Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Plotter or Pantser? Discovering your NaNoWriMo style

It all boils down to one question - are you a plotter, or a pantser?

With just five more days until National Novel Writing Month begins, there is a lot of buzz going on about how people are preparing to face the challenge of writing a fifty-thousand word novel in thirty days.

Some people have detailed outlines and character sketches.

Some people have decided that they have Character A and Character B, and they are going to get thrown into Situations C and D, but they are going to let what happens write itself.

Still other people are tossing ideas around, but haven't really settled on the story they are going to write yet.

And finally, there are those NaNoWriMo purists who, having no idea what they are going to write, will sit down in front of their computer on November first and fly through the month, and their novel, by the seat of their pants.

I saw it mentioned somewhere recently that outlining fiction is a pointless effort, because the outline ends up becoming so detailed that you might as well just write the damned story already.

Do I agree with this?  Yes and no. 

My last attempt at NaNoWriMo failed in part because I tried to outline my story.  I went into the month knowing the basics of the story that I wanted to tell.  I had the characters formed in my head.  I knew the setting.  I had a general plot. 

I wrote my first 1667 words like a good little writer on November first, but I decided that I needed more discipline, and I took things further.  I cluster mapped.  I brainstormed.  I filled in character sketches and I filled in known plot holes.  I created a timeline.  I knew what my story was about and I knew what it was going to say when the month was over.  I had created my very first outline!

I was so proud of myself for being so... so.... professional about my writing for once.

And so I wrote.  I kept track of my daily word count on a spreadsheet and if I fell behind, I pushed to catch up. If I got ahead, I did everything in my power to stay there. I was doing this, by golly.  I was WINNING NaNo. 

Except that as I approached thirty thousand words, a strange thing happened.  My main character started to deviate from the storyline that I had set out for her.  She did things that were out of character, and she totally ignored my meticulously laid plans for her future.  The man that I had planned as her love interest wouldn't take the bait, and another man appeared instead.  I have no idea where he came from.  I didn't plan him.  He called her up on the phone one day when she was supposed to be doing something else.

Something that I had outlined for her to be doing at the precise moment this mystery character appeared and blew my outline to smithereens.

I was overjoyed and horrified all at the same time.  On one hand, I was thinking, "How awesome is this? My characters hijacked my story. I wonder what is going to happen next?" 

On the other hand, the Control Freak in me was totally freaking out.

My beautifully plotted and planned story was ruined.  Try as I might, I couldn't rein the characters in, and there was no way I was going to be able to finish the story in fifty thousand words.  In fact, I couldn't see it ending at a hundred thousand words at that point.  At least, not if I was going to regain control of the story and tell it like I had planned to tell it.


I was stalled at 37K words, and that was that.  I threw in the towel and congratulated myself for a valiant effort and then skipped NaNoWriMo entirely the next time it came along.

Here's the thing - once I created an outline, I was doomed.  I've never been a plotter.  Nothing against plotters.  I actually envy plotters.  My Control Freak envies plotters. They're so... put together.

But for me, the joy in writing has always been sitting down with some vague ideas and no apparent direction, and then letting the story tell itself. My characters shine brighter when they give birth to themselves.  My settings are more tangible.  My plots are more captivating.

They say it's not important whether you win or lose.  It's how you play the game.  I give myself credit for trying to be a plotter, but it didn't suit me, or my writing, so this year, I'm taking the NaNoWriMo challenge as a full throttle pantser. 

This year, I'm playing to win.

What is your NaNoWriMo style?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Writing a novel in 30 days (otherwise known as NaNoWriMo Madness)

For those of you in the know, the title of this post speaks for itself, and you are either laughing at me or nodding your head in sympathy because you are planning on spending the month of November much the same way I will be -- glued to your computer, gulping down coffee, and neglecting your family and friends until you have completed your goal of writing a fifty-thousand word novel.

For those of you who are new to NaNoWriMo Madness, don't let that first paragraph scare you away.  I didn't mean it.  Okay, so I did, but it's not as bad as it sounds.  Really, its a lot of fun, and your friends and family will be so proud of you when it's over that they won't hold a grudge about you neglecting them for thirty days straight.  (In theory, anyway.)

So, what exactly is this NaNoWriMo Madness of which I speak? 

