Writing In Retirement Blog

Challenging Writing Prompt

Again we come to the fifth Monday of the month so I am going to give you a challenge. This prompt is to write a story between three to five hundred words. The catch is all the sentences in the piece must contain no more than four words each.  This means you have to write with clarity and every word must count.

Here is an example that I wrote back in August of 2016.

MTChair

 

The Empty Chair

By Marie Staight

It was very hot. The boy came in. Perspiration soaked his hair.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Hamburgers, baked beans and …”

The boy’s nose wrinkled. “Not corn again?”

She smiled. “Rather it is Okra?”

The boy turned away. “No. I hate that stuff.”

“Go wash up. Dinner is nearly ready.”

The bathroom’s door slammed. Water was running.

“Use soap!” His mother shouted.

“Oh Mom …” he whined. More sounds of water.

She set two places. She fingered the utensils. She looked up, wistfully. The empty chair loomed. She turned her back.  “Come on now. Time to eat.”

The boy appeared again. His hands examined.

“Okay.” She said. “Sit down and eat.”

He sat across. His eyes never straying.  He couldn’t look. He knew. Magically the hamburger appeared. She plopped it there. “Ketchup?”

“Yes, please.” The bottle appeared.

“Pickles?”

“Yes, Please.” Pickles piled high appeared.

“Mustard?”

“Yes, Please.” The yellow bottle appeared.

“Peanut Butter?”

“What?”

“Peanut butter?”

He looked at her. Her lips smirked. It was a joke. He did not smile.

“No Thanks.”

It was quiet. Only munching was heard.

She was up again. “Corn’s ready.” She said. Plunk! The plate rattled. Steam rose off the cob.

“Thanks.”

“It’s hot.” She said.

He nodded. “Butter?”

“Of course.” She brought the butter.

He slathered the corn. Reached for the salt. Salted the corn heavily. She lifted her hand. He stopped shaking. “Okay…” he said annoyingly.

“Too much.” She said.

He stared downward, pausing. She nodded. He resumed gnawing. The corn disappeared. He sucked the cob.

“Want more?” She asked.

“Yes, Please.” He stole a look. The empty chair existed. He stared. Sadness overwhelmed him. She turned. She bit her lip. She longed to hug. He rebuffed her. He was too old.

Heartbroken, they wept.

“He is gone.”

 

Good Luck. Write me a note in the comments below as to how you did. I would love to see your finished products! Happy writing.

A Simple Writing Exercise to Spark Creativity

At our last meeting of the Ink & Quill Group in Winter Park Florida, we did a little exercise which was simple, and just took our small group half an hour, but it was enlightening what we all learned about ourselves and each other.

I brought in a bag filled with three items: a pine cone; a pair of red cat’s eye sunglasses with rose-colored tinted lens; and a small silver thimble. I instructed the group to handle each item. I then instructed them to write down their observations – noting color, texture, and anything else appropriate. Also, to write anything that they associated with the object.

QuiltThimble

As might be expected, the physical descriptions were similar, but the associated memories about the objects were rich with personal experiences. Take, for example, several people associated sewing with the thimble – especially quilting. Then followed a discussion on memories of quilting frames. Others spoke of learning to sew – memories connected with the Girl Scouts, and for the few men in our group – of being made to learn to sew by their mothers. Others mentioned thimble collections along with spoon collections from each country or state they had visited. In my family; my mother would often talk about ‘a thimbleful’ of an ingredient when measuring for recipes.

 

pine coneThe pine cone brought up memories of the  smell of pine trees and decorating for Christmastime. One person described collecting the cones then taking them home and creatively decorating them with paint or sparkles. Another person spoke of adding essential oils to a basketful of cones to create strong fragrances in the house. One person mentioned using them when making a fire in the fireplace.

