Tag Archives: writing

Twenty Questions

Sitting in a car for hours or days on end with several other people can either be the perfect vacation or a painful exercise in maintaining composure. Sometimes it’s both.

As you may know, right now I’m on my way back from a super fun writer’s conference in Pennsylvania. The thing is, I live in Florida – and we drove.

Luckily for me, my car mates are two of my favorite people in the world, so most of the time we’re just enjoying each other’s company. However, there’s only so much we can chat about before the experience starts to seem pretty endless. When that happens, we play games!

Our favorite is 20 Questions.


Think of something. Announce whether it’s animal, mineral, or vegetable. Your friends may ask yes or no questions only. Twenty isn’t really the limit in our car; we just keep asking until we figure out what the other person is thinking of.

How to tell when you’re so tired it’s time to pull over

When you start to miss the obvious. Last night I was thinking of a pretty iconic spaceship. Keep in mind that we’re all Doctor Who fans. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I’m a mineral.

Them: Are you in your natural state?

Me: No.

Them: Are you a specific one?

Me: Yes.

Them: Are you fictional?

Me: Yes.

Them: Are you from a book?

Me: Not originally.

Them: Film?

Me: Not originally.

Them: TV show?

Me: Yes.

Them: Are you a tool?

Me: In a way.

Them: Are you a transportation device?

Me: Yes.

Them: Do you fly?

Me: Yes.

Them: *sleepy pause* Are there real-life versions of you in use outside of the show?

Me: No.

Them: *longer sleepy pause* Are you a spaceship?

Me: Yes.

Them: *even longer, sleepier pause* Are you from Star Trek?

Me: You guys must be super tired.

Any guesses what I actually was?  🙂  They did get it a few minutes later, and then we pulled over for some much-needed rest.

Firefly and writing westerns

I’m finishing up a fantasy/scifi western novel right now. It’s a bunch of fun to write because it gives me an excuse to look at classic cowboy stories and tales of men riding through the desert on awesome horses, carrying really cool guns…

Over and over again people who hear this ask me whether I’ve seen Firefly. “Not that your story is the same,” they tell me (for one, it’s not in space), “but it’s a really good show in the same genre you’re doing.” My answer was always no. I hadn’t seen Firefly. Until recently. I figured after the fifth person recommended it I might as well give it a try.

Now that I’ve watched two episodes, all I can think is

What in the world was I waiting for?

Hopefully you have experienced this amazing show yourself. If you haven’t, I really think you should. Netflix allows you to stream it instantly, so there’s really no excuse for not switching it on as soon as you’re done commenting here that you’re about to obey the call.  😉  Then come back and tell me how glad you are that you did.

As I mentioned, I’m only two episodes in, and I’m trying to take my time, so please don’t spoil anything for me!

But, for those of you who are already big fans of the Show That Died Too Early, please tell me this: how can I possibly pace myself and not watch every episode back-to-back until it’s all over?  🙂

The Style Divide: Mike Pynn guest blog

~Today’s blog comes FROM MIKE PYNN!~

I’m a big fan of peer reviewing. There’s a pleasure and pain that comes with having my ideas critiqued. As long as I trust the person looking at my work, there’s no better way for me to find a breakthrough than to have them pick my work apart. That’s where my big sister, whose blog you obviously love, comes in.

My entire nuclear family writes. They write well, they write for money, and their writing is their best creative product. As you may have noticed, Irene writes at a prodigious rate (see: Transition Village).

Having that many good writers around is a sweet deal. No matter which of them is too busy to help me, there’s always a fantastic writer who’ll feel obligated to look something over. I’m like the freeloading family member who doesn’t want to get a job and crashes on couches and cleans out refrigerators at a rotating set of relatives’ homes. As long as I don’t rely on any one of them too frequently, they’ll always let me mooch some of their considerable talent.

Unfortunately for Irene, she’s the one on whom I most rely. Even more unfortunate for her is that I struggle when I write anything that isn’t funny. I’m uncomfortable when my fiction stops making people laugh. As a result, her usual dark and mysterious style has to be tucked away for a bit while she reads my work.

