Archive for write

Take Ten for Writers – Writing Exercise 01

Posted in Other Stories with tags , , , , on March 4, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Take Ten for Writers

This writing exercise is set in the year 3010. I have just completed my mission and need to send an update to my commanding officer. But the system only lets me send up to ten words. This will be my title. The story itself will be my personal log. The personal log has to begin with, “After a long…” and it has to contain the words, “blindingly bright” somewhere in it. Here it goes:

*****

55 Cancri e

Planet Celean Is Dead Thanks to the Bregonite Zealots

After a long month of interviews and interrogations, I have finally determined what I believe to have been the cause of the destruction of the planet Celean. The Bregonites started a nuclear war. Somehow, they infiltrated the Dominion of Sargon, accessed the secret nuclear control room, and set launched the warhead.

At first, I didn’t believe it was possible. Both the Dominion and the United Peoples have a myriad of checks, controls, and firewalls. But the Bregonites’ infiltration ran deep. And their zealotry and willingness to die was well beyond reason.

Of course, when the United Peoples’ capital city was struck, their leaders sought immediate retaliation. The Dominion barely had any time to figure out how it had all started. They tried to contact the United Peoples but they were either met with bureaucratic red tape or hostility. Their attempts to work together to find out what happened blew up in their faces… literally.

I arrived in time to see the final blow. It was blindingly bright and seemed to have encompassed the entire quarter of the northern hemisphere.

I admit, I was so angry at the breadth of this needless devastation that my interrogations were harsh; illegal even. Every Bregonite I’ve come across in this mission is now dead.

Some of the things I’ve done will give me nightmares. But the memory of the dead planet will haunt me for eternity. It will haunt all of you as well. No one will ever forget Celean. And hopefully, we’ve learned a valuable lesson and will never allow such an atrocity to happen again.

*****

It’s not the greatest short story ever. But keep in mind that this is just a rough draft and it was done in about ten minutes. The purpose of these writing exercises isn’t to write some great fantastic story. It is to trigger the imagination.

Try your own writing exercise based on this set up. Don’t worry about your writing skill. Don’t worry about plot or direction. Just write and explore and see where your mind will take you. And most importantly… Have fun!

 

(c) 2017 Dawn Ross

How to Come Up With Sci-Fi Story Ideas

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2017 by Dawn Ross

My sci-fi story is more of a space opera than a hard-core sci-fi. For those who don’t know what those terms mean, a space opera is more about the characters and their lives in space than about any technical sciency. Hard-core sci-fi is quite the opposite. I’d like for my science fiction novels to be a little more sciency, but I’m having a tough time coming up with ideas. So I thought I’d do some research for idea generation and have come up with some ways I hope will help.

Firefly Cast of Characters

TV, Movies, & Books

What are your favorite movies, TV’s, and books? What were their plots? You shouldn’t steal someone else’s ideas, but ideas can generate from them. Actively think about the plot when you watch or read something. Then mediate on it later to see if it inspires your own ideas. I admit I got the idea of Jori from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Suddenly Human”. Jori isn’t exactly like the boy in this episode. Nor is his situation the same. But some aspects follow along the same lines.

World-Building

Documentaries & Non-Fiction

You can get a lot of great ideas from reading a science magazine or non-fiction book. One book I’ve read, “World-Building” by Stephen L. Gillett has given me a few ideas. This book educates you on how things work in space and provides potential planet-scapes and such based on today’s knowledge. Documentaries, such as “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” can also give some great ideas.

Take Ten for Writers

Writing Exercises

Writing exercises are a great way to stimulate the imagination. In fact, this is something I need to do more often and something I plan on making a part of my regular writing routine. One book I’m planning on going through is called “Take Ten for Writers” by Bonnie Neubauer. Books like this give you a basis to start. For example, the first exercise in this book gives you a list of phrases that you can use to write a short story. The first phrase is “blindingly bright”. Next week, perhaps I will share the short story I wrote that contains this phrase.