 

cat'seyesunglassesSeveral people equated the sunglasses with going to the beach. Others said they reminded them of poodle skirts of the 1950’s. One woman said they reminded her of her mother who wore that type of sunglasses all the time. I said they reminded me of Rita Skeeter, the journalist from the Daily Prophet made famous in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

 

The point of the exercise was to realize that using an ordinary object to dredge up associated memories or experiences could spark our creative mind to tell a story. It could be a personal experience, or instead, a story that could include some aspect of what you had associated with the object.  We all agreed the exercise had made us all think about stories that would be fun to write.

 

How about you? Have you used objects to spark your creative muscles? I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Comments are welcome!

 

Computer Woes in Cartoons

Sometimes my frustration with technology gets to the point that my head feels like it will explode if my computer signals one more time Not Responding. In the past week, I have spent too much time twiddling my thumbs as I waited for my computer to do something – anything at all.  This resulted in me not being able to research and write this blog.  The depths of my ability to remain composed throughout this week tested me to the extreme. So dear friends I apologize for not having anything ‘writerly’ to add to this blog today, but perhaps you will enjoy these cartoons instead?

Please do anything! Buffer even …..

NOt Responding

 

Maybe if I click this ‘X’ something will work, or at least I can restart the dang thing….

computer clicks

Sigh, this is what happened…

cat No

 

It took all my fortitude not to do this.

 

crash computer

 

It all  made me yearn for these …

Typewriter 1

What about you? Have you ever wished for a hammer to slug your computer? Does anyone out there use a typewriter? Comments welcome!

Word Building for Writers: Five Tips

Words Scrabble

When writing I find it necessary to consider the words I use to develop my stories; both the meaning of the words and the descriptive power they display.  Considering the power of the meaning of words acts to relay a more exacting word picture to your reader.  The use of words that are vibrant gives your stories the punch needed to grab your readers and keep them interested. Here are some ways to build up your use of such words in your writing.

 

  1. Listing words that give more punch to your writing. Develop lists of power words divided into verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. You can even be more specific and list words to replace more mundane words, i.e., words to use instead of ‘nice,’ or ‘look.’
  2. Look up definitions. To make sure you are getting the best shade of meaning for a word, look up the definition. You may be surprised that there is an inference that you do not intend to give using a particular word. Example: Using the word ‘cackle’ instead of ‘laugh’ – do you honestly want to infer a shrill noise vs. something that is more gentle like a ‘giggle’ or ‘titter’?
  3. Use a thesaurus. I find using a thesaurus helps me when I am stuck finding a more powerful word or one which will make my meaning clearer. It helps me to find words which I wouldn’t necessarily use otherwise.
  4. Pay attention to word ‘roots.’ I studied Latin the during my school days, and it has been very helpful to me to understand and properly use words. Knowing things like the difference between ‘pre’ and ‘per’ – one means ‘beforehand’ as in preschool, the other means ‘thoroughly’ as in perfect.
  5. Be careful not to overuse. Try not to depend on a handful of powerful words, instead keep adding to your list of power words to build your vocabulary and make your writing fresh.

 

I hope this has been helpful to you in your writing. Comments are always welcome.

Dead End or Fixer Upper? What to do when your short story doesn’t work.

Deadend                  OR                          fixup

There comes a time when you are working on a story, and you realize that it just isn’t working. What to do? Is it time to just stop and put it in the drawer, or should you try to fix it up? Before you delete it or tear it up, it’s time to look closely at the story. First, identify what is working in the story, then evaluate what isn’t working. Here are some problems you may encounter and what you can do to fix them.  

The story gets stuck. Fix this by brainstorming ten to twenty possible ‘What next? scenarios’. Be as ridiculous or brilliant in these possibilities. Pick one and write from there.

The main character or setting isn’t working. The fix of choice is to jazz up the character or setting with something quirky. If your story’s setting is an ordinary store, slip your characters into an antique shop, or creepy mansion. What would Harry Potter’s story be like if he had gone to an all boys school instead of a school for wizards? If your main character isn’t very interesting, give them an obsession or odd characteristic. After all, would Scrooge have been such a memorable character had he not been obsessed with money?

