Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo Is Finally Here!

As I write this, I am watching the clock. It's 1 a.m. on Oct. 31. In less than 24 hours, I will be well into my first 1,667 words of National Novel Writing Month. 

That is my plan for each of the 30 days of the competition: Write 1,667 words a day. To prepare for the next four weeks of feverish writing, I have over the last week or so taken a sabbatical from serious writing. My thoughts were if I stopped writing, I'd store up the muse and unleash her on Nov. 1.

I've done some outlining and daydreamed my way through character profiles, story lines, etc. But really, I've avoided writing and focused mostly on watching old episodes of Angel, Merlin, 3rd Rock from the Sun and anything else I could to find writing ideas. Beg. Borrow. Steal.

I also played video games I've neglected for years. For example, I dusted off my Nintendo College Football 2005 and played a few games as the Air Force Falcons. And in case you're wondering, I picked the Falcons because I was in a Stargate: SG1 mood, and if you know the show, well, you know they are Air Force. For the record, I don't know how to run Air Force's wing offense (whatever it's called).

For those following my Mall Demons Serial, you'll notice I did not post Chapter 6 yet. I should have announced the delay. My apologies. But since I was on that sabbatical, it included Mall Demons. I should have Chapter 6 online by Friday.

Well... it's 1:15 a.m. Gonna save the rest of the muse and unleash her in less than 24 hours. So, that's all for now. If you're NaNoWriMo, let me know. We can spur one another on to the end!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Writing Prompts Can Be Your Ticket To Success!

We use writing prompts quite often in our writing club at school. They are a fun way to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Think about it. You like writing about zombies, but a prompt asks you to write about your first love. 
As much as you might gag at the idea, it will stretch your skills. That's always a good thing as a writer. And, you never know. A story you create with a prompt might become a reader favorite that spawns your publishing success. So, here are a few suggestions. Give them a try, let me know how it goes.

  • Write a story that includes a historical figure as one of the main characters. Writers in my club do this regularly, but the figures tend to turn into serial killers, vampires and the like.
  • With pen and paper, visit a bookstore, coffee shop, etc. Sit for awhile. Write down all the dialogue you hear, then build a short story out of it. Our club did this, too. Once again, the characters in our story ended up dying.
  • Write an alternate version of a fairy or folk tale. Modernize it, even. Yep, you guessed it. Club did this one and we focused on tales where some dark force unleashed evil on the world and it was doomsday. I think our club has issues.
  • Look up 10 random words in the dictionary. The key here is random. Now write a short story using those words. Our club had fun with this one. One of the words we had to use was 'homunculus.' Of course our homunculi (plural??) were evil.
So there you go. Give those a try. You never know where it might take you. My Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Serial started with one short story using the writing prompt to 'Write an alternate version of a fairy or folk tale'. Now I am on Part 6, and it's on its way to becoming a full-length novel I'm publishing in December.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

12 Things To Keep In Mind When Choosing The Setting Of Your Story

I am happy to introduce my first guest blogger on Pedro Is Writing. I met Joe Mynhardt online at My Writers Circle, a great community for writers, by the way. He is a South African writer with some great ideas. 
Today he is sharing about his method for planning setting in fiction. I appreciate Joe's thoughts on the subject and will be asking myself many of these questions as I continue working on my Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Serial. If you have comments or questions for Joe, please feel free to share them in the comments section below. Having said that, here's Joe....

I've been writing short stories, quite successfully, since the end of 2008 and recently started my first novel, which made me think about what questions I need to ask myself during the planning phase of my novel. I wanted to plan the novel just like I did my short stories, but even more structured. Being a busy person, I'd rather spend a bit more time on the drawing board than wasting time in unnecessary and time consuming rewrites.  

For the next few weeks I'll be posting a few things I've picked up from books, author interviews and personal experience. These techniques can of course be used in short stories, plays and screenplays as well. So answer these questions to get a better view of what your story has and needs. 

