Category Archives: Dare

Avoidance

During a fiction writing class, our professor gave us a sheet of words. It was titled, ‘Words all Writers Should Avoid Using.’

The other week, I was given another web page that was basically a full on rant about several different words that are used too often and should never be used. There were 5-10 words on the list.

My only problem with this is that each list is almost completely different. Some words are shared throughout– almost (hah), suddenly, nearly, really/very, like– considered weak and detrimental to the piece. Though I try to take each of these seriously and understand the reasoning for all of what I see, plenty of the words listed seem as a matter of opinion.

Of course, then you run into weak words versus strong words. There’s the old speech that Robin Williams gives in Dead Poets Society, proclaiming that the word ‘very’ is lazy, and encouraging them to use other words to describe it, because there are an abundant amount more than just the single word. To which, I will agree with this; there are words that are plain weak and water down the writing when used, but finding words that sound more beautiful in the stead of those is about more than just looking in the thesaurus. It’s about changing your language entirely.

The boulder was heavy in his palms.

Simple as it is, can be changed to…

The weight of the boulder was bearing down on him. 

In another example, I’ll take my sentence from earlier.

It’s almost completely different

To…

each is totally different, save for some choices…

Substituting words can only go so far, so it becomes a challenge to make the language and sound more diverse, intriguing, capturing.

Which reminds me of a challenge issued by Chuck Palahniuk, to depart with all “thought” verbs, not to show that a character is thinking. So no, “wonders,” “muses,” “considers,” etc. And to keep up with it for six months. Though I still find it a bit daft, I like the difficulty it presents. It forces you to think of other ways to go about showing what you want to say about what’s in the character’s head, or to forgo it.

We want our words, our content, to be as strong as possible. The more we challenge ourselves to be more fluid and diverse in what we have to say or how we say it, the sharper we find ourselves.

I wanted to show some of the sites that I mentioned. Though there are many more of them, here are a few examples:

From freelancewriting.com

This one from litreactor.com 

And this from tameri.com

Weak words, those that are vague and provide little to nothing about what you mean or are referring to, should, by all means, be cast out at any and every opportunity. When faced with “things,” “something,” and “stuff,” try to be precise. Being specific is the difference between strong language and a flaky one. It is also, as one of those sites suggested, a way to show confidence in your writing.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Advertisements

Prompt: Double Dare

I want to point out first that the intention isn’t to say that you need to do both, just that there’s two here when normally there’s only one! Though that’s not to say you can’t if you want to!

New Year’s focused: Write a story where each of the notable events of 2014, big and small, make an appearance somehow. You could be walking through town, a favorite hero could be talking to a friend or co-worker, or it could be a reflective piece. The goal is to highlight your previous year and look back at everything you did and that happened.

Non-New Year’s focused: Figure out something you would never do, and then write someone ( a character on your roster or someone else completely random and new) doing that. Do they like it? How much different is their experience from how you would encounter it?

Happy writing and, of course, happy 2015!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Prompt: In the Spirit of the Holiday

Giving presents on Christmas is taboo, and it always has been. No one knows where it came from or how it got there, but they respect it as an unspoken rule. Everyone, that is, except you.

Write about what happens when you give a friend or family member a gift, and the resulting backlash from it.

Merry Christmas, you rebels!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Dare: Summarize

Today’s dare is not character or plot centric, but in consideration of your whole novel(s), short stories, or scripts, or articles.

When you pick up a book, look at the back or the inside flap, and you’ll see, obviously, a summary of what’s going on. This pulls you in, gives you an idea of what you’re about to read, and a glimpse at what is about to happen within the pages. They are what we rely on when we decide if we want to read a book or not, usually.

Write a cover summary like this for one of your works. How would you word the conflict? Think about how engaging the first sentence is, would you want to keep reading on?

Don’t hesitate to look at examples, either. There’s a format and a tone typical to those brief pieces.

If you’ve already done something like this before, think about how you felt about it. Would you do anything differently? Do you like doing it, or would you rather have someone else do it for you?

This exercise, as I see it, is a good way to help you look at your work at a different angle. Summarizing, you are able to make broad strokes about what’s contained in all of your thousands (or less than) of words. Though vague, it helps to come up with a bigger picture. In that, it forces you to think about what are the most important points of the work.

If your weakest point is summarizing, or you have a big piece of work in front of you, this can also be a very helpful exercise, seeing as it helps you pick out what to mention and what needs or doesn’t require any wordspace.

Most of all, good luck, if you plan to take on the challenge!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Prompt: Lazy or Busy?

Quick prompt for you in between all of my stuff today!

Pick a character and run with it: Are they the kind that would do all the cooking on Thanksgiving, or would they completely opt out? Furthermore, are they more lazy, or do they have to have something to do? For those who aren’t in the US, focus more on a day where food is the key, whether it be a birthday or a different holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving and happy Thursday/Friday to everyone!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Dare/Prompt: Inked Up

One of the fun things I always forget about that I can add for characters adds to a more alternative look. Tattoos, piercings, dyed hair.

