When the Plot Breadcrumbs Lead Nowhere

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

Leaving breadcrumbs as you write a story is fun.

That stranger in the tavern who eyes your character just a little too long. The oddly repetitive appearance of a particular animal that just has to be symbolic. Or the mysterious item that seems to catch anyone’s interest who lays eyes on it.

Experienced readers often notice these little details and wonder if they are clues into what might come later in the plot. Continue reading “When the Plot Breadcrumbs Lead Nowhere”

Exercise 6, Part 2: The Old Woman

This is the second part of Exercise 6 from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft book.  To recap: Chapter 6 was about verbs, specifically dealing with person and tense. This serves as a prelude to chapter 7, which is a long (and intimidating!) chapter on point of view.  My take on this exercise has an old woman wandering around the remains of her house after a fire and remembering a different disaster that struck when she was a child.

The prompt: “Exercise Six: The Old Woman

This should run to a page or so; keep it short and not too ambitious, because you are going to write the same story twice.

The subject is this: An old woman is busy doing something – washing the dishes, or gardening, or editing a PhD dissertation in mathematics, whatever you like – as she thinks about an event that happened in her youth.

You’re going to intercut between the two times. “Now ” is where she is and what’s she’s doing; “then” is her memory of something that happened when she was young. Your narration will move back and forth between “now” and “then.”

You will make at least two of these moves or time jumps.

Continue reading “Exercise 6, Part 2: The Old Woman”

Exercise 6, Part 1: The Old Woman

Back at it with Exercise 6 from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft book. Chapter 6 was about verbs, specifically dealing with person and tense. This serves as a prelude to chapter 7, which is a long chapter on point of view.  I have to admit I procrastinated on this exercise – and I did so for a reason that surprised me! First, though, the prompt:

“Exercise Six: The Old Woman

This should run to a page or so; keep it short and not too ambitious, because you are going to write the same story twice.

The subject is this: An old woman is busy doing something – washing the dishes, or gardening, or editing a PhD dissertation in mathematics, whatever you like – as she thinks about an event that happened in her youth.

You’re going to intercut between the two times. “Now ” is where she is and what’s she’s doing; “then” is her memory of something that happened when she was young. Your narration will move back and forth between “now” and “then.”

You will make at least two of these moves or time jumps.

Continue reading “Exercise 6, Part 1: The Old Woman”

Exercise 5: Chastity

The exercise Le Guin’s proposes at the end of chapter 5 takes far longer to complete than her short little chapter (just two and a half pages!) on adjectives and adverbs would lead you to believe. She admits that this one is hard and suggests you do it away from the pressure of a class or group. I did find myself staring at the blank page for quite a while…once I did start writing, I was surprised at the sinister turn my little paragraph took.

Exercise 5: Chastity

Write a paragraph (200-350 words) to a page of descriptive narrative prose without adjectives or adverbs. No dialogue.

The point is to give a vivid description of a scene or action using only verbs, nouns, pronouns, and articles…

Ursula Le Guin, Steering the Craft, page 45.
Continue reading “Exercise 5: Chastity”

Exercise 4, Part 2: Again and Again and Again

Of the two exercises in Chapter 4 of Steering the Craft, I thought this one was the harder. It was also the first time Le Guin gave us the option to write a complete short story.  The other exercises had pretty tame word counts – 150, 250, 350 words – but this time, she didn’t limit us. And if Ursula Le Guin suggests doing something, I figure it is worth a serious listen.

“Part Two: Structural Repetition

Write a short narrative (350-1000 words) in which something is said or done and then something is said or done that echoes or repeats it, perhaps in a different context, or by different people, or on a different scale. 

This can be a complete story, if you like or a fragment of a narrative.

(Page 41-42 of Steering the Craft, by Ursula Le Guin)

I did try to make it a complete story – came in a 1285 words – woo!

