Saturday, January 30, 2010

Genre Writing

I know, I know, I'm not the one who writes Science Fiction or Fantasy. I do, however, read Science Fiction and Fantasy. And, something that marks good writing within this genre is an ability to build a world.

When writing in this world, in the world we already live in, the author can leave almost everything up to the reader's imagination that's not directly pertinent to the story. What color is the grass? The sky? What's the normal weather? What do people as a whole want out of life? What do people believe? These questions, and many more, are answered very briefly when writing in this world.

What happens when you move into another world? The author has to build a rich, believable world, and tell a story, all at the same time. Not to mention, the writing quality can't dissipate just because the author is having to do so much. This, I think, is why writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is very difficult, and, at least in part, is why I don't do it.

For that very reason dear readers, I'm presenting you with a challenge for this weekend. I'll join you in it, because I want to do it; i want to flex my writing muscles in a new way. Write a scene in a genre that you don't normally write. If you're like me, and you generally write "literary fiction" or "mainstream fiction", go for something different. I'll put on the Science Fiction hat I think. I could go for suspense or thriller, mystery or romance instead. There's so many different genres to try, and all of them will force you to think about something different.

I already mentioned Science Fiction: what color is the sky? What do the guns look like? And Fantasy: Are there more than Elves and magic? Fairies? Perhaps the main character can wish herself anywhere in the world.

What about some other genres? Romance, mystery, thriller. These usually happen in our world, but there are still questions to grapple. Why does the main character lust for the person he or she can't have? Who killed the victim, and why? What twist will you give the reader next?

Go write your 500. Do something a little different. Challenge yourself. Post it on your blog. Come back here and tell us how it went; give us a link to your blog. Tell us what you thought about while you were writing your Genre 500. All of these thoughts are helpful to your fellow writers. Don't be afraid to speak up.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Words of Power!

Good Morning Viissada,

Thought I'd try a new language this morning.  Works better than the last ones I found to refer to you all (:

Words are a writers stock in trade.  Most of us love words.  We all (by which I mean all writers), love words for the conveyance of information.  The telling of a story, the picture of a poem, the history of a lost culture.  Some of us even enjoy playing with words.  To make words dance and do things that, perhaps, they should not be able to do (even if it is just the gut splitting groan that escapes when you break out a Tom Swifty (a particular nasty pun, E.G. '"The doctor had to remove my left ventricle," said Tom halfheartedly.'

How often, though, do you think about the actual power of a word.  Just a single word.  Yes, words taken together can make us cry bitter tears of anguish, or stand and shout at injustice and betrayal.  But what about a single powerful word?  Words that when added to a sentence transform the entire meaning?

There are a lot of words out there that a lot of people feel are very powerful. (See that, I used one right there.  Do you see it? It's sitting next to powerful.)  Very is a useless word.  If you see it, throw it out.  It adds nothing but weakness to your sentence.  Go ahead, try it; out loud read that first sentence with, and then without "very", I'll wait.

See? By no means is it a perfect sentence, in fact, by no means is it good.  But without "very"? It's better.

So what do I mean by "words of power"? Well, these are words that convey a huge amount of meaning, and there are different sorts of words that bring about meaning in different ways.  Much better than "very" is "always".  It tells you something.  Whatever is always, never deviates. (Look, there's another one of those powerful words!)  Always and never, though, are so powerful that they must be handled like uranium. Misplaced, and you could burn yourself, just as easily as you can with words that seem to convey power, but fall short of it.

Enough rambling for me.  Try to find some powerful words and use them today.

- Sam Justice

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Characters are important. Without characters, we have no people doing things. It's hard to tell a story when there's no one in it.

Who are these people? What do they do? Where do they go after work? Are they happy? I find it easiest to write when I really know my character. I tend to think of situations that people get into, and then think of how my character would get out of them. It doesn't matter if the character would never actually be in that situation, just what would happen if he or she was in it.

We want to know, who are your characters? What brings them to life? What aspect of your characters do you wish you knew more about?

I'll start. At the moment, I'm working most closely with a teen-aged girl who's great-grand uncle (perhaps great grandfather, no one's entirely sure) founded the town in which she lives. She's frustrated at being a tour guide for everyone, and with her mother (though, what teenager isn't?). She's easily excited, though tries very hard to play it cool. And she wants desperately to be left alone.