Seems simple enough, but this book contains a variety of different exercises. One asks you to write a short story around a particular object, such as a Styrofoam cup. Another gives you a scenario, such as being abandoned by your date or being lost in the woods. Another wants you to write about an attribute without ever actually using the word or similar words. Even if none of these writing exercises mentioned here sound fun, there are many different exercises in this book. And there are lots of other books that help prompt writing exercises.

Brainstorm

I most often use brainstorming as a way to come up with book titles. But it’s great for coming up with story ideas as well. Simply write words related to your topic. For example, if you’re writing about a space ship, write down words like interstellar travel, speed of light, vessel, sub-space, warp drive, and so on. One or more of these words just might trigger an idea.

Write Randomly

This is the most common method I used to generate a story idea. I know my setting and I know my characters, so I simply start writing what I want to achieve and randomly write things I think might work. I don’t’ stop and think. I just write. And so when one idea comes while in the middle of writing another, I go with it and keep writing. This is the method I used to come up with the idea of the Chekrosians in book one of my sci-fi novel.

Computer-Generated

There are a number of apps that help writers generate story ideas. One of my favorites, and one I learned about through a fellow writer, is called Brainstormer. Brainstormer lets you spin three wheels, which line up to form one idea. I just now spun the wheel and here’s what it came up with – healing journey, Nazi, mansion. Did this trigger a short story idea for you? It certainly did for me.

There are websites you can visit as well. One I recently visited called SciFiIdeas.com randomly pulled up this story idea – “When a man is abducted by aliens, a clone is created to replace him. The story is told from the perspective of both the original and the clone.” Sounds fun!

Study People & Surroundings

The world might seem boring most of the time. But if you look carefully, you will probably see some quirky people or odd out-of-place things. Yesterday, I saw a short couple with a really large white dog and I began thinking about how those small people could possibly control such a large dog. I bet that dog eats more than those people! Maybe it’s an alien. I also saw a Star Wars kids baseball cap laying on the ground by a pond. Of course, the child could have just left it there after feeding the ducks. But what if he was pulled into the pond by a pond monster? (We have no alligators in our area, so pond monster would be much more realistic.) I started thinking about this kid and all the circumstances that led to him leaving this cap behind. It could make for a great mystery story.

Conclusion

There are many ways to generate ideas. It’s just a matter of actually implementing them. Tv’s, movies, and books are great, but don’t let yourself get too absorbed in them. And don’t just mediate on ideas. Write. To quote Yoda, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Do you have another way that helps you generate sci-fi story ideas?

Simple Steps to Writing a Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Typewriter for Writing a Story

So you have a story in your head and you suddenly feel inspired to write it. You sit down and you open a Word document. The story flashes through your head. The action, the heartache, the drama. But where do you start? How do you start? Suddenly you’re overwhelmed.

While some writers can simply start writing by the seat of their pants (called pantsers), some of us need a little more structure and guidance. If you are one of the later, here are some tips on where to begin.

Firefly Cast of Characters

Establish the Main Characters

If you’ve been thinking about your story for some time, you may already know who your characters are. You may also know things about them such as what they look like, where they work, their strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Either way, you need to create a character journal with all their information. The more important your character is to the story, the more thorough this journal should be.

Dwarves Bilbo and Gandalf in Rivendell Hobbit Movie

Establish the Setting

This is something else you might already have in mind. Creating a journal about it will help you fine tune it. A journal is also a great way to keep track of details later on as you write your story.

Set Up the Story Structure

If you’re having trouble just sitting and writing, having a story structure can help. The first structure you need to consider is the three acts basic acts that most good stories should have. The acts also help you determine your overall plot.

The first act establishes your setting and characters, and then brings about the inciting incident. The inciting incident is the event that rocks your character’s boat, the even that calls for his or her intervention. This incident can be something as simple as a death of a family member to something as cataclysmic as an explosion wiping out half a city. The second act consists of your character trying to resolve the situation only to find it’s not easy. Two steps forward, one step back. The third act contains the climax and the final wrap-up.

I have only given the basics of the three acts. If you’re having trouble with this, there are a ton of books and free online resources that can help.

Notecards for Writing a Story 001

Map Out the Outline

An outline is not the same thing as the story structure described above. The outline consists of the story structure, but it is much more detailed. It doesn’t just help you with your timeline, it also helps you establish important scenes, show you where gaps are, and gives you something to refer to as you write.

