Monday, October 31st, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkins - Photo  by Kelly A. Harmon - October 2011

Happy Halloween!

Hope everyone has a safe and tasty holiday!

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Endings

Railroad Tracks Abruptly EndingLeaving the restaurant last night after my monthly writer’s group meeting, I was struck by a hint of sadness. It’s always like that: similar minds coming together for a few hours, talking shop, encouraging each other, witnessing some really great writing.

Last night we laughed a lot. And I’m still smiling thinking of our conversations.

And then we had to go home. The End.

How sad.

We stepped outside into utter darkness, a fierce wind blowing, the promise of rain in the air…letting us know that it wasn’t just the evening ending. The year is fast on its way to being over, too.

So, today we’re talking about endings…arguably the most important part of a story. Does it have to tie up all the loose ends? Not necessarily. I like to think the characters I love have more to aspire to then the end of the book. The ending does have to solve the major problem, though: I can’t have all that build-up without some kind of resolution (even if it’s one I don’t like). That just feels like hard work without any reward.

When I get to the end of a book, I want to feel like I’ve just eaten chocolate.

Here’s Your Prompt:

Write an ending.

Have you read a book that you didn’t like the ending of? Re-write it. Have you seen any movies that had you mesmerized…until the last twenty minutes? Write the rant you’ve been discussing around the water cooler. Once you’ve gotten it all out, write a better ending.

Write about something that ended before you expected to.

Write the ending of your own life. Write three endings to your life.

When you’re done writing, write “THE END” at the bottom of the page. How did that make you feel?

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Writing Prompt – In a Fog

Foggy Commute Home - Photo by Kelly A. Harmon

This was the scene I faced the other day, driving home from work. Fog, fog, everywhere!

Strangely, it was just as thick on the highway as it was on the back roads. Usually, the highway is clear no matter how foggy it is elsewhere, I presume from all the traffic…?

It was a slow commute, and of course my mind wandered to writing about fog…

I’ve done a lot of that myself. I find it fascinating, eerie, comforting, mysterious…. You name it. A lot depends on my mood. It’s a great backdrop for a story, or poetry. In grade school I wrote scads of really bad poetry (some, which didn’t even rhyme!) about fog, and thoughts and feelings lost in it, like ghosts… I’ll spare you the rest.

Here’s Your Prompt:
Write about fog. It doesn’t matter if you write about a memorable experience, or a scene with a character you’ve created (or even with a famous character someone else created), or a poem, etc.

Also: the fog doesn’t have to be physical. Just use the idea of fog in your writing.

You could write about foggy memories, or the fog of inebriation, or a drug-induced fog, or an emotional onslaught, etc. Doesn’t matter. You choose.

Here are some foggy prompts to get you started:

  • There’s a little child // Running round this house // And he never leaves // He will never leave // And the fog comes up from the sewers // And glows in the dark – (Song Lyrics by Radiohead)
     
  • Fear death?—to feel the fog in my throat, The mist in my face. – Robert Browning
     
  • The fog is thick as pea soup. You could cut it with a knife.
     
  • Cause the fog’s getting thicker // And the world’s spinning fast // The chaos is building // It’s going to last – (Song Lyrics by Maroon 5)
     
  • …but a strange young girl hung around the neck of the hostess is about as welcome as a fog at a garden party. – Etiquette, 1922 by Emily Post. Chapter 17: Balls and Dances
     
  • She carries the evening in her chest // And knows that she must wither away // She lays her head in his lap //
    And asks for a last kiss – (Song Lyrics for the Song “Nebel” by Rammstein – Nebel, translated to English = “fog”)
     
  • [Indications of Danger.] Alarm. Alarum, larum [archaic], alarm bell, tocsin, alerte [F.], beat of drum, sound of trumpet, note of alarm, hue and cry, fiery cross; signal of distress; flag at -half-mast, – half-staff; blue lights; war cry, war whoop; warning [See Warning]; fog signal, fog bell, fog horn, siren; yellow flag; danger signal; red light, red flag; fire bell, fire alarm, still alarm; burglar alarm; watchman’s rattle, police whistle. – (Roget’s Thesaurus, 1922)
     
  • Some say no evil thing that walks by night, in fog or fire, by lake or moorish fen, Blue meagre hag, or stubborn unlaid ghost That breaks his magic chains at curfew time, No goblin, or swart fairy of the mine,
    Hath hurtful power o’er true virginity. – John Milton
     
  • “A Scotch fog will wet an Englishman through.” – Common saying
     
  • October 22nd to November 21st used to be referred to in the French Republican calendar as Brumaire, or, fog-month.
     

And here is some information about how fog is formed from USA Today.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Would You Write in the Bathroom Stall at Work?

Toilet StallWould you steal a few moments of time to write by spending extra time in the bathroom at work?

Someone on one of the many newsletters/mailing lists I read advocates writing for ten or fifteen minutes (whilst sitting on the throne) at work – once or twice a day – as a means to find more time to work on your current manuscript.