Today's questions will deal with setting:

  • What is the main setting of your story? 
  • Does the setting effectively influence the mood or atmosphere of the story? 
  • Does the setting have enough of an influence on the story and the people within it? 
  • Does the setting fit into your narrative tone? 
  • Is your setting unique, exotic and interesting, or is it cliché and just plain boring? 
  • Are there changes in scenery and do these scene changes represent something in your plot or perhaps a character? Example: turmoil within the character or his/her relationship with their significant other. 
  • Is the setting influential enough so that the story could not take place anywhere else? 
  • Are you using your setting effectively when it comes to the possibilities of irony, contrast, foreshadowing, symbolism and motif?  
  • Does the setting present some kind of barrier to the main character, keeping him away from his goal? Example: conflict with nature? 
  • Does your story eventually rise above the setting in a symbolic sense?  
  • Does the setting perhaps represent a part of your character's personality? 
  • Are you using every setting to its full potential? Think about this carefully. A brainstorm session on this can represent quite a few new ideas for your story. 

 I hope this gets you on your way to improving your story. Till next time.  

All the best,
Joe Mynhardt

Joe Mynhardt is a South African writer and teacher. While having dozens of short story publications, Joe also tends to a tome of story ideas scraping for a chance to be written. Read more about Joe and his creations at or find him on Facebook at 'Joe Mynhardt's Short Stories'. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Use Literary Terms As Writing Prompts: Allusion

When I get stuck in my writing, I turn to exercises to prime the pump. One of the exercises I often turn to is using literary terms as prompts. By literary terms, I mean words like allusion, characterization, dramatic irony, foreshadowing, personification, symbol and tone.
Microsoft Office Images

So, I figured I'd share my strategies with you. Maybe it works for you. If it does, then great. For it to work, you must know what the terms mean. Today's term: Allusion

It's not the same as 'illusion.' An allusion is a quick reference, brief mention to something (literary person or historical event, for example) in your work. The assumption is that usually whatever you are referring to is something your audience knows about (although this isn't always the case).

Writers might use allusions to enrich their story, to provide context quickly or draw connections with other works. I have written stories based on allusion prompts. Once in a writing group, we put together a prompt for our monthly writing exercise that looked something like this:

In no more than 5,000 words write a horror story based in Virginia while also using at least 3 allusions.

Now, here's an example from the first part of my Mall Demons Serial, 'Death Speaks Loudest To Those Who Flee.' In the story, one of the demon characters recounts a tale from his past:

Many of their years ago I was apprenticed to Death himself. It was in the year 1187. We were visiting one of the many villages that Richard the Lionheart's crusaders were traveling through...

My mentioning of 'Richard the Lionheart' was an allusion. If you know who he is, I've just drawn a connection between that figure and that historical time and the setting and events of my story. It's brief, but it adds richness that would be missing if I simply wrote something like this:

I was apprenticed to Death himself during the middle ages. We were visiting a village...

The second passage, at least to me, just doesn't carry the same punch. Here's another example from a story I am working on now. It's a sci-fi story, and one of the characters, a child, is explaining the situation to another character:

Then something weird happened... This is when John and, I think, the alien guy showed up. And the alien used his device. Well, it threw everything out of whack, kind of like that episode in Star Trek Voyager when Janeway and Paris got stuck in another phase of reality because of that clock thing and almost got blown up.

I know, the passage is still rough around the edges, but you see the allusion, right? I linked my story's events to similar events from a Star Trek Voyager episode. Anyone in my audience who's seen the episode will draw a connection.

That's it. Simple, right? Try using allusions in your next work. Make it an exercise. Use the prompt I shared above if you like. Let me know how it goes! You can comment below or e-mail me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Take a Break From Writing... NaNoWriMo is coming!

Source: Microsoft Office Images

In 10 days, I will begin eating, drinking novel writing. For 30 days, it will be an existence transformed for the sake of completing a manuscript for National Novel Writing Month.

So, I'm thinking this weekend is time to have a whole lot of fun that doesn't involve much writing. If you are preparing for NaNoWriMo, maybe you should consider doing the same. Why not. This is time to make paper airplanes with your son. It's time to take your wife out for a romantic stroll in the park. Maybe something more adventurous?

When I was a boy, I used to love camping. We didn't have much cash growing up, so camping was a rare treat and an inexpensive family gathering, by the way. When I say camping, I mean old-school camping with a  small uncomfortable tent, a sleeping bag, etc. 

