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Tips on Tuesday: Writing a Five Minute Story

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Teaching writing classes, I often invite students to borrow my books on writing. I have dozens if not hundreds of them. Probably hundreds. One title which always attractions attention is Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes, by Roberta Allen. Of course. They think they can learn to craft whole books in five minute stints of time. That’s not the way great books are written. But they may start that way.

This book of ideas/exercises suggests writing workouts that could last weeks, months, or longer. These quick‑fire, down‑and‑dirty pieces may fire whatever lies dormant in you so that you can turn it into that “whole book” that’s been in your head for years. Using exercises like these prompts gives you a wide range of subjects to write about — remember these could turn into short stories, poems, or longer fictions, written 5 minute bit by 5 minute bit.

Below is a handful of altered prompts (loosely based on Allen’s work) to give you an idea, or a few dozen ideas, from one of its chapters. BTW, the book is still available at Amazon dot com.

You may choose to write the exercises in the order given, or choose a set that interests or excites you most, or least, or just feels neutral. Or choose the fourth item in each set, or write six different stories from one exercise. How many ways can you find to play this game?

  1. Use a reliable timer set 5 minutes
  2. Choose your first set(s) of exercises
  3. Read every line as if it begins: “Write a story about . . . ” though it’s not spelled out
  4. Set the timer
  5. Begin writing your first chosen “exercise” from these 6 sets

Write a story about . . . .

  • a fisherman’s tall tale
  • something that never really happened
  • a large bird
  • a lost letter
  • coming home after years away
  • a dreaded fear

Write a story about . . . .

  • an honor code violation
  • something found in a parking lot
  • a raucous celebration
  • a toddler
  • a surprise

Write a story about . . . .

  • an unexpected shock
  • a total stranger who approached you on the street
  • a moving moment in your life
  • a chance meeting with someone your family knew long ago
  • a cloud on a particular day
  • a group of children who are obviously quintuplets

Write a story about . . .

  • your favorite dessert
  • a prize you wanted to win
  • a swimming pool
  • selfishness on display
  • trying to understand a man who speaks another language
  • a very long . . . something

Write a story about . . .

  • two old friends
  • a starving child
  • going to another country
  • a simple action such as slicing a banana, or turning a page
  • how a serious illness befalls someone you know
  • an enormous . . . something

Play with these. Tie two or more from one set together in some way; try to write all six from another set into the same story; do every third exercise from each set in another story. Play! And let your mind, your imagination, go where it will! Most of all ENJOY!

See you next at Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Your MC’s Intellectual, Psychological and Emotional Impact

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Today, I’m thinking about the impact of minor characters on my Main Character (MC). And MC’s impact on others. How do characters inter‑relate? What do they glean from each other, both good and bad? What do they offer to each other?

I had lunch the other day with six of my former debate students from years and years ago. We’d gotten together a few times in the past, but had missed doing so for the last five years. In or near their 30’s now, two of them are working in law offices. Both are basically fulfilling the roles of paralegals, one having had some outside training, the other being taught by her company. One will finish her B.S. this year at the U of U, then begin applying for law school. The other, currently being “trained” by her work place, will get as much training as possible which is offered at her work, and will then go back to school. Both of them are the main support of their two children.

One of the others, having worked years ago with the Utah State Legislature, has a good, solid and responsible job, but also plans on returning to school, has one child and is currently separated from her husband.

Another quit a lucrative and responsible workplace for a “better job” recently: she has become a stay‑at‑home mom. Another, after an LDS mission, and a stint with the military has separated from his wife, works in a law‑involved field, but lives close to and sees his two children often.

What was I seeing from all of them? Shades and shadows of how their debating experience had influenced their interest in world‑wide affairs, their willingness to put themselves “out there” and live a challenging, sometimes difficult, but often rewarding, life. All, without exception, were actively engaged in their own lives. They were still looking forward, still planning “what comes next,” still curious, and still actively involved.

As writers, we need to be the same: curious, involved, active, with wide interests and involvement in the “job” at hand, whether at home, at work, in our writing, in our characters. Take a look at how all your characters — especially the main characters — are influenced by their friends, their enemies, their interests, the actions and reactions of the people around them.

When people are this involved in their own lives, they are influenced intellectually, psychologically and emotionally. All these aspects of your characters will make them feel real, sound real, act in authentic ways. Look at how your antagonist impacts your MC. In one story, that influence may be highly emotional. In another, it may be mostly psychological. Or it may be an intellectual impact. All three may even be evident in the same story, though not necessarily at the same time.

All of these will make your characters more “real.” Your readers will connect with these “real” human beings more quickly, more deeply . . . because readers are influenced in that way by THEIR friends . . . and seeming “enemies” . . . too.

