Category Archives: Exercises

Writing a Book Together: An Opening Line Every Day of January and February

So what’s happened since last week? Have you gotten a first line? Found a way to start this new adventure? Has anyone stepped out of the dark, taken your hand and led you toward a novel that feels to have lots of promise?

I have an exercise I’ve shared here about opening lines. It’s one I do every few months. For thirty days, every day, I write a first line to a new novel. Every time I start  I think, “This time it will be easy.” And every time I find out an opening line is hard.

Why? The more days I play with openings, the harder they become. I realize I need to think more about characters–where they are in their lives, their situations, who they are. I worry over what would be the best line for that person I’m writing this book about.

These are not throw-away words. They need to mean something to me.

At the beginning of last year I played this game with myself and came up with more than a month’s worth of first lines, including this one: “When Momma finally died, me and my sisters weren’t surprised.” This line came several days into the exercise, but as I kept writing , day after day, it called to me. I listened.

Last November or so I finished the book about three sisters who lose their mother on page two of the novel. It’s now on submission. Here’s a bit of the synopsis:

“Momma is dying and Mister Paisley wants the land Iris, Ella, and Rory have grown up on.

It’s 1960-something and death isn’t the only thing complicating life for the Flynn girls. Daddy is gone and has been since before Rory’s birth. There are unwanted evening guests who creep around the house, angels who tap at the windows, and the meadow is dangerous to all, including the girls, after dark.”

Here’s a first line Ann Dee came up with when we were teaching a workshop class together:

“My dad ate an airplane one bite at a time.” We’re almost done with the novel. Don’t ask us what we’re doing. We have no idea.

Here’s what I do know about first lines–they have to have enough promise, intrigue, worry, feeling and wonder that you, the writer, can keep going.

So let’s do this together. For the rest of January and all of February come up with a line for a new novel every single day. I write my lines in pencil on a large blank calendar. For me, it’s an easy way to see my progress. HINT: I find I actually end up with more than one sentence. So write small if you choose to do the challenge this way. ANOTHER HINT: If you find you have an emotional connection to your line, this may be the book you want to follow.

PS My daughter just gave me my first line for my novel. It’s from her own life and she texted me this earlier: He wants me to dust the plants. All the plastic plants.

I think I now have a story.

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Exercising Your Character

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.” Abigail Van Buren

  1. How does your main character treat others?
  2. Choosing three other characters in your book, decide how they really are, by the way they treat people they know.
  3. By the way they treat strangers.
  4. How does your MC feel about animals? Why?

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” Albert Einstein

  1. Does your character lie? Why or why not?
  2. What would happen if she did lie? How would the story be more compelling?
  3. What is the worst thing your character could do? Why is this the worst?
  4. Write a scene where your character lies, and is caught, by someone who is important to her.
  5. Do only the *bad* people lie in your book?

 

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Jesus

  1. I think another way of saying this is, Actions speak louder than words. How does your character show her love? Her commitment? Her anger?
  2. Write a scene where your character harms someone by her actions.
  3. Our bad characters cannot be purely evil. How is your antagonist good?

 

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

  1. Your MC ends up with information she shouldn’t have. What does she do with it?
  2. All characters must have weaknesses. What are your character’s weaknesses?
  3. There should be a point, in every character’s growth, when they realize they have all the power, or none of it. What happens to your character when they hit this place in the book?
  4. If you MC realizes she is more like the bad guy than she thought, well, that can be very interesting. Write a scene where your MC comes up against the darker part of herself.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Vehicle of Character

I love a good character. Who doesn’t?

Guardians of the Galaxy. The guy Chris Pratt plays. Hilarious. He makes me laugh. A little off balance in the way he attacks trouble–more human than Star Lord. I go along for the ride. Plus, he’s cute.

Worf in Star Trek. He was one tough cookie. And that voice! Saw Worf without his makeup and realized I was in love with the Klingon, not the human who played him.

Heath Ledger’s Joker. So crazy. So strange. So weird. Not a thing like me. I’m interested.

How do you make YOUR character interesting? How do you choose who will be the lead in your novel? Could any character you’ve written be the lead in any novel you’ve written?

  1. Who are five of your favorite movie characters? List why you like them.
  2. Who are five of your favorite book characters? List why you like them.
  3. How do you discover a new character?
  4. How much of you is in your MC?
  5. What are your character’s weaknesses?

It’s hard to read a novel with an unlikable character. How do you make that character worth following?

  1. Humor. Make her funny. Write a scene where we get to know your main character as she gets out of an awkward situation.
  2. Make her want something that’s important. Write a scene where the character’s desire is revealed.
  3. Make your character relatable. “I get that!” “How do you know how I feel?” “I’ve been there.” When we connect with a main character, we’re interested in sticking around. Write a list of 50 things about your main character. Now do that for each of your other major players. Think outside the box. Think backstory. Think, “Who is she, really?