I have written an article previously on how using index cards helps me establish an outline – Outlining Your Novel with Index Cards. Make it fun with colored index cards!

Decide the Point of View

This can be a tricky one. Before you write, you really need to know how you plan on telling the story (or showing it, I should say). Here’s an article titled, Point of View Writing. It gives the basics and in an easy-to-understand way. The article states that Third Person, Limited is the most common point of view in fiction. I agree. And it is the point of view I use. I find it the easiest to use and the easiest for readers to fall into. But whichever you use, be sure you are consistent.

Decide the Tense

There are only two choices in writing tense: past tense or present tense. One would think that writing in present tense would be best because it establishes the immediacy of what’s happening. But past tense can work just as well. For some reason, I tend to do my outlines in present tense, but write my novel in past tense. Whichever you choose is fine, just be sure to be consistent. The Write Practice has another great article regarding writing in past tense versus present tense.

Book Time Clock Ticking

Write

This can still be the hardest part. But a friend and fellow writer posted something on her blog recently – Write Bravely. What does it mean? It means write and don’t worry too much about what others think. Don’t worry if your point of view or tense is off or whether you have enough descriptions in your scenes. Just write. You can worry about all that other stuff later.

If finding the time is a problem, make the time. Give up a television show or two. See if your significant other can help take up a chore or two. Even an hour a day is better than nothing. You’re story is never going to get written if you don’t make the time. Here are 10 Ways to Create More Time in Your Day.

Conclusion

Try not to look at novel as one big huge project. Big projects are easier to complete when you break them down into smaller projects. Use the headings I’ve used in this article as mini-projects. Even the heading Write can be broken down. Just take it one chapter at a time. One chapter at a time and you’ll get there. Good luck!

Go Beyond Telling Your Story – Show It and Make the Reader Feel It

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2016 by Dawn Ross
Cinderella's Slipper

A talented writer can show you and make you feel this magical scene.

One of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to overcome as a writer is learning how to show the story rather than tell it. Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can make the reader feel like they are actually a part of the story. So how does one write in such a way as to bring the reader into the story? Let me start with showing you the difference between telling a story and showing a story.

 

The prince slipped the glass slipper onto Cinderella’s foot. It fit. The two smiled at one another and then hugged. They lived happily ever after.

 

Short and sweet but not very engaging, right? First of all, it happens too quickly. I could drag it out more by describing more of their actions. But ‘dragging’ a scene out isn’t what separates showing from telling. There is so much more to it. Here is my rewrite:
The glass slipper glided easily onto her foot, sending a shiver up her spine. This was happening, this was really happening. But would he recognize her in these rags? Would he be able to see her through the soot and grime on her face?

He raised his head. Her breath caught as his blue eyes locked onto hers. Goosebumps prickled across her arms. She smiled tentatively, hoping against hope.

His eyes twinkled and a grin spread across his handsome face. Warmth flooded through her and her eyes burned with tears. He remembered her.

But no. This had to be a dream. It couldn’t be real. She looked down at her soiled clothes. Her nose twitched at her own sour scent. There was no way he could love someone like her. She was just a servant, a simple nobody.

She squeezed her eyes shut and brought her dirty hands to her face. A piteous sob escaped her throat. Her chest heaved and hot tears pushed their way out.

The warm touch of his hands as he cupped them over hers magically settled her. She let her shaking hands fall and hesitantly opened her eyes.

His face was a handbreadth from hers. “It’s you.” The warmth of his sweet breath whispered across her lips. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” His fingers gently wrapped around hers.

Dream or no, she couldn’t resist the tenderness in his eyes. She let go of one of his hands and delicately brushed his cheek with the tips of her fingers. He was real. And somehow he still saw her in the same way he had on that enchanted night.

He enveloped her into a longing embrace and she melded into the strength of his passion. All the world around her disappeared. It was just him and her, lost together in a whirl of everlasting joy.