Simply put, it is that festive event that takes place every year during the month of November where aspiring novelists test their resolve (and their sanity) by pledging to write a fifty-thousand word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30th. 

Now, some of you might say, "Fifty-thousand words, Mynx? Are you out of your freakin' mind?"

The answer to both of these questions is yes, but let's look at this from a different standpoint.  Yay, math!

50,000 words divided by 30 days = 1667 words per day.

1667 words per day.

That's it, but that's not all.

To write your daily word count in one hour, you only need to be able to type 28 words per minute.

1667 words divided by 60 minutes = 28 words per minute.

To put it into further perspective, you speak, on average, at 100 words per minute.

It doesn't sound nearly as crazy-making now, does it?  Actually, it sounds pretty easy, when you look at it that way.  And a lot less time consuming than I originally led you to believe.  Hell, hook up your voice recognition software and you can probably dictate your entire novel in oh, eight and a half hours from start to finish.

But wait!  There's even more!

Now that you've wrapped your head around the numbers, it's time to look at what NaNoWriMo is really all about, and that is, it is about getting you to put your butt in chair, in front of keyboard, and get to writing that novel that you keep talking about writing "someday".  There is no more talk of writing during NaNoWriMo - there is just writing from day one to day thirty.  There is no "someday" during NaNoWriMo.  "Someday" becomes NOW. 

If ever you needed a kick in the kiester to get to writing that book you keep meaning to get around to writing, NaNoWriMo is that kick. 

And it starts a mere nine days from now, so what are you waiting for?  Go to the website and sign up!

And then come back here and leave me a comment with your user name so I can add you to my writing buddies list. 

Who's with me?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mirror, mirror - Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. This is part three of a three part vignette that is an account of my experiences. You can read part one by clicking here, and part two by clicking here

I do not recognize the woman in the mirror.

She is not me.

She is someone else.

She frightens me, the woman in the mirror.  Her eyes have no whites.  They are bright blood red, and she won’t meet my gaze with her swollen-lidded, empty stare.  She looks beyond me, seeking an escape route that I cannot offer her, and her fingers play at her throat, which bears the impression of two hands, rendered perfectly in blaring black and blue.

Choking me… can’t breathe… won’t stop… have to make him stop… oh God oh God oh God I can’t breathe why won’t he stop please make him stop… go limp… play dead… that will make him stop so I do I go limp I stop breathing hold my breath oh God please stop choking me I can’t… shhh… he’s letting go… don’t breathe yet… he’s letting go…don’t move yet… just breathe… no don’t move oh why did you move…

Hands around my throat choking slamming my head against the floor and it’s black can’t breathe and he isn’t stopping can’t breathe oh God oh God oh God please stop go limp again hurry don’t fight him he’ll let go don’t fight don’t fight he’ll let go…

She frightens me, the woman in the mirror.  She wears an ugly purple-green mask that disfigures her face, stretching the lines of her lips, nose, and chin.  Her cheeks are distended, marbled yellow, blue-black and lopsided.  Her flesh is pulpy.  Her hair is misplaced and dirty. 

Cornered… have to get around him have to get away let go of my hair no oh God that hurts stop punching me please I didn’t… I don’t… stop… oh God oh God just let me get around him that’s my hair on the sink he ripped it out of my head oh God oh fuck oh please…

She frightens me, and I do not recognize this woman in the mirror.

She is not me.

She is someone else.

End Part 3.

If you know someone who is being abused by their partner, or you are a victim of domestic violence, you can get help!  Visit this website:  National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-SAFE.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kyra's Gambit - A fantasy fiction short story

I wrote this short story when I was in high school, and later, after several revisions, submitted it for publication to several well known fantasy magazines.  Thus, I received my first ever rejection slips from the world of professional publication.

I'm proud of those rejection slips.  They are proof that I was brave enough to put myself out there.  They are proof that I took the first toddling steps towards reaching my goals as a writer, at the young age of 16.

No matter whether you are considering traditional publishing or self-publishing, it is important to remember that you are going to face rejection.  Not everyone is going to like your writing style.  Not everyone is going like your content or your subject matter.

However, someone out there is going to like your work.  It pays to network, to be persistent, and most of all, keep writing. 

