Take Five - writercize #189 #AtoZChallenge #FlashFiction

Five words is a writercize that I post every so often where I give you five words to use in a poem or short story. 

It is based on a writing prompt that my mom gave me when I was a young girl to help pass the time on airplanes and in cars, and to keep me in the educational mood during summers. She would write down a series of words in my notebook and encourage me to journal based on those words. It was not a creative fiction exercise at the time; the words were closely related to what we had done that day, but it stuck with me as a very useful exercise.

Take Five, today's writercize, takes the five words concept and twists it with a five minute time limit. I encourage you to go fictional, but if you are drawn to the words in a non-fiction or poetic way, go for it. The time limit puts the exercise squarely in a #FlashFiction state of mind.

For those unfamiliar with #FlashFiction, the net is rife with challenges and competitions on blogs that encourage bloggers and writers to write a short story with a quick turn-around. 

Some use photo prompts, some specific words, some first sentences, or combination of the above. Some set a limit with minimum or maximum words and others with an instant time limit. 

I host a weekend #FlashFiction here called #WeekendWritercize with rules that vary weekly (on hold until May 6 due to A to Z), but I highly recommend checking out any of the #FlashFiction challenges that follow today's writercize. 

It is a fabulous way to write in community, get inspired by other bloggers and push your personal writing limits!

writercize: Write a poem or short story using all of the following five words:
  • sympathy
  • contempt
  • melt
  • wisdom
  • day
There is no minimum or maximum word limit, but watch the clock and write quickly! Five minutes max.

More #FlashFiction Around the Web:

Monday: Cara Michaels' #MenageMonday @caramichaels
Tuesday: Glitter Web #TuesdayTales @theglitterlady
Tuesday eve: Nicole Wolverton #5MinuteFiction @nicolewolverton
Wednesday: Lisa McCourt Hollar 55 Word Challenge @jezri1
Friday: Jen D #FridayPictureShow @JenD_author
Weekends: Right Here Of Course! #WeekendWritercize @alanagarrigues

This is NOT an exhaustive list, but these are some of my faves to play in. Sign up to follow these people on twitter to get reminder tweets.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Sell It! - writercize #188 #AtoZChallenge

Image courtesy morgueFile

What sells? How do we choose how to part with our money?

  • Do you want to buy a pizza because it is a meal measuring 10 inches in diameter with a couple of toppings, or do you want to buy a pizza because it is a fun and creative way to put dinner on the table?
  • Are you going to sign a contract with a wedding photographer because she shoots 500 photos in six hours and delivers them digitally, or because she gets the photo-journalism vibe you are going for and has a winning smile?
  • Do you pick a cell phone based on the gigabytes of memory and address book capabilities or the hip techie feeling you get when you talk with the sales person and hold the phone in your hand?
  • Is your purse a place to store your wallet and keys, or does the brand and design say something to the world about who you are?
  • When picking high heels, do you go for the practical pumps or the lofty lifts?
  • When it is time to buy an apple, do you head to the closest grocery store and pick up a Red Delicious, or do you seek out a Whole Foods or the farmers' market?

There are two major components to every purchase we make: the facts and the image.

You can't change the facts. A product is a certain shape, size, color, weight and it will remain that shape, size, color and weight. There may be 100 other products with that same shape, size, color and weight. So, how do we choose?

Price probably has something to do with it, as does convenience. If one store or brand is easier for you to access, you may be drawn in a particular direction.

But, there is no denying that people are willing to pay a premium on one of two similar products (shoes, purses, perfume, food) based on the perception of a brand's quality or image. 

Take that apple, for instance. Pretend that same apple, from the same farm, is organic at all three stores. (For arguments' sake.) Now, say nearest store sells that apple for $0.30, Whole Foods for $0.45 and the farmers' market for $0.40. What is it about that organic apple that will make a person choose one of the two more expensive options? 

Image. The consumer who wants to shop local and finds joy in communicating directly with the farm will choose the market. The consumer who wants to make a statement about being healthy and supporting a pesticide-free world will choose Whole Foods. The consumer who looks at price and convenience and doesn't care about anything besides getting that apple into his/her hands will go to the nearest store.

We make choices in our lives based on image all the time. A consumer with $25,000 to spend on a car will have several options with regards to mileage, auto body shape and safety features, but chances are they will only select one or two brands and approach those dealerships.

There are several banks vying for our checking and savings accounts, all with similar fees and account options, all FDIC insured to protect our money, but one will have the advertising or account manager that ultimately wins our trust. It's not a difference of .01% interest that makes us decide, it is a feeling, an image.

Advertisers are banking on consumers making decisions based on image, and they are ready and willing to sell it to you. Copywriters make a living writing about the image of products with the ultimate goal to boost a company's sales. They know it's all in the wording and presentation.

Classified ads are no different. Do you want to rent a home that is "small" or "cozy?" Buy a couch that is "stained" or "shows light wear and tear?" Do you want to buy a car that is "old" or "a classic?"

Today, use your words to sell a product. 

writercize: Look around you for a normal, mundane product, such as an envelope or pen. Now sell it!

Alternatively, pick a luxury item such as a necklace, car or perfume, something with a good deal of competition at a similar price point, and sell it!