I wish I knew where her father is; why he's missing. And why her mom is so bitter. I imagine the latter has something to do with the former, but I don't know.

What about you? Leave us some comments about your characters.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Contest announced!

BNO is sponsoring a contest! With prizes! And not lame prizes like punches on punch cards or candy - real prizes.

What do you need to do to win? First, you need to enter. To enter, you'll need to write something using the theme "bridges." Fiction and non-fiction should be between 3,000 and 5,000 words, poetry no more than 22 lines. We're looking for black and white cover art too! There's a $10 entry fee, with one entry per person.

What are we offering up? Winners will be published in a chapbook, due to be released in May. There's also a cash prize. Entries are due no later than March 20, 2010.

There are more details here, on the website.

Go write!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Apocolypse Now (And Later)

Good morning Good Morning Five Hundredians. Awkward on the tongue, that. I'll have to think of something better. In the meantime, this is Sam finally chiming in. Those of you who know me know that I'm usually pretty quiet. When I do finally speak up, I usually don't shut up for a while, I tend to ramble and go on a lot of tangents; I'll try to keep tangents to a minimum this morning. Those are better for afternoon posts anyway.

So, how is everyone's 500 doing? Good? Bad? Somewhere in between? I've been working on a story lately, that takes place well after "The End Of The World", how far after isn't really important. But thinking about after the end of the world, makes you start thinking about the end of the world. Would you survive? Would you thrive? Are you one of the crazy people who has a miniature model of the modern world stored in your basement (a year plus of food for ten people, weapons, generators, fuel for same, etc you know the type).

As I was falling asleep last night, this is what I was thinking about. Both for my own interest and as research I picked up a book on surviving the end of the world as we know it. I got to thinking, in that hazy place between wake and sleep, that I would challenge all of you Five Hundredites (still awkward, oh well) to write about the end of the world this week. Specifically, to write a series of notes or letters or journal entries left behind by someone after the collapse of society.

Farewell for now Five Hundredese (nope, not that one either).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tandem Writing

Thanks so much to everyone who came out and wrote tonight! There was some fun and silly group writing going on. The results will be posted here soon.

How did this group writing happen? A classic tandem writing exercise. Inspired by a classic Internet myth, this exercise rarely goes quite so bad as the myth.

Find a writing buddy (anyone willing to write with you for a bit is a writing buddy) and a piece of paper to pass back and forth. Emails, Facebook wall comments, even Tweets back and forth would work as well.

Now, decide who will write first. This person should write a paragraph about something. You can agree to write about a subject, agree on a plot, or just start and see where the story takes you.

Now, switch! Give your paper to your buddy (literally or metaphorically, it doesn't matter), and have your buddy write the next part of the story. Keep going like this, back and forth, until the two of you agree that you have reached a logical conclusion.

The big trick? Don't discuss the story as you're writing it! Just write, back and forth, and find and ending. The story won't likely be long, but it will exist. You can keep it and cherish it forever, you and edit it and make it better, or your can simply bask in the opportunity the exercise gave you.

What does this exercise do, you ask? For one, it gets you writing, and that's the most important thing of all. It also shows you another style of writing, and encourages you to try something a little different. Unlike role-playing, you're not writing just one character's actions - you're writing a story. Two very different styles will start to merge into one unique one over the period of a story. You might get to try a completely different genre, or voice, or narrative style.

You might even have a little bit of fun :)

Friday, January 8, 2010


This post is late, I know, and I apologize profusely. Maybe this week the Friday post will work out better for you anyway?

Have you ever changed your mind in the middle of an argument? Or been so involved in an argument that you change your stance in the middle of it? Why not have a character do this?

Write some dialogue between two (or more) characters in which they hold an opposing viewpoint. Have them argue for their viewpoint. There's not need for reason or logic to be involved here, just get these two people talking. Have one of the characters start arguing against his original view, without realizing it. Keep the other character so involved in the argument that he doesn't realize the switch.

Want to take it up a little higher? Don't forget the space the characters are in - give them some space to argue. Perhaps have them fling small objects, slam a door, or shout up some stairs.

