Tag Archives: story

Carol’s Homework Assignment Post WIFYR 3

7456038The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes.

Prologue and first chapter were read: 19 pages. (We never discussed this, Carol, but I assume a prologue is not a legit chapter but a prelude and needs to be included.)

“Paul is dead!” What an opening line! (I’m showing my age, but I immediately saw the Abbey Road album cover. For those of you too young to understand, Google “Beatles Paul is dead.) Once I brought myself back to the present, it was still a killer first sentence (pun intended).

For me, it went somewhat downhill from there. It’s smoothly written, but the author pushed too much backstory, too much flashback, too much telling not showing. (Brenda is going to disagree with me on this.)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some strong storytelling here. What surprises me is how the author breaks every rule Carol presented in class. Okay, with the exception of the “Paul is dead!” opening line.

The point of scene is excellent. The story takes place on a small Caribbean island and the descriptions are as lush as the landscape.

Characters are aplenty. There was the main character, Esti, of course. Then we have: the police officer who questioned her; an old family friend (in flashback); Paul, the victim (in flashback); Lucia, a local who had seen Esti talking with Paul. That would be five in the first nine pages, the prologue.

The actual first chapter introduces us to Esti’s mother, Aurora. Then come the two uppity kids from the school who seem to be members of the elite crowd: Danielle and Greg. Their main purpose seems to be to instruct Esti (and, in the process, us, the readers) about local legends, history, idioms and island patois. Oh, and establish that Danielle is in direct competition with Esti for the role of Juliet in the school play. Apparently, she’s sizing up the opposition.

The chapter had too much going on. The locations were varied and moved rapidly: the school grounds, the theater, another area in the school grounds, a flashback to the cemetery in the States, and, finally, her house. Her house took up the first chapter. The others took place in the prologue, the first 9 pages.

Prologue moved fast, first chapter not so much. Too slow, too much backstory. The two schoolmates showing up didn’t fit with the flow, I didn’t think. It seemed out of place.

Bottom line, it’s a ghost story and a murder mystery. How can you go wrong? Besides, Brenda says I’ll love it.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I got much in the way of finding improvements for The Other Siders.



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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/19/15

As all‑but‑promised, I’m going to share what Rick Walton taught in his beginning picture book workshop some years ago ‑‑‑ still GREAT advice for today as well!

First take a look at the oldy, but goody, Goodnight Moon (and maybe all the current knock‑offs ‑‑‑ do they live up to the original?). The rhythms are almost hypnotic, like waves lapping against the shore. Soft words used within rhymes. Plenty of non‑threatening objects. Repetition is put to work saying goodnight to all the objects.

Be sure your first pages set the style: is this going to be verse? fantasy? Irregular rhythms or rhymes‑‑‑or entirely regular. Either way, will set up the expectation of more of the same In a sleepy time book like this, any humor will be somewhat muted, but repetition will be very important. Use what Rick referred to as “Morse Code Writing” with a VERY short story with VERY short words.

Other things that work well for children’s picture books:

  • A surprise or punch line at the end
  • Use the Rule of Three: 3 characters, 3 episodes, 3 trials, et.
  • Leave create space for illustrations (and CUT most of your description)
  • Use poetic and figurative language to good advantage
  • Most picture books have some kind of theme and are character based
  • Include foreshadowing as possible, and prediction
  • Write 13 to 27 “illustratable” scenes

When you’re NOT attempting to put the child to sleep, funny words will become important: Rick suggested wishy‑washy, and I had a favorite of my own: when my young grandchildren lived with us for a short time, I described a pair of slacks I had as “periwinkle” ‑‑‑ a slightly purplish light blue. All the grandkids that that was the world’s funniest word for weeks! Your Prompt: if you want to write a children’s book, use nephews, nieces, your own children or grandchildren. Try LOTS of words on them ‑‑‑ which ones do they find hilarious? Use several of them in a VERY short, possible, children’s ‑‑‑ in which you employ as many as possible of the “good” traits above.

YES! I DID IT! I wrote a children’s picture book about food. But all the food was in nature, like mounds of creamy cloud pudding, mountains of Jiggley Jello, etc. Give it a try! It was silly and fun!

