On a Quasi-Vacation Thru 1st Week of January

Hello!  Checking in to let you know I'm around.  I still have all sorts of ideas floating around in my head for writercizes, but at the end of the day during these busy holidays I just don't have the time or energy to get them out of my brain and into the virtual world of blogging.  Happy to have family visiting through the first week of January, so look for intermittent posts between now and then, and a return to regular posting once the routine gets back to normal!

In the meantime, check out the archives and some wonderful guest posts listed along the right-hand side.

Thanks for your readership and Happy Holidays!


Day After Psychology - Return, Regift, Keep? - writercize #146

December 26 is generally considered the second busiest day of the retail year in the United States, between returns, purchases using gift card money and seeking deep post-Christmas discounts on holiday items and overstock.

It's also an interesting time to watch the shoppers.  There are the scrimpers out to save and the excited kids ready to spend holiday money on the gift of their choice, but there are also droves of people who hid disappointment over a gift with a wide smile and a polite thank you now ready to trade their unwanted wares in for something more their style.  I heard one woman state her first and last name on national radio and expose the gift she was rushing to the store to return.  Ballsy!

What do you do if you receive a gift you don't especially care for? Do you keep it, and stare at it in guilt for not using it? Do you keep it and use it, even though you don't like it? Do you regift or donate to charity? Or do you head straight back to the store for a return or exchange? If you are the gifter, would any of the above options offend you? What does the behavior say about the receiver, and what does the preference say about the giver? What would happen during the awkward moment when the person returning a gift runs into the gift-giver in line at the store?

writercize: Create a short character sketch of a person based on his/her solution to an unwanted gift.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about a woman who keeps ugly sweaters.


Merry Christmas!

I would like to share the exterior and partial wording of my family's holiday card this year with my blogosphere friends: 

We wish you Happy Holidays!
"Snowflake" S---- and "Ornamental" O----

The scene is set.
Tree dripping with ornaments - 
glass, porcelain and handmade
Merry carols on the iPod
Fire crackling on the TV
With twinkling lights
and expectant eyes
Two little girls, full of wonder
wait for Christmas miracles

Yes, it's a wonderful life!

With peace and love from our home to yours.

(words (c) Alana Garrigues, card personally designed by Garrigues Graphics - a freelance graphic design service run by my sister, Keela)

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season, 
whatever winter holiday it may be that you celebrate in your home!  

Thank you for your readership and support. 


Think Outside the Tale - writercize #145

The days until Christmas are turning into hours, and I'm a busy, busy bee with little brain to write, so I wanted to bring you a little opportunity to think outside the box quickly and painlessly.  

I will introduce a few problems Santa Claus runs across, and you twist your mind a *little* to find an alternative. Goofy fun.

Here we go.

writercize: Think outside the box to answer the following Santa-related conundrums.
  • Santa can't find his red suit this year. What will he be wearing Christmas Eve for his flight?
  • The reindeer are on strike. Who will pull Santa's sleigh?
  • Santa's on a diet. What should kids put out instead of cookies?
  • Oh dear, global warming melted Santa's glacial palace at the North Pole. Where will he relocate the factory?
  • No more coal for the bad kids - what could be worse in the bottom of their stockings?
Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Santa: Around the World in 26 Hours? - writercize #144

Ever wonder how Santa could deliver gifts to all the children who celebrate Christmas around the world in one night? 

Thanks to the earth's rotation and long nights in some areas, The Dinner Party hosts told Madeline Brand of NPR last Friday that Santa has about 26 hours to deliver the gifts. That still breaks down to a LOT of gift giving, chimney sliding, sled flying and cookie eating per second. 365,000 to be exact. And they only included Christian children in the world, who are clearly not the only ones who celebrate the holiday. I know plenty of agnostics and atheists who hang stockings for the kids!

So, how does Santa do it? Magic? Science? And how does he get in the houses without chimneys? Does he still wear the toasty red suit while delivering in the southern hemisphere?

Let your imagination run wild, and tell us how it's done!

writercize: Create an argument for how Santa Claus manages to deliver gifts to 365,000 children per second.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response using the space-time continuum.

This post partially inspired by the prompt "wonder" through the Group Blogging Experience hosted by the "wonder"ful Beth Grace. There's always room for more group bloggers - check it out!


