Category Archives: GWW Creative Writing Experiment

Character: Casting Shadows #3

First and foremost, I must apologize for not writing much this past week or so. I took a final trip home to wrap up the summer and bring my puppy {who isn’t a puppy anymore at almost 8-years-old} back with me to my apartment. My father has been dog-sitting for the past four years. Once I got back, I started school and work and blah blah blah still no excuse for not keeping up with everything. But here I am & ready to write.

We’ve already determined a character needs to have a driving force–a desire. They must also be able to come across as relatable and multidimensional. Now we are focusing on a character’s ability to change. As Reissenweber points out, it is almost essential that the main character have the ability to change and evolve.

“Just as the desire of a main character drives the story, the character’s change is often the story’s culmination. While a main character usually does change to some degree, either dramatically or in the more gentle form of a realization, this does not mean your character actually has to make a change at the end of thee story or that the change has to be whole and complete.”

The reader should be able to feel the character has the ability to undergo change, however. You don’t want the character to feel predictable.

Your Turn:
Return to the character for whom you have created a desire and contrasting traits. Time to bring this person to life. Write a passage where this character is pursuing his or her desire in some way. For example, perhaps the actress is traveling to an audition to which she was not invited. (Oh, yes, it’ll help tremendously if you put some obstacles in the character’s path.) You don’t have to bring this “quest” to a conclusion, but have something happen that allows both contrasting traits to emerge and also try to include some hint that the character is capable of change. That’s a lot of juggling, so don’t worry if it comes out  a little clumsy. 

You’ll have to wait for the next post to read my passage {is it killing you?!}!

Write a passage with me!

What obstacles will your character face that show them to be dimensional with the ability to change?

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Character: Casting Shadows #2

Since we are looking into the construction of characters, it is only right to dive into those characters who are not fundamentally good–the villains. As Reissenwebber points out: “Literature is filled with great villains. Part of what makes them so compelling is the bit of ourselves we can see in them.”

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Is that the truth or is that the truth?!?!

Think about it. When a character isn’t being bad, he’s doing the things you and I do. Right? He/she is watching TV, eating dinner or grocery shopping for the week. Just because a character may be a villain doesn’t mean they need to be evil every second. Maybe they are even helping their neighbor with a lofty weekend project? Like us, real-life breathing humans, characters should be dimensional.

Your Turn:
Recall the worst person you’ve ever met. A psychotic boss, a back-stabbing friend, a playground bully. Or make someone up. Next, assign one redeeming quality to this character–kindness, courtesy, sympathy, a fondness for animals. Then write a passage with this person in action. Perhaps you show a sadistic ex-spouse helping a homeless person find shelter, or a bank robber arranging a baby sitter on behalf of a woman he’s just tied up. The result? A fully dimensional villain.
 
She stepped out of the shower and wrapped a bath towel around her. She grabbed a smaller towel for her head. She flipped her head upside down and looked at the dirty blonde hair that had fallen in front of her eyes. It was getting longer than she usually wore it. Though she loved the way the longer hair fell around her face and sometimes in front of her eyes, she wasn’t about to compromise her work for a moment of feeling sexy. Longer hairs, at least in her mind, were easier to spot. She had to remember to get it cut soon.
She twirled the towel around her forehead and balanced it on top of her head. She grabbed the gallon of bleach from beneath the bathroom sink. She quickly splashed the bleach around the walls of the shower and let it pool in the bottom of the tub.
“I’ll have to come back and do a more thorough job, but for now, it’ll work.” She thought to herself. 

