Shake Up Your Writing

We have all heard about mixing into our stories unexpected twists and cliff hangers (or “To Be Continued” as the Kdrama “W-Two Worlds” puts it).  Making a list of “What ifs” is another good writing-shaker exercise. I’m sure you know about these, and hope you continue to use them to push your reader further into your story. But by Shake Up Your Writing, I am not talking about any of these good things. I’m talking about turning ninety degrees from what you normally do, and go off on a designated writing tangent.

For instance…

Last spring, a friend invited me to a GoodReads writers group. They have monthly, themed short story contests. I don’t normally write short stories, but I like my friend. She was hosting the contest that month so thought I’d encourage her efforts by joining the group and writing a story for her. Anyone of the 140 members can vote each month. You just can’t vote for your own story. That first month I won first place.

Huh. Did I mention I don’t normally write short stories?

I’ve remained in the group even though I don’t participate each time. The result is that this fall, I will have three of my stories published in two different anthologies. I hadn’t thought about anthologies (or short stories) for a long time. In 2012, two of my short stories were published in an anthology put together by a former writing group (The Black Hills Writers Group). And about five years before that, a non-fiction article got published in another anthology. My WIPs are novels. The present one is a l-o-n-g series. So the DWT (designated writing tangent) of writing short stories has served me well. It has stretched my brain. It has been a lovely distraction so that now I am ready to get back to my poor wandering hero with his war unicorn.

Whether you try your hand at non-fiction, or picture books, or biography, shake up your writing! Then get back to work.

 

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Humor Writing, and a Challenge

Yesterday I attended a workshop on humor writing. I learned new things, practiced new things, came away with new things. It was all good, because, y’know: new things.

I’ve taught humor writing workshops to middle grade and high school kids. Back then, I explained just twelve types of humor (examples and props included) and allowed writing and sharing time – all within one hour. Yesterday’s workshop leader gave us three humor points, with examples, and then our own writing and sharing times – all within two hours. And now I’m spending even more hours processing it all.

I like to sprinkle humor into my writing. It’s rarely a LOL or ROFL type of funny, and it’s not even in every chapter. But I know I’ve been subtly suggestive with some lightness when my Canadian on-line critique partner comments on a humorous line when none of my US critique partners do.

There is some humor I find disgusting and not at all funny, like bathroom humor or when people get injured, even though I know writers make lots of money feeding readers with these types of humor.

Everyone has a different funny bone. My writing challenge for you this week is to find three examples in literature which have tickled your own funny bone. Write a scene or paragraph using a similar humor, but twisted to be your own characters and own settings.

Merry writing.

Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, Part 7, NY Erie Canal

Plot twists don’t have to be concerned just about circumstances, like the surprise at coming upon a wild animal. It can involve other senses, like smell. (So don’t forget to include your sensory awareness in your writings.)

When we lived in New York, and our boys were old enough to be in school, and I had a day off at the same time as Jeff, we would play!

One school day we went canoeing just the two of us along the Erie Canal. We took a side creek and paddled up that for a while through some farmland. I was in the bow with Jeff in the stern as usual. The creek became shallower and shallower, about shin deep, as well as narrower and narrower so we knew we wouldn’t be able to turn around.  We ducked under bushes and branches to proceed through. On either side was a slight hill only as tall as our eye level. Beyond the brushy creek area was farmland – a large pasture with barns in the distance seen over the dip to the creek. It was quite an adventure… until…

I suddenly smelled something “funny.”

We were already paddling very slowly and cautiously around and over the branches that a butterfly could easily have circled us. Being a whole seventeen feet behind me, Jeff couldn’t smell anything unusual. As the smell developed, I told him to slow down even more. Then I threw my hand over my mouth and nose, hardly able to breathe. And then I saw it, half in the water and half out…

The decaying carcass of a very large dead hog.

It seemed about half the size of our canoe and the tip of our canoe bow was coasting to nearly touching it.

“Backpaddle!” I screamed, gagging on the breath required in order to yell out that one word.

Jeff was confused, but only for a moment as the stern of the canoe came into the aroma cloud of decomposition and death.