Guest Writercize - Mike Miller - Let the words simmer

I am very excited to introduce you all to Mike Miller, a fellow Group Blogging Experience (#GBE2) participant and a person whose words never fail to make me laugh.  Almost always out loud.  Read this writercize, try it out, enjoy, and visit Mike's blog.  You'll be glad you did.

Now, passing the virtual mic right on over to ... Mike!

Hi Folks,

What say we skip all the writer cizer jazz and just do some good old calisthenics?  No?  Good idea!  Let's sit here and use the old noodle to try and come up with some good literary pasta.  Well I do have something of an idea for this exercise, so here goes:

I'm thinking of a word prompt kind of challenge.  

writercize:  Please pick up the nearest book and turn to page four.  Pick out the noun closest to the upper left corner and use that for the subject of an up and coming sentence.  Page two has the verb, the one you find closest to the upper right corner, and the object is on page three near the lower right corner of the page.  You may be wondering how I know that, but just trust me, I do.

Oh boy.  NOW I look around and find that the closest book to me is the 1996 Physician's Desk Reference!  Here is my sentence, gleaned, as it were, from the corners of the three pages:  Acetaminophen contains doses.  

I am willing to bet that your base sentence will be a lot easier than mine, to turn into a short story.   That's right.  The challenge here is to take your obscure sentence and expand it three times; first from your randomly formed sentence into three coherent full blown sentences based on the idea of the original, and then into a decent tease of a story of one or two paragraphs.  That's only expanded two times?  Right again.  The third time I want you to turn your few paragraphs into a full fledged best selling novel or, as in my case, a medical school textbook.    In each step, it is only an idea derived and descended from your first sentence that must survive.

Now for the kicker, just in case you're still standing:  I want you to think about your primordial sentence for at least one hour before committing your three sentence rewrite to paper or screen. And then please let the ruminating juices flow for another hour or more so the next version of your idea has had time to sprout wings or leaves or fur, or something equally useful.

By the way, there is a point to all this.  I have so often observed that my first idea, while practically genius, can ALWAYS be improved upon.  Sometimes even by me!  Seriously, while I may be quick with the quip, or an inane observation, there have been a million times when I realized later that I could have said  “________”!  Or more to the point here; even after steadily laboring over some article or essay for a long time, I have been struck later by the realization that a major element is fatally flawed,  that I should have taken another approach altogether, or that I killed the hero off in the first paragraph.  Let time pass.  Give the mind a rest.  And then see what comes.

(Mike's sample writercize response below:)

Here's my effort.  And yes, I will heed my own prescription and let an hour pass before expanding on my own medicinal therapeutics.

2:44 PM     

Acetaminophen contains doses.

7:33 PM

The stands are full of excited fans this afternoon.
The trucks and jeeps are lined up, each one full of gas and ready to go the distance.
Enough delight will fly from those big tires today to cover each onlooker with inches of                      mud.

12:20 PM (the next day)

Byron stepped hard on the gas but his bald tires were even worse than he knew.  While a dozen other trucks flew ahead and buried his windshield in their wakes, way overburdening his poor wipers, Byron just slowly slid back and forth, even in the thin mud at the starting line.  A glance out the side window showed him that the hundreds of people in the stands were missing the excitement at the first turn; they were all watching his four tires spin up a thin spray of misty mud, and they were laughing.

But one more glance made everything all right.  It had been a long hard year, and Byron had sadly discovered how disasters pile on.  The furnace died last Winter, the basement flooded in the Spring, and the long hot Summer was full of miscellaneous breakdowns and work lay-offs. He couldn't even afford to replace the AC so his wife had been stuck sweltering in the house, until today.  Byron looked across again, astonished at Minnie's great big smile where she sat in her brand new, mud-covered wheel chair. The sight made even his frustration at having to make the 'right' decision melt away.  Minnie never realized that By had traded in the new tires he bought last year, anticipating this very race, to buy her chair.  And as she watched him continue to glide back and forth, now somehow behind the starting line, and then heard him start to laugh out loud, she knew that while pills of pain may come in regular doses, a good man's love covers all like a flood.

Deja Vu Blogfest: Fairy Tale Rewrite Flashback (writercize #9)

Welcome to writercize, and my entry for the Deja Vu Blogfest hosted by bloggers Nicole Ducleroir, DL Hammons, Katie Mills and Lydia Kang! My blog combines fiction, nonfiction and word play exercises, so picking a deja vu entry was an entire challenge in its own. I consider myself first and foremost a nonfiction writer who loves to play with fiction for fun and inspiration.