I seriously doubt I could do this. Not only am I too busy at work to spend more time than necessary in the ladies room, but I have a feeling that the public nature of a four-stall room provides a less than conducive atmosphere for creativity.

Besides, I’m just not certain I want to be pretending to use the toilet, while attempting to write, while someone in the stall immediately next to me is actually using the toilet.

And can you imagine this conversation, after publishing a blockbuster novel that sells a bazillion copies:

Reporter: Just how did you come up with this fabulous idea?

Author: Well, I was sitting on the crapper when the idea hit me…

I’ve written before about finding small bits of time during the day in which to write.

I’ve found that I can meet my (self-imposed) word goal, even on busy days, by taking advantage of these lulls and wracking up fifty or one hundred, or even several hundred words at a time.

(It took me a while to get over the need for a large block of time in the day to get some writing in, but once past that mind set, I find I’m able to accomplish much more.)

I’m not usually picky about the aesthetics of where I choose to write, but I’m drawing the line at the restroom at work.

How about you? Could you carry a notebook (or netbook!) into the lavatory and work on your masterpiece?

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Writing Prompt – “Good Characters” / “Bad Situations”

If you’re just jumping on board, you might want to read last week’s prompt where I discussed one method of building characters for your stories.

This week, we’ll use the same method for coming up with some interesting situations to put them in: a bone for your muse, so to speak.

Here’s Your Prompt:

As you did last week, divide a sheet of paper into thirds and label the first third, “Article of Clothing/Weapon/Random Object,” label the second, “Event or Action,” and label the third, “Emotion, Feeling or Mood.”

(If we were in grade school, I’d make you fold the paper into the three sections, and complete each column before moving on to the next. But you can do this anyway you want. However, I caution against writing across the row, because it’s too easy to come up with hackneyed situations, for example: bouquet, a wedding, happiness. Yuk!)

The first column should be filled with words or phrases such as: chain mail armor, dagger, persimmon.

If you’re having trouble coming up with words on the list, try the Random Noun Generator, which lists up to 10 words at a time. (Not all of them are nouns, unfortunately. You may need to push the generate button a few times to get enough words for your lists.) But do try on you own at first, it’s always good practice to think!

Seventh Sanctum has a Random Weapon Generator, but the weapons are fictional. You’ve got to decide what they do.

The second column should list words such as: “the wedding of the century,” “someone sneezed,” “a robbery,” “a car broke down,” etc.

The third column should be filled with emotions, feelings and moods, such as: mad, happy, glad, forlorn. Try to find some nuances among these, instead of sticking with the mundane. If all you can think of are “the usual,” write down the first ten (10) on a different sheet of paper, and then toss it out. Dig deep into your mind.

Article of Clothing/Weapon/Random Object Event or Action Emotion, Feeling or Mood
dagger war hurt
chainmail a cough mistrusting
orange choking offended
pot of coffee went forward in time furious

Now comes the fun part: choose one item from each column (and never more than one item from each row). You’ll use these to write a scene with the character you created last week.

For a true sense of randomness, use a random number generator from Random.com to pick the item from each column.

I suggest, however, that you choose the event or action which will most upset your character. Conflict will make the scene much more dramatic.

A point of note: I used quotes around the phrase “Good Characters” in the title because I mean good in the sense of well crafted, rather than meaning a goody-goody character. Similarly, “bad” in the title means “unfortunate for your character” rather than (necessarily) dire.

So, your (well-crafted) pre-teen gang member might hate to attend that wedding of the century, or worse, be a bridesmaid.

Once you’ve picked from each column, write the scene described with your character.

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Starting Over and Getting Organized: Time to Focus

There’s been a lot of upheaval in my writing life lately, some of it spilling over from my personal and work life.

There’s the lost manuscript.

The mismanaged roofing job which resulted in water damage in the house.

The fact that because of said water damage I’ve been working out of my kitchen. (These high stools are killer on your back muscles when you’ve been sitting for a while…)

More stress at the day job than I can adequately describe in one sentence. (Trust me, it’s the stuff of a novel-length tell-all…)

There’s been some good stuff, too — I just had a wedding anniversary — but if the state of the kitchen table is any indicator of what’s going on: things are out of control.

It’s time to reign in and re-boot.

It also means focus.

I’ve been concentrating on the new stuff while I’ve got a pile of perfectly good finished stuff just sitting around. I’ve had some rejections come in (fact of life, folks, if you plan to be a writer) and I haven’t sent them back out to new markets yet.

They need to be sent off to new homes in hope of fosterage!

I haven’t decided if this current morass means I need to re-examine the goals I made in January. I need to dig out of the muck and see what’s left before I determine that.

So last night I updated my calendar from all the multiple input sources and printed it out through December 2012. (Just for fun, I stopped printing at December 21 and marked the end of the world. Remember: life is WORTHLESS without humor.) Then, I updated all my tickler files and writing deadlines.