 

This rewrite showing is obviously much longer than the telling part. But perhaps it didn’t really seem like it because hopefully you felt like you were a part of the experience. As stated earlier, it’s not because it is longer that makes it more engaging. Here are some things that helped show the story:

Emotions – Cinderella shared her emotions. And she didn’t just tell the reader she was nervous, ashamed, or relieved. She showed her emotions with her actions, gestures, internal sensations, and internal thoughts. Actions, his blue eyes locked onto hers. Gestures, she delicately brushed his cheek with the tips of her fingers. Internal sensations, warmth flooded through her. Internal thoughts, she didn’t think this was real.

Other Senses – Cinderella doesn’t just tell us what happened. She shows us what she sees, smells, and what she feels both internally and externally. Engage your readers by trying to include two or more of the five senses – sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste.

Adjectives – Adjectives have a way of putting more feeling into nouns. They help to bring those nouns to life. Consider Cinderella’s piteous sob, sour scent, and dirty hands. Consider the prince’s warm touch, blue eyes, and sweet breath. Consider their enchanted night.

Conflict – Conflict somehow has a way of really engaging the reader. Conflict keeps the reader guessing and keeps them hoping for the best. It creates setbacks and gives heroes the opportunity to show who they really are. And it makes things more real. Although the Cinderella story is a fairy tale, I’ve made her more real by showing her internal conflict. In real life, a man and a woman don’t just fall into easy love without some sort of internal doubts. Conflict can be external as well as internal. After studying how to show a story rather than tell it, consider doing some research on the many ways you can add conflict.

Word Choices – Consider the words you’re using when you’re setting a scene and showing your story. Use words that support the emotions. Consider sharp words when there is strong negative emotion or lots of action, or soft words for slow-paced scenes or gentler emotions. When Cinderella looked down at her soiled clothes, hopefully the word ‘soiled’ helped convey her doubts about herself. When she delicately brushed the prince’s cheek with the tips of her fingers, hopefully the word ‘delicately’ showed how she was still uncertain but beginning to believe. When they hugged, hopefully the words ‘longing embrace’ conveyed how relieved both of them were to be together again. Somehow, I don’t see the words ‘strong hug’ doing the trick.

Sentence Lengths – The emotions of certain scenes can sometimes be conveyed better through the lengths of your sentences. Action scenes or other scenes meant to be fast paced can be written with one-syllable words and short choppy sentences. Longer sentences help slow the momentum of the story. Love doesn’t happen quickly so love scenes like the one above do better with longer sentences.

Don’t Overdo It – Sometimes, showing can get a little out of hand. I thought about adding more to Cinderella’s doubts by having her speak back to him and being more hesitant to believe this was real. But sometimes enough is just enough. You don’t want to bore your reader with too much detail. And you don’t want to dwell on one emotion for too long.

Telling Has Its Place – Sometimes telling is actually appropriate. Telling could be used to skim over boring parts that have no real value in the story other than to get your character from one place to another. An example would be if one of your characters just experienced an event and is now telling another person. Rather than go into dialog relating events the reader already knows about, the writer can tell the reader, “Jack told her everything in a rushed breath.”

But use telling very sparingly. There are better ways to transition a character. You can end the chapter at one scene and begin a new chapter in another scene. You can have your character thinking about something important as they move from one place to another. Or you can insert a sub plot so that something happens as the character is going from one place to another.

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned about showing a story and engaging your reader. I hope I’ve covered all the points but if I’ve forgotten something, please feel free to add a comment or two.

How to Write Unique Character Voices

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by Dawn Ross

Yoda and Bad Grammar

Have you ever read a book but couldn’t get into the story because the characters were so flat? There could be many reasons why a character is flat, but the one being discussed here is in regard to the way they speak. When everyone speaks in the same way, it makes it difficult for the reader to see them as individuals. It also makes it difficult for the reader to tell who is speaking if there are no tags present.

If you’ve been reading my sci-fi story, you have probably noticed that I’m in no way an expert at making each of my characters speak differently. But I’ve been studying the subject intensely and have been trying to apply what I’ve learned. Here are some general ideas on how to make each character sound unique:

Word Choice

Different people often use different words for the same things. Example 1 – One person may go around saying ‘awesome’ all the time while another may say ‘cool’ or ‘nifty’. Example 2 – One person may use a lot of big words while another person would use simpler words. Example 3 – One person could speak in a more formal manner while another uses more slang. Example 4 and the one I’ve used for a few of my characters – One person never curses while another curses all the time.