Kyra’s Gambit
            “You don’t have to kill to anybody to get the coins to get out of here, Kyra,” Stryker told me.  He disagreed with the way that I am earning the money.  “Go rob the Treasury. It’s safer.”
            Safety gets you nowhere.  Safety is a convenience to cowards.  If I were to have backed out of this mission, the Boss would have eliminated me.  The very fact that I told Stryker about the job is grounds for eradication; however, I know that Stryker won’t betray me.  I’d like to think that it’s out of friendship, but he knows that if he tells anyone else, I’ll kill him.  That is, if the Boss doesn’t get to him first.
            “What difference does it make to you?” I had argued.  “I’ve been here too long.  The stench doesn’t bother me anymore.”
I wouldn’t have stayed if I hadn’t been arrested by the city guard for thieving when I first got here.  I picked the wrong pocket and landed myself in jail for a few nights.  I didn’t know that the idiot was the head of Council.  He looked like everyone else in this place:  stupid, clumsy, and filthy rich.  When they finally let me go, they took what little of value I had and turned me to the streets again.  I had nowhere to go, no coins, and nothing but the clothes on my back to keep me warm.  Stryker found me and took me in.
I’ve learned much from Stryker.  He rescued me from the streets and introduced me to the Boss.  He also taught me about the corrupt legal system, and I take my revenge by corrupting it further in the Boss’s employ.  It brings me much satisfaction to see those who would carry out their polluted version of the law wallowing in their own ignorance.
“Just don’t go off and do something stupid,” Stryker advised me.  “They hire all sorts of fancy guards for those coots, and you aren’t a seasoned professional.” 
Stryker knows what he is talking about.  Sometimes he is one of those “fancy guards” for visiting rich folk.  The Boss has his hands in everything that is going on around here.
“Exactly why they won’t suspect me,” I had replied confidently. 
What bothered me about the conversation was the look on his face when I left.  He was looking confused and nervous.  Usually when we argue, he tells me how stupid I am and lets things go at that.  He tried to talk me out of it this time.  He’s never done that before.
            I can’t afford to dwell on it right now, because I’m on my way to the Square.  There’s a big hullabaloo going on today, and the Boss wants me to kill off a few foreign dignitaries.  He didn’t tell me why, and I didn’t ask.  As long as I get paid, I figure that the motives are none of my business.  The mission is the pay load, you see.  Succeed, and all of my problems are over.  I can finally leave this place and continue on my search for bigger, better things.                         
            I can hear the parade music up ahead, and I smell the crowd.  The streets before me will be filled with the usual crowd of arrogant on lookers; nothing but a mass of hot, stinking imbeciles who have nothing better to do with their time.  There will be street rats here and there, as well, dressed in rags and picking the pockets of the preoccupied spectators.  Normally, I would be joining them, but today, I have more grandiose intentions. 
Today, I wear the disguise of a street entertainer instead of the rags of a street rat.  No one would suspect the innocent young clown busy entertaining the children to have only moments ago shot down a well guarded foreigner.  And they shouldn’t.  I don’t look like an assassin in my bright purple stockings and embroidered yellow tunic.  I look like an innocent bystander.  I look like every other fool here trying to make a living. 
            I am approaching the outskirts of the crowd now.  The stench is worse, and the noise is deafening.  My targets are further down the street, making their way slowly to the place I have chosen to do my corrupt service.  I wade into the throngs of onlookers and pick a few pockets, anyway.  Everyone is so close together that they don’t even notice, and it’s an added bonus to my payoff.
            I reach the front of the crowd after much pushing, shoving, and pocket picking.  The former are necessary, the latter is going to get me arrested if I’m not careful.  It won’t do to get caught and end up in jail before I can even carry out my mission.  I will pass the time with a little entertaining, then.  It will keep me out of trouble.
            I pull out five heavily weighted balls and begin to juggle them.  If there is one thing that I’ve learned from my travels, it is that people thrive on entertainment, and if you know how to entertain, you will be better off for it.  I suppose I shouldn’t be using my chosen weapons as the focus of my act, but it’s either this or start dancing around like an idiot, which the crowds seem to like for some reason.  I can’t afford to call that much attention to myself. 
            No one is paying me any mind in the first place.  They are excitedly watching the approaching fanfare and buzzing amongst themselves like agitated stinger flies.  I highly doubt that anyone will notice when my five balls become four as one of them sails through the air and explodes upon contact with its target: a strutting, self-important dignitary.  There will be no evidence of the instrument of death left to decide my identity afterwards, and I dare say that not much of the foreigner will remain, either.
