Thursday, February 21, 2008

Writer's Game! Be a TV Guide Blurb-Monkey

A combination of Colleen Lindsay's recent post and S. E. Ward's comment upon that post has given me an idea for a quick and fun writer's game: Write an approximately 25-word blurb for a fictional television show using TV Guide's writing style.

What makes this a useful exercise is that you have to capture an engaging conflict in one or two very tight sentences. It provides practice both in writing strong pitch paragraphs for your query letters and in recognizing the essential ingredients of a gripping scene or storyline.

As an example, my entry on La Gringa's (Ms. Lindsay's) blog was:

11pm, Roar Masters. Trina discovers it was Jayden, not Amanda, who spiked her A.C. with bodily fluids, but she can't confront him until after they win the truck rally.

Would you watch that? (Probably not, if you have any taste, but note the time slot: good taste wanes exponentially after bedtime.)

If you're game, please post one or more of these in the comments! Something funny is always welcome, but the important thing is to create a blurb that is both concise and intriguing. (Bonus points for sticking your blogging buddies in a sitcom!) If you're really brave, write a blurb for an "episode" from one of your own stories.

Feel free to vote for your favourites and we'll declare a winner later! (Um, no prizes except for internet glory, mind you. :-D )

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Seige-Weapon Against the Wall of Writer's Block

In Story, Robert McKee suggests that research is the antidote to writer's block. When you can't write, that generally means you don't know what to write--so go learn something and you will.

In my next novel, I'm hoping to explore the idea that being human means being the opposite of a predator--that we are hard-wired to be social animals, and we define "good" and "evil" in terms of that which is selfless (and society-preserving) or selfish (and society-destroying.)

I wanted two of my secondary characters to represent the extremes of this scale, and in the course of some research I did last night, I found a delightful way to do it.

People with Down's syndrome tend to be affectionate, kind and honest. They love orderliness and routine, and they are resistant to "last-minute" changes. They tend to be very sensitive to expressions of anger by others. Their intelligence is affected by their condition, but their emotions are normal and healthy.

People who are clinically psychopathic tend to be emotionally superficial, dishonest and manipulative. They are easily bored, and they crave excitement and sensation. They lack empathy and tend to have trouble understanding both visual and verbal expressions of sadness or fear by others. Their emotions are stunted by their condition, but their intelligence is normal and healthy.

So my plan is to have the character who represents a "good", order-loving human have Down's syndrome and the character who represents a "bad", chaos-loving human be psychopathic. The fun part is, the protagonist is going to fall in with the "bad" character while the antagonist teams up with the "good" character. There's more possibilities for inter-personal friction that way.


What things have you researched to spark ideas for your writing? Have you ever learned something new and immediately had a story bloom out of that? Do you have ideas that come out of nowhere, or can you usually identify the trigger for them?

Sunday, February 10, 2008


“I wish I'd known your mother.”

“She said everyone...everyone, if he's rich or he's poor, if he's somebody big or nobody at all--everyone has a grace.” A look of peace came over his embattled face when he said the word grace. “You know what a grace is?”


“A grace is a thing you get from God, you use it to make a better world, or not use it, you have to choose.”

“Like your art,” I said. “Like your beautiful drawings.”

He said, “Like your pancakes.”

~~ From Brother Odd by Dean Koontz

When I was a kid, I was significantly better at art than most people. It got commented on pretty much every time a person watched me sketch for the first time. My standard response was, “Everybody is good at something.”

I guess another way to phrase it would be everyone has a grace.

Regarding writing, I've been stuck in the dark teatime of the soul for about a month now. Faced with rejection letters and my own realization that what I've written may not be publishable, I've been paralyzed.

I am recovering, but reading that one line, A grace is a thing you get from God, you use it to make a better world, or not use it, you have to choose, was probably the thing that initiated my rebound. You have to choose to use the abilities you were given. Thus spake Zarathustra: if you can, then do.

The character in Brother Odd who says this is not a professional artist. He's a mentally and physically challenged young man who draws as a way to make his memories of his dead mother concrete. You could argue he's not making the world a noticeably better place by decorating his own walls, but it's still better than if he chose not to draw. He is using what he's got, without concern for whether others will buy the drawings, or like them, or even see them.

I find it too easy to decide not to write today, to not draw or paint today. If I'm feeling depressed about whether my art compares well with that of others, it can lead to me feeling an aversion to creating anything at all.

I'm starting to understand that I have to just choose to do this. The quality of the final product is not as important as that choice, because every little bit is better than nothing.

I'm also reminded how literature can make your life better in ways that go well beyond entertainment value. Thanks, Dean Koontz.

~~Have you ever adjusted the course of your life thanks to a line you read in a book? If so, what line was it (if you can find the source material), and what change did you make?

Saturday, February 02, 2008



Total critiques posted: 111, by my count. I did a few more than that because of the false start, of course.

If anyone feels like returning the favour, my first page can be found HERE. Feel free to give as good as you got!

(PS - When you click the link, you will be taken to Nathan's blog initially, but if you wait a moment, the page should bamf down to my opening. I.e. don't worry: you won't have to go hunting through the thickets of comments for it. :-) )

It's a first draft, but I welcome all constructive criticism, and I thank anyone who is kind enough to leave me a comment.

Thanks again to everyone who offered their work up for scrutiny; it was both a pleasure and a great learning experience for me!

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: