Focus Your Writing

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Your reasons for writing and what you hope to achieve through your work will change as you develop as a writer (and sometimes even while you’re working on a piece), so it’s a good idea to occasionally re-evaluate why you write.

Stay focused while you are working on a project by always keeping the reasons why you are writing and who you are writing for in mind. If you find yourself drifting or bogging down, revisit these questions.

  1. Why do you write (in general)?
  2. Why do you write [genre(s)]? (e.g., why do you write fiction?)
  3. Why are you writing this particular piece?
  4. Who is your audience for this piece? Why will it appeal to them?
  5. Is there anyone who you don’t want to read this piece? Why? Can you make sure it doesn’t happen? If not, is there another way you could write about the subject where you wouldn’t have that concern?

Dark & Weird Writing

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Write a horror story using the these Jeremy C. Shipp story titles as elements: parasite, invitation, dog, camp, losing.
    1. Challenge yourself to add humor to your horror story.
  2. With the theme of “transformation” in mind, (1) write for 20 minutes (2) write 500 words or (3) incorporate it into an existing story or poem.
  3. With the theme of “equality” in mind, (1) write for 20 minutes (2) write 500 words or (3) incorporate it into an existing story or poem.
  4. Write something simultaneously as dark and as weird as you can imagine. Set it aside and come back to it as an editor and suggest where the “author” could go darker or weirder. Come back later as a writer and use the “editor” suggestions to rework your story.

Preparing to Prepare a Submission Package

A Pen In Each Hand

By Seanan McGuire

  1. Get a copy of the Guide to Literary Agents, and read all their tutorials. While the lists of actual agents will change dramatically from year to year, the format of the cover letter and synopsis won’t; you can probably pick up an older edition at your local used bookstore for five or six dollars. Just don’t use it for actually querying agents.
  2. Write one, two, and eight page synopses of your current project, and study the logical differences. Remember that every synopsis has to go from beginning to end, and make linear sense, even as the details get sliced away.
  3. Write an elevator pitch—a short, thirty-second description of your project designed to make people say “tell me more.” For double the fun, write an anti-elevator pitch to go with it—remember that “a young girl arrives in a foreign land, kills the first person she meets, and with the aid of three strangers, goes on to kill again” is a technically accurate elevator pitch for The Wizard of Oz.

Rethinking Genre

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Cut and paste this list into a Word document:

    Adventure | Biography | Comic books | Creative non-fiction | Crime | Diary | Epic | Erotica | Essay | Fan Fic | Fantasy | Horror | Journalism | Literary fiction | Literary realism | Mainstream fiction | Memoir | Romance | Science fiction | Western | Thriller | Graphic novels | Manga | Slash | Mystery | Gothic | Southern gothic | Paranormal | New journalism | Gonzo journalism | Hard SF | Soft SF | Dystopian/utopian | Steampunk | Cyberpunk | Alternate history | Apocalyptic/post-Apocalyptic | Dark fantasy | High Fantasy | Low Fantasy | Sword/sorcery (S&S) | Urban fantasy | Contemporary romance | Historical romance | Comedy | Coming of age | Historical fiction | Pomo | Satire | Transgressional

    Enlarge the font so that the list fills a page (Arial 26 pt works). Close your eyes and circle your mouse over the document. Click on two or more random genres, combine them and write the first 500 words (or more) of a story.

    Alternately you can print the document, cut out the words and pick them out of a bowl.

    Bonus: Post your exercise for feedback and see if people can guess your random genres.

  2. Have a stalled story in your idea file? Rewrite what you have using a different genre. For example, make your narrator an antihero and put him in a frontier setting (American west, space, etc.) and voila, you have a western. Sketch out the action and turn it into a comic or graphic novel, focusing on dialogue. Change the time period on your urban fantasy and turn your piece into steampunk. Tone down your erotica and let it evolve into a romance. Have your narrator live in an apartment above a haunted restaurant and create a paranormal romance.

    Simple changes are not enough to redefine your story’s genre completely but they can get you thinking about your style and writing goals in new ways and breathe new life into old work.

  3. If there’s a genre or subgenre you’ve never heard of, tackle it by combining one of our archived or current writing prompts with that genre.
  4. If you’re intrigued by a genre, search for journals (or contests) that specialize in that genre. Write something specifically for that publication (or contest) and submit it.

Eight Character & Story Exercises

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Write a 1000 words of a new story where your narrator is a character in the story but is not your protagonist, like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby.
  2. False narrators:
    1. Take an old story you never finished and change narrators without rewriting what you’ve already done (ie: create a false narrator)
    2. Write a new story using a false narrator
  3. Working on a story now? Add a nemesis to create tension. If you’re already using a nemesis, explore the connection between protagonist/nemesis or antagonist/nemesis by writing a new scene.
  4. Archetypes:
    1. Identify any archetypes or potential archetypes in your story and expand on your use of them as archetypes
    2. Write a new story based on an archetypal relationship.
  5. Identify the subplots in your novel in progress (or completed draft). Think of how they relate to the main plot. If they don’t, cut them. Make the remaining subplot(s) more significantly contribute to the main plot.
  6. Write a scene of crisis. Have the character reach a crossroads with three or more possible decisions. Have the character make a “bad” choice and see where it takes you. Try this with a story you’re already working on or something from your idea file.
  7. Find a story or poem you’ve finished or even published. For ten minutes, write a prequel or sequel scene/poem, maybe with a different narrator or time setting. If it goes well, expand it.
  8. Have some fun writing “As you know Bob…” dialogue:
    1. The setting is a semi-casual party, like a class reunion, cocktail party or wedding rehearsal. One character owns a newly-opened coffee/tea shop. Another character is a stuntwoman who had a terrible flight from LA. A third character raises Old English sheepdogs. They use “AYKB” dialogue to relay this information to each other and the reader and to have further conversation.
    2. Rewrite the previous scene without the AYKB dialogue.

New Tools for Your Writer’s Toolbox

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

This month’s exercise is easy: add a new tool to your writer’s toolbox. You might choose a tool that makes the business side of your writing life run more efficiently or one that makes the writing side more fun, but whichever you choose—make sure you use it! If it’s the right tool for you, soon you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.