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The woman walked down the hall to her bedroom. She quickly dressed in a clean flowing long skirt and a plain white tank top. Within 10 minutes she had blow-dried her hair, dressed and put on a quick layer of make up. It was her same routine now for over 15 years. 
Walking out her front door, the woman took a deep breath of the summer air. She was hit with the scents of fresh-cut grass and the flowers that grew in her front yard, it was sweet and made her feel grateful to be alive. A sense of exhilaration swept over her. Though the fresh air did not feel as empowering as the metallic scent she smelled just 20 minutes before, she felt so electric.
But that is how she always felt after taking another’s life away. Alive. Exhilarated. Electric. 
Walking down the street, she peered at her reflection in a neighbor’s massive bay window. She was tall and thin, but extremely strong. She looked great. She looked powerful. She looked confident. She wore a smile as she waved to Mr. Perry who was watering his flower beds across the street.
“Mr. Perry!” She yelled across the street, waving.
“How are you? Water tank holding up?” He asked. A week ago she was having difficulty with her hot water and had asked him to come take a look at it. Mr. Perry was always working on his house. He was known in the neighborhood as the handiest man around. He was miraculously able to get it to function for a few days longer, but urged her to begin looking for a new one.
“Oh, well, I took your advice. Put an order in yesterday for a new one. Thanks again for all your help, Mr. Perry. I don’t know what I would have done without you.” She replied with a gracious smile and she kept walking. She waved once again saying goodbye for now.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Hopefully, this one will last longer and don’t mention it, dear. Anytime, you just give me a call.” He smiled his sweet smile and waved goodbye. In fact, she didn’t mind having to replace the hot water tank at all. Hot water tanks hid bodies well if even for a few hours.
She walked until she was in town. She stopped at the Centre Cafe where she bought herself a bowl of oatmeal with a dab of molasses and a small chai tea. She chatted with the ladies from the neighborhood for about an hour. She didn’t particulary find their company entertaining. In fact, she didn’t really like the majority of them at all–Housewives discussing new recipies and kid issues weren’t really her cup of tea. She made up her mind to head over to Memoirs Antiques with her neighbor and the only woman she really cared for, Polly, who had hung out in the cafe all morning. They strolled over to the shop to look at all the old items that held, what the woman liked to think of as mysterious memories.
“I love to look at all these vintage pieces and think about the stories they tell. Just think about the people who once loved this little wooden doll. Some little girl probably had the fondest memories about this little baby.” The woman said to her friend.
“Oh, I know. Isn’t it just nice to fantasize. Sometimes I creates elaborate stories of what might have been.” Polly said as she turned over a tiny plate in her hand. “Like look at this! Apparently, this china goes back to the Civil War.  Imagine the owner of a giant plantation eating breakfast off of this as they hear gunshots in the distance.” Polly said with wonder. 
She smiled at Polly with sincere affection walking over to take a better look at the china from the Civil War.  
The women continued to look through the store building elaborate stories for the antique treasures for another 40 minutes before leaving. The woman said goodbye to her friend, lying that she had a hair appointment to make. With a quick kiss and a hug, she promised to call tomorrow morning to set up a brunch date.
Though not sure what her next step was, she decided a hair appointment was a good enough lie and it gave her something to do. The woman headed over to the salon to see if they could fit her in. It never took long to cut her hair since it was already pretty short to begin with. On her walk over, she stopped for a second to look at herself in a store front window. Did she need a wash? She had just washed it a couple of hours ago. But she might as well. It would give her more of an opportunity to be seen and remembered. She looked at herself for another second thinking she was glowing with a radiance no one could understand. It was as if the sun was only shining on her. She felt electric once again.
After her wash and cut, she walked the two blocks to the market to pick up some dinner and a few items for tomorrow. She decided she would have Polly over to her house for brunch tomorrow. That would be nice. To cook for a close friend and catch up on all the neighborhood gossip she had absolutely no interest in.

So there is my piece…I tried to make it a bit more subtle than the prompt suggested. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s just a passage so there isn’t any plot–conflict, problem, climax, resolution all that good junk. The woman is a narcissist and a murderer, but yet friendly. I’m still developing her, but I want her to be a murderer (not good), but her victims themselves are not going to be fundamentally good. Does that make her relatable? We shall see.

Create a villain with me!
What sort of average human traits would you make your character have?

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This post is part of my creative writing experiment that will get me writing more often and more creatively. All excerpts and “Your Turn” prompts are from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide From New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. As I write my way through this book, I welcome all constructive criticism, suggestions, advice and comments.

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Character: Casting Shadows

In the previous GWW posts I learned about the what, how and why of fiction. Chapter 2 Character: Casting Shadows by Brandi Reissenweber is about what makes fiction particularly captivating to readers. As Reissenweber learned from a young long-term hospital patient, people read “because they get to meet lots of different people.” Continue reading

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Fiction: The What, How & Why of It #3

Show up for work. Writing is work. It needs to be practiced and practiced and practiced {& practiced & practiced & practiced}.

Steele breaks writing into two different categories: hard time and soft time. Sounds a bit like doing a stint in prison, but if you enjoy writing then obviously it is time well spent. Hard time is actually planting your ass in the chair and producing content. It’s where the words are written. The less aknowledged but equally important, soft time, is done at all other times. When you are thinking about your work you’re engrossed in your very own soft time sesh {session but cooler}. Think brainstorming. When you’re considering where you want your piece to go, or not go, you are tossing around ideas and contemplating all of the details–that is soft time.

Personally, soft time is a highly enjoyable portion of the writing process. You don’t need to sit in your office, coffee shop, or at your kitchen table staring at the blinking cursor on your computer screen. Get out! Move around! Explore! Keeping your story in the back of your mind, rather than focusing all of your attention on your problem, you let the inspiration come to you. Writing doesn’t suck, people. It is personal and fun and creative. It is anything you make it.

