Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! So, here’s the deal: it’s late, I don’t feel like writing a long post (though it is my day to post) and I’m guessing you all don’t want to read a really long post (it is thanksgiving after all). So, go and celebrate with your families! I’m going to be celebrating with my girlfriend’s family (really excited about that, actually)… and my girlfriend, obviously (I kind of think that goes without saying). However, I do have a little exercise for you. I want you to sit down and list 20 things that you are thankful for/happy about this year, 10 things that you are thankful for/happy about this month, and five things that you are thankful for/happy about today. Then, I want you to write them all down on separate slips of paper and put them in a hat, bag, funerary urn… you know, whatever’s handy. Draw out five slips and write a short story that includes those five things. It should have some interesting results! I’m looking forward to seeing some of them.
Have you ever been nagged to death by an Alaskan water hag? No? Yeah, neither have I. I’m going to guess that they don’t exist… …I feel that this is a safe bet since I just made them up a couple of minutes ago. However, this week, as you all know, is Thanksgiving (… …unless you’re not American… then you probably don’t know). So, I’m sitting next to my amazing girlfriend right now (who I am going to get to write a couple of posts someday) at her parent’s house. Thus far, I seem to be getting along with her family rather well, which is definitely a good thing. Anyway, it’s Wednesday, which means that you get a scene challenge. If you can’t remember the rules, I’ll provide them: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene. Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction. If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.
Your rules: You task this week is to write a scene of at least 150 words that is all one sentence. If you’ve been following the blog then you’ve seen this challenge before. Remember to make sure that the scene is grammatically correct, and that it flows well. Again, you might want to give it to a grammar nazi after you finish to make sure that your grammar is solid. Your cue: “Marco, that Alaskan water hag is…”
So, it’s Thanksgiving time, and I couldn’t be happier. I have a week off from work, I’m in the middle on the North Carolina mountains with my boyfriend’s family, and I get to sleep in as long as I want every morning. Pretty much paradise for this exhausted educator and thesis writer. Anyway, I often have trouble doing any creative writing during this part of the holiday season because I’m so worn out that I can’t think of anything to write, and since I only have a week, it’s difficult to rest up enough to let the ideas come along on their own in time. I do have a little trick I do to both get myself in the holiday spirit AND in the mood to write: I write out a “thankful” list. Most people do around this time of year, but I don’t just do the generic “family, friends, and work” sort of thing. I get as detailed as I possibly can with about 25 events (major or minor) that have happened this year and 15-20 objects and/or people I’m thankful for, and I leave an anecdote with each one. Usually, at least one of those write-ups on my list will spark an idea, and off I go to write. So here’s a couple examples from my list this year:
1) Thankful for: My boyfriend. Anecdote: He always tries to get me to attempt new things; this semester, he’s wanted me to go to a football game because he loves sports and I have never so much as seen 5 minutes of a football event. I agreed to go, rather begrudgingly, but the home football games for my school’s team never lined up quite right with my schedule. The day we finally got to go was the last home game of the season, and it was ridiculously cold outside (about 30 degrees). We were there early, so we got bobbleheads of the school’s mascot, and pretty nice ones at that. I still don’t know what to do with mine, but who cares? So anyway, we sat in the student section, and it was kind of ridiculous. I had no idea what was going on (why is it called football when their feet don’t come in contact with the ball?), particularly since the game kept getting stopped every 5 seconds, and it was so cold. Boyfriend told me we could go after the first quarter, but I had promised him I would stay until the half, so I said I would wait. He laughed at me for being stubborn and bet that I would give up. Me being me, that taunting made me even more stubborn. So despite the teasing and the ridiculous cold as it got darker and darker, I stayed put until the whistle blew to mark the end of the second quarter. We both ran for the nearest building and sat in there for 2 hours to warm up. I still have no idea how football works, but I’m thankful for having that experience with my boyfriend because it made him very happy I was willing to try it, and it brought out his more playful side (he really likes teasing me when I’m being stubborn). It was a good day, despite the cold and confusion.
23) Thankful for: my spice cabinet. Anecdote: I was in a car accident a couple months ago, and the vehicle swerved quite a bit after the initial impact before we finally stopped. I was in the back seat and got thrown around a little; I later went to the hospital and I was diagnosed with bad whiplash. Anyway, when the car first stopped, my head hurt really badly, and I was dizzy and kind of freaked out. The police and an ambulance were there, and we all had to get out. Despite everything going on, all I could think about was finding my salt and pepper shakers…I’d brought dinner in my bag, and with it I’d brought along my black peppercorn grinder and my expensive sea salt. They fell out of the bag when the accident occurred, and I remember being terribly worried that I wouldn’t find them before the tow truck came and took the van away. I actually had one of my friends crawl around the car looking for them – she obliged me and found them, and I was at peace despite the fact that we were stranded on the side of a road in the dark out in the backwoods somewhere. None of that mattered because I had my salt and pepper, and I was greatly thankful for it.
