Announcement

Hello writers and readers,

Readership has encouraged that, until further notice, there will be no more weekly summaries from The Hill’s Creative Writing Workshops. To find advice and prompts for creative writing, please attend the workshops, or contact jodel@rockyhill.org with questions about writing.

Thank you to all who have read the summaries,

Never stop writing,

Jenna O’del

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Week of 11/29/15 to 12/5/15

It’s December! Snow will (hopefully) fall, the air is getting colder, you can see your breath in the morning and frost on the grass…

This week’s workshop was not in the usual format. Instead of the typical prompt/discussion/lesson, this workshop consisted of a few minutes talking about epic music, and then the rest of the period to write a story from a song. (With remembering that the story does not have to be in prose format, or any specific format, ever.)

The attendees of the workshop received a link to an epic music song. They then were told: write.

As the stories produced today are not shared and everyone writes a different story, even if it’s from the same song, there will be no pointers really on writing this kind of story to that kind of song.

Instead, when writing stories from epic music, you can think of a few questions if you want to:

Think of some events in life (getting an award, a fight with an enemy); what are the rhythms of those events?

Epic music excels in varying rhythms and paces. Thus: what rhythms in the epic (or not; this is not limited to the epic music genre) music remind of different events?

A fast-paced, heart-racing beat with lots of drums may remind you of a scene with an enemy’s death. Or it may not. It could be a scene of competition, of fast-paced, tense conversation. It could be anything. Everyone comes to a story in a different way. No two stories are the same.

That is just an example. What you think of when you hear a song may be totally different what the next person thinks. But if you want to perhaps compare the two thinkings (you don’t have to), you can write a story from epic music and show the other person, comparing. Or not.

Here are a few links to epic music:

 

Week of 11/8-14/15

Happy second week of NaNoWriMo! And second week of November.

Prompt: Running down the street, the man held back a sob. He wasn’t prone to crying, but today was an exception. Source: http://www.creative-writing-help.com/story-starters.html#sthash.A3ln2Dwt.dpuf

Discussion: Hooks/Beginnings of Story and How the Reader Responds to different Opening Lines

  • Prologues
  • Themes in declarative statements

Lesson: Hooks

When one picks up a book and flips to the first page, the opening lines can draw one in or have them put the book back down. A good hook can grab a reader and make them want to know more, why, how, what happens next. Hooks that don’t convey anything totally exciting: such as a description of the landscape/setting, or “I woke up”-type beginnings can discourage more readers. These hooks don’t have something to draw the reader in. The reader may look at “I woke up” and say: so what?

Strong hooks are often dialogue, action, but have great strength when it comes to declarative statements. Take the opening lines of Red Rising, by Pierce Brown: “I could have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.” This is a declarative statement. The reader wants to know why he could have live in peace, but even more so, why did he see war? What happened? How did this happened? Why?

The beginning of Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This too is declarative. And the reader can argue for or against it. But the reader can also want to know: “Why is this being said? How was this conclusion arrived at?” The reader can also guess that the story they’re about to read will concern single men, fortune, and the seeking of a wife. Knowing that may encourage the reader to read on, if they have an interest in those topics, or want the questions they had because of that statement answered.

If you want to take a look at hooks that many believe are weak: http://lauralee1.blogspot.com/2013/09/10-ways-not-to-open-story.html. (Just a side note, I don’t entirely agree with #9.)

Strong hooks are often declarative statements that make the reader question parts about the statement: What? Why? How? What happened? What happens next? That said, there are not ‘bad’ ways to start a story that should never be put in place. Some may be more favored than others, but if one way to begin a story has been successful for you and you don’t want to change it, then don’t. It’s your story.

Week of 11/1-7/15

Prompt: Every night, as soon as the sunset, that’s when trouble arrived. Source: http://wonderfulwritingprompts.tumblr.com/post/93597196755/203-first-lines

Discussion: Alternative Writing and Breaking Out of Structure

Lesson: Writing that does not conform to a traditional, typical structure can be seen as alternative. And alternative writing can have multiple benefits.

Today’s writing is often seen as this:

“On the whole, Harry thought he was to be congratulated on his idea of hiding here. He was not, perhaps, very comfortable lying on the hot, hard earth, but on the other hand, nobody was glaring at him, grinding their teeth so loudly that he could not hear the news, or shooting nasty questions at him, as had happened every time he had tried sitting down in the living room and watching television with his aunt and uncle.

Almost as though this thought had fluttered through the open window, Vernon Dursley, Harry’s uncle, suddenly spoke. “Glad to see the boy’s stopped trying to butt in. Where is he anyway?”

