"Make no mistake, my friend, your pointless life will end, but before you go, can you look at the truth? You have a lovely singing voice."

-Morrissey, "Sing Your Life"

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Let’s get started working on these novellas/novels, shall we? If you haven’t worked your way through Step One yet, I strongly urge you to go back to my July 22nd post and create a character profile for your main character (and if necessary, any important side characters who will play a prominent role in the story). If you don’t want to fill out the worksheet, that’s fine, but I think it’s a good idea, for a longer project like this, to map out who your character is and what his or her driving needs are before you get going on the story. 

In my opinion, it’s more important to start with these details than a mapped out idea of your plot or even a premise because the nature and emotional need(s) of your character will help the story come together organically. If you try to begin with a plot instead, you’ll end up trying to force your character to do or say things that might not be appropriate, and you’ll most likely end up with a stilted, contrived story with a character who feels very artificial to the reader.

So, once you’ve profiled your character and, most importantly, figured out what his or her perceived and actual needs are, you’re ready for Step Two: Writing the First Chapter. My chapter prompts are going to be much sparser than the sentence-by-sentence prompts from Hannah Tinti’s class because it would be far more difficult to work your way through a complete novella or novel one sentence at a time. Plus, I found that by about halfway through the week in Hannah Tinti’s class, I was going well beyond the requirements of the prompts. They were a nice starting point, but if I had actually held myself back to stick to them religiously, I wouldn’t have ended up with a draft as far along as I did.

So instead of the one sentence at a time approach, I’m creating minimalistic prompts that will allow you to go at your own pace and let the story guide you. The prompts offer overall guidelines for the chapter, and my hope is that each chapter prompt will be enough to get you going on the chapter and push you to keep going from one chapter to the next. However, if anyone does get stuck at any point, please feel free to leave a comment on the respective prompt you need help with. I’m happy to offer more detailed, specific prompts and requirements if it will help.

Okay, enough blabber. Here’s Step Two:

All Tracks, Step 2:

Write a chapter introducing your character in his/her world. This chapter will function as the set-up of the overall story arc.


1.      The chapter must be 10-20 pages long.

2.      The chapter must introduce the setting.

a.      In the first three pages of the chapter, you must provide details from at least three of the five senses.

3.      The chapter must get across the following details:

a.       The character’s name.

b.      The character’s starting point (i.e. the character as he or she exists prior to the change or lack of change that will occur in the story).

c.       The character’s perceived need.

d.      The character’s actual need.

4.      The chapter must include a complete story arc:

a.       Set-up (2-3 pages)

b.      Inciting Incident (1-2 pages)

c.       Escalation (5-10 pages)

d.      Climax (1-2 pages)

e.       Resolution/Conclusive Lack of Resolution (1-2 pages)

5.      The story arc in this chapter should represent the typical ups and downs of this character’s life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Okay, I know I still haven’t talked about my disappearance from the blogosphere and the reason for my sudden return. I will. I promise. Somebody emailed me months ago wanting to know why I had stopped blogging. I saved the email for weeks, trying to decide how to reply, what to say, how to explain it all, how to make sense of it myself, even—and then, finally, I deleted the email without responding. I’m sorry, whoever you are (if you’re even reading this). It wasn’t that I wanted to ignore you or that I felt it was none of your business. It was just that I wasn’t ready, yet, to talk about it all, I guess: the depression, and the depths it took me to this past couple of years.

And I guess I’m not ready still, beyond saying that I’m on a new antidepressant (a generic form of Lexapro) and am feeling a little better (though not back to 100%). The important thing, though, is that I’m writing again, and writing has always been my number one most reliable antidepressant.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I have a proposition for you. Anybody want to write a novella (or, hey, why not a whole novel) with me? So here’s my thinking: I had such a great (and productive) time taking Hannah Tinti’s One Story online class this summer, I wanted to keep the creative juices flowing with some more project-specific prompts. After working my way through Tinti’s daily prompts, I ended the class with an (almost) complete draft of a new story. I’d like, next, to get a complete draft of a novel.

Who’s with me?