See you next for Spellbinder Saturday!

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Tuesday’s Tutor: One Last Word (or Two) About Christmas:

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

16.  Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home. ~ G. K. Chesterton, Brave New Familyuntitled

17.  I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. ~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

18. What kind of Christmas present would Jesus ask Santa for? ~ Salman Rushdie, Fury

19. Miracles happen on Christmas, Pat.  Everybody knows that sh**. ~ Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

These book quotes about Christmas were borrowed from http:ebookfriendly.com/20‑book‑quotes‑christmas‑pictures/

See you day‑after‑tomorrow for Thursday’s 13!

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Friday Friends: It’s Good to Have Lots of Friends!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

When I need to put a Friday Friends’ blog together, it’s good to have LOTS of friends! My absolutely BFF, Herb Arnold (well, yeah, and he’s also my husband), sent me an article from the digital magazine Thought Catalog which had been published on Sep. 12, 2013, by Nico Lang. She called it “33 Of The Most Hilariously Terrible First Sentences In Literature History.” She claimed these were some of the worst of the worst from the Bulwer‑Lytton contest.

Based on novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer‑Lytton’s famous “it was a dark and stormy night” opener, the contest asks writers to submit an opening sentence for the “worst of all possible novels”. You may enter any of many genres from Children’s Literature to Spy Novels, and one sentence is awarded the dubious honor of the “worst sentence of the year”. I picked only seven of her thirty‑three to share here. They are some of the best entries from the past decade’s contests.

6. Jordan Kaderli: Betty had eyes that said come here, lips that said kiss me, arms and torso that said hold me all night long, but the rest of her body said, “Fillet me, cover me in cornmeal, and fry me in peanut oil”; romance wasn’t easy for a mermaid.

10. Tonya Lavel: It was such a beautiful night; the bright moonlight illuminated the sky, the thick clouds floated leisurely by just above the silhouette of tall, majestic trees, and I was viewing it all from the front row seat of the bullet hole in my car trunk.

12. Ron D. Smith: As the sun dropped below the horizon, the safari guide confirmed the approaching cape buffaloes were herbivores, which calmed everyone in the group, except for Herb, of course. (Sorry, picked THAT one for my BFF!)

14. Andrew Bowers: “Hmm ¼” thought Abigail as she gazed languidly from the veranda past the bright white patio to the cerulean sea beyond, where dolphins played and seagulls sang, where splashing surf sounded like the tintinnabulation of a thousand tiny bells, where great gray whales bellowed and the sunlight sparkled off the myriad of sequins on the flyfish’s bow ties, “time to get my meds checked.”

16. David S. Nelson: He swaggered into the room (in which he was now the “smartest guy”) with a certain Wikipedic insouciance, and without skipping a beat made a beeline towards Dorothy, busting right through her knot of admirers, and she threw her arms around him and gave him a passionate though slightly tickly kiss, moaning softly, “Oooohh, Scarecrow!”

19. Beth Fand Incollingo: Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater – love touches you, and marks you forever.

20. Shannon Wedge: Leopold looked up at the arrow piercing the skin of the dirigible with a sort of wondrous dismay – the wheezy shriek was just the sort of sound he always imagined a baby moose being beaten with a pair of accordions might make.

See you day-after-tomorrow for Sunday’s Snippets!

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Friday Friend: Is Your MC Smarter than a Fifth Grader? Part II

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

 With positive responses to Nikki Trionfo’s Part I on 10/15’s “Tuesday’s Tutor,” I thought I’d publish Part II now [10/25/13] as a “Friday Friend.” Part III will be on “Tuesday’s Tutor,” 10/29/13. Nikki, my former student and member of WMFW critique group, published this 3-part series on Main Character’s Smarts, giving permission to abridge her full manuscript which is at

http://www.realwriterswrite.com/ 2013/08/is-your-mc-smarter-than-fifth-grader.html

Welcome back to “MC-smartness=off.” You’re here now to craft a main character [MC] who’s one of the duller pencils in the writing box.

Wait, what? Why would you want that?

Because:

1. Characters need flaws. Stupidity can be one of them. (See Jane Austin’s Emma, Inspector Gadget, Forrest Gump)

2. Characters need complexity. Intelligence has layers: tug one layer all the way toward brilliance and let another be far from sharp, lending awesome paradox. (Captain Jack Sparrow, Columbo)

3. Dumb characters do all sorts of interesting things.

4. Isn’t it prejudiced to only write about smart people?

I referred to a “dumb” characters. In reality, no characters (or humans) are “dumb”; none are “smart.” Characters/humans simply do things which are dumb or smart: an important distinction. It reminds us to see beyond the label so we can capture, appreciate and enhance the wholeness of our characters.