The dignitaries approach and no one notices as I turn and toss a small globe out into the street.  The explosion can barely be heard above the roaring crowd, but I know that I have hit my mark as the cheers and yells turn to screams.  The other four balls are put away and I am melting into the crowd again before anyone realizes what has really happened.  The procession will push on, despite the assassination, and so will I. 
            One down, two to go.
            I arrive ahead of the spectacle and begin my juggling act once more.  This time, a group gathers around me.  They are amazed, for I am now using twelve of the deadly little orbs, and a juggler of my dexterity is rare.  They, too, will not notice as I casually fling a ball out of the circle and pull another from my pocket at the same time.  The trick is complex, but I have been practicing.  Even if I miss, no one will suspect me.
            The procession arrives, and I pull my gambit.  So what if I miss the one I was actually aiming for, because I have eradicated the final dignitary on my list as a result of the slip.  Now the infamous guards are onto something, however, because they are moving in on the crowd and picking off innocent but suspicious looking bystanders.  That’s my cue to hightail it out of here.  If I can dispose of the final target in the process, it will be better for me in the long run, but the guards are much too close to risk it.  I push on ahead instead, away from the guards, away from the convoy, on to my final location.
            It goes badly.  Someone sees me throw my sphere of destruction and watches as it lands.  I’ve completed the mission, but I have to get away before the people around me realize that the bloke across the street is pointing at me.  I move sideways, behind a large man and shove my way through the horde.  If only I weren’t dressed so brightly, it would make it easier to remain inconspicuous.  I shed the yellow tunic only after considering the consequences of running half naked through the throng.  I am, after all, a woman.  I will do what I must to survive, however, and the tunic goes.  I pull the cloak off of another spectator to cover myself and am gone before he realizes that it is missing.
            As I reach an alley, panting from the effort of fighting the crowd, I stop and take stock.  No one appears to be following me, which is good, but I have lost my pick pocketing profits with the tunic.  Oh well.  I guess it’s some other street rat’s lucky day.
            The passageway winds through a bad part of this town, but I can handle it.  I’ve been in worse places with little else than a knife to defend myself.  I continue on with appropriate caution, still expecting to hear the shouts of angry guards behind me.  There is nothing but silence and my footsteps echoing on the cobbled alleyway as the sound of the crowd fades.
            I don’t like this.  Something isn’t right about it.  Even an alley isn’t entirely devoid of life.  A rat here, a cat there, something should be moving about and minding its own business, but there is nothing here.  No doors are open and the windows above are disturbing, vacant eyes looking down on me.
            I hear the footsteps that I thought were the echoes of my own too late.  Before I can turn to defend myself, a sickening thud invades my ears.  I lose myself to blackness, realizing that it was the sound of my head connecting with a very heavy weapon.
It is dark and cold here.  I can hear water running somewhere, and voices.  There is something familiar about one of them, but I can’t place it.  The pain in my head is like a spike driving deep into my brain.  It takes precedence above my immediate surroundings.  Wherever I am, it can’t be the Boss’s hideout.  I wouldn’t be on the floor, and I wouldn’t be… chained?  I’m chained to the wall!  This definitely isn’t the Boss’s hideout, and I’m obviously in trouble.
Okay, so I deserve it.  I should have checked my back more often than I did.  I shouldn’t have pulled that stunt with the idiot across the street watching me.  I shouldn’t have even accepted the mission in the first place.  But I’m not the type to give up so easily, and so I’ll stay here and find out just where it is that I am.  Then, maybe, I can escape, get paid, and get out of this hole in the middle of nowhere and get on with my life.
I hear the sound of footsteps outside the heavy door to this cell.  My first chance to ask questions, and I won’t give it up easily.  The door is swinging open on creaking hinges.  So much for that escape route.  They could hear me for miles if I tried it; if only I can figure a way out of these chains.
There is a shadow in the door way.  The shape looks familiar, just like that voice that I heard earlier.  Maybe it’s one of the Boss’s men, come to negotiate for me and take me back.  The figure steps inside and shuts the door.
“Stryker?”  I can’t believe this.  Why is he here?  Isn’t this a jail cell?