The story drags. Fix the slowness by tightening up your sentences. Make the sentences shorter and more dynamic. By varying the length of your sentences, you can build tension and keep your reader engaged in the action.

The story is too wordy, or you need a lower word count. Is the problem you are telling and not showing? Fix this by editing out those adjectives and adverbs – replace them with strong nouns and verbs. Challenge yourself to edit out one word from each sentence, and you can decrease you word count significantly.

An information dump grinds the action to a halt. A great fix for this problem is to work that information into the dialogue. Having two or more characters discuss the backstory makes the information more interesting, and you can add shading as to what the characters think about the information at the same time.

The ending is too serene or trite. Again, to fix this problem brainstorming is your friend. Consider several possible endings. Adding some romance or violence to the ending might create a satisfactory resolution. Also, it isn’t necessary to resolve all the threads of the story. Leaving some threads open-ended can allow your readers to conjure their own possibilities, or allow you to leave them waiting for your next story.

So the next time you are having a difficult time with a story try these fixes and see if you can salvage it.

 

I’m always open to responding to comments.

Funny Bones for Writers: Six Cartoons to Make You Smile

Today I would like to share with you some funnies about writing. I imagine that most of us can see ourselves in these laughable cartoons!

 After my last blog post on the Perfect Word, this Snoopy cartoon makes me blush!

Right word

How did this cartoonist know this about me?

mewriting cartoon

Can we all dream of being as honest as Snoopy?

SnoopyREjectionletter

This one speaks for itself.

mymuse

 This has to be the writer’s curse.

sleeepless muse

I dare say, is this the furure of writing?

texting-writing-skills-cartoon

I hope you all had a laugh over these. Any comments would be appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Word

Mark Twain“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.”

Mark Twain

 

If you have been writing a while, that quote from Mark Twain makes plenty of sense. You are writing along and come to a point where you need a strong word – a word that will be descriptive, powerful, or set the mood for the story. You scratch your head and try to think of just the right word that will convey what you want to say. You try out a few words, delete them, and try again. Finally, you resort to your thesaurus or dictionary – searching for a word that makes your sentence rock. You may even decide on a word and then in the editing process realize that is not what you meant after all. Thus starting the process all over again to insert a word or phrase that fits just right.

Combining just the right words to fit the context of what you are writing about is a learned process. It isn’t necessarily how big your vocabulary is that makes the difference, but how you combine words to make your sentences effective.

Here are some tips to think about when searching for the perfect word;

Know your audience.  Highfaluting words can be an impasse for some readers. If writing for middle-grade readers, you will have a whole different vocabulary than for adults looking for literary fiction. Sometimes simple, straightforward words are best.

Use strong, powerful verbs. Using a powerful verb helps to eliminate the need for descriptive adverbs that clutter sentences. They also set the emotional mood for the piece. Example: A man doesn’t just walk into the room. Does he saunter? Slink? March? Etc. Each of these verbs gives a different visual picture to your reader and provides a different mood for the rest of the piece.

Check for what the word means. English often throws curves at all of us! It isn’t unusual to confuse word meanings. Example; confusing word meaning between such words as childlike and childish: where one means naïve and the other immature.

Descriptive words should add gusto to the sentence. You want these words to help the reader visualize what you are imagining. Often descriptive words describe the sensations of what is going on in the scene; they describe what you are thinking, hearing, seeing, smelling, and feeling with your body.

Don’t clutter or be wordy. Look through your sentences and decide if you can take out words that make your sentences awkward or too wordy. If the sentence makes sense without those words – take them out! Example: Wordy The car went very fast down a big hill, and Bill felt like he should hit the brakes. Better  The car careened down a huge hill. Bill hit the brakes.

To have better word choices in sentences, ask yourself these questions:

Is this really what I mean?

Will a reader understand this?

Does it sound good?

Happy Writing!

Comments are welcome.