I remember running around the woods with the other children gathering wood for the fire. It was usually the first task after unloading all our supplies. No fire. No dinner. It was a great time sitting in the dirt around the fire.
Source: Microsoft Office Images

Some details escape me all these years later. I don't remember how we washed up - maybe we didn't. We definitely did not have showers. But, hey, we were kids. We didn't care if we were stinky in the woods. Modern camping grounds have amenities that take all the adventure out of roughing it.

Anyway... you get the idea. Do something. This is that weekend to let loose because November 1 is coming. Then it'll be writing, writing, writing every day.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why You Won't Write A Novel In 30 Days

Want to enter NaNoWriMo? That's the month-long challenge that takes place every November with one goal for entrants: write a 50,000-word novel draft.

If you have never tried, I have one key to success. It is the most essential strategy for success (in my opinion). Do this, and you can succeed. Convince yourself that you are a special case and don't need to follow this strategy, and more than likely you will not finish your novel draft. No success.

So, what's the key? What is this strategy? It is simply this: Write every day.

That's it. So simple, yet... I hear the scoffing already. I write when the muse strikes. Or, I'm too busy so I write only on the weekends. I hear you. I feel you. But I no longer agree with you. Here's why. 

If you want to write 50,000 words in 30 days, it will require that you write every day. This can’t be emphasized enough. Sure, you can procrastinate and catch up on the weekends, etc. But, you are putting pressure on yourself to do a week’s writing in just two days. And inevitably, other things will come up on those weekends to make it even more challenging to write your words for the week.

I tried this strategy of just using weekends the first time I entered NaNoWriMo. After the second week of trying, I abandoned all hope. It just didn’t work. Let me setup a scenario to illustrate:

After an exhausting five days at the office, that first Saturday comes. All I want to do is relax. So, I tell myself. I will sleep in a little bit. Then, after lunch, I will start writing those words.

Lunchtime comes and my wife has different ideas. She really wants to buy new curtains, etc. for the living room.

“Can we please go to the store? You know you don’t have time to do it on weekdays?” she says.

So, we spend the afternoon at several stores looking at every possible curtain design known to man. By the time we return home, I am beat. I tell myself I’ll rest for an hour, then I’ll start those words. An hour goes by. Time to prep for dinner. We don’t have everything we need, so my wife sends me to the grocery store for last-minute ingredients. No problem. 'While she finishes up dinner, I’ll steal away some time to write,' I say to myself.

Nope. Silly rabbit. Trix are for kids!

In the middle of dinner, my wife’s mother calls with important news. I take over the last steps for dinner while my wife takes the call. Then….dinner. Afterward, it slips my mind that tonight’s the big football game. I just can’t miss it. National-televised game. Highly-ranked teams. I must watch it. I make a deal with myself. I will watch it and write at the same time. Afterall, football is filled with time-outs, commercials, etc. Plenty of time to do some quick writing.

Four hours later, I’m mad because my team lost in the last minute of the game. I have written nothing because it was such a close game up to the final minute that I didn’t have time to write a word. Now, it’s about 11 p.m. I’m feeling guilty because I didn’t write anything. I’m angry because my team lost. I’ll just go to bed. Can’t write in this state of mind anyway.

And then comes Sunday with a whole set of its own situations preventing me from writing. When I’m back at the office Monday morning, I am really feeling pathetic because I didn’t get any writing done.

End of scenario. End of any thoughts of finishing my 50,000-word novel.

Solution: Write every day. Ideally, if you write 1,667 words a day for 30 days, you'll get to your goal. I know from experience that sometimes you won't get to 1,667. You must (if you're like me) write something every day. 1,000 one day. 2,000 another. Whatever. But write every day.

What do you think of writing every day?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Writing Exercise: Use Clichés

So, I'm preparing myself for NaNoWriMo - that's National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated. 

This means I'm wicked into outlining chapters and sections, fleshing out characters, etc. It also means I'm brainstorming nice tricks to help me when the writing gets tough around Week Three. One solution I'm exploring now: use every cliché I can think of or find. Armed with a long list of clichés, I'll be able to add length to my NaNoWriMo project.

I'm not the first person to suggest using  clichés - even with all the conventional wisdom that says avoid  clichés like the plague (LOL). But imagine how many literary and film characters exist who are walking clichés. How about whole story lines, movies built on clichés. Just look at all the macho cop movies out there.

