Friday, July 27, 2012

This week's writing prompt--results

The Phaserheads not only jointly blog, but also meet as a writer support group twice monthly. We talk about writing-related topics from the mechanics of good writing to marketing a book, we report on what we've been writing (sometimes sharing a short excerpt with the group) ... and we do short writing exercises using prompts: a concept, a phrase, or a sentence is announced and a time set, usually between 3 and 5 minutes. Our rule is that everyone has to write but you don't have to share what you wrote if you came up blank or just don't like what you did.

The need to go with the first thing that pops into your head and write like crazy for a couple of minutes leads to some very creative writing.The fun part of doing this in a group, though, is hearing what everyone else wrote. As this blog's name reflects, we have writers of mystery-suspense stories, others who do fantasy and one whose chosen genre is science fiction. We have poets, at least one writer who nearly always goes for the totally offbeat humor, and one who often ends up with a romantic (more or less) triangle in the story. It gets really fun when the group members write against style, choosing an approach more characteristic of one of the other writers.

So, on to one of this week's prompts: "The weregirl turned back into"
Image courtesy of cscarlett15 via

I came up with the following:

The weregirl turned back into the bar. “Y’all go on to the party,” she called to the group, “don’t wait for me. I’ll catch up with you when I can.”

To a chorus of ok's and see-ya's, she waved and took off down the street at a quick walk. She turned at the first cross street, then dashed into the park and toward the museum. This last-minute stuff was getting old—and she really liked this bunch of friends. She’d been teased about being a Cinderella tonight and had to have the reference explained –that she was always running away around midnight. But if she didn’t make it back to the portrait gallery before the moon set …

I'm not entirely sure where I was going with this. We all played with some aspect of what a weregirl was when she wasn't a girl. The idea of having her be something other than an animal, or a male human, intrigued me. The art museum seemed to hold such promise, but she would still need to be something at least quasi-living for the "were" characteristic to take hold. I'm not sure whether she would have turned out to be a plant in the portrait gallery, or maybe a wooden sculpture, with wood that somehow retained a quasi-life aspect.

OK, group--who's next?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The zen of writing

Writing is an odd sort of occupation. Writers want to communicate with others—but not necessarily have any direct contact with their readers. The writing itself, generally intended to be shared with at least dozens of readers and possibly hundreds or thousands, usually gets created in solitude and if not in silence, then with a sound-background of the writer’s choice.

Writers differ widely in their approach to writing, too. Some swear by organization: not just outline, but detailed character descriptions, and action mapped out to the level of chapter-by-chapter, at least. Others just pick up pen, pencil or keyboard and start writing, with or without any idea where this essay or story might end up. After all, one can always fix inconsistencies and plot omissions in the edit stage.

I fall somewhere between these two extremes myself. I always have some idea what I want to say in a short essay, and I started my few novel-length works (2 more-or-less done, one more barely started) with an idea about the identity and personality of at least two main characters, the opening problem and a goal or endpoint. But I leave myself plenty of leeway, starting out with vast uncharted areas within the general territory I intend to cover.

Partly, this reflects a rebellion against early how-to-write training in school, which insisted that an essay must be fully outlined, supporting ideas and all. That never worked well for me. As I’d begin to write from my outline, I’d always find myself departing from my outline: thinking of better examples to support my argument or a better order in which to present them. So I got in the habit of writing my essay or report first, working directly from my notes. Once the paper had been written, I could go back and make an outline that reflected what I actually wrote, thus keeping my teachers happy.

But an approach to the writing process that I can only describe as a sort of zen forms other big reason for leaving myself wiggle room when I start to write. While I can understand the rationale behind mapping everything out beforehand—even admire those for whom such a technique works—I can only admire from afar. For me, ignorance of exactly how the story will unfold between opening and goal allows me to come to the story’s details fresh. And somehow I help the loose ends stitch themselves together by the end.

I’d probably have better control over length if I preplanned more, though.

Susan shares more thoughts about the process of writing on her blog about writing,