I don’t know where I’ll go with these things creatively, but I’m already starting to get some ideas. In almost every case, I start off with the item or person in question, and end up somewhere in my anecdote that I hadn’t even considered. It helps me not only remember things to be thankful for, but also remember occurrences to bring into my stories, and it’s quite inspiring. So what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?
Okay, first of all, I’m sorry that I forgot to put up a picture for all of you yesterday. My weekend has been … busy. I have my last two major papers finished. One I think is pretty decent, though it definitely needs an editing run. The other one is probably not decent. Honestly, it probably needs a complete rewrite, but I just don’t have time to do that. So, I’m going to do what I can with the paper, turn it in, and hope for the best. I think my idea in it is good, but I also think that I’m trying to do too much in too little space, and a large portion of the paper isn’t really my field, which makes it difficult to be sure if I’m actually talking about relevant issues. I have three books left to read and four shorter papers left to write… well, I say shorter… Anyway, you’re here for a story challenge. So, in case you haven’t done this challenge before, I’m going to post a picture. Your job is to write a story about what is happening in said picture. Feel free to flesh it out some, to add things to the picture (you’ll probably have to with this one), but make sure that your story is actually about the picture that I post. For example, if I post a picture of a dart competition in a bar, don’t write a story about slavers selling mermaids. If I post a picture of a sorcerer casting a spell at the top of his tower, don’t write a story about a fist-fighter competing in the ring. So, no that you’ve got a good concept of what your doing, here’s your picture. Remember, if your going to post a story here, keep it under 500 words. If you want to post a longer story on your own blog, feel free to post a link to it here. So… you all know I love monsters, right:
It’s never quite enough is it? Whatever you make, I mean. If you make $12,000/year, then it really seems like if only you made $20,000 you’d have enough. If you make $20,000, then if you just made $30,000 you’d have enough. If you make $50,000 then you really need $90,000 and so on and so on. It seems like whatever we’re actually making at the moment, it’s just not quite enough. We’ve talked about a lot of concepts over the past few months. I’ve given you challenges about what it means to be poor, whether retirement is natural for humans, how much we should give regularly, etc, etc. So, this is my challenge for you today. It seems like a really simple question… but you might find it more challenging than you think. What does it mean to have enough? How do we even judge what ‘enough’ is? Is ‘enough’ the same for everyone, or is it different for different people? Is having ‘enough’ even about money, or are other things necessary as well?
As always, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write me a story of 1000 words answering these questions and defending your answer. Have at it :).
So, I’m almost finished with Carl F.H. Henry’s Christian Personal Ethics, which is good since I have three more books to finish reading in a little over a week. However, next semester I get to read Harry Huebner’s An Introduction to Christian Ethics which is a massive book with about 700 words per page (if you like to count words than you know most books average around 300 words per page). Honestly, I keep getting the feeling that this book is plotting to kill me in my sleep sometime next March… beware the Ides of March, right? Okay, so maybe I don’t really expect a book to kill me in my sleep. It’s still going to be a long read. However, in the here and now, it’s time for a plot challenge! Today’s challenge is a pretty basic one. I’m going to give you a very general idea for a setting, and then a few basic character archetypes to work off of. Feel free to alter things as you see fit.
Your Setting: I’d like you to use the bar that you came up with for this plot challenge.
A Wise Guy: Depending on what kind of bar you made this could be a yakuza enforcer, a made man with the mob, or a thug in some other kind of major criminal organization. However, you get the general idea, he’s a not a nice person.
The Bartender: a part of you challenge was to put together a character profile for the bartender in your bar. So, use that profile as a part of your plot development.
A Writer: Do you like Castle? I like Castle. So, one of your archetypes is a writer who make the bar his work space.
A Professor: Perhaps he’s a professor a literature at Harvard, or a professor a thaumatergy at the nearest college of magic. Regardless of your setting, he teaches something.
A Priest: Perhaps this is a fallen Roman Catholic father, or a priest of Frei who isn’t so fallen. This could be a priest of some mystical religion in your fantasy world. It’s up to you, but this is a holy man, or a man who used to be holy, or perhaps a man who is trying to be holy. It’s up to you.