Writing Exercise: Use Clichés To Write A Short Story, Poem
Go all out. "Do it with gusto!" Or as we say in Spanglish, "Do it with ganas!" Make it ridiculously Cliché. Why not? It's OK. You're a writer. You're allowed.

To find out more about NaNoWriMo and sign up for the November challenge, check out my blog post with links to help you get started.

If you have time, please read my latest fiction project, the Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Serial. Chapters 1-5 are online. Let me know what you think, and tell me if you spot the clichés, LOL. The links to the chapters are at the top of this blog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chapter 5 in the Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Serial is Online

My first attempt at a teaser for Chapter 5 in the Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Serial

What happens now that the terms of battle have been set? Demons plan their attacks on the chosen one while Evangeline and Watcher visit Daniel to break the news. Can they prepare him for the coming war before it's too late?

Read the latest in the Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Serial. The forces of good and evil battle again. This time the fate of humanity will be decided at the mall.

OK... Let me know what you think.

Read Chapter One
Read Chapter Two
Read Chapter Three
Read Chapter Four

Vacation was fun while it lasted

Last day before it's time to go back to work. Little mini-vacations are awesome. They can help recharge the batteries. I look back at the last few days, and I could grumble about not getting as much writing as I had wanted.

I could grumble. It wouldn't change anything, though. I was still writing and doing the things I needed to do to improve my craft. OK. I had hoped to be done with three chapters of my Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Serial. I'm almost done with one more chapter, not three. So what.

Sometimes we must be happy with whatever it turns out to be. Otherwise, we could harm our efforts at the mental level. And at the mental level is where writing starts. So, mess that up, and you mess up the words.

The words is what it's all about.

Maybe the last few days for you haven't been as productive either. It happens. As long as it doesn't happen all the time, it's OK. Don't be your own worst enemy, your own worst critic.

Live and learn. 

I may not have written three chapters as I wanted, but I did write a prelude. I also decided to spin off a second book in the Mall Demons series as a prequel. I realized a few of my characters (Evangeline, Watcher and Sargas Vak) have interesting backstories that I could expand upon in other books.

With NaNoWriMo coming in a few weeks, I just might use the exercise to write that first draft of the prequel.

Other tasks I took care of during this vacation: I updated my LinkedIn and YouTube accounts. I'm excited about using YouTube to offer audio versions of my series. 

Tomorrow it's back to writing. Goal: 2,000 words.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Elementary Steps To Writing - Are You Smarter Than A Fourth Grader?

My wife and I just returned from a parent-teacher conference to hear that our child is doing very well. Something parents always want to hear. Getting to the particulars, the teacher said our child loves to read. Given free time in class, it is her activity of choice.

Now, that's something a writing father loves to hear.

As I observed the room with a writer's eye, I noticed one wall devoted to laminated signs that spelled out several steps to the writing craft. I read the signs and was pleased to see what fourth graders are learning about writing in elementary school. Since I can't remember when I was that young and I imagine other adults may have forgotten their wonder years as well, here's what those signs said about writing:

Six Steps (and I'm paraphrasing what they said)

  • Prewrite - Brainstorm your topic
  • Draft - Write out that 1st draft
  • Edit - Check for grammar and other errors
  • Revise - Rewrite to make your manuscript more interesting
  • Publish - Use your best handwriting 
  • Share - Let the world read it.
I thought the list was pretty cool. Granted, the 'publish' step could be altered to address any formatting requirements writers might need to follow when submitting a poem, article or short story to a magazine, journal or other publishing venue. But, the list itself is solid advice to more than just elementary school pupils. I think these steps are excellent building blocks every writer can use to improve their writing.

Office Images
As a writing professor, I often see students give short shrift to several of these steps (if not ignore them completely). 

Prewriting is often ignored. I don't know how many times I've seen students try going from blank screen to 1st draft without a plan or at least a brief exploration of the topic. 

Can I just say that skipping the editing step is probably what annoys me the most as a teacher. That just screams laziness. And finally, revising is often ignored, too. The first draft of anything is crap. There is almost always something writers can do to revise their work and make it more interesting. No matter how many times I say this in class, someone always rises to challenge my statement.

"You've never seen one of my papers," the student will say. "It'll be an A+ on the first try."

"Prove it," I say. "Don't boast. Show me."

Hubris... I'm still waiting to this day for that perfect paper on the first try.

So, what do you think of this elementary school list of writing steps? Share your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Can You Write A Novel In 30 Days?