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m developing a series of novella-specific prompts intended to take us from character profile to finished draft over the course of—well, I don’t know yet how long it’s going to take. Six weeks? I do know the novella will be parceled up into six chapters: one chapter for the set-up, one for the inciting incident, two for the escalating events following the inciting incident, one for the climax, and one for the resolution (or conclusive lack thereof). I’m going to create a prompt for each chapter, and I’ll post the prompts on my blog, so anyone who wants to follow along with me can do so.

I’m going to actually create four separate tracks of prompt sets, because my goal is to write a full novel that will be comprised of four novellas interwoven together to create a larger story arc. Why do it that way? Because I want to write a novel, but right now, the idea of actually writing 300 pages or so of one story feels overwhelming. My novel involves four key characters, though, so I thought, hey, if I look at it as four stories, one following each character, four stories that, when woven together, will create something larger than the sum of its parts—well, that seems manageable. But I don’t want them all to feel like they’re following the same, I don’t know, template, so I’m going to create four separate sets of prompts for the novellas. I’ll post all four sets here, so you can do all four, or pick and choose as you see fit.

Still undecided? Here, why don’t you take a look at my step one? This is the pre-writing stage of all four tracks. Just give it a try, why don’t you? And if you do, I’d love to hear what you think. I’m open to tweaks or suggestions for this worksheet (and any of the prompts that will follow it), and of course, I’d love to hear how YOUR writing is going. Nothing motivates me more than swapping writing experiences with other writers and holding each other accountable.
All Tracks, Step 1:
Character Profile Worksheet:
Eye Color:
Hair Color/Length:
Body Shape/Size (i.e. skinny, muscular, chubby, etc.):
Defining Physical Characteristics (i.e. scars, freckles, etc.):
Physical Self-Image:
Education Level:
Attitude (i.e. optimistic, cynical, etc.):

Perceived Need(s):
Actual Need:

Monday, July 14, 2014

I fell out of my daily blogging on the very last day of Hannah Tinti’s One Story class, but I did manage to do the class every day for the duration of the week, so I feel good about that. Some final thoughts about the class and the story I wrote for it:

It was very well worth the money, and I definitely will keep my eyes out for future online One Story classes. Tinti’s daily lectures and sentence-by-sentence prompts helped me to plow through any potential writer’s block that might normally take hold while working through a first draft and kept me on track all week. I’m finishing the class with an almost complete first draft of a story, a story that’s already been revised a bit (so it’s further along than my typical first drafts).

I feel good about the story Tinti’s class helped me create. It’s, right now, eight pages (about 2,800 words) long, but is still missing some key elements that I need to add. My goal will be to have the full draft, with all the necessary components and details, completed in the next few days (by the end of the week at the latest). Then I’m going to try to get it polished and reworked in whatever ways I see fit over the following couple of weeks. I’m going to be exchanging stories in early August with some friends and colleagues, so I’m planning on getting this story to that inevitable point where I just don’t know what else to do with it by then, so I can then get some feedback for final revisions. My hope is then to have it ready to start submitting in the fall, when many of the journals who are currently closed for submissions will begin reading again.

It feels good to have writing goals again. It feels even better just to be writing. Hip hip hurray for Hannah Tinti and One Story!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Today, we worked on the resolution of the story—those final, important moments that should leave the reader with some sort of impact. Leave the reader with something to think about, Tinti says. As I was working on the sentence by sentence prompts today, I couldn’t stop myself and kept going beyond each prompt, writing another sentence, and sometimes several more. Then, I would open the next prompt and discover that what I had kept going to write was the same thing we were being asked to write next in the next prompt. I guess it kind of reaffirmed my instincts as a writer, if that makes any sense.

I feel really good about where this story is ending right now, even though I’m already wondering if I need to pull back on the ending a bit, make it a little less dramatic. As of right now, I still don’t have a complete story because I haven’t finished with the climax section of the story. I also thought of some other things I want to go back and work into the beginning of the story. In its current form, the draft is about 2,000 words—roughly 6 pages. I think once I’ve added in all the other things I want to add, it’ll be at least a full 3,000 words or so. That would still be awfully short for a short story, but definitely long enough to go beyond flash fiction.