At long last, I’ve done a bit of fiction writing again! This scene is the beginning of a story idea that’s been in my head for a while. I want to say it’s a bit like a modern-day The Brothers Karamazov, except that I unfortunately have never read the whole book (yet). But like the excerpts and summaries I’ve read from TBK, this story focuses on three brothers with three different outlooks on life and faith. Maybe one day I’ll flesh this out into a full story or novel, but this is what we’ve got for now. Also, this is a fairly rough/rushed draft, so constructive criticism is welcome. Enjoy!
Scott shoved another bite of pancake into his mouth and chewed, wasting little time on savoring its sweetness as he went.
“You gonna be ready to go soon?” asked his father, glancing at the clock.
“In like ten minutes,” said Scott. “I just need to finish eating and then brush my teeth.”
“I’m almost ready!” Scott’s mother called, from the other room but quickly advancing in his direction. “Just need to find where I set my glasses down.” She stopped at the kitchen table. “How are the pancakes?”
“We have another thing of syrup, if you want it. I think we just ran out of the other one.”
“No, thanks. I’m good. I got some already.”
“You sure? I don’t mind getting it for you.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Oh, I’ve got to check on the other boys,” his mother said to no one in particular. She moved from the kitchen and knocked on an adjacent door.
“Hmm?” came a voice from inside. Scott kept chewing his pancakes, and tapped his fork sporadically as he listened.
“You almost ready for church, James?”
The voice was flat and unenthusiastic. “Yeah. I’ve been ready for a while.”
“Oh, but I haven’t seen you much. You’ve just been in your room the whole time.”
“I’ve been reading my Bible.”
“Kay.” A pause. “You want a quick breakfast before church?”
“Sure. I’ll come out in a minute.”
Scott heard the door close, followed by quick footsteps. “I’m a little worried about James,” his mother said in a harsh whisper as she grabbed the full container of syrup and set it on the table next to Scott. Scott scowled slightly.
“Why?” Scott asked.
“He spends all his time reading his Bible. I mean, I know it’s a good thing, but he’s not doing fun things that boys his age do. He doesn’t really play sports or video games or anything. And he doesn’t talk to us as much, either.”
“I don’t know,” said Scott. “I mean, it’s good that he’s reading his Bible.” As Scott said this, he was acutely aware that it was a good thing to read the Bible, because somewhere in the back of his mind he felt the sinking weight of knowing that he wasn’t doing it enough. He hadn’t read his own Bible in three days. Or was it four? Or more?
“I guess,” whispered his mother. “But he’s only fourteen, and he’s so serious! I’m just worried that he’s not having any fun.”
A brief patter of rapid footsteps was heard, and then the basement door swung open. “Oh, there’s Howard,” said the mother.
Howard sauntered to the table, grabbed a couple pieces of bacon, and began to ingest them quickly. He did not sit down.
“Morning, Howard,” said his mother. Howard nodded, his mouth full.
“You almost ready for church?” their mother asked. James quietly stepped out of his room and made his way toward the kitchen table. His father paced through the adjacent living room, adjusting his tie and gathering his things.
“I’m not going,” Howard uttered nonchalantly.
His mother scowled. “Not going?”
“What do you mean you’re not going?”
Howard looked up at her. “I’m not going. We talked about this.”
Scott still sat at the table, finishing his pancakes and listening in uncomfortably. James was seated at the table too and had begun wolfing down a quick Pop Tart.
“I know we talked,” said their mother with a sigh. “I guess I was hoping you’d come to your senses by now.”
“I did,” said Howard. “I decided I’m not going to your stupid church anymore.”
“Howard.” His father stepped closer. “Respect your mother.”
“What? It’s true!”
“You’re just mad because I’m not a Christian anymore.”
“I’m not mad,” said his father. “I never said I was mad.”
“We’re not mad,” said the mother, her voice rising. “We just don’t understand why you say you’re not a Christian anymore.”
“Because there’s no evidence for Christianity,” said Howard. “It doesn’t make logical sense.”
“That’s not true,” Scott spoke up.
“Truth is subjective,” Howard answered.
“No it’s not,” said Scott. “That doesn’t make sense. Facts are facts, whether people believe them or not. And there’s plenty of factual evidence for Christianity.”
“No there’s not. Faith is blind.”
James sighed quietly.
Scott spoke up again. “You’re wrong. It’s the truth. Just look at all the fulfilled prophecies, the historical evidence, the news today and everything—”
“Scott,” their father interrupted. “That’s enough fighting. Both of you.”
“I just don’t get it,” the mother interjected, her words pointed toward Howard. “Do you really think walking away from God is going to help you?”
“I didn’t do it to be helped,” said Howard. “I’m just following the evidence.”