“I don’t know,” said Aunt Petunia unconcernedly. “Not in the house.”” Copyright Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling, 2003.

That current form of writing has been around for multiple decades, in works as early as The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And there is nothing wrong with that writing. It is very fluid and can express various emotions, events, etc.

But as writing is not forever concrete, nor set in rules and structures and forms that must be kept to, writing can be altered. Not writing in the sense of story content–not characters, conflict, plot, setting–the writing style itself.

In the 2015 novel Magonia, by Maria Dahvana Headley, there are examples of non-typical writing style. Many of the passages in Magnolia are written in the style of the passage above. But others are also written like:

“Aza: ‘Nothing really majorly wrong with me. Don’t worry. I just have a history of hospitals.’

Person in Question: ‘Er. Um. Oh. I’m so sorry to hear that. Or, wait, glad. You just said that nothing’s really wrong with you! Glad’

Aza (freaky face intensifying): ‘It’s incredibly nice of you to ask.’

Subtext: It isn’t. Leave it.”

That passage is not only written in a different style, the character development is rich and fills the words. But in style: it’s written as if Magonia was a script.

There are also passages: “I {     } you more than [[[{{{((    ))}}}]]].

These passages are not only different from typical styles, perhaps they express more than words ever could. Headley could have simply said that what occurs in the first passage is annoying and frustrating, but by writing it out in that script format, she has shown the frustration and annoyance that comes from conversations like those. The reader does not simply understand that those conversations are frustrating and annoying, but they have now experienced those feelings.

The second passage leaves much to wonder as well as many emotions in the blank spaces. As mentioned, Headley could have simply said what is being expressed in this sentence. But doing so confines what she says to the words she uses–by using spaces and the brackets, that emptiness is emphasized. The reader can interpret it as they may. Sometimes words can’t describe things. By using spaces like this, the writer can attempt to describe what they’re writing about.

Writing does not have to be confined to any specific structure. It does not have to use certain accepted ‘rules’–for there are no rules in writing. It does not need specific grammar, punctuation, letters. This is not to say that typical structures are bad, wrong, don’t sound that great, etc. Instead, writing styles can be outside the box.

Halloween 2015

Happy spooky Halloween everyone!

To get this out of the way: The Hill’s deadline is tomorrow. Halloween. Prose, poetry, photos, art, can all be submitted to The Hill.

The horror genre is currently a rather massive genre. It is well known in film, in literature, and many books have been and are still being produced that fall within the realm of horror. And tomorrow is Halloween.

Today’s workshop was a bit out of order. Horror writers, the history of horror, and writing horror were all talked about. Stephen King was mentioned, as he is often considered the father of modern horror. Prior to his work, not much horror fiction was produced. There were writers like Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, but they are the main and rather only authors of horror before Stephen King. Stephen King has three types of terror: The Gross-Out, Horror, and the Terror. This is his quote about it.

But what’s the difference between horror and terror?

Also discussed today, horror is more of the physical scares, and often involve unnatural elements. Terror is more psychological, the anticipation of something, and how whatever is at risk of frightening sits constantly in the mind.

If looking for something to read for Halloween, here are some lists:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King

Here’s a list of prompts: http://needleinthehay.net/writing-prompts-for-horror-stories/

The deadline for submissions to The Hill is Halloween. NaNoWriMo begins on Sunday. If you’re looking for something non-horror to read, Jenna O’del’s anthropomorphic fantasy novel, Hidden Presences, is available on Amazon.

And here’s an interesting thing to think about: Poe, Lovecraft, and Stephen King are all either from New England or have strong ties to New England.

Happy Halloween!

Goodreads Horror Week

It’s Horror Week on Goodreads! Halloween arrives this Saturday, and in celebration (or perhaps in dreaded preparation) Goodreads has daily celebrations this week. These celebrations include excerpts from the works of horror writers, chances to ask horror writers questions, and a chance to offer your own horror writing: a two-sentence story.

What’s also happening on Halloween is the deadline for submissions to The Hill. The theme is still Adaption, but if you would like to write with other themes, such as fantasy, horror, space., no known theme…these are all welcome.

But if you’re looking to read a little horror, here’s the link to Goodreads Horror Week.

Here are some horror story prompts:

And some two-sentence stories for possible inspiration and enjoyment: http://www.chicagonow.com/listing-toward-forty/2014/03/two-sentence-horror-stories/

Week of 10/17-24/15

NaNoWriMo is approaching, whether with dread or excitement.