Click "read more" for writercize sample response about a pencil.


Rewrite - writercize #187 #AtoZChallenge

A couple of months ago I attended a writing workshop led by the fabulous Nutschell of the blog The Writing Nut for Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles (CBW-LA) and one of the exercises I walked away with involved paraphrasing a passage in a novel in your own voice. Basically, tell the same story, but rewrite it in your own style.

Style is something that we have. It is the writing that comes naturally to us. It involves the way we organize our words and our thoughts, the language we use, the point of view we prefer. It is the intangible, yet very real, thumbprint of a writer.

To do this, Nutschell gave each of us a worksheet with several first paragraphs from recognizable books. She had us see how many of them we could recognize (book title and/or author) from the passage.

Once we identified the voice of the author, she had us take ten minutes to rewrite in our own voice, our own style. This is a great exercise for writers to use in order to practice our writing. It helps us in a couple of regards. 

For one, we can play with things like tone and verbiage and point of view without having to come up with the story on top of everything else. 

For another, it helps us get past that hump of writing like the book we just read. 

(We're chameleons, and whether we like it or not, we are influenced by what we read. I like to think I'm less influenced now than I used to be, but when I pick up my writings from 1st through 7th grade, I can tell you exactly which novel or book series I was reading when I wrote my story because either the story or the voice is so similar. A LOT of babysitting stories in the days of The Babysitter's Club, a fair amount of influence from Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley Twins, and then the random influence of books like Trumpet of the Swan, Charlotte's Web, Harriot the Spy and authors like Roald Dahl and Madeleine L'Engle.)

Today, I invite you to rewrite a paragraph from a recognizable book in your own voice. You can pick any of the three paragraphs that follow, or pick a favorite book you have at home.

writercize: Rewrite one of the following passages in your own voice, or use a passage from a book you have at home. Feel free to split it up into more than one paragraph, elaborate, or cut down! Just be sure to take it into your voice.

  • "When Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son arrived, everybody noticed he was not much bigger than a mouse. The truth of the matter was, the baby looked very much like a mouse in every way. He was only about two inches high; and he had a mouse's sharp nose, a mouse's tail, a mouse's whiskers, and the pleasant shy manner of a mouse." - from Stuart Little by E.B. White
  • "It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. and we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws. The laws say that men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so. May we be forgiven!" - from Anthem by Ayn Rand

Have fun with it! Leave your writercize rewrite as a comment - I love to see what people come up with! Please be sure to leave your URL so I can pay you a visit as well.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response based on Stuart Little (excerpt and sample response from that workshop).


Quirky Characters - writercize #186 #AtoZChallenge

When creating a fictional character, it is of my humble opinion that one should always infuse a certain amount of quirkiness into the character's being. Whether you want to show your reader that character's quirky side or not is up to you, but if you truly know your character, you know the funky little things they do.

Why quirky?

Well, it certainly makes a person more lovable. I had a roommate once upon a time, whom I will not name, but state I no longer keep in touch with this person (just in case any of my old roomies are reading this and wondering if it is you - it's not!), who was a bit of a tight ass. She was polite enough, and smart enough, and honestly charming enough on the surface level, but she walked a bit of a tightrope between Debbie Downer and Serious Sue. She just couldn't let loose and laugh, and I always felt every word out of my mouth was being judged and calculated. She absolutely could not make a mistake and took perfectionist to the extreme. Oddly enough, talking to our other roommate years later, each of us had felt strongly that this particular roommate preferred the others' company and disliked us!

Anyway, one day as I was taking a long walk with this particular roommate, she opened up and told me something odd about her hands. I don't totally remember what it was anymore, but it had something to do with blue nails and cold fingertips and nerves and insecurities. And in that moment, knowing this odd quirky thing about how her hands reacted physically to any emotional insecurities she was dealing with, I decided that I really liked her. That tiny bit of insight made her human and real and vulnerable, and I adored her. She went from being this uptight, cold shoulder robot to a real person who was just as annoyed about hiding herself with her uptight ways as I was living with them.

Sometimes quirks do just that, make a person more human. Sometimes quirks make a person easier to relate to. Sometimes, quirks make people more charming, like Zooey Deschanel's character in Yes Man. Sometimes quirks make people annoying. Sometimes, quirks confuse people, like Claire Dunphy in Modern Family who inadvertently smiles when giving bad news.

We all have quirks, little things like tapping our toes or averting our eyes, or talking too fast when we meet people, or avoiding black cats and ladders. Some little thing that our conscious mind just can't quite control. Figure out what your character does, his/her "tell" as it were for poker players, and see how it plays out in the character's career and relationships.

Our quirks are often complex in relationship, those things that first attract and then repel. Classic things that first make us unique and then make us too different. 

Think of a guy with, say, a collection of old Hot Wheels. Maybe kind of cool at first, makes the girl dig his playful side and see the kid at heart, perhaps see a potential for some good cash from collectors on eBay when time comes to give up the bachelor pad. Then super annoying when dinner conversations turn to Hot Wheels makes and models and the cars that he wishes they had produced. Quirky.

writercize: Give your character something 2-3 quirks to work with, something to make them unique. It is best if it is a trait that has the power to both endear and annoy, depending on the relationship and circumstances.