“But, if you would just let God help you, I really don’t think you’d be so depressed all the time.”
“Mom, that’s not how it works.”
“Yeah,” Scott agreed. “Depression is psychological. I mean, I’m sure spiritual factors can coincide with it—”
“Scott,” said the father.
“What? I was agreeing with him this time. It’s a known scientific fact. Depression is psychological.”
“It’s just that we had to pay the hospital bills,” their mother continued loudly. “And drive out there to check on you every day, and everything. I don’t think you understand that this isn’t easy for the rest of us, either. And I don’t think you’d have all these problems if you would just come back to God again!”
“Whatever,” Howard said, grabbing the rest of his breakfast and marching away from the table back toward the basement. “I’m out of here.”
“Howard,” said his father.
“Fine. You don’t have to,” his father said calmly. “But don’t go too far. I want to talk to you when I get home.”
“Am I grounded?” Howard asked sarcastically.
“No. I just want to talk.”
“Whatever. I’m gonna do what I want. Soon I’ll be out of here for good anyway.”
His mother sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t say that.”
“I’m nineteen!” Howard protested. “I’ve gonna move out sooner or later, once I can get the money!”
Scott took a deep breath. He was almost twenty-three, and also eager to move out, but so far his Bachelor’s Degree had been little help in finding him a stable job.
“Good luck with that,” said the mother. “You haven’t even been able to hold down a job.”
She was talking to Howard. Scott knew that she was talking to Howard. But he still drew another deep breath.
Howard rushed down the stairs without saying anything else.
The sound of Scott chewing his last bite of pancake was not enough to drown out the silence.
James spoke up. “I guess we should pray for him,” he offered feebly.
“We should get ready for church,” said his mother. “I just need to go find my glasses.” Her voice wavered and she walked off.
“I’ll go get my Bible,” said James, retreating back into his room.
Wordlessly, Scott got up to put his plate in the sink.
He felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.
“Scott, I do want to thank you for your steadfastness,” said his father. “Whatever is going on with Howard has been…trying. But I do appreciate you staying true to what we’ve taught you and not going down that path.”
Scott froze for a minute, unsure of what to say.
He wanted to say, “Steadfastness? That’s not me. I haven’t been steadfast. I’m too selfish. I’m too prideful. I know God is there, but I’ve got to admit He feels distant sometimes. Sometimes the logical arguments seem more real to me than God as an actual person. And I can only blame my own sin and selfishness for that. I haven’t lost my faith, but I’ve lost my youthful idealism. I don’t have the same hope and joy and enthusiasm that I did when I was James’s age. Yes, I still believe in God, but I don’t have much hope in this world or in people anymore. Half the time I don’t even believe in myself. At least, not like everyone else does. Not like you do, Dad.”
Instead he said, “Uh, sure. Of course. You’re welcome.”
Well, one paper is out of the way and a second one is half done. I’ve also got one of my short papers finished, and I’m planning to write the second one on Thursday. However, I still have four books to finish (about 900 pages) before December 3rd and I’ll have four papers to write as well. So, super-massive week 1 is half over and I’m doing fairly well. However, I still have to finish this week and then super-massive week two will happen next week. Anyway, I imagine that you’re here for your scene challenge. If you don’t know the rules: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene. Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction. If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.
Your challenge: Go troll the web (preferably with a friend). Find something that strikes you as interesting and try to write a scene of at least 300 words describing the situation, scenario, scene, whatever. This could take multiple formats. For instance, you could write as though you were the one doing whatever you found. You could write from the perspective of a fictional character reading the story that you read. You could even write the scene as though it was an article or an incident report. The form is entirely up to you. When you’ve both finished your scenes, trade and read what the other person wrote. How did your perspective and personality affect the scene that you wrote? What did each of you focus on? What details are present in both stories, and what details are unique to each? Consider your particular viewpoints, attitudes, beliefs, and emotional connections. How did each of this affect your scene?
There is a reeling against NaNo, and I was smacked repeatedly with it yesterday. Instead of firing back at them on Facebook, I decided to blog about it to all of you. I’ve went over why you should do NaNo, but they were ultimately superficial reasons. What I want to talk about now are the NaNo writers, habits, and bad practices which come out of this.
This all came to pass yesterday when someone bemoaned the horrible critique she received from an organization willing to look over NaNo drafts. For this next part, if you take bad news poorly find someone to hold you. I’ll wait.
Alright, now that we’re all cozy, the truth is your first draft is nearly unreadable. It is going to receive a generic “What a nice premise” from the kindest of critics. You keep your first draft in a drawer of shame somewhere, after you edit, only to go back and laugh at it while drinking heavily. By. Your. Self.
