at the end… But ironically all the best pots came from Group 1.  The act of repetition made better pots.
  4. You are more likely to read them/be read.  When it’s small and bite-sized, people can spare the 5 minutes it takes to read.  When you start asking for half an hour, a day, a week… People start bailing on you.  Flash fiction doesn’t ask for much of a commitment, and it’s generally pretty friendly on almost any device.  Suddenly you get to reach a lot of people.

I’m converted.  I love flash fiction.  I enjoy it so much I’ll be starting my own flash fiction challenge once a week.  People are welcome to participate, and I hope to see some really good stuff that will help me grow as a writer both from the challenges that I post (and attempt on my own) to the ones that I’ll read.

If you want to see the general rules, check it out here:

Start Your Fiction Weekly Writing Prompt

Looking forward to starting our fiction together!

 

Anticipation

Today’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers.

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This week’s photo prompt is provided by Sonya with the blog, Only 100 Words. Thank you Sonya

Anticipation

A new pair stood at the base of the tower trying to goad each other into climbing. Ivak waited. He wouldn’t do anything unless they actually started to climb.

“Come on, Johnny. Don’t be chicken. Go up there!”

“I’m not chicken.”

Ivak tuned them out.

No one ever climbed the tower. He knew that from experience. He heard them every day, and every day they were all talk. They postured and strutted, but the tower was old and rusty, and far too tall for school boys to risk.

Today wouldn’t change things… A fact he almost lamented. He didn’t grudge his duty; not really. It just got old. Don’t move unless somebody has gotten past the frame. Then go get them.

A quick shout and some tapping told him what his eyes could not. Johnny had climbed the frame. He was right outside the hatch.

Ivak rubbed three pairs of hands together in anticipation.

Perhaps today he’d be meeting Earthlings after all.

(162 words)

Outlining your Story – Plot

Today I bring you the third installment of my Outlining Your Story series.
If you missed the first two:

I covered tools useful for outlines in Part 1.
I covered outlining characters in Part 2.

Part 3 will talk about Plot.

When most people think of outlining a story, they probably jump here first. And why not? It’s the easiest to put into bullet-points. You also probably feel like you can leverage outline formats you learned in school. Start throwing down some beginning, middle, end… Maybe a few subpoints to cover key scenes, and voila! You’ve got an outline.

I – Beginning
A – Introduce characters
B – Character Argument
1 – Hurt feelings
II – Middle
A – More stuff happens
III – End
A – Tie it all off.
B – Profit.

You’ll notice it’s even in a nice 3-act structure. Aristotle would be proud.

That’s fantastic! But let’s take all of it and put it on the shelf. We can look at it later if we want to, but let’s not limit ourselves. I’m not saying “Don’t use grade school outlines or the 3-act structure.” I am saying don’t assume that’s the only way to outline. I like to start with the basic.

What is this story really about?

This is called the premise. The premise is your chance to summarize the story as you would see it in a tagline of the newspaper. Think of it as your north star. Knowing what you want your story to be about is a key component to making sure it actually is about that.

Let’s see if you can guess the story from these premises:

1) A programmer discovers his entire world is an illusion as he joins a group of rebel humans fighting to overthrow the machines that have enslaved humanity.

2) A boat captain engages in a monomaniacal pursuit of the white whale.

3) A farmboy seeking fortune gets abducted and trained by pirates and then must rescue his sweetheart from the clutches of bandits and a prince forcing her to marry him.

Those are all examples of premises. Each tells us what we can expect to find in the story.

After you hammer our your premise, it’s time to dig in. You need a little more detail as far as a plot goes.  For that, I like to answer a few questions:

1) What are the big events that sets the hero on the path of no return? In any story, your hero is going to get thrust into “The Big Conflict” whatever that may be. Whether there is a villain (antagonist if you prefer) or not, you are going to have some kind of conflict. What makes sure it’s going to happen?