Let your character want something.

  1. What does your character want?
  2. How do you establish this at the beginning of the book?
  3. How do you keep your character from getting what she wants?
  4. Is her desire reasonable?
  5. Will she fail? Why or why not?

Let your character love.

  1. If your character cares and we see it, we can feel the emotion of the book. So, who does she love?
  2. Who will she lose?
  3. Who does she hate?
  4. Who could she live without?
  5. How does that antagonist fit in the story?

 

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Are We Done Here?

The girls and I haven’t written in a long time. And there has been no comments when we have written. The only two people who regularly responded here have passed away.

But

I can’t seem to quite give up on our little blog that no one reads.

There is so much good stuff in the back pages.

From this point on I’ll write as though this is a writing journal. If someone reads, cool. If not, well, no big deal.

So here goes.

After years of nurturing a little orange tree grown from a 6-inch twig, I HAVE orange blossoms. The lemon has yielded fruit and the lime tree has 6 or 7 limes. But the orange trees (I have three of them) have been so slow-growing.

And now this!

The blossoms are beautiful, with a stripe of pink on the fragile petals. And in Florida, back in the day, you could drive past huge groves, all in blossom, and the smell was out of this world.

I had a friend who couldn’t smell at all (I think it was because of abuse). One day when she was stoned, she rode on the back of a motorcycle down a dirt road in town. She was hit by . . . what? What was happening? Wave after wave of a taste in the air. As the two made a turn she saw the groves, acres of orange trees, all in bloom. She realized then she was experiencing her first (and last) smell ever.

I love that.

Those kinds of descriptions, those kinds of incidents, help readers know where they are, physically in your novel.

What smell do you remember? What something changed the way you look orange trees or pizzas or fresh almonds?

 

 

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Good Ol’ Trent Reedy

My friend, Trent Reedy, is going to write one million words this year. A MILLION.

(I have written 3,000 words since the start of January.)

We’ve talked about that million words.

“What if they’re bad?” I said.

“Of course, they’re bad.”

“What about rewriting?”

“Oh, I’ll rewrite.”

“But . . .”

“Look,” Trent said. “I was only writing 800 words a day before. Now I’m getting words on the page. If I don’t write, I have nothing to edit. No books to work on.” (In case Trent reads this post, I have taken our conversation over several days, squished it together, and written the best parts here. All swears have been omitted!)

Trent makes a great point. If you never pen the words, you never have a book to edit, to send to an agent, to sell to an editor, to wind up on a shelf. Just this week a student came to my office and told me she’s had a great idea for a series for several years. No words were written. And when I gave her my advice several times during our thirty minutes together–Just write–I could tell I sorta bugged her.

Don’t dream.

Just write.

Just write.

Just write.

Do you write no matter what? I don’t. But . . . I’m lucky to have a friend like Trent who does just write. He encourages me daily, and has gently prodded me to write, maybe not realizing this is what he’s doing.

This year I had hoped to write four days a week, but I haven’t been able to for whatever reason. However, as I have watched my pal, I’ve taken courage. My new goal is one hour of writing–really writing–four days a week. If things normalize here, then I can increase that. If they don’t, I have four thousand new words a week. And that, as they say, is nothing to sneeze at.

But to do nothing? Well, the days still pass. The weeks do, too. And at the end, if I do no writing, I have nothing to edit.

Just as Trent says.

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Monday, Monday

Every time I start a new semester, I get behind. When you add behind to behind to behind what you get is me. Someone who can’t seem to catch up, no matter what.

Here is a writing exercise for you so you don’t get as far behind as me. You can take this experience of mine, find your own that is similar, and write an incident that can fit in your book.

My best friend’s shoes are in my closet. A pair of his jeans in a drawer. He’s been dead just over a year.

“Do you want me to take these?”I ask him. He’s in a hospital bed. He can’t speak. SO he nods. I gather the shoes, the pants. “I’ll take these until you’re better.”

And here’s this article from my dear friend Trent Reedy. what do you think?

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/how-to-write-100-000-words-per-day-every-day?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email

 

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Merry Christmas Day 5

Ann Dee always makes it snow on our site at this time of year. Have you noticed?

Once, when I was in Florida (which is where I grew up) is got so cold the water dripping from our hose (to keep the pipes from freezing) formed a four-foot icicle. Mom and I were so surprised, and excited, we took a picture by frozen water.

Imagine your character has never seen snow. It’s her very first experience. In 250 words, write about this event, using all the senses. If you only know snow, you are going to have to stretch. If you’ve never touched or walked through snow, or seen 25 foot snow drifts on the side of the road, you’re going to have stretch, too.

Here’s is the second part of the challenge. Think outside the box. No glistening. No freezing. No sparkling (Geez. Am I describing a vampire?). Make this new and original.

 

 

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