Word Order

Yoda from Star Wars would be a great example of word order. Instead of, “You have become powerful. I sense the dark side in you,” he says, “Powerful you have become. The dark side I sense in you.” Another example would be in Spanish versus English. In English, we say, “The yellow book,” but a direct translation from Spanish “El libro amarillo,” is “The book yellow.”

mordor-grammar

Grammar

Have you ever noticed that not everyone speaks in proper English? Someone had pointed out how one of my characters said, “From who?” instead of the proper, “From whom?” How many people do you know who actually say the word ‘whom’? There are a few, I’m sure. But I personally seldom ever hear the word. Also, how many people say words improperly, like ‘irregardless’ or ‘supposably’? It’s okay to have misspelled or mispronounced words when a character is speaking. However, be careful not to overdo it or it will annoy your reader. Here is a great resource for words that are often pronounced incorrectly – http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/style-and-usage/mispron.html

Idioms

If you’re writing in close-third person, even your descriptions should be closely aligned with the character. For example, one of the characters in my story describes things or uses idioms related to animals. So when he describes a color, he describes it in a way that relates to an animal. Some characters may also speak their idioms out loud, such as, “knee-high to a grasshopper” or “uglier than sin”. Keep idioms in mind whether the character is speaking them, thinking them, or describing the scene around him.

Foreign Words

One of my main characters occasionally uses foreign words. Make sure to use the foreign word so that the reader can still understand it based on its context. The reader might not know what the word ‘koshinuke’ means but in the right context they might realize it means ‘coward’. As with misspoken words, be careful not to use too many foreign words or it will annoy your reader.

Filler Words

Filler words are meaningless words. Perhaps one of your characters says, ‘um’ a lot. Or they may begin almost every sentence with, ‘Well…” Also, perhaps they also end just about every sentence with a word or phrase such as, ‘ey?’ or “ya know?’. Here are some great examples I’ve found – http://blog.brandyourself.com/product-tutorials/6-filler-words-that-wont-get-you-hired/

Other Ideas

How about a character with a lot of faith? Perhaps they say, ‘Thank God’ or ‘Thank the Lord’ a lot. Maybe they give a lot of blessings or offer prayers. Other ideas – overly polite characters, blunt characters, characters who talk a lot, characters who keep it short and simple, characters who mispronounce certain letters, characters who sigh a lot, and so much more!

Listen to how different people speak and take note of the different words they use. Does a doctor speak differently from a farmer? Does a policeman speak differently than a politician? Does someone whose native language is Chinese speak differently than someone from Australia? Listen and learn and you too can develop unique character voices.

*****

In addition to writing unique character voices, here are four ways you can show which of your characters is speaking:

Three ways to tell who is speaking:

  1. With tags like ‘he said’ or ‘she replied’. (Note, avoid using too many creative tags like ‘he insisted’ or ‘she hissed’. Readers tend to skim over the more common said and replied tags and get hung up on creative tags. Besides, the character’s actions and the construction of their speech should speak for themselves. Another point is people don’t hiss or growl words. So if you use a creative tag, use it sparingly and use it appropriately.)
  2. With actions. For example, instead of “Don’t do that,” Mike said, say, Mike shook his finger. “Don’t do that.” Incidentally, different gestures might be another way you can distinguish your characters. For example, perhaps Mary crosses her arms a lot or George twitches his mouth when he’s thinking.
  3. With the character’s unique voice. Take Yoda, for example. For anyone writing fan-fiction, there is no reason to say, Yoda said. Simply writing in the unique way he speaks will tell the reader who is speaking.
  4. With tone. Perhaps this is just my own technique, but in some situations I like to describe the tone in which the speaker is speaking. I don’t use this technique often. It’s usually only used when I want to emphasize how a character might have a different sounding voice or when my character is using a different tone than usual and I can’t seem to find any other way to convey it. For example, “If you ever do that again…” Mike’s tone rumbled from the lowest octave. Another example, “So, what’cha up to?” Jake’s voice was naturally gruff, but there was a friendliness to his tone. Here is a link I found on other ways to describe a tone of voice – http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/thesaurus-category/american/words-used-to-describe-someone-s-voice

If you have any other ideas on how to write unique character voices or to show who is speaking in your story, please comment below.