Simple as they are, they can help round the character out, while giving something fun or exciting to look at from another character’s standpoint. Some, who aren’t as enamored with these sorts of things, may not think of them so much. Others may not have many characters without them.

Putting marks on a character that’s well established already is only tricky if you pass it off as them having it for long enough that it coincides with other works you’ve written.  Giving them new ink or piercings, or glasses, or any other small, little things that help aid the appearance, however, can do a lot to sway them in one direction or another, personality wise, or establish their attitude or dynamic better, in some ways.

The prompt/dare is this: Look back on all of your characters and really think about which ones have what. Consider if these things dictate the character, or the other way around. If you don’t have characters with a tattoo, or someone who likes to dye their hair, or has piercings that aren’t in their ears, make one, with the conscious decision on whether the personal affects help define the character, or the other way around.

Don’t be afraid to go overboard, go with what feels right for the character. Write what’s right, essentially. 😉

– The Novice Wordsmith

Dare: Collector

Just as much as one character says a lot about you, so too does what your roster look like.

Look at your stable of critters. There’s going to be some repetition in some traits of theirs, though they all treat it differently. Maybe there’s a few that are widowed, or they’ve just gotten out of a bad relationship. Some have children, some are still children, others are elderly.

Take a second to look at what you don’t have. Find something you haven’t done before and challenge yourself to come up with a character who has traits or does things that you haven’t written into before. Don’t hold yourself back from going wild, or, if you’d rather, create someone quiet.

A friend of mine once told me that he got flack for creating a wild and outrageous, and powerful, character, but the follow-up to that was, “if you want a character that’s a bartender or a farmer, that’s your business.”

Go between the spectrum, one extreme to the other, have a strong character, whose life and focus is on power, and have one whose life is less exciting in the violence department. Create a dentist. Or a UFC fighter. Or a brand new wizard whose fireballs only have enough power to knock over lampshades. Or a super soldier who has the best pedigree in the world.

“Add to your collection” of heroes, as it were, round out what you write. Go boldly where you haven’t gone before, whether it’s a library or an explosive war, and don’t let anything hold you back. Go all out. 😉

-The Novice Wordsmith

Dare: Elemental

In both the worlds of the zodiac and magic, everyone has an element that identifies them. Fire is feisty and bold, daring, Water is calm and tranquil, thoughtful, Earth is grounded and level-headed, wise, Air is unpredictable, playful, but soothing.

Go through your roster of characters. Is each one an obvious element, or are some more apparent while others are subtle? Is there a hero that feels like one element but embodies another?

Don’t stop there, consider the elements a little deeper. If you don’t believe in the zodiac, refer to Avatar: The Last Airbender. Other than simply their personality being directed by the sign/element, what is their preference for magic? Do they like being out near the bonfires, turning on the fire place, or would they rather spend the evening out on the balcony watching the rain? Maybe a sprawling forest is more up their alley, or is it when a storm with heavy winds is taking over that they feel most alive?

Or is it darker magic that they would seek out, in the blood and flesh of necromancy? Are they manipulators of nature, or of humanity?

On the other hand, is there more than one element involved, or are they singular? Are they a warrior type void of signs, or do they dabble all over in each element? Let the forces of nature (or flesh) take you on a journey.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Dare: Living Vicariously

Chances are good that if you’re reading this, you’ve had something you’ve wanted to do, but never got the chance. Maybe you wanted to grow up playing the violin or piano, or learning ballet or French at a young age. Or if you wanted to go to a certain university, live somewhere, travel for a while.

Take that, whatever you never got to experience, and put it into a character. Purposely live vicariously through another.

To some it may not be such a great thing, you’re deliberately putting in pieces of you into your character when you should be making them their own entity, giving them dimension and depth and dynamic on their own. Typically, these things are side ornaments, in a way. They are apart from what makes the character who they are, but they still have an impact.

Whatever extent you want to take it, go for it. Consider it, but you may not even have to.

-The Novice Wordsmith

 

Guest Post: The Horror Show

October’s coming up, and as such the airwaves are full of Halloween themed ideas and the inevitable horror movie. And of course, with that sort of inspiration, some of us decide to try their hand at horror novels.

We all know what that means, really; naming our fears and writing about them in such a way that someone else can experience what someone would go through if they were afraid of such things.

But hang on a tick… most of our experience with horror is through movies, and novels don’t often relate well to this. A novel is something that has a different pacing, and is missing the visual element.

It is all too easy to make a horror novel about the same cliched tropes that we’ve seen before, in said movies, and then it’s less scary. It becomes expected. In theme. And it will lack the authenticity that a horror story needs to scare the reader.

I used to work in a haunted house; they no longer scare me. I’ve lost my suspenders of disbelief, so that I know that they’re just actors. I can be startled, but not scared. Not like when I was a child and the unknown darkness held menacing things.