I wanted to select something from the very first days of my blog, so this entry is from March of this year, the month I launched the site. I chose the fairy tale rewrite because it's whimsical and fun and gives the writer ample opportunity to work with something familiar from a brand new perspective.

Read on!

Witches, goblins, fair maidens, horses, magic spells, evil stepmothers, glorious kings ...

Fairy tales are a lovely way to pass stories and lessons from one generation to the next, bridging age gaps and cultural differences.   Through fairy tales we learn about romance and love, heroism, fear, honesty, danger, the innocence of youth, all within a framework allowing magic and imagination to permeate the story.  One high school English teacher used to call accepting that magic the "willing suspension of disbelief."

Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Brothers are probably the best known fairy tale authors, but much of what they wrote for children was simply writing down and publishing a version of the stories handed down around a kitchen fire for centuries before.

Most fairy tales focus on one character and build a supporting cast around the lead.  Today's writercize shifts the focus onto one of the supporting characters (i.e. Cinderella's stepmother, one of the Seven Dwarfs, Prince Charming, the Big Bad Wolf from The Three Little Pigs).

writing exercise:  Pick a well-known fairy tale and retell it from the perspective of a supporting character.  You may choose to write in either the first or third person and you have full creative control over how closely you follow the original storyline.

PS - If you're looking for a fun, interactive retelling of classic fairy tales per Grimm, check out Grimms' Fairy Tales on the National Geographic website.  Very fun!

(To see the writercizer sample response about the Queen's perspective from the story of The Princess and The Pea, click "read more.")


The Long Dark Night - writercize #143

I'm really feeling the cold air and the lack of sunlight this time of year, and I am looking forward to getting the winter solstice over and done with. These long hours of dark skies and inability to warm my body are wreaking havoc on my inspiration.

When I was younger, my mom told me that my uncle's favorite day of the year was the winter solstice, because it signified a return to light, while his least favorite day of the year was the summer solstice, because it meant the earth would get darker again. I never understood it as a child; I couldn't figure out why he wasn't just living in the moment, enjoying the summer and hiding from the winter. Now as my mind spends a significant part of the day looking forward in time, I get it.

writercize: Use the depth of dark and promise of light as inspiration for a poem or short story.

If you are reading this post from the Southern hemisphere, I hope you are enjoying the long days of light but think of you with a bit of envy.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response in the form of poetry.


Next Word Five Words Mash-Up - writercize #142

Time for a twist on the next word game. For those of you unfamiliar with next word, it's a fun little word association game where I give you five random words and you write down your instinctual "next word" - the first word that comes to mind.  It's great to see how different minds can come up with vastly different thoughts out of the same word.

example - If I give you the word "grass," you might say green, or fed, or smoke, or picnic, or cow, or hula ... all can be traced back.  You could also think of something more obscure, like "kiss" or "love" if you had your first kiss in a field.  Some explain the connection, and others leave the back story blank.

Next word is a game I like to play every month or so.  As Tara Tyler, one very talented writercizer, once commented, "i love these! you should give us a state of mental health reading from them =)"

For the twist tonight, read on to the writercize below.

writercize: Look at the list of words below and type your instinctual response to each word. Feel free to simply state the next word or evaluate your response.
  • word
  • tape
  • train
  • small
  • pack
Now for the real twist ... if you're up for the challenge ... create a short story or poem using your five new words. You do not need to reference any of the original words, but you should include all five new words.

As always, leave your writercize attempt as a comment, or link to your blog if you post it there. I love to see what you come up with!
Click "read more" to read writercizer sample response about wolves.


Naughty or Nice? - writercize #141

With the holiday season in full swing, I plan to post a few winter holiday-themed writercizes in the days to come. I'll try to mix it up with a little bit of Christmas, a little bit of Chanukah and a little bit of Kwanzaa. Keep the holiday spirit alive! Don't be shocked by some regular old writercizes as well.

This weekend, one of my daughters was looking at her food, then out the window, back and forth, when she looked up at me earnestly and said, "I wonder what it's like to fly. Not in the plane."

"I don't know. Probably pretty cool," I replied.

She thought about it some more and said, with gumption, "I think that is what I really want for Christmas. When I talk to him, I will ask Santa for magical fairy dust so that I can fly like Tinker Bell."

Hmmm.  When I posted her request on Facebook, a friend told me that magical flying fairy dust is on back order.  