You can do this to create a new character, or you can pick a character in your story to finesse.

Leave your writercize as a comment and be sure to leave your website so I can come pay you a visit! I am a bit behind on visiting blogs with A to Z and quite a bit of travel this month, but I will make it sooner or later and love to see your creative juices flowing!

Click "read more" for writercize sample response.


PSA: Earth Day - writercize #185 #AtoZChallenge

My P post is the same theme as my entry for last year's A to Z Challenge - PSA: Earth Day. Same theme, same writercize, different background and writercize sample.

A PSA is a Public Service Announcement, which basically means an advertisement to raise awareness about the "greater good," greater good meaning anything of moral or social consequence that is deemed important enough to communicate to society for waived advertising fees generally imposed by the media.

PSAs can come in many forms, from radio announcements to TV commercials to magazine ads, and they can cover any number of topics. Drug awareness, drunk driving prevention, smoking prevention, speaking out against domestic violence, standing up to bullying, condom use to prevent STDs and teen pregnancy, pet care, breastfeeding.

Generally, a PSA reflects the government's priorities with respect to values. Occasionally, PSAs are part of legal decisions for companies. Cigarette companies are required by law to produce anti-smoking ads.

A good PSA is memorable and conveys a clear message.

"This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?" - (image: egg, egg on a frying pan) - anti-drugs
"Buckle up, dummies." - (image: crash test dummies getting in car crashes)

The Ad Council has several current examples of PSAs, as does the Best Ads Ever fan site (look to the latter for humorous takes).

courtesy morguefile.com
In honor of the 31st Earth Day, coming up on April 22, I invite you to pick any earthy topic (water conservation, energy conservation, alternative energy, litter, recycling, composting, urban farming, etc.) and drum up your very own PSA. 

writing exercise:  Pick a lesson of Earth Day and write a short, catchy Public Service Announcement (PSA) to educate the public.  

Please leave your PSA as a comment and be sure to leave your website address so that I can visit you too! I am excited to see what you come up with.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response.


Next Word - writercize #183 #AtoZChallenge

Next word is a game I play once a month or so here at writercize. 

It is a simple word association game meant to loosen the brain and dump out some words. The rules are easy. I give you a word, and you give me the first word that comes to mind. Explanation optional. 

Fans of the Step by Step show back in the nineties may remember the character Cody spewing out word associations, which very well may have planted the seed in my mind. 

Example: I give you the word table, you may say ... dining, or stop, or restaurant, or chair, or elements ... all answers would be correct. Cody would have taken it ten words deep, but I only ask you for one. 

I love to see how meaning is in the eyes of the beholder and get a glimpse into how different minds work. If you want an extra bonus writing twist, create a story using all of your "next words." 

writercize: Tell me the first word that comes to mind for each of the following words: 
  • pop 
  • shake 
  • wood 
  • curl 
  • rock 

Please leave your next words in a comment. I love to see all the different answers! Be sure to leave your website so I can pay you a visit. 

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response. 


Myers-Briggs Personality - writercize #182 #AtoZChallenge

Please note the #WeekendWritercize is on hold until May. I love all the entries that come in and want to give them all the attention they deserve, and with 26 posts the month of April and nearly 2000 blogs to visit with the #AtoZChallenge, I have made the decision to place the weekly challenge on hold. Look for it to come back with a vengeance (hint, hint?) on May 6!

I do a lot of volunteer work and work on committees, and this week a discussion of the Myers-Briggs personality test came up, something I haven't thought about since my days in business school many years ago. 

The Myers-Briggs test is a personality test that divides people into sixteen (surprisingly accurate) groups. Corporations like to use Myers-Briggs to see if an employee will be a good match for a particular job, but it can also be used to understand overall strengths and weaknesses of a person and how they act in marriage, friendships, as parents, etc.

I am not sure which age a Myers-Briggs reading can be considered accurate, but I took it when I was 21 and I don't believe it has changed in more than a decade. 

Most writers supposedly test INFP, a.k.a. idealists. They are introverted, intuitive, feeling and perceiving. 

Here's the short list of INFP from PersonalityPage (linked above): "Quiet, reflective, and idealistic. Interested in serving humanity. Well-developed value system, which they strive to live in accordance with. Extremely loyal. Adaptable and laid-back unless a strongly-held value is threatened. Usually talented writers. Mentally quick, and able to see possibilities. Interested in understanding and helping people"

I do not test INFP or fit the writer profile. 

I test ENTP, a.k.a. visionary, and the description fits me like a glove. Switch that I to an E, and you get a (marginal for me) extrovert, and switch the F to a T and you get a thinker rather than a feeler. 

I am a person who loves to lead, but hates to control the way people do things. Loves to come up with ideas and the plan, but balks at following through. Time and schedules are flexible; structure freaks me out. I *need* surprise and spontaneity sprinkled into my life, or I wither with boredom and a lack of inspiration after. 

For me, life is all about shades of gray, vision and connections. It's about creating something new.  I would prefer to leave the details to someone else. I also have a very difficult time finishing things that I start, and daily routines drive me batty. 

I love debate, and my closest friends often have fundamentally different ideas politically or on select social issues. I appreciate the insight and opinion they can provide to give me a glimpse of the other side. I love big ideas and piecing together different bits of information and opinions to find the story. Perhaps a reason I am drawn to journalism, where I don't have to come up with the story, I just have to uncover what is already there.

Because repetition and finishing are tough, the A to Z Challenge is truly a challenge, and I do allow myself to slip a day here and there with the promise to myself that by April 30, I will have 26 posts reflecting each of the letters, and I will have visited at least one third of the blogs listed on the challenge sign up. It is a challenge, but it is a short-term challenge, and one that I relish.

I would love to know if you are familiar with your Myers-Briggs, or if you have assigned characters in your stories Myers-Briggs. I think it would be fascinating to take characters in your novels and take the test as your character, to see where they fall and some of the traits they may express. It could give you insight that you would not have otherwise considered! 

You can take some versions of the Myers-Briggs online for free, although they are not the real deal, so it may not accurately reflect your personality. Certainly for characters in novels, it could still offer valuable insight.

writercize: Use the Myers-Briggs finding to delve into a character study (of yourself or a character in a novel). 

Please share your personal story or character study and provide a link to your blog so I can come visit! I would love to hear what you have to say

Writercizer sample response coming soon!  (Yep, that whole finishing thing ... !)  ;)  But, until I do post further, consider my ENTP description above my character study.


Linked - writercize #181 #AtoZChallenge

First off, let me apologize to everyone who has been entering a word verification for comments to my blog! I just turned it off again for probably the fifth time over the past year and can't figure out why it keeps defaulting back to the word verification! If you have read this post and notice a CAPTCHA pop up in the future, please let me know because it is NOT meant to be on this blog! 

Second, due to the busy schedule of A to Z, I am finding it difficult to keep up with judging and posting #WeekendWritercize results, so I have decided to suspend it for the rest of the month of April. Look for a strong comeback in May! For those unfamiliar with the #WeekendWritercize, it is a flash fiction competition that starts Saturday morning and closes Sundays at midnight Pacific time. Check out the tab for more info.

 Ok, now ... onto the meat of the linked challenge. Sometimes we run across two items or people that clearly do not look like they belong together. 

For example, I found a clawfoot bathtub in an open field while hiking at the foot of the Alps. Very odd. 

Or think of Hugh Hefner and his teenage bunnies. Were he not famous, an elderly man nuzzling the neck of a young buxom vixen would certainly prompt some questions. 

How about a cowboy at the Opera? Or a Ferrari at a rodeo? 

For today's exercise, think of a couple of things that don't quite fit together and find the link between them. You can come up with the two unrelated items or people on your own, or you can pick from a few prompts below. 

writercize: Find and explain the link between two seemingly unrelated people or items found together. 

Here are a few options to get you started: 
  • wedding ring in a shoe store 
  • wine glass in kindergarten classroom 
  • yuppie and hippie 
  • homeless man and soccer coach 
  • cassette tape at Apple store 
  • baseball bat in bowling alley 
  • textbook and picture book 
  • scarecrow on skyscraper rooftop 
  • indiginous amazonian tribal member on great wall of china 
  • Queen of England and American farmer 

Pick any of the unrelated pairs above, or create your own, and create a reason they are together! 

Post as a comment, and be sure to link to your blog so that I can visit! 

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response. 


Knowledge - writercize #180 #AtoZChallenge

In writing, as in much of life, it is important to have at least a basic knowledge of what you are talking about.

Journalists must interview subjects and research the background of a story. Non-fiction writers need to thoroughly examine their topic's history, influences, major players, current trends. 

Even fiction writers need to understand what their character experiences, whether it be a thorough knowledge of the city they live in or the job they possess. A novel set in New York will look and sound different from a novel set in Moscow. An ice cream truck driver has a different set of experiences and industry lingo from an accountant. If the writer is not intimately familiar with such details, s/he should research, ask questions and acquire the necessary knowledge.

Knowledge makes a story believable.

One friend of mine wrote her novel set in a town in England, despite never having set foot in the town. How did she do it? Google Maps street view. Upon finishing the novel, she celebrated with a visit to the town and found a couple of alterations still needed to be made to be realistic to the town's design, but her research gave her a step up in bringing the town to life.

Your first draft may not require heavy research. You may be the type of writer who just goes for it, lets your fingers do the story-telling and send your brain in to edit later. That is fine. You can get the story out and go back to legitimize the details later. Just make sure you get the research done before you go so far as to submit a query.

The lovely thing about research and acquiring knowledge is that even when you don't have a story in your mind or on paper, the simple act of researching something that you are interested in can spur a story or a character.

Writers are lucky people in that way! We can spend our day as chameleons, all in the name of research. Interested in candle making? Take a class or visit an artisan! Want to know about weather patterns in the South Pacific? Google it! Need to reference a famous artist's work? Go to the museum! Need to know about sailing? Find the blog of an around the world sailing enthusiast.

Absorb everything around you, and seek out information. Ask people you meet about their lives and what they care about. It will help your work.