Some horror authors use the terror that they felt in order to build up a story. But fear itself is often wordless; panic, fright, and the need to Get Away are things that defy easy description.

Impending Doom is a little easier to write; so is Pain, and Dread. Fear is an emotion, like anger; it just lends itself a little less easy to the mind.

Try this exercise. And it’s a tough one… write about a superstition, WITHOUT using the words ‘fear’, ‘afraid’, ‘terrified’, ‘avoid(ance)’, ‘scared’, and ‘phobia.’ Remember, a good author does a ‘show, don’t tell’, and using any of those words is telling.

Here’s my take:
—————————–
He couldn’t turn his back on the water, even though the sand sculpture demanded his focus. He could hear the sinister sound of the surf, rustling behind him like a beast in the bushes. The sculpture site he had been given was far too close to the sea for his liking, and he gritted his teeth as he had to lean down to add some detailing to the mermaid that he was creating out of damp sand.

Let others rely on doing runs to and from the surf to get more water for their works. He had a portable sand block press of his own design, and a wheeled dolly with plenty of purified water jugs on it, and an hour and a half to craft a winning entry. Plenty of time before the tide came in and erased it all.

The wind ruffled his hair; the sky was overcast, and it was a lousy day to be on the beach, but the event planners had set this up months in advance, and they couldn’t control the weather.

He tried not to think about the sign that he’d seen on the way to the beach: ‘Tsunami Warning.’ It had been there since the sixties; there had never been a tsunami off the Oregon coast in a hundred years.

But there always was a first time for everything. He’d seen the pictures of Indonesia and Japan; huge morasses of water, consuming everything in its wake. Cars and buses floating along in the water like some giant bathtub toys, houses collapsing under the unexpected deluge of water coming down the street.

He had been given one of the sites closest to the waterline. He hadn’t been given permission to change with someone else. The safety of the boardwalk was two hundred yards away, possibly closer to three.

He wanted to just quit the contest, because those clouds overhead and the sky had gotten darker. Wasn’t the first sign of a tsunami heavy clouds? He couldn’t remember.

Just the thought of being swept out to sea made him want to look over his shoulder instead of paying attention to the work in front of him.

Was the sea a little closer?

It was. It surely was.
—————————————

Balance the internal with the external. Fear is internal. Stimulus for fear is external. It’s something you see – or can’t see. It’s something heard which doesn’t match normalcy. It’s evidence of something Not Right. Or simply feelings of wrongness sometimes.

Think about something that makes you scared for a moment. You can feel your skin crawl, the tension, the want to hide somewhere where it’s safe, or at least lighted. Then try and put the character who is being scared in your own shoes. Can you make them feel that fear, in their own voice, in their own head, and in their own mind?

I think you can.

It’s uncertainty of their next moments. It’s worrying about what MIGHT happen before it does, and then what DOES happen is often unexpected anyway.

And it’s worse than they imagined.

Another element of horror is the fact that it’s drawn out. The inevitable chase scene. The character becomes the prey in a hunt. Trying to escape. Because as you well know, anyone who fights the beastie? Usually dies. Horribly.

In horror, the big bad nasty almost always has the upper hand. They make the protagonist feel mortal. Vulnerable. Weak. Because if they weren’t afraid of it, if they could outfight it, outrun it, or outthink it right off the bat? It’s not scary enough. Their confidence and skill will carry them through.

Of course, there’s always the reversal — the misplaced bravado route, where they think they’ve got it covered – and then they don’t.

Now that is the source of even bigger fear. Maybe they escaped with their life after being foolish enough to brace the proverbial tiger in its lair. And they are scarred by the near-death experience. (Possibly literally.)

That’s a key: any fear a character has is not something they can easily shrug off. Any horror that a character faces has to be something that they are already afraid of to begin with, or something that can apply that (un)healthy fear of that after that first encounter.

It doesn’t have to be blood and guts, or supernatural things thrashing people around, or demonic possession, or aliens, or zombies or vampires… I was rather surprised to see how many people are afraid of clowns.

But that doesn’t help you, does it?

What should be your horror vehicle? What should you make people afraid of?

Anything. You. Want.

A skilled enough writer can make anything menacing. Items can be cursed. Food can be poisoned – or worse. A normal person could turn out to have a hidden past. Or change right in front of their eyes. Sometimes the scariest things of all are things we take for granted to be harmless — until they aren’t.

The thing you want to keep in mind when writing horror is that the object of horror has to regularly keep pushing at the characters. It must continue to vex them, whether it starts eating them one by one or keeps them from leaving the proverbial island (or both), it’s got to be something that they can’t get around or away from that easily.

Just like things we’ve been afraid for for years.

You can be afraid of anything, really — heck, just check out the List of Phobias on Wikipedia, or phobialist.com. Pick something you’ve never heard of before as a challenge, and start from there… and don’t be afraid to write about it.