I'm not quite sure what will happen when none appears in her stocking, or when she discovers that no amount of sparkling glitter will help her grow wings or float into the sky. She's four, so the reaction could really go anywhere from acceptance to defiance to heartbreak to confusion over a forgotten pipe dream.

Oh, and speaking of Santa - today I was thinking of coal in the bottom of a stocking, and thinking that in this economy, there are probably a lot of chilly families who would actually appreciate a little bit of extra coal this time of the year. Funny how perspective can dictate the true worth of a gift.

writercize:  Write a letter to Santa Claus.  The letter can be from you or from a fictional character.  Let Santa know if you (or the character) have been naughty or nice, and what you'd like for Christmas.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Guest Writercize - Nicole, Madlab Post (Movie Review)

Today I welcome Nicole to the writercize guest spot. I met Nicole through the A to Z Challenge this past April, and instantly felt a connection to her through her thoughtful comments and supportive attitude. She runs a blog called The Madlab Post which reviews, evaluates, compares, questions, and more ... anything to do with cinema, from the perspective of an aspiring film maker and writer. Her irreverent style mixed with intelligent commentary is always a pleasure to read, and the questions she poses to her readers are always interesting.

Without further ado, I present to you: Nicole!  (Oh, and PS - you might want to leave a couple of candles and a slice of cake with your comment.  Just saying, today might be a special day for a certain someone.)  

The end of this post does reference sexual content in a movie, so be aware.

Greetings to all Writercize readers on this most glorious day. What makes it so glorious, you ask? Well, because we’re going to have some fun writing movie reviews. Here is a short primer for those of you who are unfamiliar with me and/or my writing: My name is Nicole; I blog about independent films, hot actors, prolific movie directors and Hollywood releases as well as party ideas that help mix cinema into the equation in almost any social gathering, at my blog, The Madlab Post. I am also a filmmaker who has made several short films and plans to bring one of my feature length screenplays to the big (or small) screen.

After reading movie reviews in newspapers, magazines and online, I leave the text feeling like I should have just watched the entire film instead of spending 15-30 minutes reading someone’s critique of the piece. Now, I don’t mind a good review that just happens to be lengthy, but have found many movie reviews to be obnoxiously lengthy for no reason. It usually occurs when the reviewer carefully dissects almost every aspect of a particular film, when some of the readers probably aren’t interested in knowing about all of this information in the first place. This is why I started writing an “In a Nutshell” series on my blog featuring short movie reviews that are often 140 words or less; well, THAT and I wanted to try writing shorter posts more often since mine tend to be on the long-winded side.

Movie reviews are the focus of today’s writercize. It is inspired by my “In a Nutshell” series, which was inspired by the word count limit that Twitter has setup for its users. 

writercize:  In 140 words or less, write a movie review on any one film that you have already seen.

Within the last two weeks or so, I’ve watched several movies including “Shortbus,” “Hostel,” “1408,” “Finding Forrester” and “Funny Games” and since either already used or plan on using most of these films for other online writing duties of mine, here is my review of the movie “Shortbus,” a title that ironically fits in line with the theme of this writercize:

(Nicole's sample writercize response below:)

I thought that this movie was about orgies, shot cinéma vérité style. While watching it, I learned that this was not a movie about orgies. It is a movie about a sexually frustrated “couples counselor” who cannot orgasm, her gay clients who add a third person into their depressing relationship in hopes of fixing problems that they have difficulties addressing, a dominatrix whose job stifles the confidence for pursuing her passions in art photography that she does on the side -- and a singing mistress of ceremonies who spends half of his time “blowing the NYPD” to provide a place for them all to congregate in a brooklyn salon that offers entertainment in a variety of fashions including discussion groups, live art, music, drinks and all of the free heterosexual and LGBT sex that you desire -- with real, full-frontal penetration.

Word count total for my “Shortbus” movie review: 139 words


Now, it’s your turn!


Spin It - writercize #140

A euphemism is a way to spin a negative into a ... slightly less negative.  It doesn't necessarily make it positive, thought it can sound deceitful pleasant, but at the very least it brings a bad thing around to something less harsh.  It paints as rosy a picture as possible.

Euphemisms basically boil down to public relations.  Useful in maneuvering tricky relationships, breaking bad news and winning in politics.  Euphemisms can also be quite useful in parenting.

"to pass away" = to die
"in a happier place" = dead
"to let go" = to fire
"to intervene" = to drop bombs and engage in warfare

writercize: Create your own, never before seen, euphemism for one of the following:
  • death
  • divorce
  • job loss
  • foreclosure
Write it out, then use in a sentence.