“Kyra, I told you not to take the mission.  Why did you even tell me about it?  As soon as you told me, I had to tell the Boss.  I came to tell you that I’m sorry,” Stryker says.  He doesn’t sound remorseful.
“Betrayer,” I whisper in reply.  “I trusted you.  How could you do this?”
“Because you were stupid, Kyra,” he is angry.  His voice is quavering like it does when he gets frustrated, growing deeper and sharper with each syllable.  “I’ve told you not to trust anyone here.  I tried to make you see reason, but you took the Boss’s bait, and now you are going to die for it.”
.  “You treacherous fink!”  I am not defeated yet.  “I never trusted you, Stryker!  You conveniently showed up when I needed a helping hand, but I lied about the mission, and you’re the one who is going to die.”
 “What are you talking about, Kyra?  You are a fool and everyone here knows it.  The Boss had you framed.  He can’t afford to pay you off, so he’ll kill you instead.  You can’t be trusted.  You are expendable.  It’s really that simple,” Stryker takes a step back.  “I take my orders from the Boss, not you,”
 “Wrong, my dear,” I reply in my sweetest tone.  “I told you the plans to see if   you could be trusted – it’s quite obvious that you can’t be.  As soon as you report back to the Boss, he’s going to get rid of  you; then, I get out of this cell, get a hot meal in my stomach, and I’m leaving this place for good – with payment for my mission.  Unfortunately, you won’t be around to see it.” 
I watch now as the doubt grows.  I hope that I’m right about what is going on, because if I slip once on the wrong words, my web of deception will unravel, and then I won’t be around to see anything.  Gods, I hate this place!  I should have never come here to begin with.
“You’re mad, Kyra.  The Boss doesn’t work that way,” Stryker is no longer angry.  Is that fear that I hear in his voice?
“How would you know?” I ask.  “Are you one of his hit men?  The Boss is a snake and you’ve only been doing business with his tail end.  I do business with his fangs.”
This much I know is true.  Stryker is not a hit man and has never been involved in any of the Boss’s more violent crimes.  He isn’t capable of telling who has been feeding him the lies.
“You didn’t lie about the mission, Kyra.  You did it, as planned, the exact way that you said you were going to.  I watched,” he is matter-of-fact now, and his doubt is ebbing.
“I know that,” I reply steadily.  Easy does it.  I can see that I’m confusing him.  “You could have kept your mouth shut, but instead, you trusted the Boss.  The lie was your own doing.  You told me never to trust anyone.  You should have heeded your own advice.”
That did it.  I’m as good as sprung now.  He’ll get me out of here to cover his own tail, either way.  Yes, there is nothing like the survival instinct kicking in.
“I…” he looks defeated.  “Okay, Kyra, you win.  What do you want me to do?  What can I do?”
“Get me out of here so that I don’t have to wait around for one of the Boss’s idiots to come get me, and then get as far away as possible.  I’ll tell the Boss I got rid of you, and you’re free to go.  You never liked it here anyway,” I coax.  I hope he believes me.  After all of this talk about not trusting people, he might just run and leave me here to die.  So, I add, “you can trust me on this one Stryker.  I never meant to play a part in your murder.  You’re the closest thing that I’ve had to a friend in a long time.”
The sincerity is hard to fake, but perhaps I do so well because I am, in a manner, telling the truth.  In any case, he seems to believe me.  He leaves, and a moment later returns with a key ring and unlocks my chains. 
“I’ll leave the cell door open.  There isn’t anyone else about, they’ve all gone upstairs,” he is steady, but I know that inside he is petrified.  “I’m leaving now, and I won’t be around if the Boss sends anyone after me.  They won’t find me.”
I say nothing, but watch as he pauses in the doorway.
“Kyra?” he speaks, finally, his voice shaking.
“What, Stryker?” I’m going to play this out to the end, no matter what it takes.
“For what it’s worth, you’re the closest thing that I’ve had to a friend in a long time, too.”
I nod, and he is gone.  There is no time to celebrate my good fortune, or to ponder his farewell.  I have to get out of here, and I’m doing so right now.
A week on the open road has left me full of the wanderlust that I had forgotten lay dormant within me.  I got out of that hole in the middle of nowhere as fast as I could.  I left without the coins that I thought I needed so desperately to get anywhere, and I’m doing fine without them.  It’s a shame that I didn’t realize that coins weren’t necessary to travel, or I would have gotten out of there as soon as they released me from that crummy jail.
Oh well.  I’ve learned my lesson in that department.  And maybe I’ve learned a few things in the people department, too.  Stryker was wrong.  He could have always trusted me – even when I had to deceive him to save my own neck.  If I meet up with him, maybe I’ll tell him so.  Then again, maybe I’ll think twice on it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An almost Wordless Wednesday writing prompt