The other night, Irene needed my help. She has a great new idea she’s been working on, and she wants to add a transmedia/alternate reality element to the mix. Since we collaborate on exactly those kinds of projects, she asked me for some help coming up with a plan. Sounds sensible enough, right?

Well, it turned out to be much harder than either of us expected. I found myself completely unable to generate effective ideas. The ones I produced were either modifications of stuff she’s already done, or too similar to campaigns other folks have done — and I’m usually full of ideas.

The problem was that the tone of this project is decidedly NOT funny. It’s quite serious, actually. I was hopelessly out of my element, and Irene was left swinging in the wind (until November?). It’s still bugging me that I can’t come up with something good for her.

It’s a testament to her talent that she frequently and ably helps me with my ideas despite the stylistic divide.

So whom do you trust with your work? Do you have a stylistic tone out of which you have trouble breaking? Got any ideas for helping me ditch the comedy when I need to?

Transition Village III

For the last five weeks, I’ve been managing a ghost town, thanks to a creative support team and some wonderful players.

Once or twice a year, my transmedia, alternate reality game team gears up for a new project. During the weeks leading up to launch, we run Transition Village, a smaller-scale experience designed to keep momentum going.

This is a time-intensive job, mainly for me. Monday through Saturday I write individual responses to between 10 and 20 players each night, giving them (mostly) free rein in a small, “choose-your-own-adventure” world of my creation. During Transition Village seasons, I normally stay up late at night, typing interactive fiction into the wee hours. I don’t get a lot of sleep, but I do have a lot of fun.

Transition Village players are among the most creative, fun-loving people I’ve had the pleasure to communicate with. Most evenings I’m up laughing out loud or just smiling, and I’ll nudge my husband and say, “Look what this traveler sent in! I love it!” The way our players take this world and run with it, developing characters of their own, even submitting their own art and music, never ceases to amaze and thrill me. Transition Village is one of my busiest and happiest times.

In order to engage players who are watching from outside of the village, or players who just want more than one interaction per day, we also offer the Transition Times newspaper. This is a group effort from all members of our team. Each week, every one of us submits a few items to be included in the online paper, and that adds a bit more to the world. Mike does the hilarious horoscopes. Rob does the ghost humor and other related columns. I do the Ghost of the Week and the Traveler Spotlight. Brent does any video elements (plus he’s the voice of Dr. Dark Owl). Necole edits the newspaper (whew!) and contributes an article once in a while.

This past Friday I finished Transition Village III. Yes, that means our next “real” game is right around the corner. My lips are sealed on that one.  😉  (but maybe you can sneak some information from Mike).

After I finished TVIII, I woke up on Saturday and realized I wouldn’t need to plan responses for that night. It was a little weird. I’m able to catch up on my sleep now, but I will miss my little ghost village and my awesome travelers.

Then I looked at the message boards, where players were commenting about the final episode for this season, and I felt an overwhelming amount of appreciation and love. To answer many of your posts, yes, the PMs do read the boards.

🙂  And, thank you, thank you, thank you.  🙂

Today’s blog is my way of doing an informal, post-game… thing. Transition Village, though fairly popular, is really just a transition between larger games, so we don’t normally do an official chat after it ends. If you have questions or comments, you can feel free to post them here – keep in mind that TV is technically an ongoing world, so I can’t give away too much!

Basically, I just want to say thank you (again) to the players and the lurkers. If you didn’t get in this time, don’t worry. There’s a new experience coming soon, and you’ll be sure to have a place there. If you prefer our Transition Village style of game, then hang in there. The Governor will reopen for visitors before too long. He always does.  🙂

A Day in the Life of a Published Author: Nancy J. Parra guest blog

~Today’s blog comes FROM NANCY J. PARRA!~

5 a.m. – no, really, some people get up that early. Writer stumbles out of bed, hair sticking up all over, face dragging and smeary-eyed, hunts for coffee. Cup in hand, sips, burns tongue, mutters bad words as they turn on the computer. Writer enters password and drinks coffee waiting for computer to come to life. This takes fifteen minutes as the computer is old and too full of data — or new and too full of data.

5:30 a.m. – writer clicks on shortcut to Word program and feels virtuous. (If you don’t have a word shortcut on your desktop, put one on there. It will impress others.) Then brings up web browser — or two. Computer protests so writer brings up solitaire for something to do while computer cranks.