Today, I encourage you to take the day off writing and do some research instead.

writercize: Pick a topic that interests you, but you do not know much about, and research it. 

If you are currently working on a novel or non-fiction work, look for a way to re-energize it with additional knowledge on the subject.

One word to the wise - approach your research, particularly that on the internet, with a grain of salt. If something doesn't make sense, ask yourself why and keep looking.

Good luck, and enjoy learning!


Just Joking Around - writercize #179 #AtoZChallenge

Why'd the guitarist cross the park? To get to the other slide!

One day a rope walked into a bar. He moseyed on up to the bar and took a seat.
"Bartender, I'd like a drink."
"I'm sorry sir, but we don't serve rope at this here bar."
The rope slid off his chair and slithered right back out of the bar.
He turned the corner and tied himself in a bow, scraping up his ends in the process, then marched right back into the bar.
He sidled on up to the bar and and took that seat."
"Bartender, I'd like a drink."
Irritated now, the bartender replies, "I'm sorry, sir, but aren't you that string I just talked to a couple minutes ago?"
"Why no, sir, I'm a frayed knot!"

(a frayed knot = afraid not ... get it??)

Q: What's the difference between ignorance and apathy?
A: I don't know ... and I don't care. 

I wrote one of these and borrowed the others. Can you tell which is which? Mine is definitely the most amateur of the three, in my opinion, but if you are tricked I am honored!

Writing a joke is really hard stuff. I applaud comedic writers and stand-up comedians. Subtle humor sprinkled into a story is a little easier, but a joke is like linguistic slap-stick. It's all about the timing and connection to the audience, and introducing unexpected twists. 

from morguefile.com free images
I googled "how to write a joke" in preparing for this post and discovered there are as many techniques as there are comedians. Probably more, since a few tutorials didn't look very funny. ;) There were, however, a few rules of thumb that popped up across stand up sites.
  • Pick a topic.
  • Write everything funny you could possibly say about that topic to brainstorm.
  • When you start writing the joke, keep it as short as possible. Set up your story in the first two lines.
  • Expose truth: what is weird, scary, stupid or hard about a topic? (from Kelly Swanson)
  • Make the punchline a surprise.
  • Don't try to hard to be funny in the set up. Keep the humor for the punchline.
  • When starting out, use tried and true techniques such as blonde jokes, "difference between" jokes, knock knock jokes, chickens who cross roads, three people walk into a bar jokes, crossing unrelated objects, etc.
  • Accept that it will need a lot of tweaking to get it right.

Got it? Ok, let's get writercizing!

writercize: Tell me a joke (or two or three). Please be original. 

Extra bonus happy dance points if I laugh out loud!

Good luck! Leave your writercize as a comment, and be sure to leave your URL so I can come visit you!

Click "read more" for a writercizer sample response ... and to reveal the joke above that is indeed a writercize original.


Insult Rounds - writercize #178 #AtoZChallenge

A couple of weeks ago as I was making my list of A to Z topics, I was in a bit of a funk after a series of grocery store run-ins with rather nutty people. 

First, there was the woman in line who scowled and coldly told me to keep "the children" (which read in her tone more like "the mutts," "the aliens," or "the disgusting small creatures I am horrified to be subjected to") away from her, despite the fact there were at least 15 feet and my body between her and my bitties. Guess she was allergic to kids.

Then, the next day was the incident of the drunken overgrown frat boy in his mid-40s or so who walked out of Trader Joe's at high noon, put his groceries in the trunk, and proceeded to walk to the wall in front of the car where I was loading my kids, drop his zipper and pee all over the wall. Again, noon. Broad daylight. On the side of a store with a very nicely equipped restroom inside.


I am not one for shouting or insults, and I was sufficiently shocked by both incidents to give dirty looks and leave it alone there, but I was wishing I had just the right barbs to throw back at both. Particularly the woman. The man I had plenty to say to, but was a little nervous he would turn and give the girls a bigger show than I was prepared for, so I honked as I drove away instead, and about a dozen people turned to stare and shout to him once my kids were safely out of the viewing area.

Instead, I kept my comebacks to both in my head.

Insults can be a lot of fun to write, and really spice up your dialogue. The literary king of insults, to me, was none other than William Shakespeare. If you are familiar with his insult prowess, you will recognize many of his insults were loosely tied to the character's career or place in society.

Here are a few examples, from the website Shakespeare Insults.

  • "I do desire we may be better strangers." - As We Like It
  • "The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes." - Corianus
  • "A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition." - King Lear (Ouch!!!)
  • "Thou art a Castilian King urinal!" - The Merry Wives of Windsor

There is also a fun Shakespearean insult randomizer at Shakespearean Insulter if you want to be surprised one insult at a time.

If you always thought Shakespeare was difficult to understand, look through his insults and you'll find he is actually pretty modern and understandable in his ability to cut a person down, and topics are common. He focuses on sex, food, intellect and potty talk for the majority of his jabs.

Now, mind you, I do not endorse going forward and insulting people in real life. However, I think that playing with insults in your writing and dialogue, even journaling, can inspire great creativity and release some of the stressors of everyday life!

image courtesy bobmobile photobucket
writercize: Pick a career type - real or imagined (i.e. actor, doctor, lawyer, teacher, plumber, housewife, farmer, dentist, superhero). 

