Sunday, June 8, 2014

Write in Your Pajamas is Moving!

I am consolidating my writing technique and my 'works in progress' pages.  This site's information will now appear under the "Writing Tips" tab of

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Defy Expectations

To keep your writing interesting, don't always give the reader what they expect. For example: An apple a day keeps the lawyer away. - or - She was quiet as a chipmunk.

Defying the reader's expectations will keep them intrigued... as long as it's done in moderation.  The most adept author I can think of in this regard is Terry Pratchett.  He has a way of describing Discworld in general, and Ankh-Morpork in particular, that turns people's expectations of a world upside down and inside out.

At the same time, as bizarre as some of the descriptions of Discworld are, Pratchett conveys that - to the characters of his books - these are simply the normal state of things.  A world balanced on four elephants and a giant turtle?  Sure, why not?  In The Color of Magic, he even has a team of scientists examining the phenomenon, which lends it credibility.

Change the descriptions in the writing prompts below until you get something more interesting...

Writing Prompt: Expectations Unwoven

Prompt 1:  He was hungry as a horse.  After the day he'd just had, he could eat a...

Prompt 2: 'Pretty as a picture' didn't even begin to describe it.  If she had to explain it, she would say...

Have fun, and keep writing!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Missing Characters? Write Around Them

It's a NaNoWriMo time again (National Novel Writing Month -, and I didn't do enough research on my secondary characters.

Since NaNo is time-sensitive (50,000 words in 30 days), I'm ignoring the fact that most of my supporting characters haven't been named, described, or received their back stories yet.

Instead, I'll write the scenes that don't include them, and come up with one or two of these missing characters every day.  Later - probably after November is over - I can go back in and add these secondary characters.

See the writing prompt below to practice writing around something you haven't researched.

Writing Prompt: Write Around a Lack of Research

Your scene is set in a jet propulsion laboratory.  Unless you're a rocket scientist or engineer, chances are good that you have no idea what the technology in this lab would look like.  What tests are run?  What terminology should you use when referring to speeds and fuel mixes?  These are all good questions, but researching them right now will stop you from writing the conversations and conflicts between your characters. Breeze over the techno-babble for now, and add it back in after you've done the research.

Prompt:  I wasn't late getting into work.  I think our atomic clock was running fast at the jet propulsion lab.  That's my excuse, anyway, and I'm sticking with it...

Have fun, and keep writing!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Memorable Scenes... Dialogue Optional

In my writing for the NaNo even this month, I've found that it's possible to write a suspenseful scene without much dialogue and no real action.

For example, in the project I'm working on now "Paradise Found", the main character is trying to solve a missing person case at a busy outdoor concert venue. Unfortunately, the audience is somewhat fanatical about respecting their favorite performers, and Detective Joe Carrigan's questions - no matter how quietly asked - are considered too much to be tolerated.

I was able to write several hundred words, just describing the crowd, the emotionally charged situation, and the impending riot that Detective Carrigan and his partner get trapped in.

Try weaving three types of description into your next scene:
  1. Visual,
  2. Emotional, and
  3. Physical.
See how well each ties into the next, and build the ambiance of the scene until it reaches a breaking point. From there, you can start a new chapter, or resolve the tension with a verbal argument, a strongly-worded chastisement, a physical fight, or some comedic relief. Try each, to see which one works best for your short story or novel project.

Here's a writing prompt. Remember to include all 3 types of description.

Writing Prompt: The entire kennel full of dogs went silent when the new canine resident arrived. From an excitable, yapping miniature Schnauzer to a gruff, loud wolfhound, every dog stared at the newest one with distrust. Maybe it was because the new dog had...

Have fun, and keep writing!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Using Research to Your Advantage

My apologies for not posting these past few days. The non-blogging part of my life (NaNo book writing) has taken up every waking moment this week.

Here's my writing advice for the day... research is boring, and takes away time from writing, but can be useful in the long run.

As an example, let's say you want to write about skipping a stone across water, but have not ever tried it. You can:
  • read about the physics of why skipping stones works,
  • read about the environmental impact (increased erosion due to lack of rocks on beaches), 
  • practice skipping stones yourself
The added benefit of doing all this research is that you can use all of it in a scene. Try writing a different character to speak about each part of the research, or a single character who answers different questions about skipping stones.