2) What are the big “I can totally see this scene playing out” out moments? I know when I’m imaging my novel, there are several scenes that jump out that I can’t wait to write. When I envision them, I don’t necessarily think of all the ways it’s going to work mechanically with the book, or how it’s going to build my suspense. I just know I want that scene to happen. I make notes of all of these during the outline stage.

3) Any major plot arcs (or strands) that you want to cover. Maybe they aren’t part of the main plot, and maybe you don’t know exactly what those scenes will look like, but they are still important to the story. Examples might be a falling out with a roommate as the subplot of the story, or a love story that shows us important thoughts from the character, but aren’t ultimately necessary for the story itself.

You can write these out on notebook paper, or put them in Excel, or leverage one of the tools I covered in the first post (like Visio). How you record them isn’t as important as recording them. Once you’ve laid it out and can start seeing it in front you, it’s time to start applying some order to it.

1) Which scenes are important to have early on?
2) Which events or plot threads do you need to create scenes for?
3) What logical order flows out of these scenes?

Once you’ve got those answered, you’ve got all the pieces you need to actually start writing your story. That’s going to lead us to part 4, Pulling it all together. Stay tuned!

How do you plot your novel? Do you use an outline?

Outlining your story – Characters

For the second part of my 4-part series on outlining your story, I wanted to talk about Characters. If you missed Part 1 – Tools, feel free to check it out.

Today is devoted to characters. They are the real backbone of any story. I’ve read many stories that had extremely weak plots, but the characters were hilarious, and thus the story was worth continuing. The opposite is rarely true: You may have an amazing unique setting, or the most absolutely riveting plot, but if the characters are flat, nobody is going along for the ride.

The first thing I will preface this with:

Just because you have a detail doesn’t mean you need to use it!

You may determine somebody’s birthday is June 23rd… You don’t have to make sure the story is set on that day, or near that day, or make age even a component of the story. Maybe your hero loves cats… You don’t need to put a cat in the story. At all. It’s just something to keep in the back of your mind while you write.

So that brings up the question of: Why bother?
If I’m not going to use the detail, why bother coming up with it.

Three reasons to flesh out the characters extensively:

1) You want to make sure you are building believable, three-dimensional characters. These details, hobbies, quirks, superstitions, traditions, whatever, make your character that much more likely to jump off the page.

2) You don’t want to accidentally contradict yourself. Imagine describing your heroine’s cute button nose… And then later describe her striking aquiline nose. That one’s obvious and (I hope) most editors would catch something like this. But what about the more subtle mistakes. Early on you talk to the villain’s mother and she comments that all little Timmy did when he was a kid was sit in a room building model trains. Later, when Timmy is talking to his minion, he outlines the elaborate tree house he built as a kid that gave him the carpentry skills he needed to build the trap. Those kind of details resound with your reader, and getting your facts straight up front will help.

3) You never know when the background gives you something you need. These details can either give you a link for a scene that you are struggling with (Actually, maybe he could notice the stamp on the General’s desk and that could get the conversation rolling since he collected stamps in college) or maybe it creates a constraint that you have to work around to create a more unique story (Crap. She’s lived in Florida her whole life. How’s she going to be driving across that much ice with no trouble?)

So what detail do I provide?

1) Physical – Get specific. I like to browse images until I pick a model. Then I do descriptions of face, hair, body, other notable features… And then other things like: What’s their walk like? Do they tend to slouch when they sit? Flounce into chairs rather than sit in them?

2) Quirks and Habits – Do they bite their nails? Smoker or non-smoker? Do they hate using public restrooms? Mumble to themselves? Finish other people’s sentences? Giggle when nervous?

3) Family and Friends – Any friends? Acquaintances? What are those relationships like? Does the character have a regular rapport with the barrista at Starbucks, but they don’t know each other outside of that? Are both parents alive? Grandparents? How old are they? Siblings? What’s the relationship? Extended family? What about enemies? Could somebody be harboring a grudge that might not make the main plot, but might be a nifty subplot?