Copyright 2011, Marie Patchen

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, 1915

Put yourself into the picture.

Where do these two paths lead? If you had a choice, which path would you take, and why?  Why are you standing here, having to make this decision? What events led you to be in this situation, where you must make the choice between the two?

What lies at the end of each path?  

You can choose to write this from your own point of view as a journal entry, or you might choose to use it as a character exploration for one of your fictional characters.  Or, make up your own story, with your own character(s).

Post it on your blog, and leave a link in the comments section below to share if you would like to, also.

Happy writing!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beyond the looking glass - Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. This is part two of a three part vignette that is an account of my experiences. You can read part one by clicking here.

It is morning.  The light outside is sharp, knifing into my bloodied eyes relentlessly.  Fresh snow has fallen to cover the red stains on the icy driveway, but I know that they are there. 

“You don’t have to do this,”  he says, opening the truck door for me and helping me up into the seat.  Somehow, I manage to buckle my seat belt, gasping as my chest prickles in pain from being touched. 

“You don’t have to do this,”  he repeats.  “You don’t have to go back.  I’ll stay while you pack a bag and I’ll bring you back here.”

I hear what he says.  I comprehend.  He is offering me safety.  He is offering me freedom.  He is offering me peace of mind. 

“I don’t know,”  I whisper.  Everything looks different in the bright light of day.  And I wonder what I might be going back to. 

He looks at me for a long moment, his expression pained and pitying, and he backs the truck out of the driveway. 

It is a two-minute drive, and we are silent.  Or maybe we aren’t.  The sharp, winter light slices into my memory and I no longer recall if there were words exchanged at all.

The truck slows, sure-footed on the icy pavement, and he turns left onto my street.  He stops the truck in front of the house and shifts into park.  I am shivering, but not from the cold.

“Are you sure that you want to do this?”  he asks.  “You don’t have to.  You know that.”

I take a deep breath and look out the window.  There are fresh footprints in the snow, and I know that I will not be alone.  Someone else is inside.  With him.  I catch a glimpse of my face in the side view mirror as I turn away. 

I have not looked into a mirror yet.  I avert my eyes.

“I have to do this,”  I finally reply.  “I have to know why.”

End Part 2.

If you know someone who is being abused by their partner, or you are a victim of domestic violence, you can get help!  Visit this website:  National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-SAFE.

Stay tuned next Monday for Part 3 of my vignette: Mirror, Mirror.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flexing your writing muscles

Like athletes, writers must train.  We all have tips, tricks, and resources to get our creativity flowing.

I have a few favorite resources that I like to go to to inspire me.  One is a book,  "Journal to the Soul" by Rose Offner, and it is filled with many inspiring exercises to get you writing, such as the following exercise:

The task? Write about your life or a piece of your life that you don't understand and would like to. Write it as a fairy tale or a short story. Include an obstacle that has yet to be overcome, an encounter that has significance, the gift you received, or the lesson learned, and how you came to triumph in the end.

The  following is my response, originally written long hand, in green ink, in a hard bound journal with unlined pages on September 7, 2002:

Once upon a time....

It was told that there was a little girl, who for various and mysterious reasons, became trapped within the body of a wicked and hideous witch. Now, this was no ordinary witch. This witch, in addition to being exceptionally wicked and hideous, was also horrendously lazy and fat. Her mind was incredibly dull and unimaginative for that of a witch. In short, this witch was a very undesirable person to be trapped inside of.