Steele also writes about two different types of writers: Free Spirits and Stern Editors.

Free Spirit

Free Spirits aren’t hard to imagine. They are completely engrossed when they want to be. They’ll write what they want, when they want, and they don’t feel the need to satisfy others by sticking to the rules. They are mad cool and super chill. They’ll throw you love deuces in excess. Stern Editors {as I hope you have guessed} are about concise, grammatically correct, logical writing. Delete those unnecessary words, rid yourself of those comma splices and don’t you dare use abbrevs because the Stern Editor will hunt you down and there is no telling what price you will pay when you piss off the Stern Editor.

Stern Editors

The point is both need to learn to work well with the other. If you write well you are able to embrace both within yourself. Early on throw around the peace and love and just go with the flow. Set the ground work, but don’t hold yourself back by worrying about anything too much. Free Spirits free write.

Your Turn:
Take this opening phrase: Sam wasn’t sure if it was a wonderful sign or a sign of disaster but Sam knew… Write down that fictional opener, then keep going. Free write, meaning write without stoping or even thinking too much, just scribble away however many things come out. You should write for at least five minutes but feel free to go as long as you like. No one will see this but you, and you have permission for this to be nothing but gibberish. Just feel what it’s like to write in a white heat. 

So, since I’m dedicated to my creative writing experiment, I will set my timer for 10 minutes. I’ll warn you now, I’m a horrible speller. When I free write I close my eyes {is that weird?} so as to not focus or get held back by the typos and misspellings. I let my hands flow over the keyboard and do not correct a single error. I absolutely guarantee it will be complete and utter gibberish. Here is what my free write looks like….

Sam wasn’t sure if it was a wonderful sign or a sign of disaster but Sam knew he felt liberated. He had just trhown his cellphone off of the brooklyn bridge. It was the last of his devices keeping in contact with the world. He was once again his own man. He didn’t belong to his corporate job that had made him miserable for the past 9 years. He’d quit. He had donated all his belongs to the Salvation army and broke his lease on his rent controlled penthouse. He had just thrown away his identity he had spent so many years working to define himself as. No, he knew this was wonderful. Sam let his only family member, his mother, know he was going away for quite some time. It was his last order of business before the cell phone toss. 
“Mom! you home?” He yelled as he walked into the front of his childhood brownstone. 
“I’m back here, Sam. Come join me.” His mother, only 18 years older than he, was cute as a button. The tiny little lady was in the back tending to her window sill overflowing with herbs. He worshiped her. She the woman he compared all women to and he was not embarrassed of this in the least. She had overcome so much in her life, he could not begin to imagine surviving himself. 
“Hey Mom, how are you today?” He asked her. “I’m doing just fine, Sweetie. What are you up to? What day is it? Why aren’t you at work?” 
“I took the day off, Mom. I wanted to drop this off to you. Remember, I told you I am going away for a while?” 
“Oh, yes yes. Is that today? Well, let me bring this inside, washup and we will get started.” 
The two walked inside to the kitchen where Sam opened his bag and pulled out a top of the line, fully-loaded MacBook Pro. The two spent an hour hovered over the “computer machine,” as his mother called it, trying to teach her how to work it. Sam got her to the point where she was able to turn it on and open the internet. She was thrilled because he had set up the “Faceplace” account as she had asked and found her old friend from high school who had told her join about a month before. 
“Well this is just fantastic!” His mother was in awe as she scrolled through the pictures of her highschool days she had been tagged in. 
“Ok mom. I better get going or I don’t think I’ll ever get moving.” He closed the laptop and stood up from the table. 
“Oh Sam I wish you would tell me where you are going. How will I know if you are ok?” 
“It will be fine. I’ll be fine. I told you I will call you in one month, so on the 10th, to let you know I am alive.” He assured her. “I have to go now though mom.” 
” Is this a work thing?” she asked. He ignored her and walked over to the junk drawer where he knew she stored her post-it notes. He wrote “Sam Calls Sept. 10th.” and stuck it to her fridge. He gave his mother a giant bear hug and a kiss on the forehead. I will see you later mom. 
“I just wish you’d stop being so secretive. Where are you going?” Truth was Sam didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t know how he was getting there. He had no clue. No answers. Only questions.
He saw the faint splash from down below as his cell hit the water. He took a deep breath, picked up his backpack and began walking.

