14 Day Writing Challenge – Part 1

After too long away from creative work due to personal reasons, I needed something to reinvigorate my brain. Thankfully, a loved one noticed what I needed and put together a 14 day writing challenge to get me back into my sweet spot.

I plan to post about them here as I go, and hopefully share some of what I wrote with you. Maybe you’ll find some of these challenges worthwhile. If you do (or if you don’t), let me know and we can compare notes.

I just finished day two, and am having fun so far.

Day 1: Turn on your TV. Write down the first line that you hear and write a story based on it.

Not having cable, I put a random Twitch channel on my PC and the first line that I heard was “60 seconds remaining”. I quite like the story I wrote (the last minute of a man aboard a self-destructing space ship) so I won’t be posting it on this site as of yet. Another draft or two and some editing and I’ll try submitting it for publication.

Day 2: Find the 7th book from your bookshelf. Open it up to page 7. Look at the 7th sentence on the page. Begin a poem that begins with that sentence and limit the length to 7 lines.

The seventh book on my shelf is 999: 29 Original Tales of Horror and Suspense. The seventh sentence on the seventh page is

To be polite, Chirkov said he would consider the acquisition: evidently a great bargain.

Not the best first line to a poem, for sure. I used it verbatim originally but below I used some creative license to lop off the first few words. The rest of the poem is unchanged from what I originally wrote.

He would consider the acquisition:
evidentally a great bargain.
But he knew the superstition
That a deal made in gypsy jargon
Has hidden in it a silent condition:
A new plot in the family garden
And an untimely visit to the mortician

Well, poetry is not my strong-suit, but it was fun to try to write something that worked.

More challenges to come over the next few days!

What I Learned by Playing Fiasco

Fiasco is a role-playing game where things go wrong. It’s a GM-less cooperative story-telling system that facilities a story of converging fates that combine in catastrophic but oh-so-entertaining ways.

To set up a story you each choose things off of some charts. Relationships, Needs, Locations, Objects. From there you make characters and start acting out scenes. Then, terrible things happen and you continue the process to its grievous conclusion.

For each game you pick a playset, which supplies those charts and directs you towards a specific genre or style. There is a surprising breadth of playsets to choice from, but the core system is the same.

Fiasco is very good at what it does. I recommend you grab some friends and a playset and give it a try.

I have played a few games of it, and each one has been better than the last. As I go I’m starting to learn what makes the game work well. Since Fiasco is essentially a story-creation engine, I found that what I learned can be applied to writing as well.

1) Each character has to have a need. Even if you don’t explicitly state it, you should know as the writer what is driving this characters decisions. If it makes sense to you it will make sense to the reader.

2) Characters should have connections with each other. If characters are working in their own little bubbles, they don’t have real reasons to be in scenes together. Give them reasons to interact that they care about and have fun from there.

4) Each scene needs a goal. This is so important in Fiasco as well as writing! I don’t like to think of where a scene is going to go. I like to think about where the characters want the scene to go. If they get it there or not, well, that’s the fun part about playing the game or about writing the scene. Either way, the goal is what drives the story.

5) Have fun! Relationships, needs, objects and locations are the building blocks. Make each block as interesting as possible. Everything has been written already except the things only you can think of.

6) As usual, all rules are made to be broken. If something isn’t working, don’t stick with the rules, just do what feels right and move along. Nothing sucks time and creative energy like trying to follow rules that aren’t clear or aren’t working.

Overall, the fact that Fiasco and the art of story creation use the same principles shows that the game hits upon the fundamentals of how stories work. And that is the beauty of it. It directs you to do what writers are supposed to do: tell a good story. It’s a great activity to help you hone in on what makes good fiction tick.

An excerpt from my new novel The Man Who Drew You

The below was an April Fool’s post.

I’m 180,000 words into a new novel, titled The Man Who Drew You, a magical realism adventure filled with over 400 of my own original drawings!

Below is an excerpt with the art that will be included in the final version. Give it a read and let me know what you think!

Chapter 3: Maze of Paint

It had been tough to get to the painting, but Ansel reached it by climbing the ornate ivy carved into the column beside it. He had to extend one bare foot over and rest it on the painting below it, but after that he was able to lean his lithe body across to read the tiny plague on the frame. The painting was hung ten feet up on the wall of the room named “The Elemental Cuniform Proportionairies”, and this particular painting was named A Lad in Blue Polishing the Tail Lights of a Motor Car.MazeOfPaint1

Ansel licked it, pressing his tongue on the rough paint and sliding it back and forth, starting at the corners and working inward as usual. He hoped this one would lead him not to another painting, but to the exit of this god-forsaken museum.

His food reserves were running low. Water wasn’t a problem, due to the many fountains and decorative spouts that popped up in the floors and the walls of every other room. But he had eaten his last bologna sandwich weeks ago and was only surviving by consuming the various potted plants he had come across. But had hadn’t found one of those in a few days. He had even eaten his leather moccasins, boiling them over a candle in a piece of his bicycle helmet filled with fountain water.

And now, bare-footed, bare-headed and starving, he desperately licked the painting, using his special tongue powers to search for any glimpse of the past that could help get him out of this place.

The images came quickly this time, and Ansel realized just as quickly that this wasn’t the one he was looking for. The first painting. Painting Prime. He could see images in his mind’s eye, like his tongue was a pink slab of RF cable connecting the painting to his brain. He could see an easel, with A Lad in Blue Polishing the Tail Lights of a Motor Car sitting on it. The easel was in front of a blank wall. Sunlight was coming from behind him and dappling across the wall. In front of him was a hand holding out a paint brush. The hand was ensconced in a black glove, and it was moving the brush across the painting. Except the paint was coming off the canvas. Time was flowing backwards.