Consider various types of intelligence: musical, logical, interpersonal, linguistic, spatial, etc. A flaw in one doesn’t mean a flaw in all. Now: think of a stupid character other than those listed above.

Did you think of a comedy role? Our society values intelligence. The lack of it creates sympathy, but also derision. That irony often lends itself to humor. A tip to remember when crafting the comedic fool: we can laugh at him, and not feel guilty, only if we love him. Deep down, we’d cry at his demise. Disobey this rule, and the quick laugh turns hollow; readers won’t return.

Create a non-comedic character who consistently displays his lack of intelligence—social intelligence especially—while pursuing his goal with unerring passion: you’ll have a character whom readers can sympathize with forever. We love underdogs.

We do not love inconsistent characters: clever one moment and dumb the next: the author then has no control of the information dispensed. The previous post surmised MC-smartness is a function of who wins at solving the puzzle first: the reader or the MC. Thus the author controls who wins.

Think how complicated it is for your reader to know something (on purpose) your narrator does not know. More than just switching POV’s, this tells the reader something directly, like the villain is hiding behind the car: a great way to add suspense, but obviously your MC isn’t dumb for not seeing something he can’t see.

You also can’t let the narrator simply state that the MC is dumb.

A. It’s lazy

B. Perhaps the narrator is the dumb one and the MC is quite intelligent—this mistake makes readers lose faith in the author.

For MC-smarts to dip authentically, you have to use the MC’s thoughts and the MC’s awareness of the scene (dialogue, visuals, action of other parties, etc.) to tip off the reader to something dastardly or shocking or delightful—all while keeping the MC completely in the dark. The MC could catch the bearded man doing something evil without realizing it’s evil. This suggests the MC is naïve, young, or simple-minded. David Copperfield watches his idol, James, seduce a young girl away from her home and credits James for good. David doesn’t understand sexuality. But the reader does.

Examples of turning off MC-smartness:

1. The MC states a theory and watches it be proven wrong.

2. Craft a character who’s slow at processing.

a. After the MC speaks, she realizes she looks dumb, but can’t figure out what she did wrong, or

b. She doesn’t understand how dumb she looks, leaving the reader fearful or embarrassed on her behalf

Forrest Gump is a great example: strong, sympathetic, with low intelligence. He failed to understand inference, sarcasm. Used maxims often and incorrectly. Only saw what was right in front of him, not what they meant. When someone wanted him to “figure something out,” he would nervously guess quickly. And wrong.

Layer after layer of the MC failing to understand what other characters and the readers do understand equals an intelligence flaw. I have great respect for an author who can portray the complexity of humans while avoiding the clichés; the author who makes characters earn intelligence and overcome intelligence failures—yet feel real in the process.

See you day-after-tomorrow for Thursday’s 13!

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Sunday’s Snippets: Want something done? Ask a BUSY person!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Two or three years ago I ran across a book by a Valorie Burton ‑ of course I noticed it right away:

  1. “Burton” was my maiden name
  2. The title of said book was How Did I Get So Busy?

I thought it sounded like a GREAT read, and maybe would give me some hints about how to lighten my load. So how was it? Dunno‑‑‑never made time to read it up until now.

I think I’ll just peruse a little and see what gems I can give you in a few blogs like Sunday’s Snippets, or even Thursday’s 13. Meanwhile, if you’ve discovered a way to simplify YOUR life, PLEASE send me some of YOUR hints!  I NEED ’em!

Valorie (I get to call her that; after all, we’re almost related) says:

Take a full hour for lunch

Set “No E‑mail” Periods

Add fun goals to your To Do list

End your day “on purpose,” meaning YOU decide when to
leave the office
head home
fall asleep

See you day‑after‑tomorrow for Tuesday’s Tutor!

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Thursday’s 13: Be Still, My Heart

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

The Ace of Hearts stands for

  1. Love and happiness
  2. The home, a love letter
  3. Indicates troubles and problems lifting

The King of Hearts stands for

  1. A fair-haired man with a good nature
  2. Fair, helpful advice
  3. Affectionate, caring man who helps you out without much talk
  4. His actions reveal kindness, concern

The Queen of Hearts stands for

  1. A fair-haired woman with a good nature
  2. Kind advice from an affectionate, caring woman
  3. This card can indicate the mother or a mother figure.

The Jack of Hearts stands for

  1. A warm-hearted friend
  2. A fair-haired youth
  3. Often this points to a younger admirer

Interested in more information about cards, or the way to tell fortunes with a normal deck of cards?  See www.wikipedia.org

See you day-after-tomorrow for “Saturday’s Softcover”!

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