Now create an insulting dialogue between two competitive people in that career field, using creative references to the career or character prototype in the exchange when possible.

If you can't make a dialogue, feel free to write insulting one-liners for the chosen career instead!

I have no doubt many of you will be able to knock this one out of the ballpark. It's definitely a challenge for me, but I look forward to some catharsis.

Leave your writercize as a comment and be sure to include a link to your blog so I can come visit you!

Note: I will delete any content that is offensive on the basis of religion, politics, age, sex, race or skin color. This is just for fun playing with career insults, so please keep it relatively light and on point.

Please click "read more" for writercizer sample response about an exchange between two mailmen.


Haiku How-To - writercize #177 #AtoZChallenge

Haiku symbol, per lisamorlock.com
A haiku is a poem with Japanese roots that abides by a particular rhythm (at least as it has been translated into American English form). 

The (again, American English version) poem consists of one stanza with three lines. The first is five syllables, the second is seven, and the third is back to five. I have very distinct memories of haiku building in third and fourth grade.

A how-to is an instructive guide that tells you how to do ... something.

As I love to mix and match things here at writercize, I would like to challenge you to write a very short how-to in haiku.

writercize: Using the haiku format of three lines and a 5,7,5 syllable pattern, write instructions on how to accomplish the task of your choice.

It can be any sort of task, from cooking to cleaning to writing to car maintenance ... literally wherever your mind takes you! Fair warning, once you start, it can be addictive.

Leave your writercize as a comment, and please do include a link back to your blog so I can pay you a visit!

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response haiku how-to poems about: how to make a PB & J, how to tie shoelaces and how to write a haiku.


Gifted - #WeekendWritercize 10 #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to Week 10 of the #WeekendWritercize competition!
Join in and spread the word! 
(and follow me on Twitter for updates: @alanagarrigues)

For the month of April, the #WeekendWritercize is linked up with the A to Z Challenge, so the first letter of the #WeekendWritercize title will follow the A to Z schedule. If you are visiting via A to Z, I encourage you to join in this fun #FlashFiction challenge!

writercize: Write a scene in which a character opens the front door to find a box. It is labeled like a gift, but it is unexpected and the exterior of the box does not indicate the giver.

To enter the competition, leave your entry as a comment below. Be sure to include your Twitter handle and link to your blog or website. Tweet and Facebook fellow entries using the hashtag #WeekendWritercize.

Since this blog is used by teachers and students, I kindly request that you abstain from profanity and gratuitous violence. (In other words, keep it PG-13.) If your story can't be told without, just provide a link to your post on your own website along with a disclaimer.

Competition closes at 11:59 p.m. Sunday night (Pacific time). Winner announced sometime Monday, often knocking on midnight's door.

This week's winner and honorable mention(s) will receive a #WeekendWritercize Winner badge to proudly display on their website.


First Kisses - writercize #176 #AtoZChallenge

Ready for a little romance? How about comedy? Or perhaps a brush with that gangly, awkward teenage feeling? Why not write a scene about a first kiss?

First kisses hold so much expectation, and there are so many variables at play with timing and chemistry and ambiance that there can't be many more emotionally charged and challenging scenes to play with.

The first boy who kissed me did so at a movie theater. In the back row "so the crowds isn't annoyed if I laugh too loud." I liked him enough; he was outspoken and took conversational risks which piqued my quieter self's curiosity. But as kisses go, I so wasn't into the timing of it all. It was like, blech, all these people around and I'm really trying to watch the movie! Try again, silly boy!

Tap into that side of you that loves the romance, comedy or angst of first kisses and write it out.

If you completely cringe at the idea of writing of romance, feel free to share a story of a different type of first kiss, such as that from a parent to child, child to parent, new car owner to vehicle ... whatever strikes you.

writercize: Create a fictional (or non-fictional) scene about a first kiss.

Think about all those things that happen like distractions and nose bumps and inaccurate assumptions, and suck everything you can out of them for inspiration!

Leave your story as a comment, and be sure to leave your blog's URL so I can visit you too!  

****Note: Two of my readers e-mailed me to let me know they are having difficulty leaving a comment (THANK YOU!) so, if you have trouble and feel inclined to comment, you can leave a remark on the blog's Facebook page and I will visit you back. I'll try to figure out what else is going on with blogger.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about a non-romantic sort of first kiss.


Extra! Extra! - writercize #175 #AtoZChallenge

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Even as newspapers shrink and succumb to technology, alongside paperbacks and compact discs, there is a place for quality journalism.

A journalist has the responsibility to withold opinion and expose and convey truth in every story. Fact should be the basis for measuring a quality story.

While a columnist or an editorial writer can opine or suppose, a journalist should work diligently to expose all sides of a story and refrain from telling the reader which one is "right."

What makes a good story? Simple. Comprehensive, accurate reporting, and a solid structure.

I freelance for a local weekly in the South Bay of LA where I cover local government. While some think city council meetings are drab, I find their banter and their give and take and fascinating. To tell the story and convey the mood, I build the skeleton with my words and fill it in with quotes, the real muscle. By the end, if I have done my job, it should read more like an exhilarating tennis match than corporate minutes.

I also write occasionally for an online news source called Technorati. I do not conduct interviews, and very rarely include quotes. (Hey - it's not a paying gig!) It is more of an exercise in aggregating information from press releases and surveys and news sources. I always try to approach it from an angle that other journalists may not have taken, ask myself what would make the story particularly interesting amid 5000 others floating around the internet.

Online journalism is short and to the point, and provides a good challenge to find ways to stand out. Fair warning to those who depend exclusively on online news sources for information: I have found that online stories can spread like wildfire without truth, so I would challenge any online journalist or reader to spend the extra time to verify the source before passing it along. 

If you want to try it, be prepared for minimal compensation, at least in the beginning, and try to make yourself stand out by acting as a voice of truth. Online journalists, unlike newspaper journalists, are often encouraged to voice an opinion, because it draws readership and therefore advertising dollars.

For magazines, news is rarely new, so a journalist needs to find various sources to present a brand new angle on a topic, perhaps drawing multiple concepts together. A magazine writer gets more words to play with, and depending on the topic may be able to insert opinion presented as thesis.

Whatever your preferred method of reading or writing the news, journalism is most certainly not dead, and anyone who knows how to write a concise story has the chance to report the news.

writercize: Set aside your creative writing chops, and tackle the nonfiction world. Write a brief news item about a current event.

This may be local news, celebrity news, pop culture, political, international, business, product, whatever interests you. Just be sure to present it in a straight-forward, non-biased way, and link back to your source if applicable.

Leave your news item as a comment and be sure to let me know the link to your blog so I can come visit you too!

Click "read more" to read an online news piece about the Benefits of Blogging Challenges (with a special interview with founder Arlee Bird) that was published on Technorati online news in February. 

---Note that I did opine in the article by encouraging people to participate in blogging challenges, which would not be a statement to make as a journalist in a newspaper.---


Descriptive Word Play - writercize #174 #AtoZChallenge

In March I posted a writercize called Feeling Fruity with very impressive results. 

I invited people to describe the fruit of their choice using descriptive words to describe all five senses. I challenged them to think beyond big, small, stinky, soft, to really garner the essence of the fruit. 

And describe it they did! I was drooling reading through the pictures they painted with words.

There is something to be said about the ability to describe an ordinary thing, such as a piece of fruit, and make it come to life. 

Imagine the marketing power of a wordsmith who can draw a client in with language. Imagine the success of a venture capitalist who can communicate their dream product perfectly. Imagine the movie rights for a novelist who can paint an entire world with words. (Hunger Games, anyone?

Today I challenge you to describe something. Describe its appearance, worth, untouchable essence, if you may, and work beyond simple adjectives to get there.

writercize: Pick an everyday object in your home (ie fridge, sweater, computer, hairbrush). Now describe everything important about it. 

Remember that appearance alone may not be what is most important ... purpose and relationship often count for something in the objects that surround us.

Please share in the comments, and be sure to leave your URL as well!

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


Caption It! - writercize #173 #AtoZChallenge

What a great start to the A to Z Challenge! Thank you challenge participants for the visits and all the great comments. I am really glad to have the opportunity to share writercize with you and visit your blogs as well.

After a couple of long posts, we'll keep this one short and simple ... and fun. Sometimes when the writing just refuses to come, a photo can wriggle it loose.

While a photo may be worth a thousand words, its caption is considerably shorter. Use humor or journalism to tell us what is happening.
writercize: Write a caption for the following photo.

Have fun with it! Leave your caption as a comment below, and be sure to include your link so that I can come visit you too.

Click "read more" for writercizer sample response. (And while captions are not my forte', particularly humorous ones, it's good to keep on picking at weaknesses, I think!)


Back to Basics - writercize #172 #AtoZChallenge

Anyone remember the basics of sentence structure? Would you be able to label each part of a sentence with the appropriate part of speech? 

Chances are, with the exception of a few editors out there, you'd be somewhere in my realm. I have a feeling for what works and what is best left alone, and I can certainly tell you the difference between a verb and a noun, an adverb and an adjective, but ask me how to fix a sentence that ends in the word "to" or identify appositives and relative pronouns and I might look at you cross-eyed.

As I stretch my brain back to third grade and the basics of sentence structure, I remember every sentence (in English) must have a subject and a verb. That's it. Two simple words. I also remember it was deemed "preferable" to add an object.

Basic (subject/verb):
He played.

Step up (subject/verb/object):
He played ball.

I would be willing to bet that most of you reading this do not employ such simple sentence structure often. I certainly don't. I am a sucker for sentences that sing and dance in waves. I want my writing to flow, and short sentences create a staccato rhythm that I don't generally seek. Then there is my oft-used medium of journalism, where articles should exhibit an average sentence length of 16-17 words (so says the Associated Press Guide to News Writing). 