6:00 a.m. – writer has been hard at work for over an hour with four games of solitaire plus e-mail alerts.

6:15 a.m. – spouse gets up and is not shocked by clown appearance of writer nor the slight caffeinated tremble in fingers that are typing furiously… a Facebook update.

7:00 a.m. – spouse leaves for work dutifully kissing writer on cheek. Notes that writer has an open Word file up with blinking cursor. “How’s it going, dear?” “Great,” writer says. “I don’t know how you work so hard,” spouse shakes head. “I love what I do,” writer answers.

7:05 a.m. – writer glares at blinking cursor. Perhaps if I read what I wrote yesterday…

scrolls up two pages and rereads. Bleh. Highlights, copies, cuts, and puts in clips file. Writer may need those precious, perfect words later, so writer saves them… in case they are the best work writer ever does. Come to think of it. Writer should back up all their work, what with computer running slowly and possible crash coming.

9:05 a.m. – writer can now start real work… after they check on e-mails and Twitter and wishes friends on Facebook happy birthday as that is good marketing. Wait, there are some good industry links writer must read. It is important to keep up on all insider gossip and new how-to tips. Then, of course, must visit blogger friends’ blogs and leave comments so they will in turn leave comments on writer’s blog and writer will have higher hit numbers to show editor that writer has a following. Speaking of following, there are more Twitter tweople to follow and Facebook and MySpace friends to add to prove to editor that writer is fabulously popular among readers. This garners writer bigger print runs.

1:00 p.m. busy morning and writer has worked through lunch! Zounds — makes third pot of coffee. Goes and gets mail forgetting that hair is still on end and pajamas have hole in bum. Neighbor blinks. “I’m on deadline,” writer says and waves. Neighbor looks impressed.

1:15 p.m. – writer receives revision letter from agent/editor. Writer reads it carefully. Thoughtfully considers how agent/editor is completely nuts. Story is perfect. Idiots. Opens file to prove to self that story is perfect. Has entire conversation about how wrong revisions would be. Sets aside letter. Gets up, brushes teeth, gets dressed in old sweats with worn bottoms and baggy tee-shirt. Looks in mirror and congrats self on looking so good considering working so hard.

3:00 p.m. – writer stares at blank page and blinking cursor. Feels very sleepy. Blinking cursor might as well be hypnotist pendulum. Writer gets up and takes much-needed thirty minute power nap so that can write fresh brained.

4:30 p.m. – writer drags self out of bed, wipes drool off face, splashes with water, and curses at the time. Sits down. There are 40 new e-mails in box. Agent reminder that deadline looms. Friends/ relatives wonder why they haven’t heard from writer. Writer sends out e-mail blast about deadline approaching and hard work happening.

5:30 p.m. – writer hears spouse’s car pull into garage. Writer furiously begins work on pages.

5:45 p.m. – admiring spouse kisses writer hello and makes admiring noises about amount of work writer is doing.

6:00 p.m. – spouse brings writer a glass of wine and tells them to take a short break. Spouse has made eatable meal. Writer gets up, stretches and spends time with spouse. After all, you have to have a life, right?

8:00 p.m. – writer returns to computer. Reviews character profiles while computer takes sweet time warming up and getting back to speed. Writer rereads page and a half written so far. Fabulous. Writer writes more keeping in mind agent/editors revision ideas. Sigh.

9:00 p.m. – writer stops writing to do more important marketing and checks e-mails, Twitter, blogs and Facebook.  Jots down two new story ideas and doodles possible publishers. Calls writer friend to verify rumor of publisher looking for new work and other publisher going out of business. Gets more marketing tips.

11:00 p.m. – spouse comes in to kiss hard-working writer good night. Writer rereads day’s work and realizes what they clipped from this morning is better than what they wrote. Copies and pastes saved info over new info. Book still needs 27,000 more words by looming deadline.

11:15 p.m. – writer tweets other writer friends about sad state of business and how long they have been working and how hard the book is to write. Rumor flies that publisher is cutting advances. Writer will have to take on more marketing and editing roles. Writer laments on where they will find the time.