Essentially, I challenge you to make what could be a depressing post into something that sounds calm and lovely.  Go on - euphemize away!  (Yes, "euphemize" is a made up word.)

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Willing Suspension of Disbelief - writercize #139

"Willing suspension of disbelief" is a phrase stolen directly from a high school English teacher who pulled it out anytime anyone scoffed at a passage in mythology or the bible that screamed outlandish.  Anyone who attended Central Catholic in Portland, Oregon will surely recall the phrase.  Unless I'm the only one who recalls what English teachers said with precision, which is equally possible.

I bring it to mind right now because I think that there is this part in the brain of every writer that believes, against all logic, that anything is possible, including imaginary characters.  

Now, before I go on, if you have little onlookers who believe in everything magical that Christmas has to offer, please do not scroll down while they are in eyesight.  I do not want to be the one to crush the beauty of belief.

I willed myself to believe in Santa until I was 12.  When I was in seventh grade, my science teacher chuckled aloud to the class about how his third grade son still believed in Santa, with a tone of belittlement.  Logically by that point, I knew there was no such thing as Santa, but I wanted so badly to maintain the magic of Christmas morning that I refused until that moment to acknowledge that my stockings were filled by my parents.  For years, I recognized Santa's handwritten replies to my notes as my dad's writing, and I doubted very much that elves built toys with brands that could be found at any local department store, but it was more fun to believe.

If I'm perfectly honest and truthful, I still wake up every Christmas morning looking for proof in the bottom of my stocking that a fast-flying jolly old guy snuck in a little something extra.  

To be even more honest and truthful, I find myself believing more in Santa than any other reason most people celebrate Christmas.  I guess I'd rather willingly suspend my disbelief for literary fairy tales than religious conviction.  That probably sounds odd to a great many people.

That said, the willing suspension of disbelief is part of what makes writing so beautiful.  If I can imagine it in my mind's eye, I can will it to exist.  It is part of what makes daydreaming such an enjoyable pastime!

writercize:  Write a short story or dialogue in which a "normal" person comes face to face with an imaginary character.  

Use any one (or more) of the following: Leprechaun, Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, mermaid.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about a leprechaun.


Santa Claus, Movies and the Economy - writercize #138

I was playing around with trying to work song or movie titles into a holiday card note last week, but the muses just were not cooperating with me, so I moved onto a holiday card plan B and I'll purge the song or movie title idea with a writercize instead.

This could be a bit of a stretch, but work with me here.  Sometimes journalists play with words in the opening paragraph of a story or in the title.  Arguments over a power plant are a "power struggle."  Eco-friendly development is given the "green" light to construct.  At times the creativity pays off, and other times it's a bust, but ... finding a creative way to spin the news can be good to get the juices flowing. 

For today's writercize, work a well-known song or movie title or two into that offbeat leading paragraph.  You can use a real current event for inspiration, or write the lead with a journalistic style for an imaginary event.

writercize:  Using the title of a holiday movie or song, write a lead paragraph of a news item referencing a current event.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response where the economy and unemployment rates meet Scrooge and Santa Claus.  (Like I said, bear with me! It all makes sense in the end!)


Inspired by a Phone Book - writercize #137

Names keep popping up lately.  

Pregnant friends considering baby names.  Photographs of names inspiring short stories in a book I'm reading, The Doorbells of Florence, by Andrew Losowsky.  Articles about selecting the perfect character name in writing magazines.  Discussions about how one of my daughters will have to correct people how to spell her name her whole life because we used her great grandmother's "i" rather than the more common "y" here.

Yes, my mind is swimming with names.  So, I figured, why not take a real name as inspiration and create a short fictional character study or vignette?  Hopefully you have a real, old fashioned phone book sitting around the house somewhere.  If not, you can apparently use a Name Shake app on your iPhone or you can google "random name" and use any of the name generators that pop up.

writercize:  Grab a phone book (or name generator ... or name shake app).  Close your eyes and open to any random page.  Point to anywhere on the page.  Create a completely fictional character based on that name.  

(I would recommend against disclosing the location of your phone book for this exercise - make up a fake location, or leave it out.  It is legal to create a fictional story about a real name, provided you state it is fiction, but the less you reveal about a person's true identity, the better for everyone.)

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about a Cecilia Guerra.