The poor little girl languished in darkness for months on end as the witch went about her business of making others miserable, casting spells and invoking ancient curses to fling upon unsuspecting loved ones and undeserving strangers. Only briefly would the witch allow the little girl a glimpse of the outside world, and then it was darkness again for what seemed an eternity. The little girl made up grand stories in her head to pass the time.

She had no concept of escape.

For years, the little girl endured imprisonment within the witch. She lived quietly, ignoring the witch and reminiscing about her last glimpse of the free world, until one day, the witch let her look outside again. The little girl, gazing upon the green grass and blue sky, was immediately filled with an aching desire to be free of the witch. She fought with all her might not to be pushed back into the darkness. But, kick and bite and scream as she might, the witch triumphed over the little girl, and once again pushed her back inside.

The little girl began to plot her escape.

It was what seemed like forever before the witch let her have a glimpse of freedom again. The little girl gazed out calmly upon a beautiful visage in the world outside and made no attempt to escape. Willingly, she sank back into the darkness when the witch said, "No more," and she continued to plot her escape. The witch, both dull and stupid, was ignorant of the little girl's plan.

In time, the witch grew gravely ill. Being wicked, hideous, lazy, and fat will take its toll on even the most evil and strong witches. Ever so slowly, the witch's strength began to disappear, as the toils of being evil caught up with her. The little girl, being inside of the witch, could feel the witch getting weaker.

She began to speak to the witch.

At first, the little girl tried to tell the wicked witch the grand and elaborate stories that she had made up. But the witch had no interest in her stories. She ignored the little girl and watched with malicious glee as misfortune visited on a passing acquaintance. So the little girl gave up telling stories, and instead began speaking in earnest. She talked about nothing in particular, and she did it all of the time. For hours she would speak, offering an opinion about this or that, a recollection, a thought, a memory. Eventually the witch, being rather too dull and unimaginative to have opinions of her own, and too weak to do little more than sit and observe the evils going on around her rather than cause them, began to listen to the ramblings of the little girl.

The little girl rambled on. Her favorite color, food, toy, and numerous other things about herself paraded out of her mouth and across the witch's mind. For the witch, the little girl had become a nonstop babble of useless but entertaining nonsense. She became weaker by the day, and still, the little girl prattled. By now, the little girl knew that the witch was getting too weak to hold her prisoner.

She grew bolder.

She began to tell the witch what she would do if she could be free. She spoke of strange ideas that required imagination and initiative. The witch lacked these qualities herself and could not understand because of this. She lost more strength trying to puzzle out the ideas of motivation and creativity. The little girl felt the strength leaving the witch, and rambled on.

She told the witch how she had plotted her escape, knowing that the witch could not understand the complex thinking that went on as she was creating it. The witch was, after a fashion, spell bound. Having no capabilities to think on her own, the wicked witch was mesmerized. The little girl felt the bars on her prison begin to waver, then disappear. She had hypnotized the witch into setting her free!

With a happy heart, she jumped up and leapt from the witch...

And found that she had not escaped.

The little girl looked around and rubbed her eyes. Once again, she leaped, and fell back within the witch. The witch opened one eye, chuckled, and then closed it again.

"When will you see that you were never my prisoner?" She questioned in a whisper. "When will you be the wise woman who understands?"

And with that, the witch became silent. In fact, she never spoke again. The little girl watched as the witch faded away, not grasping the truth of the witch's demise, until one day, she woke up on a strange morning of revelation.

The little girl and the wicked witch were one in the same person, and the little girl had imprisoned herself within a miserable facade to protect the fact that she was scared of the outside world.

The little girl had become the wicked witch out of the fierce need to protect her innocence. The wicked witch had remained a little girl. The little girl grew up within the witch and became a woman.

It was when the little girl finally understood this truth that she was truly and ultimately set free of the wicked witch. She finally understood.

She had never been a prisoner at all....

The End

What are some of your favorite resources for getting your creativity flowing?

Monday, October 3, 2011

And then there are things that I would rather not remember....

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  This is part one of a three part vignette that is an account of my experiences.

It is bitter cold and dark, and I am running.
I have to get away.
I have to get away.
I have to get away.
One foot in front of the other and I have to get away.

He is going to kill me if I don’t get away.

A car turns onto the street in front of me.

One foot in front of the other…

The headlights catch me off guard.

I have to get away.

One foot in front of the other, and I slip on the ice and fall.