It has typos, grammar issues, plot holes that could swallow a super nova, the same character called by three different names, and at least one deus ex machina that the Greek’s would be ashamed to use in their plays. When December hits, or whenever you finish, throw it aside, let it breathe for a week, preferably a month, and then get down to editing. Trust me.
NaNo is also not harming or scaring away future authors. The majority of people who start with NaNo have been saying, “I’m going to write a novel” for the better part of their life. Some of us since we became enamored with Big Friendly Giant fan fictions in second grade, moving on to Jurassic Park in fourth. By fifteen I had a firmer grasp on intellectual property, but just barely.
Most of the people writing for it would still be staring at a blank screen. Or a TV. Or a video game. Or…. Of those who do write, some get no further than 5,000 words. The lowest on my buddy list currently is almost at 150. That’s around 150 more words than they wrote in the past 40 years.
I feel we all fail to remember your average NaNo author is a hobbyist. This isn’t bad. Hobbies are great. Tons of guys play basketball, football, and other sports on the weekend without any hope of getting into the most basic of paid leagues. They aren’t trying to get published, they won’t get past a first draft, they feel no shame and that is excellent.
When I did Tough Mudder, by the end I was a broken rag doll. I looked like crap while many others were running as if they just started. Getting through with grace and making a start in my athletic career were not my goals. Finishing was, and I achieved that. We aren’t instilling future authors with bad habits. We’re giving people something to be proud of, even if it’s a one shot gig.
For those wanting to get beyond hobbyist, here are some of the good habits.
Write. The first few pages are difficult. I’m pretty sure I had less pain and anxiety getting my cavity filled two weeks ago. The bill for that filling is another story.
Once you get rolling, keep rolling. Like Juggernaut, what you leave behind may not be pretty, but you’ll have a path and your momentum will often times carry you. You can always pave and beautify later. If you stop, it takes a lot of effort to get going again.
Don’t edit until you’re done. Maybe you’re rare and can do this, but I’ve never heard of a single person capable of making any substantial forward progress when editing while they write. They may edit the last paragraph or two as they read what they wrote last night to remember where they were going. The people I know who edited the first chapter after they finished have been on chapter one for the better part of two years. The rest finally quit.
Set deadlines. Sure you can break them, but the guilt of failure eating away at us has a tendency to make us strive for more. Or go catatonic. From what I can tell, however, if you’re going catatonic because of guilt, you’re definitely not going to survive the critics. Try to stand firm on your deadlines. If you miss, adjust.
Here are the bad habits. No one cares about your progress. At least they don’t three times a day. Or once a day. Pick a day, like Friday. Release an update around 3pm, when everyone at work is bored and looking for a distraction. Brief, to the point, and add some humor. If you’re just updating word count, put up a counter or use Twitter.
November is the only time you break this rule. People are there to help you and everyone shares. You don’t want it to be the norm, but it sure does feel good for 30 days.
Edit your work. Not after finishing chapter one. After you write “The End.” As stated above, draft one is not up for public consumption. A rough draft is like a road: until it’s finally paved, you don’t want to drive over it. This includes excerpts. Put up those “road closed” signs.
Don’t ask for our opinion on passages. On ideas. On really finely detailed minutia. You have friends. If you need literary friends, go make some. It’s easy to talk to us through a computer screen. In real life we’ll likely stab you repeatedly. It’s just good business practice to get rid of competition.
A final word. People are under the assumption you plan for 11 months, and write for one. I usually write for three, edit for the rest of the year, and start planning in mid September. If November doesn’t work out as your novel writing month, don’t sweat it. Make it work on your schedule. I find the deadlines and excitement get me moving and catapult me well through November.
This is something we can all benefit from, from those who do NaNo to those who disdain it. While I know we all write in our own way, NaNo can teach a lot of great habits. The bad, more often than not, are incidental, not directly taught by the event. Find what works for you. Cut out what obviously doesn’t. If you do it as a hobby, sweet. If you want something more, there are plenty of resources to help you get past the first step.
Have you ever woken up exhausted? That was my morning yesterday. Its been a long time since I was actually this tired. However, if I can make it through this week I will be over the hump and the major stuff will be done. Then I just have a couple more books to read and a few short papers to write and I’ll be done with the semester. Anyway, I have a story challenge for you. You know the rules: I give you a picture and you give me a story of 1000 words or less (at least if you want to post it here) that explains what is happening in the picture. Remember the lesson from last time, stay true to the picture. Let the audience know what is happening in the background of the picture without actually altering any of the picture’s own details. Enjoy: