Guest Writercize - Dawn M. Hamsher - Dress-Up Time!

I am very excited to introduce all of you to the very talented Dawn M. Hamsher, author of The Write Soil blog and purveyor of book reviews, writing exercises, tips, photo prompts, shout-outs and more!  
Be sure to visit her blog and while you're there, check out her series on dialogue - it's short, sweet, visual and very relevant and helpful to all sorts of writers.
Without further ado, I pass the "mike" over to Dawn! Be sure to participate, leave a comment, and visit Dawn's blog. Can't wait to see all your creative answers.
Guest Post: What are you dressing up as?
Dawn M. Hamsher @ The Write Soil (http://thewritesoil.blogspot.com
Hi, I’m Dawn. My blog has writing exercises, tips, comics, and whatever else writing-wise that I get into.
Wow, Alana! I am so excited to do this post! I love writing exercises and I love dressing up (acting and costumes), so I decided to combine the two since it is Halloween time.
Recently I attended the Susquehanna Writers Conference and one of the best tips was write well-thought out, believable characters, setting, and plot. It should be so well done that readers can feel like they are there. The exercise today will give us some practice with this.
writercize: Writing Prompt – What are you dressing up as for Halloween? Write fiction or non-fiction, but make sure you give some good description so readers can “see” it in their minds.
(Read on to see Dawn's response to her writercize challenge:)
Mine… (as in Dawn's)
Dressing Up as a Writer
This Halloween, I will secretly change into my writing costume and become Dawn M. Hamsher, author. Gone is the daily, mild-mannered IT Specialist and in her place emerges Can-Do, Try-Anything Book Writer who is ready to take on any challenge.
To play the part, I will wear my dark gray-patterned newspaper reporter hat. My blogging business card will stick out in anticipation of networking with other Trick-or-Treating writers.
I’ve prepared for years for this moment, purchasing used English textbooks and clearing Border’s book shelves of books on writing. Each book cover holds sweet writing tips, like candy hidden in wrappers, for me to discover. I will learn them. I will use them.
My laptop stands ready. The cursor blinks expectantly. My fingers hover over the keys. My trusty red notebook is opened beside me, filled with story ideas. The characters swirl in my mind, ready to come to life on the page.
This Halloween, I will take risks. I might even dangle from a particle or take a mad dash. What am I waiting for? I have my hat on. I am dressed the part. I can begin.


Colorful Emotion - writercize #125

As promised, a reverse to Emotional Color, writercize #122, from last week!  Same intro as last time, slightly altered writercize.  Have fun and thanks to last week's responders!

I'm not sure of the reason or the origin, nor am I sure if we mirror other languages and societies in this aspect, but in the English language we seem to have an affinity for linking colors with emotion.  

"Green with envy."  "Feeling blue" as a euphemism for depression or sadness.  "Seeing red" to convey rage.  There is something about color that pairs nicely with an emotional image.

In a different spin on my next word game, I'm going to give you colors and I want you to give me an emotion for each. 

writercize:  For each of the five colors listed below, tell me the first emotion it brings to mind. 
  • gold
  • crimson
  • violet
  • neon orange
  • vanilla

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.  Leave your own as a comment or provide a link back to your blog!


Explaining the Birds and the Bees - writercize #124

A couple of weeks ago, I was enjoying a pleasant day at the California Science Center with my family, taking a break for lunch, when one of my four year old twins asked me, "Mamma, where did you buy me?"

A tad surprised by the question, since they are around pregnant women fairly often and know that babies reside in their mothers for several months prior to birth, I answered, "I didn't buy you; I made you."

"Oh, you made me?"


"But, *how* did you make me?"

"Let's talk more about it at home."

We were sitting right next to a table where there was a mom with her two year old and newborn, and I wasn't sure how appreciative she'd be of me sharing life's lessons that close by.

I have a feeling my daughter had imagined I had purchased tiny versions of each of them to insert into my belly and carry around for a few months before popping them right back out.

Naturally, when I got home I searched for ways to tell a preschooler that would be honest, direct, not overly informative in a manner that might potentially scare her, and open to questions.  I ordered a book that has yet to arrive (Mommy Laid an Egg by Babette Cole), and then sat both of the girls down a day or two later to ask if they still wanted to know the answer to their question.  

I told them that they were getting to be big kids, so they could learn about babies, but it's up to mommies and daddies to teach their kids, so they should keep the lesson off the preschool playground.  (See an approximation of what I told them under "read more" after the writercize directions.)  Of course they wanted to know.  One drifted away after a couple of seconds while the other listened intently and repeated key words.  After I was done talking, I asked if she had any questions, and she said "yes."

"Ok, what is it?"

"Did I wear a dress and shoes when I was born or was I naked in your belly?"

"You were naked."

"But then after I was born you put diapers and a dress on me?"


"Ok, good."  

That was it (for now) - she ran off to play with her sister.

writercize:  Pick a complicated subject for a preschooler (divorce, pregnancy, death) and break it down to an appropriate level for the audience.

I realize "appropriate" is a subjective word here.  Just share what works for you!  My example may seem too informative for some, but it falls within my personal goals in teaching them body awareness from the start.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about the birds and the bees, and the night you were conceived ...

#5MinuteFiction Finalist at Leah Petersen's Write Me

I take a break from writercize to let you know about a really cool weekly contest over at Leah Petersen's Write Me blog.  She gives a prompt and you have fifteen minutes to submit a piece of flash fiction, any style, any genre.  It takes place every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time.

This week I'm a finalist and would love it if you check it out.  And while you're there ... vote for someone!

Note - some responses may not be family friendly - there is often a mix of swearing, violence and adult content in the flash fiction, so fair warning for underagers!

Another writercize prompt is on its way tonight so check in later!  Thanks for indulging me in this quick break.


Create a Space - writercize #123

There are novels that focus on dialogue, novels that focus on a plot, and then there are novels that are really written to expose the atmosphere or location that they are set in, where the characters and story serve as backdrop to highlight the nuance of place.

Romantic versions of Italy and Ireland are abound in novels, as are India, Paris, New York and a handful more "otherworldly" places.  At times, the story and characters themselves are as strong as the novel, but other times the reader walks away with a vivid image of the place and rough memory of the characters.

Edward Rutherfurd is one author who focuses on place and builds characters and situations around the story of a city or country.  His stories fascinate because they give the reader an intimate knowledge of the vibe and history of a place.

Today's writercize challenges you to focus on one place in much simpler terms, with a single paragraph or two to describe a space.  If you can start small, and notice the details of something simple, you can eventually build on it to describe the bigger picture.  The reason Rutherfurd's books work is because they do not focus entirely on major landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge; they look to the random street corner or the crowded bar sitting just below the bridge to describe the nuances of place and time, of unique atmosphere, while the landmark is mentioned in passing for placement.

writercize:  Describe a place that you (or your fictional character) are drawn to for comfort, peace and quiet.  Use subtlety to make your safe haven come to life for the reader.  Think about sights, sounds and smells as you write.

(This writercize inspired by "safe haven," the Group Blogging Experience 2 word of the week.  Bloggers of all ages, backgrounds and experience welcome to join GBE2 on Facebook, run by Elizabeth Grace, Oct. 7 guest blogger.)

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about a tree from her childhood.


Emotional Color - writercize #122

I'm not sure of the reason or the origin, nor am I sure if we mirror other languages and societies in this aspect, but in the English language we seem to have an affinity for linking colors with emotion.  

"Green with envy."  "Feeling blue" as a euphemism for depression or sadness.  "Seeing red" to convey rage.  There is something about color that pairs nicely with an emotional image.

In a different spin on my next word game, I'm going to give you emotions and I want you to give me a color.  Next week we'll try reversing it.

writercize:  For each of the five emotions listed below, tell me the first color it brings to mind.
  • bored
  • surprised
  • serene
  • afraid
  • jealous

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.  Leave your own as a comment or provide a link back to your blog! 


Evaluate and Speculate (Occupy Wall Street) - writercize #121

One way to engage in the outside world, sharpen your writing skills and work on your powers of perception is to keep on top of current events.  When I watch the news, listen to the radio or read the newspaper, I am constantly asking follow-up questions in my head, finding the hole, looking for the true motivation or backstory behind the story.  

A journalist should be there to ask questions and translate the motivation to a larger audience, using nothing more than the story and the subjects' discussion point.  An editorial writer would look at a singular situation and relate it to the bigger picture of what is happening in the world, injecting some opinion.  A fiction writer could look at what is happening and what is being said and imagine what else is happening behind the scenes, what dialogue is happening inside of the subject's head beyond their words, what body language says and how that moment is one moment on a continuum of life experience.

Find your comfortable place in those roles above.  It may be a hybrid of two or more.  Write.

writercize:  Look at a current local, national or international event.  Evaluate the situation and translate what is happening to your reader.  Speculate if you feel compelled to do so.  Remember the Ws of journalism - who, what, where, when, why and how?

Click "read more" for the writercizer sample response on the timing of the "occupation" (Occupy Wall Street, etc.).


The Important Thing - writercize #120

The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the omnipresent Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny books, is an interesting book in that it gives the reader a glimpse into Brown's mind and how she deemed what is important about various objects and concepts.  It is a book without a story or a plot, but there is certainly a theme.

In the book, Brown evaluates such various things as a spoon, a cricket, the rain, the wind and a daisy, identifying each with their unique (or in some cases not so unique) characteristics as well as what she determines to be the "most important thing" about each.  In some cases, she hits the nail right on the head.  In others, I think that she misses the mark a bit.  Nonetheless, it is what is most important to her, and understanding that and who she is interests me.

One of her stronger observations:
"The important thing about the rain is that it is wet.
It falls out of the sky, and it sounds like rain, and makes things shiny,
and it does not taste like anything, and it is the color of air.
But the important thing about rain is that it is wet."

I don't necessarily like that she uses "sounds like rain" as a way to describe the rain ... I'm apprehensive about using a word in its own definition, but I do appreciate what she has determined to be the important thing about rain.

Her weaker observations seem to do with boiling items' importance down to their color.  She claims the most important thing about a cricket is that it is black.  I may have argued that it chirps, or it tells the temperature (seriously!  true story!  count the chirps in 15 seconds and add 37 to get the degrees fahrenheit).  She also argues that the most important thing about a daisy is that it is white.  Eh, not convinced.  I may have argued that it is a flower or signifies purity or that it is only open during the day under the rays of the sun, but the fact that it is white (and it's not even always white!) doesn't make the best argument to me.

Each segment begins with "the important thing about x is y" and ends with "but the important thing about x is y."  In the middle, she shares around 5-7 other observations about what an object or concept is and is not.  Today, I want you to reflect on a concept, what it means to you, and which of those "definitions" is the most important aspect.

writercize:  Pick a holiday and reflect on its meaning.  Write an imaginary page in "The Important Book" about that holiday.

A few options:  New Year's Eve / Day, Valentine's Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas, Hannukah, Eid, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Teacher Appreciation Day, Grandparents' Day, Chinese New Year, Easter, St. Patrick's Day, birthday, anniversary ... wow there are a lot of reasons to celebrate!

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response on a couple of fall holidays.  Leave your "Important Thing" as a comment or link to your blog!


On the Campaign Trail - writercize #119

Although Americans won't elect (or re-elect as the case may be) their next President for over a year, campaign season is already well under way with stubborn congressmen and women, political gaffes, the Republican debates, the vilification of opposing candidates and supporters by religion, economic status and education, the drama of speculation, and, every once in a while, an actual idea or plan on how to heal the hurting economy.

However, I think that at this point, most of the candidates are hoping and praying for one thing.  They hope that you don't listen to a word of their plans, and don't challenge them when being evasive.  The candidates know that they have to appeal to the extremes in the primaries and scale back to the centrists in the "real" election next fall, so they don't want to be cornered too forcefully into any one position.  Instead, they are looking for that magical plug, the right brand combined with the right slogan, to give their constituents hope, a feeling of relativity ... and ultimately sway their vote.

writercize:  Write a political slogan for a presidential campaign.  Think simple and direct.  Also, think relevant to our economic and social times.  

Don't worry, though the task may feel monumental, give it a try and don't be afraid of a little change and evolution as you reflect on your choice. 

To inspired you, some proven examples - Obama: Yes, We Can!  Interestingly, GW Bush ran on "Yes, America Can!" just four years earlier.  Clinton: It's the Economy, Stupid.  For more examples, dating back further than any of my blog readers, or known persons still walking on this earth, all the way to 1840, visit Presidential Campaign Slogans.  It seems the most successful leave out the candidate's name (Perot failed: Ross for Boss) and focus more on the voters than the candidate (Dole failed: The Better Man for a Better America.

Click "read more" for a few writercizer sample responses.  Not quite ready to commit to any of them as shower epiphany worthy, but the flow has begun.  Find the star next to my current fave.

Leave your own Presidential campaign slogan pitch, or two, or three as a comment!


Next Word - writercize #118

Next Word is a game that I bring back to writercize about once a month or so.  It's a really simple word association game - I give you five words and for each you give me the first word that comes to mind.  It's as easy as word play can get, but the fascinating thing about it is seeing how differently all of us process words and thoughts!  

writercize:  Write the first word that comes to mind for each of the following words.
  • pen
  • glue
  • rumble
  • stunt
  • relief
Leave your response as a comment - if you care to explain the relationship between your words please do!  It's always nice to see the back story.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Life's A Dance - writercize #117

Although not a fan of reality TV shows in general, there are admittedly a few that I've grown attached to.  Dancing With The Stars and Project Runway keep me adequately (and addictively) entertained by drawing me into the story of the "star" while presenting the contestants with a solid challenge each week. I like it when there is a purpose for the show. 

I don't mind that none of the celebrities are A-list, or even B-list, on Dancing with the Stars - I enjoy how the show exposes their lives and relationships with their dance partners, and I really like that I now have the ability to recognize which dance they will perform nine times out of ten by looking at their costume. Coming from no more than a background of elementary school dabbling in ballet, jazz, modern and highland dancing, followed by a couple of years of cheerleading in high school, this feels like a grand accomplishment to me. Don't ask me to teach the dance or follow a partner yet, but that may come one day in another ten seasons or so.

As it is Monday, and therefore Dancing with the Stars night, I thought I'd bring a little dance to writercize.  Tonight it's all about marrying a dance with the written word.  No doubt you've heard dance as a way to illustrate an idea - "it takes two to tango" - "he waltzed into her life" - so tonight you get to play with any dance you like.

writercize:  Use dance as the inspiration for a short scene, sentence of prose or poem.  You may set your character/poem in a dancing situation, or use dance terminology as a way to impart emotion and tension into your writing.

Click "read more" for a short sample response by writercize.  To participate, leave your writercize as a comment or leave a link to your response on your blog!


Balancing Act - writercize #116

Did you catch the Guest Post yesterday by Beth Grace of Word Nerd Speaks?  It was a good one!  I double-dog challenge you to try out her 55-word writercize.  Leave your attempt as a comment, and then head over to visit Beth's blog for more of her voice!

Now, on to today ... I always love a simple character study, based off of minimal information.  It's fascinating how deeply writers can jump into a person's alleged psyche and personal life by watching small cues.  Often, the life invented is probably far more imaginative, exciting, tragic, romantic (insert appropriate adjective here) than the reality, but that's the fun of it all!

My challenge to you today is to take a simple bit of information and create a character and the situation that has driven them to this moment of time.

writercize:  A man stands on a ledge in the middle of a bridge, balanced just so that he doesn't fall.  There are witnesses positioned nearby.  He has closed his eyes for a moment and raised his head slightly to the sky.

What is his story?  Who is he and why is he there?

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Guest Writercize #1 - Elizabeth Grace

I am very excited to host Beth today at writercize.  Beth is the leader of the Group Blogging Experience, better known by it's acronym and twitter hash #GBE2.  She is also a fabulous writer, energetic reader and the winner of a slogan contest I hosted here several months ago!

Please welcome Beth and try out her very challenging, intriguing writercize.  I have to say I am very excited to see what you come up with. 

Without further ado, I give you - Beth!

First of all, thank you, Alana, for allowing me to take over your blog for a day. I always enjoy your posts and love that you consistently find creative ways for writers to keep limber as we try out your Writercizes!

My blog, Word Nerd Speaks is about a little bit of everything. I’ve been a professional writer for decades, but in all that time, my absolute favorite gig was as a daily columnist for a good-sized family of community newspapers. When the paper closed its doors, I mourned. I loved being able to jabber about whatever was on my mind on a given day and really loved that my work seemed to elicit lots of feedback from readers. These days, I do my jabbering on the blog, and I still welcome and appreciate comments from those who are kind enough to pop by to read what I have to say.

Now for my Writercize offering! When it comes to good storytelling, less is often more, so I’d like to propose an exercise that will require writers to choose their words judiciously, careful to see that each one is there for a reason. The Writercize is called “Ten to One” and the idea is as follows:

Participants are asked to write a complete story in exactly fifty-five words. The first line should have ten words, the second nine, the third eight, and so on until the last sentence, consisting of a single word, completes the story. 
Here’s mine (mine as in Beth's):
Truck Stop
She knew what he’d order: peach pie and coffee, black.
He set his fork down and smiled at her.
You spend too much time alone, he said.
She rolled her eyes and nodded. Yep.
I’m hauling a load to Tulsa.
You could come with me.
She folded her apron.
I’d like that.
Sign flipped.

(There are still some guest spots available.  Click here to read the guidelines and sign up.)


Full Circle - writercize #115

I'm told all stories should have a beginning, middle and end.  I've come across a few without all three, but in general most decent writers seem to adhere to this basic principle.  

I've also read that occasionally, it's a good idea to tie the end in with the beginning, by returning full circle to the opener.  I must agree with "occasionally" because I could see that formula getting old if repeated too often.  That said, repeating a sentence in the beginning and end of a story can be a useful practice tool (or perfect way intro into the horror genre) to make sure that your story related from beginning to end.  I also think it's helpful for children learning to read and write, because it's a way for them to answer a question, which is really what writing is all about - fiction or non-fiction.

Imagine a kid asking a question - Why is the sun bright?  A parent or teacher may answer something about the burning gasses and reflection of light and whatever else factors into a bright sunny day and round out the question with an affirmative, "and that is why the sun is bright."

In that way, asking a child to write a full circle story where a single sentence is repeated in the beginning and end can help them along their way to literacy.

writercize:  Begin and end a short story (fiction or non-fiction ok) with the following sentence:  "The clock struck one."

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response, and check back tomorrow for the first guest post of the year by Word Nerd Speaks!


Truth and Lies - writercize #114

Truth and Lies is an ice breaker party game in which a person shares several true statements with a lie, and challenges strangers to figure out where the truth lies.  (Pun sort of intended...)

Beyond a bit of fun reflection on life, the joy of truth and lies for a writer is in the presentation of it all.  It's fun to figure out how to trick the guesser, and it's up to the teller to choose whether to share extraordinarily simple tales or highly intricate outlandish novellas.  The key is to keep the tone consistent and stick within a theme.  (You might pick family or pet names, personal medical history, school stories, work tales, broken relationships - pick one and stay on topic to cause optimal confusion.)

Since this post is scheduled and I'm traveling in Massachusetts, a far cry from my current home of Redondo Beach, California, I decided to go with a travel theme.

writercize:  Pick a topic and write several truths and a lie from your life experience.  Leave your truths and lie as a comment.  I'll guess yours and you can guess mine! 

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.  (The truth of my lie will be revealed Friday.)


October Brings GUEST POSTS to Writercize

I'm very excited about the new guest posts coming to writercize, starting this Friday!  

There are a few slots open for this year, so I welcome you to view the posting guidelines over at Be My Guest and leave a comment with the date you're interested in or write to me at alanagwrites(at)gmail(dot)com.

Guests are asked to post their favorite writercize and sample response!