The impact of my knee against the pavement brings me to my senses. It is dark. I have to get out of the way of the oncoming car. I roll to one side, sobbing hysterically. The pain is unbearable.

The car slows. I try to sit up. The car door opens and I hear a voice without comprehending who is speaking.

“Jesus Fucking Christ! What the FUCK?”

I don’t have the answer. My mouth moves, but my throat chokes on silent shrieks. I can taste fresh blood on my tongue, hot and bitter.

I don’t have the answer. I collapse against the frozen pavement. I don’t have the strength to sit up.

“Oh my God, Marie! I’m so sorry. I never should have left. Oh my God. Marie, I’m so sorry…”

He kneels down beside me on the icy street, and gingerly pulls me into his embrace. I can feel him trembling.

“Are you okay? Please tell me you’re okay? I need to know that you are okay!” His voice is broken. His sobs keep time with my own.

“I don’t know. I have to get away. Mike, get me away. Please, take me away,” My lips pulsate painfully around the words. My tongue is swollen and sluggish in my mouth. Each ragged gasp for breath is agonizing, and I can no longer breathe through my nose. “I have to get away.”

“I’m going to get you away. I’m going to take you away right now. But you have to tell me first, are you okay? Marie, I need to know because I don’t want to kill him. I could kill him right now, do you understand?”

My brain fractures. I cannot focus. I do not grasp the meaning of his terms, but I understand the urgency in his voice.

It occurs to me that I am not okay.

I haven’t been okay for a long, long time.

I studied psychology in high school, and again briefly in college. I say briefly, because I attended the first two classes and ultimately decided that it was too difficult to drag my lazy rear end out of bed at 8 in the morning to attend lecture. Therefore, I know virtually nothing about the book learning behind the psychology of domestic abuse. That being said, I also have an uncanny ability to seek out and become skilled at what I need to learn the hard way.

Someone once said that those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Truer words were never spoken. I bear witness to that fact every day.

You see, this wasn’t the first time that this had happened, and yet, it still wasn’t enough to make me leave.

Love isn’t blind. Human beings are.

But we can be taught to see.

End Part 1.

If you know someone who is being abused by their partner, or you are a victim of domestic violence, you can get help!  Visit this website:  National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-SAFE.

Stay tuned next Monday for Part 2 of my vignette: Beyond the Looking Glass.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I remember...

One thing about being a writer -- the greatest advice that we all have received is simple enough.

Write what you know.

How easy this seems at first.

Sit down. Start vomiting words onto the page or onto the computer. Eventually, you will have a work of genius, because, as the saying goes, if you give x number of monkeys typewriters and x number of years to pound away on them, they will produce the collected works of Shakespeare.



Me, myself, am a firm believer in the writer within, so when faced with as simple a writing exercise as the one that inspired my previous blog post, I went with it.

The mission? Write for ten minutes, non-stop, using the phrase "I remember". Keyword? NON-STOP.

If you get hung up, start over. Keep going until you've exhausted all avenues. I don't care if you remember what color t-shirt your 4th grade bus driver was wearing. Write it all down. The point of this exercise is to get your thoughts moving. It doesn't matter what you remember, so long as you remember. It's food for the writer's soul.

What's more, I'm discovering it's fuel for the memory, period.

Some things that I've done to "jog" my "I remember" sessions:

  1. Music - any and every album I listened to during a particular time period I'm interested in writing about. This works especially when I haven't heard the music since the time period in question. Try it. You'll be amazed at the results. Listen to the music while you work this exercise, starting with the phrase: "I remember".
  2. Cluster mapping - pick something and build on it. Put an idea on the center of a blank page. Circle it. Branch out. Follow your thoughts. Build on them. Don't stop until you have several solid ideas that will lead you to solid pieces as a writer. Never underestimate the value of a cluster map when given a valuable brainstorming idea such as "I remember".
  3. Lists - "I remember" combined with lists as a writing technique is a powerful prompt in and of itself. How many ideas can you come up with in ten minutes just by creating a list of sentences that start with the phrase: "I remember"?
This is the time of year that I find myself nesting in, looking for topics, and falling prey to the instinct of the writer within me.

What do you do to sustain the writer within? What writing prompts do you rely on to keep you creative and focused on your craft?