Personal Earthmovers

Even though the surrounding hills were lined with tract houses rising side by side up gently curving streets, it was still shocking to see the denuded foothills straight ahead on the freeway. The yellow and brown chaparral, which burst into green every spring as long as rain fell during winter, was now raw dirt. Earthmovers and bulldozers were leveling terraces for another development in another Los Angeles suburb. They pushed the heavy clay soil to and fro across the face of the mountain.
Continue reading “Exercise 4, Part 2: Again and Again and Again”

Exercise 4, Part 1: Again and Again and Again

Back to doing the exercises in Ursula Le Guin’s excellent Steering the Craft book! Chapter 4 is about repetition and its power in storytelling. Thinking back to my English classes of yore, I remember being taught the opposite – to avoid repetition at all costs. One of my high school English teachers had this list of catchy “writing rules” and one of them was “NO PIZZA PIZZA” (after the overly prevalent Caesar’s Pizza commercial on TV) to remind us not to repeat ourselves. So it was refreshing to see Le Guin demonstrate how beautiful and useful repetition can be.
Continue reading “Exercise 4, Part 1: Again and Again and Again”

Exercise 3 Part 2: Short and Long

Keeping up my goal of a post every Monday by the skin of my teeth and thank you for those 3 extra hours I get by being on the west coast! This is the second part of Le Guin’s exercise for Chapter 3 – the chapter on sentence length and complex syntax.

And this one is the first one that has flummoxed me. The instructions are simple:

Part Two: Write a half page to a page of narrative, up to 350 words, that is all one sentence.” Steering the Craft, Page 32.

I tried a couple of times with two different topics – but I didn’t get close to half a page to a page or 350 words. More than that, I think my long sentences are pale imitations of real long sentences – just lots of sentences joined together by semi-colons or em dashes (tried both and wasn’t happy with either).  And despite trying to channel my best A Tale of Two Cities opening sentence “It was the best of times…” I would say this was the most difficult exercise so far for me. Maybe it’s the fear of run-on sentences that my English teachers so carefully cultivated…

Continue reading “Exercise 3 Part 2: Short and Long”

Making a Character Death Make Sense

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I’ve spent way too much time this month rationalizing and over-thinking a character death in my story that I knew was definitely coming. Fortunately, after talking it through with my human sounding board (my wife), I think I’m ready to write The Death Scene.

And I’d like to share some insights I’ve picked up along the way. Continue reading “Making a Character Death Make Sense”

Exercise 3 Part 1: Short and Long

I’ve been keeping up with the writing exercises in Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin and so I am onto the next one. I’ve realized that I had mis-numbered them for the posts – exercise 2 should have been “1 Part 2” since Le Guin numbers them with the chapters, so I went back and fixed my past posts.

This exercise also has two parts and is from Chapter 3 “Sentence Length and Complex Syntax.”

Part One: Write a paragraph of narrative, 100-150 words, in sentences of seven or fewer words. No sentence fragments! Each must have a subject and a verb.” Page 32 of Steering the Craft

Here it goes:
Continue reading “Exercise 3 Part 1: Short and Long”

Exercise 2: Am I Saramago

Steve’s post last week on his progress towards his goals was very inspirational. So I confess: I’ve never been good about setting writing goals. Partly because I have abysmal time management skills, but also because in the past I would write in fits and starts. I would plunge into a story and write for hours, day after day, and then when something would come up or the plotting/story would get hard, it would be weeks or months (or never – okay, pretty much never) until I would come back to it. I no longer have the luxury to write for hours on any day, let alone any sort of marathon burst of creativity. Life has forced me to write a little each day (only other option: none at all) and actually, this has served to turn the unsustainable torrents into more of a reasonable trickle. Circumstance-enforced discipline, I suppose.  So maybe it is time to retry Writing Goals.

One goal I have had in the last month is to post here on Mondays – and so to keep achieving goal number one, here is the next exercise from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft book. This is from Chapter 2, the chapter on Punctuation and Grammar. She calls this exercise a “pure consciousness-raiser” about the value of punctuation.
Continue reading “Exercise 2: Am I Saramago”