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/17/15

From Rick Walton (way back when): Like a lot of Utah writers, I’ve been thinking about one of our most wonderful writers and human beings: Rick Walton. There have been many improvements in his condition but, as nothing is ever certain for any of us, I’d like to share a poem idea of his for today’s prompt: He sent out, over the Utah Children’s Writers blog [if their archives save things forever, these appeared 9/22/09], several poems ‑‑‑ all about Goldilocks: he wrote the story in the style of Walt Whitman, e .e. cummings, Ogden Nash, Emily Dickinson ‑‑‑ and Paris Anderson shared one back (of his own, I presume?) as a William Carlos Williams’ version. I’ll share here Rick’s Lewis Carroll’s send‑up. Then YOU choose a fairy tale and rewrite it in the style of YOUR favorite poets/writers!

And PLEASE SHARE here in Comments:

Jabbergoldie by Rick Walton

`Twas brillig, and the hungry bears
Did gyre and gimble in their bowl:
All mimsy were the bearogoves,
And the mome raths outstroll.
“Beware the Goldilocks, my son!
The fist that knocks, the sniffing nose!
Beware the open door, and in
The Goldilocks she goes!”
She took a vorpal spoon in hand:
Long time the porridge bowl she sought ‑‑
Then tasted she of the first of three,
But oh, it was too hot.
And so she tried the second bowl,
Too cold. And then the third, ate all.
And then three chairs, too hard, too soft,
And one that caused her fall!
One, two! One, two! These beds won’t do.
The third, just right. She hit the sack.
And while she slept, those wandering bears,
They came galumphing back.
“And, who did eat the porridge? It’s
All gone. And who did break a chair?
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
Could that be her right there?
`Twas brillig, and the slithy bears
Did gyre and gimble by the bed;
All mimsy was the Goldilocks,
And home she up‑fled.

YES! I DID IT! Borrowing the idea from David M. Bader, who wrote HAIKU U. (100 Great Books in 17 Syllables [each]) I wrote 3 haiku’s:

Cinderella’s Glass Slipper

Sweeping up ashes.

What have I done with my shoe?

Now off to The Ball!


Hungry and tired.

I’ll eat and sleep for the nonce.

Did my tummy growl?

Jack’s Beanstalk

A handful of beans

Who wants beans? Just toss them out.

I’ll just aim higher.

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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BB=s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/14/15

From Carol Lynch Williams: Getting to know the plot and subplots of your book, write each as news articles, journal entries, headlines, from the voice of a local newscaster, as an announcement over the intercom at school, etc. Make them as detailed as needed.

YES! I DID IT ! ! ! Choose what you want from the above: I was stuck getting started, so, being a “Pantser,” I chose the easy way out: Several days ago I’d made a list of “habits” for each of my characters. I’d written that with each character’s name on a different colored Post‑It. I’d stuck them onto a LARGE sheet of colored butcher paper which I hung on a wall in my kitchen. So I chose to just write ONE of the ideas in the prompt above: Headlines. Lo, and Behold! AN OUTLINE (of sorts. It was FUN and pretty HILARIOUS to see what I could come up with as each new character was met and dealt with. I may get over my distaste for OUTLINES, between these two exercise4s.

Just a FEW of my HEADLINES, as examples:

  • L’Aquellian (aka Lackley) Investigates New Hedge Near Lord’s Compound
  • Maidservant Claims to Have Seen Lackley Disappear into Hedge of New Planted Ivy
  • Ice Queen Accused of Kidnapping Lackley After Icy Trail Ended at Hedge
  • Weather Warnings: Strawberries Found Blooming and Ripening in Mid‑December
  • Bird Watchers Claim to Have Seen Smoke Rising From Possible Tower Peak in Giant Hedge

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/13/15

A short while back Carol Lynch Williams wrote “The beginning. The start of a new novel. Oh, gosh, I’m at that door. Again. Is everything in place? No. I think I have the first line(s). Not sure it’ll stay, but this came night before last. ‘I’ve died four times (almost) and here I am on the tail end of twelve years old. At this rate, I won’t live to see nineteen.’ I have a bit more: So far I know how I want the book set up. I know what this character’s Daddy does for a living. Not so sure about Mom. Siblings? Maybe. What she wants? Yup, got that. But‑‑‑I ain’t got no other ideas . . . It went on, but ended with “I’m at that door. Again. That sexy beginning where anything can happen. I love this place.