Tomorrow… I have a class, so I’ll have to wait until Thursday to go through the finished projects and make plans for their distribution.

Then: I’m going to attack the unfinished writing projects like paying off debt: the projects which are closest to completion get written down first, thereby knocking out as many as possible, in as little time as possible.

And, damn the muse! I’m not starting anything new until all these are off my plate. (She’ll get me for that, I’m certain.)

How do you approach a re-organization?

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Building Character

I couldn’t decide whether to quote Hemingway or Twain, when it comes to discussing characters.

“A writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”
~Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway gets right to the heart of it, but Twain’s irreverence takes it a step further: echoing Hemingway’s thoughts, but noting also that it’s what authors do with those characters that makes us want to keep on reading.

“The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible.”
~Mark Twain

Twain’s right: We want to see those characters bound in figurative chains, writhing in agony, in whatever cesspit of a situation that will make them the angriest, or saddest, or vengeful. That makes good reading.

Characters are more than their eye color, how they dress, and their physique. So, to write a great story, we’ve got to get into the psyche of the character, know his loves and hates, what makes him tick and how he’ll react, and then expose him to the very flames which will make him twist.

When you know your character well, you’ll find story and plot ideas will leap out of the knowledge, begging to be written.

Here’s Your Prompt:

Build a character by identifying traits, phrases and situations which can be mixed and matched. Divide a piece of paper into thirds and write “Adjective” at the top of the first column, “Person or Profession” at the top of the second, and “Phrase or Situation” at the top of the third.

My example:

Adjective Person/Profession Phrase/Situation
lonely middle-aged woman “Deuces wild, jacks or better to open.”
deviant seer missed the bus
belligerent teenager broken down on the side of the road
venomous wizard lost in Detroit City

The tendency is to write across the page, filling out the row…but I urge you to fill in the columns instead. It’s too easy (see my belligerent teenager? My lonely middle-aged woman?) to come up with ‘cardboard’ characters while filling in the blanks.

While you’re at it, choose some interesting adjectives and situations. Challenge yourself to find words and labels beyond the ordinary.

Do you write in a particular genre? Then choose appropriate words and situations. If you write fantasy, stay away from the mundane. Include wizards and gremlins and dragons on the page. Sci-fi? Add some interplanetary locales or some phrases based on future tech. Victorian romance? You get the idea…

Write to the bottom of the page, more if you can. Do the same, even if you’re typing. The more options you have the better.

Once you’re done, choose an item from each column and meet your new character. Try unusual pairings to see what you can come up with. At no time can you use any two (or three!) items from the same line.

Write a few sentences about your new character. Why is the middle-aged woman venomous? How did a teenager from (fill in the blank) get lost in Detroit City? Decide how your character got to be this way: give him or her a little back story. Judging from that, what are your characters likes and dislikes?

Next week: we’ll find some awful situations to put your characters in!

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Darkover Schedule – Thanksgiving Weekend

Darkover 34 ConventionI received my Darkover Schedule for November!

I’m ‘totally psyched’ about being invited back. I attended for the first time last year, and met many (fascinating, literary, exciting, and interesting) people that I hope to connect with again.

The line-up is HUGE this year, and includes such greats as C.S. Friedman, Esther Friesner, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, Mark P. Donnelly, Katherine Kurtz, Melissa Scott, and more! I can’t wait.

Here’s my tentative schedule (Friday, November 25- Sunday, November 27):

Friday

  • 5 PM How Many Vampires Does It Take To…
    Literature about vampires is approaching its 300th anniversary in Western literature (and it’s even older in Asian literature). What makes these night-loving messy eaters so fascinating? If you had the chance to be immortal, would you pay this price? With Margaret Carter, Heather Rose Jones,Tim Liebe, Scott MacMillan; Don Sakers, Mod.
     
  • 8pmBroad Universe Rapid Fire Reading
    With Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Debra Killeen, and Vonnie Winslow-Crist. (If you want me to read from anything in particular, drop me a line!)
     

Saturday

  • 11amThe Literary Handyman: Q&A on the Craft and Business of Being a Writer.
    Hear about professional experience on both sides of the world of publishing. The audience presents questions about the topic and the panel fields them. With Danielle Ackley-McPhail.
     
  • 4pmAutograph session.
    (This is more for the big guys, but I’m on the roster anyway. 🙂 )
     

Sunday

  • 11 amPromoting 101
    Workshop/panel discussion. Learn about when and how to promote for little to no expense. Covers creative marketing, reviews, press releases, author interviews, and more. With Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Elektra Hammond.
     
  • 1pm Animal Sidekicks
    Besides cats, wolves, horses and dragons what else is there and why? With Tim Liebe, Alanna Morland, Michelle Sonnier and Carl Cipra, Mod.
     
  • 2PMQuestions and Answers
    All authors. Come and ask questions of your favorite authors who are here this year. Jennifer Heise (Mod)
     

Darkover is held in Timonium, MD. If you’re in the area, I do hope you stop by.