We moved surprisingly quickly, considering there was no space to turn around and all the branches necessary to recross. We were very soon out of the range of the smell which was bad enough that my eyeballs would have melted were we to have remained that near it any longer.

Side adventure over. When the creek allowed, we turned around and stuck to the familiar urban waterway of the Erie Canal.

Plot Twists from Animal Encounters, Part 3 – SD Black Hills

Plot twist are the unexpected. They are what keep the story interesting. A plot twist happens when a character is heading toward his goal when suddenly something or someone unexpectedly appears and changes that course.

Opportunities for plot twists can be observed in real life. This is a story which happened to my husband when we lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

He had a day off when I did not, so he decided to do some mountain biking in the Hills. (Consider this a character goal.) He drove about 45 minutes from our house, got on his bike, and started on a remote mountain trail. He had  the only car in the two-car parking spot along the side of road near the trailhead, and to his knowledge, the only human on the trail that day. Peaceful. At one point the rocky trail became quite steep, so he got off his bike and walked it upward.

A bit of background: When he was a young teen he had hunted with his father and brothers. He was used to being left alone in the forest and listening to the minutest of wilderness sounds. The slightest scratch on tree bark, the sound of moving stones or the soft crunch on pine needles would make him aware that he was not alone.

Back to grown-up Jeff, alone, walking his mountain bike up the trail…

He heard a quiet sound and stopped. He expected to discover a tree which was creaking or spot a squirrel or chipmunk. Those rodents often stop for a first moment of freeze, and then return to their tree climbing or nut searching. But nothing sounded nor caught his eye Since the scurrying had stopped he continued up the trail. He heard a noise again and turned in that direction, but still saw nothing. He was getting a little disturbed when it sounded a third time. He stopped and determined he would not move again until he could identify what made the noise. It certainly wasn’t from a single tree. Then he saw it. About fifteen feet from him. Cougar eyes peeking from behind a boulder.

Jeff’s first thought was how beautiful the animal was, and so close to him that he could see the individual whiskers. His second thought was that even though his mountain bike was between them, that he, walking alone in the hills was in the process of getting stalked by a wild, maybe hungry, certainly overpowering beast.

With this second realization came action. Jeff spun his bike around, leapt upon it, and raced down the trail towards the car. Rocks and pebbles spun out behind him as he swirled around larger boulders. Riding speedily over the rough terrain made for an awfully lot of ruckus in the normally quiet hills. He only looked back after he’d reached the vehicle and strapped the bike on the carrier in a few seconds record-time before climbing into the safety of the car. But there were no more cougar sighting. He figured the noise and the flying pebbles might have discouraged the feline.

In this real life story, our hero didn’t reach his goal of mountain hiking to the top of the hill on little-used trail. But the reason for him not reaching it makes for a great story and was an adventurous twist. A plot twist. He waited for another time to do that particular trail, and to take with him a traveling companion. The cougar’s goal was foiled once. With more human company along and support, the cougar’s goal would mostly likely fail again. Long live wise heroes!

Now as a writing challenge, go think up some plot twists you can toss in the way of your character.

Missing Photo Challenge Posts for NaNoWriMo 2015

Yes, I have indeed been pressing the “publish” button for my daily posts for a different photo/day during this month of NaNoWriMo, intended as a visual for a challenge or aid or encouragement for your story, picture book idea, or illustration. And, yes, even today I posted day #21…but it, too has gone into Internet Ether.

As each prewritten post and photo disappear as I press it to be published, the action sucks my writing time. Or is this merely another excuse or procrastination for my writing 1,700 daily words during this month-long challenge? I know I’ve used others excuses. I’m sure you could add your personal ones as well.

So when I’m done here, I’m going to get my jumpdrive plugged in and notes set up and get ready to type my little old heart out before the winter storm today dumps too much wet snow on our tree limbs and takes out our power, photo challenge and/or this post gone to Internet Ether, or not. (Oh. And did you just see that? I used no electricity as yet another excuse for not writing! How easy it is to do. Silly me. I do own paper and pens.)

Now, go write.