Enough reading - go write!


Monday, January 4, 2010


Are you finding The 500 a bit harder than you'd like it to be? How about some inspiration in the form of a prompt?

Here you have a picture
. It' s a lovely picture of some balloons in a rather disheartening predicament. For me, I always think about the smell of latex when I see busted balloons scattered about as they are in this particular picture. What other sorts of smells might be present in this scene? Where did they come from? How did they get there? How might the people (think of them as characters) be reacting to the scents, (even latex)?

Sensory description is essential to writing. Small details about the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste), give the reader an extra dimension into the the character's world that is often ignored. Sight is rarely overlooked, and sound often makes it into the description of the world, but there other three senses, I find, are often ignored, or given only a passing glance. I want to feel everything along with the characters, from the cool, dank floor of the tunnel to the acrid tang left on my tongue from rotting tree roots and earth. If there's nothing to hear, I want to enter that void of silence.

My point? Show your reader by allowing your reader to experience all five senses with your character. Don't leave your reader in the dark for even a second.

I want to know how Your 500 is coming along. Are you succeeding? What's helping you? Share it here.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Going Forward

This post is going to be a bit of a mess. There's much to cover, and I have some questions for you. Bear with me, I'll get through this as quick as I can. And future posts will be much less cluttered.

We have a web-home. That's right. You can visit Boise's Novel Orchard at it's own little home on the web. We're still on Facebook, Twitter, and will remain here, we just have a place for ourselves now too. Check back often - we'll be implementing some tools and toys for writers slowly. Eventually, we'll even have a fully integrated system for critiquing online.

We're getting ourselves onto a schedule. In the future, plans for the next month will appear here on the 20th of the current month. That is to say, we'll announce February plans on 20 January, March on 20 February, etc. You can count on a post appearing on the 20th of every month with this announcement.

Each month, on the first meeting (the 2nd Wednesday of each month), we focus on the act of writing. Something about craft will be mentioned. Often times we'll use real live books as examples. Sometimes we might even have handouts. The day after the meeting (the 2nd Thursday of each month), we'll have a blog post up about the meeting from the night before, including the full writing exercise we did. Handouts will be available digitally as copyright permits. Our plan for January? Tandem writing. With pictures. You'll need your favorite old-fashioned writing utensils - computers won't work so well for this (though, of course, you're more than welcome to try).

On the second meeting (the 4th Wednesday of the month), we focus on critiquing each others' work. Critiquing is an essential part of writing. Writing, after all, is about more than putting words on a page. It's about editing, polishing, creating something a reader would enjoy. Critiquing others' work make sit easier for you to critique your own. And, you'll get opinions on your work from readers. If you have nothing to share for critiques, that's okay. Come anyway! We'll have a practice critique for you to go through. Or, you can sit in with a group that's critiquing. Check out our guidelines for more information on critiquing.

It's the new year, and a great time to start working out some good habits. Join us for The 500. It's simple - write 500 words a day, every day. If you're blogging about your 500, tell us. Whether you're blogging about your writing experience, or actually posting your 500, tell us about it. We'll feature a new blogger once a month. Contact me for more information.

We'll also have more regular blog posts. We'll start with...ummm...Thursdays. Yeah, why not Thursdays? Writing prompts and woes and concerns and hopefully some stuff from you.

Me you ask? Yes! You! We want do know: what do you think about all of this? Do you have an aspect of craft you'd like to discuss? Something you'd like to share with the group? Something you just want to learn about? Let us know! Comment here, send us an email, comment on Facebook, Twitter us. The more we know about you and what you want, the more likely we can give it to you. Whether you're an active participant, or hang out on the sidelines, we want to make sure you're getting what you want and need.

I'll leave you with a quick prompt. First, find a picture. For this exercise, pictures with quite a lot going on (perhaps a scene at a carnival) work best, as do pictures of strangers. Snoop around on Flikr for a bit, find something that speaks to you. Write about the picture. You can easily spend 500 words writing a description. Or, pick a person in the picture, and make some assumptions about the person - thoughts, opinions, conversations. What does that person want to do next? What did he just do? I'll wager that you can spend an entire week getting your 500 from one picture, focusing on something different in the picture; some different aspect of craft.

Now go write!