I thought it was SO interesting to get an inside look at the mind of a writer. So, the prompt is to write down what you have (or don’t) for a not‑yet began WIP. (The W.I.P. being ALL in your head. Or, in this case, mine.)

YES! I DID IT! I am at that door, too (Carol’s probably already got her full first draft). Again. Is everything in place? No. I don’t have the first line(s). I do have a character. Actually, I have a MC, and 20 other creatures and/or “people” of different sorts. I know what habits they all have (that was a whole different prompt).

I know what the Father does “for a living.” This is a fantasy, but he’s NOT the King ‑‑‑ he’s an official Landholder, but not nearly so grand as a King. I don’t know about the mother yet either. (Why am I leaving out the mom? . . . oh, well ‑‑‑ Carol did too at this stage)

I know what my MC’s name is, and what she wants ultimately. Siblings? Possibly not, though that could change. And Carol was right: now begins the long haul of exploring, deciding, wondering, thinking; in my case, asking fellow writers’ for advice. I’ve already done a LOT of the complaining and worrying. And balking at starting (Carol doesn’t do that part. I get stuck in it.)

The beginning. The start of a new novel. Oh, gosh, I’m at that door. Again. That sexy beginning where anything can/should/ NEEDS to happen. And the door’s locked! I hate this place!

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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One More Double Entry… Almost

BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/06/15
Prompt from Cheryl: Is there a section of your novel that you’re struggling with? Maybe it isn’t working, but you can’t understand why. Try this: without looking at the original, rewrite the scene using only single syllable words. By doing this, you get rid of the fancy words, the pretty phrases. Instead, you focus on what’s really happening. Sometimes we fall so in love with our words that we lose sight of what’s actually happening in our story. This can help fix that.

YES! I DID IT! (Well . . . sort of . . . I’ll explain at the end.) Opening scene with Wyndell and Mum in StoonSaga: The Riddle of Griffin Ridge. To find a story with pieces I’m struggling with, I had to go back to StoonSaga (I’m not far enough into the new story with Lacklea to have something be really “problematic”, other than the fact that I don’t know my story yet.) My opening for StoonSaga has always been problematic: . . . one of the HARDEST exercises I’ve ever tried (somewhat truncated):

Mum had stowed the bag of flour ‘neath the steps to the keep, but she knew there was a mess when she saw the faint foot prints on steps which led up out of the keep.

“NOW, what’s he up to?” She loosed the wire, wrapped from door jamb to wood post in the wall, and let the door creak ope’. Foot prints on the five steps were more white than the ones out front.

“Wynd?” No sound. No laugh. No snort.

“If that flour is all gone, we’ll have none to break our fast come morn.”

It’s true, this is somewhat simplified . . . by coming up with one syllable words. BUT, in my time period (country folk in a long‑gone era —  15th or 16th century — AND the fact I’m writing fantasy — this exercise did little to make the language more plain: less “fancy” words, “pretty” phrases . . . had to concentrate on 1 syllable, 1 syllable, 1 syllable . . . had to shorten many . . . words normally . . . of 2 syllables, like “beneath” to “neath” — a legitimate word in my “world” — likewise with “open” as “ope’ “. This only increased the feel of a bygone era — good . . . but it left words you might only see in Shakespeare or even Chaucer (“fancy”? “pretty”?) . . . still, an interesting experiment, though . . . 1 syllable words are . . . not the only key to keeping out that which sounds . . . “fancy” or “pretty”. I’ll need to find another way to accomplish the same thing . . . but it’s not a waste of time — it gave me a new place to start the action, when my MC was much younger. This opens up dialogue between the now, mostly grown MC and his grandmother, and can reveal much about his character. If you are writing contemporary, I think this might be a . . . more useful technique to getting to the root of your problem with a particular part or scene.

BB’s (possibly stolen) PROMPT for 04/07/15 ‑ from Cheryl
Sometimes we put our character in a situation when they really need a complication. A situation is self‑contained, and there’s only one way out. A complication opens up to more possibilities.