With so much of our reading and writing focused on longer sentences, why should we pay attention to the short guys? 
  • Well, for one, breaks in the rhythm can be satisfying, and very telling. They can allow the reader to catch a breath. They can paint a different mood, or identify an important shift. 
  • If we want to write for children (as I do) we have to know to reel in the words and use shorter sentences to harness power. Same goes for teaching children, and really speaking with them, truth be told. Ever see a kid's eyes glaze over with a run-on diatribe?
  • It can really help identify holes in plot. Want to know if a story is working? Strip down every sentence to the basic action and see if the story is headed in the right direction. From there, you will see if there are holes that you need to fill in, or if there is fat that needs trimming.
Today's writercize will give you the opportunity to go back to basics and practice writing very short sentences. (This may feel like the exact opposite of freewriting.)

writercize: Write a short story using sentences of no more than six words each. 

Begin the story with a five-word sentence using the following structure: subject (noun) / verb / preposition / article / object (noun). Feel free to use the word bank below for your starter.

subject: He/She/Dad/Madeline/Tim
verb: played/ran/jumped/biked/swam
preposition: over/under/on/in/around
article: a/an/the
object: bridge/river/rainbow/mountain/forest

Leave your story as a comment. You should be able to complete a (very short) story in 50 words or less. Think board book!

(And PS - come back tomorrow for a C prompt that promises to be less than 100 words in the entire post!)

Click "read more" for (a very short) writercizer sample response about a boy and a rainbow.


All About You... And Me... And A to Z - writercize #171 #AtoZChallenge

Good morning, and welcome to writercize and the annual A to Z Challenge, brainchild of Arlee Bird of Tossing It Out. Posts this month will follow take you along the alphabet from A through Z with six posts a week, with the usual writercize twist.

If you are here looking for the #WeekendWritercize, gaze down one more post. Entries accepted until midnight Pacific time. #WeekendWritercizes will be incorporated in the A to Z Challenge, so keep an eye open for g, m, s and y prompts the month of April!

For this inaugural A to Z post, I am touching on a few A words, including accepting and awards and phrases A to Z and all about me. 

I should also throw achy in, unfortunately, as yesterday I went to the doctor with a very swollen throat and got a strep diagnosis. Got some antibiotics to clear it up, so I hope to be back to normal by Monday afternoon. In the meantime, I am doing my best to only speak on paper and not share my illness and my girls are enjoying a rare TV marathon and acting unusually nice to each other while I bunker down.

Now, onto the point of the post. Over the past several months I have been given some really awesome awards from my blogger friends, including the Overlord Award thanks to Nicole of Madlab Post and Beth of Word Nerd Speaks and the Kreatif and Sunshine Award thanks to PB Author Clar Bowman-Jahn. I want to THANK THEM (visit their sites!!) and pass the awards along. I know I received another lovely one in the past month from an A to Z host and I can't find it at the moment, but will update when I do!

The rules for the awards are all pretty similar. Share seven things about yourself, or answer a few questions about yourself, and pass the award along. So, if you have always wanted one of these awards, today is your chance! Follow the writercize, and get an award! I am really excited about this because I love these glimpses into your lives. I loved the 25 Things notes that circulated Facebook a couple of years back and hung on to all the random bits of people's lives they chose to share.

writercize: Share ten interesting facts about yourself in the comment section and provide a link to your blog. I will visit and pick one of the awards to share with you!

This is where I would generally say "click read more for writercizer sample response" but this time only I will include it in the body of the post, since I believe that is the proper awards procedure.

Ten facts about Alana

  • My friends think I am a good cook. I am always surprised to hear it. I was not a good cook until a class in Italy that taught me cooking is an art and allows for creativity. Before that I cooked with boxes or books. Now I use neither, but I can never duplicate a recipe since it is always by taste or intuition!
  • I once camped on several feet of snow to have enough money to ski and go to concerts instead. One of the greatest vacations ever. Whistler, a couple of friends, skiing, pubs. When the blankets were soaked through and I woke up in a hole formed by body heat the last morning, we knew it was time to go!
  • My dream vacation is to take a camera and a couple of years and drive route one from Alaska to the tip of Chile.
  • I have always been a cat person. I love independence. For a while in college I wondered if it was better to be a dog person since dogs are loyal and that is generally regarded as a very positive trait, but couldn't switch. That said, everyone in my family is allergic so we have no animals.
  • I love to drive small cars with manual transmission. My current car is a Golf, which looks awfully tiny in the preschool parking lot next to all the SUVs!
  • I am constantly trying to figure out if it is better to be a stellar writer or storyteller. I am afraid it is the latter, which is much more difficult for me.
  • I want to learn how to sew. I can make curtains and pillows, but that's it.
  • I am addicted to reality shows that showcase talent with a purpose, like Project Runway and The Voice.
  • I wish there were more hours in each day. I would like to spend those hours reading, working in the garden, making mosaics, walking and learning to surf.
  • I am a night owl, which punishes me every morning!

What will your ten facts say about you? And which award will be yours? Leave your ten facts, a link to your blog, and a link to any other blog you'd like to nominate for an award!

PS - Upon further investigation, the Overlord Award requires you to say three things you would change about the world, so I will go ahead and put those in the "Read More" section. Go on and click if you want to see how I would change the world, and if that is the award you most want, tell me the three ways you will change the world instead of ten things about you!