The image in Ansel’s brain was flying by in fast reverse, so it was only a few seconds of licking before he could see that the painting on the easel was completely empty, and that the artist was removing the blank canvas and replacing it with another complete painting. The one that he had completed just before A Lad in Blue Polishing the Tail Lights of a Motor Car. The next painting that Ansel had to find, which will hopefully lead him back to the beginning of this mess so he could find a way out of here.

This new painting was now baked into Ansel’s brain via his tongue powers, and he vaguely remembered seeing it a couple hundred rooms ago. He headed back in that direction, wandering in circles through the same sections of rooms until eventually he found it sometime the next day. It was in a room labeled “The Vertical Oluvian Triumvirate”, which contained three tall paintings on one wall. Ansel’s target was in the middle. It had a small plague under it that read Love Lost Between Two Song Birds.


He immediately ran up to it and began licking, and the image he got this time was the same as usual. The painting on an easel. But this timesomething was different. It took Ansel a few seconds to figure out what it was. The same gloved hand was there, and it was moving in the same fast reverse, removing paint from the canvas. Then he saw it. The easel was no longer in front of a blank wall. It was in front of a window.

It was too dark outside the window to see what the view was, but Ansel could see a reflection in the glass. He could see the painter, his brush flying back and forth with wild abandon, his face screwed intently at the canvas. Ansel recognized that face.

It was his own.

Ansel screamed.

LitReactor Flash Fiction Contest Winner: “Sighting”

I am proud to be the co-winner of the February Flash Fiction contest over at LitReactor. We had to write a story that was exactly 30 words about or inspired by Big Foot.

I thought it would be interesting to see the thought process that went into the story. My initial idea was to do the opposite of the usual Big Foot sighting tale. So I thought it would be interesting if Big Foot was the main character and he had sighted a human.

So I started with that idea and, since a common problem with micro-fiction stories is that they aren’t really “stories”, I really wanted to make sure it had a beginning middle and an end. I didn’t think about the 30 word constraint at first. I would just make it short and fix it from there.

My first version (41 words):

Every night I search, hoping to see it again. But it’s elusive and doesn’t show its pale pink face. So I lope back to my cave, lean my furry hide against the cold stone, and dream of something other than solitude.

I had to shorten it to get rid of 11 words, but I wanted to keep the four main points: The narrator is Big Foot, Big foot sees a human, wants to see it again but doesn’t, stays sad and lonesome.

Here is the final version (30 words):

Every night I hope it returns but I never see its pale pink face. So I lope to my lonely cave, lean my furry hide against cold stone, and dream.

In my opinion, the first version is best, but that’s the problem with artificially giving a story a limit. It’s an interesting tool to flex your writing brain, but it may not be what’s best for the story.

Thanks to LitReactor for running the contest and for the prize: a copy of The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac by Sharma Shields.

What I Learned While Writing My Fifth Novel

I recently completed the first draft of my fifth (unpublished) novel. The tentative title is The Intruders. Out of all of the long fiction I’ve written, I am happiest by far with how this one has turned out.

Not to say it’s a great book, but I can see the potential there for something that people will enjoy reading. Something that will hopefully hit them in a primal place and not let up. It’s in there for sure, but it is still a few drafts away.

Now that the basic story is complete and down on paper, I can look back on the experience of writing it. And I can see that I learned a lot. Maybe some of you have figured most of this out already, or maybe you haven’t. Either way, here is a quick list:

1) I found out what type of writer I am.

A discovery writer. Previously, whenever I sat down to write long fiction, I always had an outline ready. A chapter by chapter summary of what was going to happen, all the way through to the ending.

That’s no fun! For The Intruders, I had nothing planned. In fact, it was supposed to be a short story but once I got going I could see there was much more to it. By the time I was done it was full novel length. I didn’t plan anything out in advance, so it was like I was reading the book instead of writing it. Discovering what happened as it went on.

Which brings me to number 2.

2) Writing can be fun.

There were moments while writing that I was smiling because the events I was creating were so much fun to write. Or when some great twist or turn or scene just fell into place like a puzzle peice. It was so much fun to see that happen and to feel that momentum just build and build until the finale.

3) Stuff needs to happen!

Writing 101, right? Well, it took me a while to figure it out. Yes, my other long fiction had things happening, but the character’s never drove the action. And alot of the prose took place inside the character’s heads.

The Intruders has scenes. Scenes that the characters themselves initiate, and scenes that move the story forward.

4) Character is important

I used to write mostly for story. I liked ideas for tales, and whoever happened to get slotted in as the characters in those tales was secondary. But I can see now that the characters are just as important as what happens to them.

Mainly, because they should be driving the story forward. They should not be passengers as the story happens to them. When the plot moves forward, someone in the story should cause it to do so. And that someone should be a character that people want to read about.

5) I have a long way to go.

I am happy with The Intruders, but there are problems. It’s too short. One of the characters is pretty bad and needs better motivation. The opening chapter needs to be rewritten to have a stronger hook. I need to research some things that happen in the book because in real life they might not work. The events might be in the wrong order, depending on how you look at it.

In short, editing a novel is a little more involved than editing a short story. I can edit one of my short stories in twenty minutes just by reading it out loud with a red pen in hand. But that’s not going to work for this. There are too many moviing peices, and I want them all to work together like a well-oiled machine. But I’ll get there, and maybe some day soon this will be the first of my novels that I try to legitametly publish.

I know that I can do better and I look forward to applying all I learned to the next one. And learning even more when I write that one.

And then so on and so forth until the day I die.