My New Writing Project

Posted in The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , , , on July 26, 2014 by Dawn Ross
Spaceship in Space

Want to read a space opera?

I’m going to do something a little different with my writing. It’s obvious I haven’t written in some time. I promised to work on Guardian of Destiny, but lost interest. The tediousness of watching my grammar and punctuation along with trying to create an engaging setting has made writing a chore. So my new idea is just to write.

I have a new tale to tell. This one is science fiction. If you’ve read my fantasy novels, The Dukarian Legacy trilogy, then you may notice that the main character in this sci-fi story is similar in a lot of ways. What can I say? His character inspires me. I haven’t exactly duplicated him. The two characters are distinct enough to be different, but they share many parallels. I won’t tell you what those are. I don’t want to spoil the story.

So besides being sci-fi, what am I doing differently (as indicated above)? Many things. For one, I’m going to post most of the story here. I’m going to post it bit by bit. For another, I’m not going to worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or anything. I’m just going to write.

This isn’t about writing the perfect story or novel. This is simply about getting the story in my head out and into a tangible format. Call it a space opera, if you will, which is just basically a story set in space with little regard to the science of living or traveling in space. (Star Wars is an example of a space opera.)

So if you’re just looking for a fun read, sign up for my blog and come along for a space ride.

(Feel free to comment on posts with constructive criticism, ideas for a better story, to point out errors, or even compliments!)

Further Develop your Story and Characters

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2014 by Dawn Ross

In previous posts, I told you how I came up with the story and characters for “The Guardian of Destiny”. I showed you how I started out with just the basics and let my story grow from there. That is how I did it, but how can you implement my process and make it your own?

It all starts with an idea. Maybe you did a writing exercise that seemed to take off. Perhaps you watched something or read something that left this exhilarating feeling in your gut. This is where you start.

Meditate on whatever it was you saw or wrote that seemed to resonate so well. What is it specifically that got you excited? Was it the dynamics of the characters in the movie you saw or the book you read? Was it the way the story was told, the intricacies of the plot, the ending? If you got this feeling through a song you heard, what were the images you saw when you heard the song? What feelings did the song bring?

You need to take these abstract feelings and put them into words as best you can. This way, it will be easier for you to recapture it whenever you need the inspiration. Putting these feelings down on paper makes them more real and helps you to build your characters and your setting.

There are no hard and fast rules when you develop your story. At this point, it is perfectly okay to let your imagination go wherever it wants to go. Write it all down. You can write randomly as your ideas pour out or you can organize your thoughts using note cards. Not all your ideas will be used. You will find that as your story grows, some things will need to be discarded and other things will need to be added.

Once I get a basic idea of the plot, characters, and setting, I like to organize my thoughts. I dedicate a binder to the story. And then I start by writing about my main characters; what they look like and their basic personality traits. After that, I describe my fantasy world. At this point, neither my characters nor my fantasy world are set in stone. I want to give myself the freedom to change things, should the story require it.

I like to use note cards to organize my story. I start out with broad ideas. Then I write down ideas for specific scenes. And if I already have a very specific scene in my head, I write it out on paper and use the notecard to reference it. Using notecards makes it easier for me to delete scenes, add scenes, and change the order of scenes.

Notecards for Writing a Story 001

My color-coded note cards and binder for another story idea I have.

As my story grows, so does the number of note cards. Sometimes I have to rewrite the note cards because my ideas get too large for just one card. Keep adding cards until you feel that you have an entire novel’s worth of a story. Then organize those cards so that each card represents a chapter or subchapter. If you need more space, use the notecard to reference a writing journal or binder dedicated specifically to this story.

You don’t have to use these methods when you develop your story and characters. Do whatever is easier for you. The more you write, the more you will find out what works for you.