12:00 a.m. – writer swallows last bits of bottle of wine and finishes off one pound bag of peanut M&M’s. Throws darts at cutout photo representing protagonist. Decides that book is sagging. Consults writing book on how to fix sagging middle.

1:00 a.m. – worried spouse drags writer out of office to bed. Writer may or may not shower, sets alarm for 5 a.m., puts on circus pajamas, falls into bed, and dreams solution to sagging middle.

3:00 a.m. – writer is up and holding pen light, scribbles in notepad dream idea for book. Turns off pen light, head on pillow closes eyes and thinks about how glamorous it is to live the writing life.

Writing prompt fun: showing vs. telling

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the first lessons a writer learns. Take those flat scenes that aren’t conjuring anything up to the reader’s mind and sprinkle them with some creative fairy dust.

To pull from an example I used to give in the classroom –

I just saw a house. It was an ugly house.

Imagination demands that we show instead of tell most of the time. All readers have it, and each person’s imagination is a bit different. If I tell you that a house was ugly, you may see something in your mind that is completely different from the next person’s mental image. Both of you will likely develop only vague pictures, and neither of you may see what I wanted you to see.

So, what was ugly about the house? It’s not enough to respond, “It was a bad color.” Instead, tell me what color it was. Tell me lots of things about it, using different senses.

Then, I can write that I just saw a house. It was the color of vomit. Half of the roof had caved in. At least ten stray cats wandered, meowing as if in heat, through the patchy grass. Even though I kept my car windows closed, the odor of rotten eggs and garbage seeped into my car. The foundations of the house creaked in the slightest wind. Each window was a different size – some tiny, some oddly large, and all protected with rusty bars… and so on.

That’s a bit much, but it’s lots more to work with.  🙂  In that paragraph, do I need to add that the house was ugly? Nope. You’ll get the message, loud and clear. With some editing and careful word choices, I’ll have created a house that you can see, hear, and smell as if you’ve been there yourself.

Easy as pie, right? 🙂 Want to give it a try? Here are some prompts I used to give my writing students to let them explore showing vs. telling:

It was a boring party.
The dinner was good.
He was a cute puppy.
That was a scary woman.
My outfit was perfect.

Have some fun. What can you do to show any of these things?  🙂

Writers Love Writing: Moira J. Moore guest blog

~Today’s blog comes from MOIRA J. MOORE!~

This is a special response post to Natalie Duvall’s “Writers Hate Writing.”

Is the government being particularly annoying? Is there a part of history you want to explore and explain? Is there an archetype that you want to address in a different way? Is there an old trope you’d like to twist or stand on its head? Write a book.

Writing is fabulous. I started writing my first book (it was awful) when I was around thirteen, and I’ve been writing ever since, because I love it. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have persisted in writing during the many years from the first book I wrote to the first book I published. I wouldn’t be as confident as I am that I would be writing still, even if I’d never gotten published. Seeing the books on the shelf is great, getting paid for writing is marvelous, but I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s not my bread and butter. It’s what I do in my spare time, for fun.

The first draft of any of my books is written long hand. It’s exciting to put pen to paper for the first words. While I have the broad strokes of the plot and characters in mind when I start a new book, all the fine details are worked out as I write, and I love when ideas just pop into my mind. Sometimes I’ll let myself write a scene that appears to be nothing more than a tangent, only to realize later in the draft that I can draw that tangent back in and end up with what I consider an appealing subplot.

I love ironing out kinks in the story when I’m driving or walking. Sometimes I’ll run through lines of dialogue under my breath, and the people I pass on the street think I’m a crazy person. Sometimes I really struggle with plot holes or inconsistent characterization, and when the way to fix those comes to me, there’s a real sense of satisfaction and delight.

Of course, there are difficulties with writing. Putting together 100,000 words is hard work. Sometimes, I don’t know where to go next. Sometimes an editor provides a list of what she wants changed, and those changes can be hard to accommodate. And sometimes, upon rereading the published product, I wince and wish that I could grab all those copies back and fix the problems.

But the positives outweigh the negatives, by a long shot. I couldn’t imagine not writing. I love it too much.

Proofreading is a real pain in the ass, though.