Think about Pixar’s The Incredibles. We start out with Mr. Incredible trying to get to his wedding on time. Interesting situation, sure, but just a situation. Either he’ll get there or he won’t. Then there’s a complication: a suicidal jumper. Mr. Incredible saves the man, but encounters a new complication — a burglary in progress. As he deals with that, another complication arises when a young fan interferes. Through the complications, Mr. Incredible is repeatedly forced to act. His desires come to light. The stakes are raised the later it gets. The plot thickens when his young fan grows to resent him. The situation might be the important part of the plot, but it is the complications that give our character depth and set the story in motion.

Take a look at the outline of your novel. Are there situations where there could be complications? (I’ll need to fall back again on my StoonSaga story instead of my new one with Lacklea.)

YES! I DID IT! (truncated again): Paired situations with several complications throughout

Situation: Poppy, Wyndell’s father, has caught the DisEase which is decimating their land — ticking clock?

What complications could come up?

  • He could die
  • Mum could get it
  • Wyndell could get it
  • Wyndell, angry at Poppy’s condition, takes it out on everyone. How long has Poppy had it? How/why would he be idle for some length of time? . . .

Situation: Leadership of the Province is in jeopardy because of Poppy’s illness.

What complications could come up?

  • Chantume could take over
  • FullDark could win/attack
  • Not enough people left
  • Townspeople: fights, stealing, anger, resentment; attacks on Pod’s family

Situation: Mum and Poppy get in an argument about Wyndell.

What complications could come up?

  • Wyndell could run away
  • Wyndell could leave with Pod’s family ‑ hides in wagon, turned back by Pod’s father
  • Wydell could attack one or the other in trying to protect either one . . .

Situation: Young people get to know their special “skill” at about Wyndell’s age, but he still has no inkling of what it might be.

What complications could come up?

  • He hasn’t noticed the hints that are all around: water, metals, ELEMENTS
  • The supposed “skills” seem to ordinary and/or useless as “real” help . . .

Situation: Wyndell finds out that his best friend, Pod, is leaving the Precinct with his family, just as so many others have done.

What complications could come up?

  • Wyndell could leave with them
  • He could try to send Poppy with them for possible help with the DisEase
  • Mum could go with them, and talk Pod’s grandmother into going as well

(Feel free to re‑use my prompts, modified to YOUR specifications ‑‑‑ I “stole” them too from Carol Lynch Williams, AnnDeeCanDee, Cheryl, The ABC Writers Guild and others . . . )

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Picture This!

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

At times in the past, I have modeled characters’ looks, fashion sense, even personality on unknown models in magazines. I’ve even cut them out and then built characteristics for that person on the same page or on a 4×6 card. Or I’ve envisioned an old time actor (or a current one, for that matter) as my “hero,” “villain,” “sidekick,” or whomever.

I’m going to suggest another way to utilize pictures of unknowns from magazines or books to help your writing (and the above paragraph has some good ideas too: if you’ve never tried it, give it a go and see what you think). Look through a magazine or illustrated book, preferably one you haven’t read already, or an old one you’ve forgotten all about. Find a picture with at least two main “characters” on it. THINK of these two as major characters in a story you haven’t yet thought through.

Just allow them to begin interacting with each other. Don’t “plan” ahead (this will be a good one for all of us ‘pantsers’), because this is designed to give us practice in a more “organic” method of plot construction. Just start “recording” the story’s events and let them spin out in front of you. Pay attention to other props or objects that appear in the ad or picture. If there are other people in the picture, ignore them for the moment. See how or why the two might interact with the props, objects, bits of scenery, in the picture with them. Record items and events as faithfully as possible without thinking about the “rules” of story plot structure.

Once you’ve recorded the scene, note whether your characters interacted with or used any of the props, etc., given them by the picture. What did they do with items there? Twiddle nervously with papers on a desk? Pick up a coffee cup and look for a refill? Grab a hammer or bucket of paint, intending to use it as a weapon?

How did your characters interact with each other? Were they friends or strangers at the start? What relationship was forged during the scene: adversarial? Conciliatory? Pleading? Helpful? and so on.

Go ahead. This is just a writer’s PLAY ground. Have FUN in it ! ! !

(And, at the end, is there anything salvageable there? Can it be incorporated in your current WIP? Is it the beginning of a short story? An article? An editorial? A children’s book? Even a brand‑new novel?)

See you next for Saturday’s Spellbinder!

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