Repeat after me: "Yes, I can."

Yes, you can. All you have to do is sit down at the keyboard or at a table with pen and paper and write about 1,667 words a day. After 30 days you will have a 50,000-word manuscript.

For those of you who have never tried, November is the month to do it. Ever since 1999 would-be writers have been taking on this task from November 1 to 30.

To those of us who have participated in the competition before NaNoWriMo (our term of endearment for National Novel Writing Month) is a flurry of activity that is exciting, frightening and maddening all at the same time.

Oh, I did forget. At the end when you submit that last word count, and you see that you've reached the 50,000-word goal, NaNoWriMo is also gratifying.

Throughout the month of October I will be posting blog items related to NaNoWriMo as I prepare for this feverish month of novel writing. One lesson learned from trying the competition a few times and finally winning last year is that I needed a strategy. I needed preparation.

By the way, winning means meeting the 50,000-word goal. Of the 200,000 participants last year, according to NaNoWriMo officials, more than 30,000 finished and were counted as winners.

Check out the NaNoWriMo Web Site to learn more. Sign up to participate. You will learn a lot about yourself as a writer. Look for my profile on the site: Bevova is the name to search. We can be writing buddies!

K.M. Weiland, who writes historical and speculative fiction, notes that one of the habits of successful authors is to write every day.
There's nothing like a 30-day novel-writing competition to force you into the habit of writing every day.

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo before? What strategies helped you?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shakespeare Is Still The Man

Source: Microsoft Office
Love him. Hate him. Don't understand him.


This is the guy who writers are still being measured against nearly 400 years after his death. And quite a few writers in history didn't seem to like that. Truth be told, writers are a jealous bunch. There. I said it. We'll congratulate a colleague who's recognized for his or her work, but deep down inside we're mumbling to ourselves.

"Can't believe people thought that was good. My work is so much better!"

OK... We're not all like that... ahem... But, here are some quotes from other writers in history about the Bard.

I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penned)he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, would he had blotted a thousand. - Ben Jonson

Shakespeare's name, you may depend on it, stands absurdly too high and will go down. He had no invention as to stories, none whatever. He took all his plots from old novels, and threw their stories into a dramatic shape, at as little expense of thought as you or I could turn his plays back again into prose tales. That he threw over whatever he did write some flashes of genius, nobody can deny: but this was all. Suppose anyone to have had the dramatic handling for the first time of such ready-made stories as Lear, Macbeth, &c. and he would be a sad fellow indeed, if he did not make something very grand of them. - George Gordon, Lord Byron

I do not believe that any writer has ever exposed this bovaryisme, the human will to see things as they are not, more clearly than Shakespeare. - T.S. Eliot

When I read Shakespeare I am struck with wonder That such trivial people should muse and thunder in such lovely language. - D.H. Lawrence

I particularly like Lord Byron's quote. I read it and think, 'I can take old stories and make them my own. What a great idea!' Aha, that sums up literature. Doesn't it? I tip my hat to the Bard. (Tipping it now.)

Are you a Shakespeare fan? Is he still relevant today?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Do You Write Too Much?

Simple question. No need for a complex answer. In all honesty, the proof is in your writing.

The question again: Do you write too much?

Gotta admit the truth is most new writers do. It's why I have so embraced flash fiction. I needed to write tight. I wrote a previous post on writing flash fiction, and an Esquire contest to write a complete story in 78 words. 

Check it out here.

Now back to writing too much. This from Garry Disher's "Writing Fiction: An Introduction To The Craft":

New - and experienced - writers often write too much owing to a lack of focus (Sara Paretsky threw out three hundred pages of her novel, Tunnel Vision, saying: 'I was kind of meandering and it just didn't have a shape') or burden themselves with complex, complicated or competing ideas. It may be necessary to simplify the theme and coolly cut inessential ideas, characters, incidents and sub-plots.

So, the question bears repeating: Do you write too much?

If you don't think you need to worry about writing too much, then try an exercise: On a page, list the numbers 1-100 as if you were going to take a test and answer 100 questions. Like this:
And so on...
Now, next to each number write one word all the way to 100. And in this way, write a 100-word story: beginning, middle and end.
Give it a try. Share your story in the comments section below.

Pedro Is Still Writing

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