But either way, National Novel Writing Month is next month, November. In two weeks. And so many are devoting October as a NaNo prep month. People who work on NaNo are classified as either a ‘planner’ or a ‘pantser.’ A pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants, spontaneously, and just goes with the flow. For planners, they, well, plan.

In October. (Or before. But it’s October now.)

When planning for NaNo, you can look at a lot of things. Some of the helpful things are lists. They can be lists about topics such as character traits, basic plots, or ways to break writer’s block.

Many claim that every story’s plot can be boiled down to a core, basic plot. Some have defined these basic plots as seven in number, others in nine or fifteen. Whatever the number, looking at these basic plots can help in deciding what one wants to write about for NaNo.

The first two links are pages including respectively seven and nine basic plots. They both list the seven same plots; the page with nine plots includes Mystery and Rebellion against ‘The One’ as the two additional plots. Either way, when looking at these basic plots you can decide which one you’re most interested in, or would most like to write about, or in some other way want to use in your story. You can then build on these basic plots and form them into as complex a story as you would like them to be.

The third link is to Larry Brooks’ Story Structure. As with all other links, you never have to use this one, but it gives a good outline of how stories can go. If can give a good starting point for building an outline, even if the outline does not remain the same, as often happens. Outlines are not set in stone.

Characters help drive a plot along. So, character development may or may not be needed, depending on what you want to write about. Character development can help make a story feel alive, and like the characters in it are these real, breathing characters that you could see casually crossing the street. Unless, of course, the character has a phobia or other reason they cannot/will not cross the street.

Character Questionnaires are helpful resources when trying to figure out how who a character is. Not just their traits, but how do they act? What will they do in different situations? You don’t need to answer all, or any, of the questions, but they can help guide character development and help you get to know your characters even better.

The list of character traits are good for when you want to create a character, add more depth to your character, change who they are, or experiment with who they could be or could have been. Figuring out a character’s habits can also add to their character development and make even more rich. A habit could also be connected to a trait: a character could constantly be tapping their fingers against some surface due to their constant worry and impatience.

Lists are great to scroll through when trying to break writer’s block. (Or just in general. But anyways.) Random generators are also really helpful. They can range from basic to extremely detailed and specific, depending on what you would like to generate. They can also generate plots, plot twists, plot points, characters, settings, maps, and so on. The first link below, Writing Exercises, has many basic generators for topics such as dialogue, plot, scenarios, towns. Seventh Sanctum focuses more on specifics, and can give really detailed ideas about different possible characters, plots, settings, story elements (such as magic). The third link, 27 Wacky Ways, is a list of various actions you can take when combatting writer’s block. These actions are typically ones that draw you away from your writing. And as much as there are 50,000 words (or however many) you’re writing during November, sometimes it’s helpful to just step away for a moment. Who knows, that plot point you’d been thinking about could turn out to be not so complicated after all, and the answer you were looking for is sitting right there in front of you.

Finally, Rainy Mood is not a random generator or a list. It is simply a website that plays the sound of rain. Music and sound can be really helpful in productivity, as well as in writing. If you want, you can use music to set the stage for your writing or help get you into a writing mindset. Some music is added below:

The deadline for submissions to The Hill is October 31st, Halloween.

And The Hill‘s Writing Workshops would like to announce that Jenna O’del has published her first novel! An anthropomorphic high fantasy novel, Hidden Presences is the first in the Hidden Strength series. The back cover reads: “In the middle of the night, Adamar the fox’s kit, Miro, is stolen. When Adamar learns about Miro’s disappearance, he is guided towards the Darvin kingdom, and its king, Girbindon. Adamar and his fellow archers head out on a quest to bring Miro home. On the quest, they must fight the forces of Girbindon, who is determined to keep Miro for his evil plans. Adamar is ready to get Miro back at any cost, but he quickly begins to discover just how far Girbindon’s influence reaches. (Copyright © Jenna O’del 2015)” Jenna’s book can be found here. And her website is here.

NaNoWriMo awaits next month, after the submissions deadline of Halloween. Happy and spooky writing everyone!

Week of 10/4-10/15/15 Summary

Hello everyone! The second week of the workshops has now taken place! October is here, leaves are falling, colors are swirling through the air.

As Halloween occurs this month and NaNoWriMo takes place next month, the workshops in October will either feature spooky/horror prompts or themes, or planning for NaNoWriMo.