Tomorrow, we’re going to work on smoothing things out and cleaning them up—one day dedicated to revision. But I know the idea here will be to keep working on it, keep revising and re-revising and re-re-revising. My story is rough; it’ll still need a lot of work after tomorrow, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that I’m onto something here, that this story will have been worth my time. I’m so, so, SO glad I shelled out the $75 to take this class.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I’ve been racing against an impending migraine all day today (the aura started around lunchtime and has been coming off and on since), so I’ll keep this short. Today, we worked on the climax of our stories. I’m not really done with mine. I mean, I worked my way through the sentence by sentence prompts for today, but I have a lot more that I want to expand in this important scene. I spent most of my writing time today building up to the big climactic moment I envisioned for the story yesterday, but as soon as I got to the big moment, I had to stop because I had an appointment. When I got home, I was too tired to get back to work on the story, so instead, I rewatched some old episodes of Bob’s Burgers and just, you know, just laid there. My migraine’ll be here within a few hours, so I know that this will be it for the day. I have a clear sense of what needs to happen from here, though, so probably what I’ll do is I’ll try to work on the rest of this climax scene in the morning before getting into tomorrow’s lesson: resolution.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Things are really starting to heat up in my story (and not just because, as Tinti says, we’re now working on the story’s “sexy parts”). Before I worked my way through today’s lesson, I revisited everything in my story so far and did some tinkering, tried to smooth everything from yesterday into what I had from the first two days. And just like I predicted, it came very easily. It’s amazing how much better I work in the morning!

Today’s lesson was about escalation. Tinti taught us about Kurt Vonnegut’s ideas about story structure. She also has been giving us some really useful ideas about how to deepen what we’ve already got going on in the story rather than adding new stuff—new characters, new conflict, whatever. This really resonates with me because I definitely have that instinct sometimes. What happens next? How do I ramp up the tension? Uh, what about adding a new character or something? Tinti has helped me to realize that there’s already plenty to work with by this point in a story. I need to open up and explore those things I’ve already written in, not add new things to complicate the story on a surface level (but without adding any depth).

So, I actually spent a good three hours or so from start to finish today, but I feel like it was time very well spent. As it is, I even wanted to keep going. As I was finishing up my assignment for the class (developing the escalation of the conflict and deepening the characters), I figured out exactly what should happen for the climax, but I had to stop myself because we’re working on that tomorrow. I think if I’d kept going, I would have run out of steam, and that big, exciting climactic idea I had would have fizzled and dissolved. I can’t WAIT to get going on it in the morning, though.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

For day three, we focused on opening up the propelling event, as well as exploring the characters in a bit more detail and adding just a glimpse of backstory. I really struggled with the assignment for today. I’m way less happy with what I came up with today than I was the first two days, but I still feel good about the story overall. I think during revision, I’m going to have to really spend some serious time with how to propel the story forward, how to really set the events into motion and create a sense that something significant is about to happen, that something unavoidable is on its way.

I think, though, that my struggles today resulted from the fact that I really procrastinated getting to work today. I work best first thing in the morning, and my creativity seems to reduce dramatically throughout the day. I didn’t get going on the coursework for today until well into the afternoon, and it’s now almost 7:30 and I only just finished with my assignment. I have the feeling that if I revisit what I have so far first thing tomorrow, before I even get going on tomorrow’s class, I’ll discover that I have all kinds of ideas on how to pull it all together.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Today, day two of Hannah Tinti’s online short story class, we focused on setting up the story. Just like yesterday, Tinti led us through a detailed, sentence by sentence prompt to turn the first sentence we had written from the exercise yesterday into a full, paragraph long set-up of a full story.

I found it much more challenging today than yesterday, but this was largely a result of the fact that I was working on it while my husband, Damien, was in a meeting, so I had our daughter crawling all over me and begging for my attention. I asked her to help me write the story, though, and started reading aloud what I had so far and what I was adding. That way she felt like she was part of it, and it felt like we were doing something together (although, like I said, it was still more difficult, then, than it would have been to just write totally undistracted).