4) Background – When was the character born? Anything significant about childhood? How often has the character had to move? Education level? Goals that have been met? Goals that have been abandoned? Prior marriages? Old girlfriends or boyfriends? Where do they work? How long have they been there? First job? Serial job quitter?

5) Mentality – Is the character spiritual? Religious? Political allegiance? Dominant mood? What would the character’s Myers Briggs be? Ambitious? Laid-back? Like to tell jokes that nobody laughs at except himself? Is this the one people go to when they need to vent? When they need to cry? Does this character seem to know everything going on with everybody and is willing to share with anybody? How stubborn?

Finally, one more technique I’ve seen is to interview your character. Write the interview from the perspective of the character. This can get you in the character’s head, and teach you a lot about how the character behaves. I use this when I really don’t know my character enough, and often the act of writing this gets me going enough to write something truly meaningful.

Conclusion

I don’t go to the same level of detail on all characters, but for your primary characters (POV characters, or characters that are in 25% or more of your scenes), I think it’s critical to dig this deep before you really dive in. Be prepared to revisit. You may have assigned a crippling fear of water that just doesn’t work when the character goes to Venice (or maybe it does!) As with all outline work, these are guidelines, and realistically should always be subject to change based on the needs of your story.

What level of detail do you go to with your characters?

Outlining your story – Tools

Before I dive into this post, I wanted to give a quick shout out to Irena S. over at the Books and Hot Tea blog. She nominated me for an Epic Awesomeness award, to which I’m pretty grateful; I’m not yet in a place I ready to accept such a thing… But I did want to give a thank-you shout out for her thinking of me!

In the meantime, I wanted to talk about Outlining. This is going to be a 4 part series that goes in depth on the things I do when I outline a story.

I’ve had other posts on plotting and pantsing.
I’ve discussed a few tools for writing and jumping around during the writing process.

Today’s focus will be on Outlining Tools.

Notebook/Printer paper. Whether it’s drawing a map, or doodling ideas out, I find that a lot of my earliest brainstorming takes place on paper.

I also thoroughly enjoy mind-mapping. I could write an entire post on mind-mapping, but basically it’s a way of writing out ideas and linking them to one another.

Microsoft Visio – If you have Visio (or one of it’s free alternatives), it can often be a great option for this when you are doing something highly plot driven and you are trying to chart out a sequence of events (when you have multiple story-lines and you want to track them all, this can be a life saver).

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Freemind – If you want the pure mind-mapping experience, there’s lots of free tools out there for this. My personal preference is Freemind.  Free, easy to use, lots of great hotkeys.  Really conducive to getting ideas on paper (screen).

Freemind.png

Dramatica – Some people swear by Dramatica.  It literally lets you chart and capture every piece of your story, character arcs, archetypes, the whole nine yards.  It makes sure you are planning to build action, and intensity, hitting on key components of plots that stories should have (or if you are skipping make sure you are doing it consciously).  I’ve demo’d it, but it’s really clunky for my use, so I haven’t truly given it its due. Maybe at some point, I’ll muster up the $99 it takes to buy it, but right now it hasn’t been worth it to me.

Bibisco – I’ve recently discovered a really nifty tool called Bibisco. It gives you the ability to go in depth on characters, locations, and “strands” of plot/conflict… And ultimately tie those back in to your chapters. I’m not sure if I’d use it yet to do my actual writing, but the initial framing (especially the features built around characters) is great for fleshing out your idea. I also like some of the analytics built in, so I may load my story back into it when it’s done.

Scrivener – Using a non-linear word processor is a great way to make sure you framing things. I use Scrivener to list each of my scenes as a separate file in sequential order and then I can write that scene if the mood hits me.

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And of course, a free software that is comparable yWriter. Same general features, but not as modern an interface (and Scrivener is a little more flexible).

What tools do you use when outlining your story?

Next in this series, I’ll cover Outlining your Characters.