This week’s prompt: The man leans into you. There is a dark red almost black color to the whites of his eyes. He is so close his nose is almost touching your nose. You can feel his breath when he says, “We all have it in here. We are all infected.” Source: http://www.everywritersresource.com/10-horrifying-horror-story-prompts/

Discussion: The theme of this week was Time Management/Finding Time to Write without Requiring Schoolwork to Suffer

What was discussed:

  • Can one manage frequent writing while maintaining good grades?
  • How have people managed frequent writing and good grades?
  • Using the moments

Lesson: Finding Time to Write without Requiring Schoolwork to Suffer

As students, finding time to maintain hobbies or jobs outside of school may be a challenge. Because, well, school is one’s main job. A full-time, rather consuming and anxiety-driving job. But it is not rare to find someone who, on top of school, maintains participation on a steady sports team, and/or maintains this or that hobby, or takes lessons for these or those activities. And, they do so without risking their schoolwork.

Mysticism of the previously mentioned aside, it is possible to write frequently without having to cause your schoolwork to suffer. It is about balance, time management, and taking the small opportunities presented. For example, if you have five minutes when there’s a lull in the day, five minutes can be used to complete five minutes of homework, or five minutes of writing, which could be a hundred words…or five hundred…

And these moments add up. If small opportunities are taken, a thousand words may be written, or half of homework is done by the time evening hits.

Or, weekends can be used. If half of a week’s homework is done by Monday, that’s time that can be used for writing and letting the mind run free through creativity and imagination.

This can be done without letting homework suffer. Such as, as mentioned, getting homework done on the weekends, so more time can be attributed to the week for studying for exams and quizzes and writing, without having to neglect daily homework. Or, in the few minutes of a study break, one can write a poem, or perhaps a few hundred words. This allows writing to be done while grades are kept up.

Happy writing, all! In a couple weeks, there will be a NaNoWriMo planning session, and the Friday before Halloween will be Halloween-themed. (More to come about that.)

Week of 9/28/15 to 10/3/15 Workshop Summary

Hello everyone!

This is the first blog to come from The Hill’s creative writing workshops.

This week’s prompt: Describe your character using just the items in his/her desk drawer.  Example: important items, mix tapes, photographs, etc. Source: http://yeahwrite.co/post/53398685701

This week’s discussion topic: Character Development in Moving the Plot Forward

  • The presence of character development in popular and current literature
  • The levels of character development
  • How surprising/not surprising a character’s actions may be based on the character development

This week’s lesson: Character Development can Help Move the Plot Forward

Character development, as many aspects of writing, can help make a story strong. (Not that character development is necessary for that. It all depends.) It can also help move the plot forward. Character development is, well, the developing of who a character is. What do they like? What do they dislike? Who are they? Understanding who a character is not only can make them feel more alive, but it can also help move the plot along. Knowing who a character is helps one to know what they may do. If you have Joe the car salesman, and you know he loves trees, if he sees a tree getting cut down, he’s probably going to go over and do whatever he can to stop it. That seems insignificant.

Yet, it’s not.

If you have the character Bill, and the plot of his story is to find his friend Jill, who got lost in the woods, knowing who Bill is will help determine his decisions and course of action in finding Jill. If Bill is described as the average guy, what would the average guy do in finding Jill? It may depend on the average guy’s character. Bill, in this case, is a very forward, take-charge man. He also loves the outdoors and using his wits to get around, not technology. Thus, it would make sense that Bill would head off into the woods by himself to go find Jill, possibly without telling anyone and possibly doing so as soon as he hears about her disappearance. Whenever Writer’s Block hits, character development can help break it. If Bill suddenly gets lost in the woods like Jill, and…what now? Well, Bill likes using his wits to get around. So instead of reaching for the cell phone he doesn’t have, he can find true North or leave some message for Jill if he thinks he’s close to her. And does he find her? Bill’s really good at survival and using his wits, and wants to find his friend Jill. So he does.

The Writing Workshops 2015-2016

The Hill’s Writing Workshops for the 2015-2016 academic year are as they were last year, but a new feature has been added:

A monthly unusual workshop.

The writing workshops are originally made up of three components: a creative writing prompt and time to respond to that prompt, or work on personal pieces; a discussion about a writing aspect; and finally, a lesson about writing. The lessons have never contained directions on what to write/or not write, and that has not changed. This form of the workshops will be occurring for the majority of the workshops.

Except for once a month.

Each month, there will be a workshop that does not follow the original format. Rather, activities such as last year’s Sidewalk Poetry celebration of National Poetry Month, will fill up the hour reserved each week for a workshop. These activities may include using a board game to explore plot and pace, or a planning day for NaNoWriMo, as National Novel Writing Month takes place during November. There may even be a Halloween-themed workshop. All are possibilites.

The writing workshops are open to all Rocky Hill students. Contact Jenna O’del (jodel@rockyhill.org) for more information.