In the end, I’m pretty pleased with what I came up with. It’s still very drafty—needs a lot of work, I know—but I feel the characters beginning to come alive beneath my fingertips, and I know, soon enough, my characters will start writing the story for me, just like they always do when I get on a good roll with a new story. Tomorrow, I think we’re going to be working on the inciting incident, or propelling event, or whatever you want to call it. I’m stoked! I don’t have any idea where this class is going to take this story, but judging from yesterday and today, I have complete faith that I will, indeed, be ending the week with a complete draft of a full short story, just like One Story promised.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My dearest internet, it has been thirty fortnights since last I wrote you. I’m breaking my long silence, at last, and will be posting every day this week—EVERY DAY—about my progress in Hannah Tinti’s One Story short story online class. I’ll explain the reason for my disappearance in a later post, and the reason for my return, but first things first:

I decided to sign up for the One Story class because I have some big writing goals this summer—I want to have a solid draft of all the stories in a new collection before school starts back up again in August. But the first bit of the summer was taken up with two summer classes I was teaching—one a creative writing class (it was so much fun!) and one tech writing. That and buying a house, moving in, trying to figure out what was leaking in the shower and why the air conditioner didn’t seem to work. All that fun stuff. But all that’s finally behind me, and now I have a month and a half (give or take) to dedicate to my writing goals for the summer. This class just happened to coincide exactly with my readiness to get going. Plus, it’s cheap enough that I can afford it without feeling guilty but expensive enough ($75) that I’ll feel obligated to keep up with it for the entire week.

So I’m planning to blog every day after I’ve completed the coursework for that day. I don’t want to step on Tinti’s feet (or set-ups—if you’re taking the class, you’ll get that joke), so I’m not going to regurgitate her lessons and assignments in these posts. Instead, I’ll let you know what the class has gotten me working on and how well the class is helping me get my momentum back up as a writer, that sort of thing.

The first lesson was about structure. Tinti laid out for us five key elements of story structure, from the story’s opening to the climax and resolution. Nothing new, of course, but it’s good, in my opinion, to return to the basics from time to time. Her first assignment was to write a five-sentence story that dedicates one sentence to each of the five structural components from her lesson. She provided us a detailed prompt for each sentence (for example, a particular sentence must include at least one of the five senses and a reference to the setting, things like that), and informed us that these would be the stories we would be working with throughout the rest of the week.

My story came together pretty well, I think. To get past that initial shock of writer’s block when I began the prompt, I decided to write a story I had had the idea for a couple of years ago, back when my daughter, Amalie, was a tiny little thing. Amie used to cry for, like, hours and hours on end, and we’d read somewhere (probably online) that going for a drive can calm a colicky baby down. I remember one night we were frazzled and exhausted and we strapped her into her car seat and drove around until she fell asleep. As I sat in the back with Amie and held her hand, I thought about what a great setting for a story this would be—a couple, who I decided should be fighting, would have to keep their voices down for fear of waking their baby. It seemed like a great backdrop to explore the strangeness of becoming a parent, of being pushed to the limit, of watching your partner make mistakes, knowing you yourself were making mistakes, too, of trying to live with post-partum and wondering if you had made the right choice, having a baby.

I’d started to write the story when I first had the idea, but couldn’t get past the first few pages. I just couldn’t figure out what should actually happen in the darn thing—how to get past the initial premise, which was all I usually have (if even that, to be honest) when I sit down to start writing. Tinti’s sentence by sentence prompts helped the story organically find its form. What I have now is far from finished, of course. It’s five sentences long, for cripe’s sake. It’s just a skeleton of what could (and hopefully will) be. But I feel like the story has found a form, and it will be easier, working with this, to fill in the details and help it come to life.
I posted the draft in the discussion board. I don’t know what will happen—if anyone will read it there or give me feedback. There are over 300 people in this class, which makes it seem all the less likely that people will bother reading other people’s discussion board posts. Feels too overwhelming with that many people, and it’s hard to choose which posts to read and which to ignore. But either way, I feel great about what I’ve accomplished so far, and I’m pretty freakin’ pumped about seeing what Tinti will have for us tomorrow.