So there you have it– my free write. Now as you can tell the Stern Editor would now have to awaken and fix all the mistakes. She would probably tackle my Free Spirit and land a nice right hook to the jaw, but that is ok. At least I just went with it. I leave you with a Steele quote

“Maybe writing fiction is akin to those personal challenges we call recreation…These Things are rewarding because they are not so easy. They awaken us by making us feel the vibrations of our inner potential, regardless of the outcome. Writing is one of the best possible personal challenges because the room for growth is as limitless as outer space and you’re never too young or to old to give it a go.”

Which type of writer do you consider yourself naturally?

Now you try it. Do your own five minute free write sesh. Feel free to share!

This post is part of my creative writing experiment that will get me writing more often and more creatively. All excerpts and “Your Turn” prompts are from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide From New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. As I write my way through this book, I welcome all constructive criticism, suggestions, advice and comments. 

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Fiction: The What, How & Why of It #2

In continuing my creative writing experiment, I have come upon the section titled See the Seeds. To dive into fiction there must first be something to dive into.

Ideas are the seeds from which the mimosa tree or the watermelon or Delphinium of a story will arise. There are no rules about what constitutes a proper seed. It can be a character, a name, a situation, structure, over heard dialogue, a setting, a theme even a vague feeling. — Steele 9

I’ve come to realize, thanks to Steele and Chapter one, writers will inevitably write from what they know whether it simply lend itself to the emotions characters experience, the perspective or the tone of the work. But that isn’t the most important thing when it comes to writing. Write what ignites your interest. It is so incredibly simple. Write about the things that gnaw at your conscience, things you cannot let go of, things that keep you moving forward. You may find it is life’s little unanswered questions that provoke the urge and if that be the case, run with it and see where it takes you.

Personally, I think that is the allure of writing. The possibilities are literally endless. It all depends on where you allow yourself to take it.

Your Turn:
Write down ten things that might possibly serve as story ideas, drawing from things that happened to you over the past week–people, emotions, thoughts, situations. Nothing is too big or small, cosmic or microscopic. Then review you list and pick the idea that looks the most promising for a story. The right idea will probably give you a buzz when you see it. Then list several ways in which this idea might be turned into a fictional story. Will your idea result in a brilliant story? Maybe, maybe not. But you’ll probably discover how plentiful ideas can be.
 

1. A character finds they have everything anyone would want in their lives, but still struggles with finding happiness. Gives up search…

2. A seemingly normal corporate working woman begins painting images on her Buddha Board at work to relieve stress. Her images come to life start butting in where they don’t belong. She’s committed.

3. Man accidentally finds himself in possession a winning gum ball worth $70 million. He spends the day dreaming and contemplating his next steps.

{He just wanted to chew some gum. He hadn’t heard about the contest for the $70m as he put in his quarter and watched the intriguingly intricate gold-purple-paisley-gum ball tumble down the swirling slide to crash through the tiny little metal door at the bottom of the bright red classic gum ball dispenser. Man gets distracted. Man remembers gum ball. Man examines gum ball and decides it is just too beautiful to eat. He isn’t convinced he got what he paid. He wanted some gum. Goes to Bodega to buy some Winterfresh. Sees ad for $7om gum ball search. Decides to leave store before pulling out gum ball out of pocket in the middle of the street. Stands as life rushes around him, examining the precious ball. Could it be? What now?}

4. Bank teller steals $100 from middle-class stay-at-home-mom too feed family. Mom calls bank to report. Teller loses job & gets revenge on SAH mom.

5. Vintage love.

6. Detailed description of a character realizing the days are getting shorter and what this means in their life.

7. Sex addict meets virgin. Fall in love. Will they make it?

8. The story of the roller coaster ride.

9. Woman grows up with the hope of one day finding her long lost mother only to learn late in life her mother died shortly after her birth by finding stacks and stacks of journals in the attic of her recently deceased father. Questions never asked will always be questions unanswered.

10. My first moments with my new baby mini giraffe.

Some of my ideas are ridiculous, but they were meant to be. Steele explains that first you need to work on producing ideas. These ideas all popped into my crazy-lame head by looking around my tiny little office and day dreaming for about half an hour. Can you imagine how many ideas would come if I decided to devote one day to just brainstorming creative ideas?

These ideas are just seeds. To plant these seeds and get them to grow big and strong, they need to be both entertaining and meaningful and satisfy our primal need for fiction. To satisfy both, fiction demands better story telling than real life, according to Steele.

What are your thoughts on my crazy seeds?

Try it with me! Look around you for some idea seeds of your own?

Did you brainstorm a seed that made you buzz?

This post is part of my creative writing experiment that will get me writing more often and more creatively. All excerpts and “Your Turn” prompts are from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide From New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. As I write my way through this book, I welcome all constructive criticism, suggestions, advice and comments. 

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