In the writing prompt below, I've written the physics research of skipping stones. Expand the writing with the other research.

 Writing Prompt: He understood why the stone bounded and jumped over the water's surface. It was a direct effect of the flat expanse of the stone's lower side striking against the water without breaking the surface tension. Of course, not everyone appreciated him skipping stones. His neighbor from across the lake stumbled over the rocky shoreline, giving him the evil eye for pitching stones from the lake's shore into the deep, still waters. He just knew they were about to argue, and he didn't want to hear it...

Have fun, and keep writing!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Power Plays and Word Padding

It isn't cheating... I promise.

So, I'm writing for this Camp NaNoWriMo event, roughly 2700 words a day if I want to reach my goal of 80,000 words in April. If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you've already seen the excerpts from my novel-in-progress "Paradise Found".

Remember that scene where the police captain and the main character, Detective Carrigan, are arguing?

Well, I found a way to include it in the novel... twice.

The first time, I'll tell the start of the scene from the point of view of another character, Deputy Chief Lyle Oberweg. The deputy is in the station for a scheduled meeting with Captain Stillwell, but the captain is using the meeting to complain about Carrigan.

When Carrigan enters the police station, I have Oberweg measure the situation in a single glance. (A) Carrigan is well-liked by his fellow officers, (B) The captain is tolerated at best, so therefore (C) The captain despises the detective.

Then, I switch points of view, and write the scene from Carrigan's viewpoint. He's just survived an attempted assassination, dealt with some moderate teasing from the officers who picked up his two prisoners, and now he comes into the police station and immediately sees both his captain and some big-time supervisor whose desk probably shares office space with the city's mayor.

The point is, if you write the same scene from different viewpoints, you can
  1. Explore every angle of the scene, including misunderstandings between the characters
  2. Plant clues to the plot that one character sees, but another misses, and 
  3. Get more words out of the scene, but in a way that entertains the reader.
For today's writing prompt, I'll provide a scene and characters. Try writing it up from as many different viewpoints as you can. Use a different style of dialogue for each character, or have three characters describe the same object or event in differing ways.

Writing Prompt: They stood around the wrecked car, glancing at each other guiltily. A student, an electrician, a street sweeper, and a lawyer... each claimed to have a perfectly valid reason for being in the area, but none wanted to claim ownership of the vehicle that had just run over a sparking power line...

Have fun, and keep writing!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Conflict Builds Character

Sometimes the best way to explore your main character is to observe how they deal with conflict.

While fight scenes and arguments are interactive, and allow you to create dialogue for the main character, a scolding can be even more instructive about your main character's personality.

How does your main character react when they're supposed to stand quietly and accept correction, derision, or disappointment?

Writing up a good, long lecture serves two purposes:
  1. You get to explore your main character's reaction to the scolding, and
  2. The lecture helps you outline other choices the main character could have made, and examine why they chose the ill-fated one instead.
Try writing a scene for the prompt below, but don't write about physical or verbal conflict. Focus on the main character's inner turmoil. Is the main character torn up by the lecture, or bored? How does the main character plan to avoid hearing speeches like this in the future (ear plugs, a ready escape plan, or actually doing better next time?)

Writing Prompt: He stood up straight, staring directly ahead, and grunting or nodding whenever it seemed appropriate. It didn't matter that he'd been right, it didn't even matter that he'd done well... all she cared about was how it looked, and it looked bad for the company...

Have fun, and keep writing!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chapter and Scene Transitions: Variety or Reliability?

What is the best way to transition between chapters, or from one scene to the next? Is it good to use the same transition device throughout your novel, or to vary it from chapter to chapter?

I've seen the following transitions. Feel free to comment add any that I miss:

  • Don't even try. Just end chapters on a cliff-hanger.
    • If done well, and not done in every chapter
  • End every chapter with a question.
    • This keeps the reader engaged, but the question needs to be interesting, not too difficult, and answered quickly in the next chapter
  • Copy a word or phrase from the end of one chapter, and use it in the set-up for the next
    • This can either be clever or corny, depending on how carefully it is done
  Here's a writing prompt. Write out the scene or chapter, and then try transitioning to the next using each of the options above. Which works best? Would you always use that, or use a different type for each chapter, and why?

Writing Prompt: They always warned me that this job would kill me. I just never thought it would be so soon, or so embarrassing...

Have fun, and keep writing!