(This is early; I have a sub job Monday morning, so I'm posting tonight)
We’re leaving the world of dialog for now—but I hope you’ll stop over and visit “Ann’s Jots and Tittles” right next door. She’s back from vacation, and she has a lesson in commas that reinforces what we’ve been doing here for the last few weeks. Great exercises there, and I hear she serves tea afterward.
Today’s Quick Take: ok
It’s not a word. It’s not even a correct abbreviation. If you’re writing it in dialog or in narrative, spell it out.
“Mom, I’m going to pet this little black animal with a white stripe, okay?”
I wondered whether it would be okay to go to the job interview with blue hair.
If you want to use the abbreviation, that’s fine (but not in formal writing)—just make sure you capitalize both letters.
Jessie looked across the lecture hall, where Bob signaled an OK with his fingers.
If you’re using the abbreviation, both letters are always capitalized. Any other way of writing it is just not Ok. Or ok. Okay?
The idea for today’s class came to me as I was reading through the Beginner and Intermediate entries of the Writing Challenge this week. The topic, you’ll remember, was ‘eek!’, and I was amazed at the number of entrants who wrote stories featuring mice. Certainly some entries took on creative POVs, and some were written very cleverly…but after a while, I started to think oh no, another mousie...
Just to hammer the point home (and because I’m a statistics nerd), I did a survey of all four challenge levels. In Beginners, 30% of the stories featured mice or rats. Intermediate—27%, Advanced—33%, Masters—17%, or 28% of the total stories for the week. And although I didn’t compile statistics for these, there were dozens of stories featuring snakes, bugs, and other wee beasties.
Granted—‘eek!’ was a week in which it was particularly difficult to write ‘out of the box’. Nevertheless, I think that sort of creative thinking is vital for writers, not just of the Writing Challenge, but in the real world of writing, for the following reasons:
1. Many writing contests require writing to a prompt. I just looked online for about three minutes and found the following prompts for recent writing contests: family stories, shipwrecks, mother’s day, career transition, beauty, if I ruled the world, apartments and neighbors. If you’re going to be submitting your work to writing contests, it has to stand out; some of these contests have thousands of entrants.
2. Every genre of writing has its own list of expectations: from devotionals to poetry, from romance to fantasy, readers and publishers have particular expectations. If you read exclusively in a certain genre—say, mystery—you know that formulas have to be followed: the crime, the collection of clues, the red herrings, the multiple motives/suspects, the solving of the crime, the final twist. SO—since there are expectations to be followed, you must also find a way to make your writing different, memorable, unique.
3. Even if you have smaller goals—just writing for the challenge, maybe hitting the Top 40—writing creatively is one important step for getting there. Again, I’m just using ‘eek!’ as an example (this could be written about any number of challenge topics), but imagine a poor judge, reading her umpteenth story about a mouse. And then she clicks to the next entry, and it’s about an adopted 3-year-old from Korea, who can’t communicate with her new family until an ‘eek’ about a toy being dropped in her cup of milk provides their first common language. Do you think that will stick out in the judge’s mind?
How do you step out of the box, then? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Write the topic word on the top of a piece of paper
2. Start to brainstorm—everything you can think of that’s related to the topic word. Let’s say the word is HORN. You might write trumpet, trombone, tuba, Little Boy blue, cows, the car horn, Abraham catches the ram by the horn, walls of Jericho, rhinoceros, to lock horns with, take the bull by the horns. Think of song titles, movie titles, book titles, biblical references, popular sayings. See if you can come up with at least 10 items—even more, if possible—in about five minutes.
3. Look at your list and ask yourself: are there things on this list that will occur to other people?
4. Crumple up the list and throw it away. Because if you thought of all those things in about five minutes, it’s a sure thing that dozens of other writers thought of them, too. Seriously. Throw the whole list away. Don’t look at it again.
5. Start over, with the determination that you’re going to avoid every common reference to ‘horn’. Your second list should contain things that are more obscure: the horn of Africa, alpenhorns, on the horns of a dilemma, those squeaky tricycle horns, famous statue of Moses with horns, the gross spit valve of the kid next to me in band in high school, those creme horns at the bakery. At this point, you can even do some googling, too.
6. If you’re still stuck, try a randomization exercise that has sometimes worked for me—grab the book or magazine next to you and open to a random page. Point to a random line. Use one of the words on that line in conjunction with the topic word, and build a story around it. (I just grabbed the book on my end table, a guidebook to Washington, D.C. The sentence had the words restaurant, bar, seating, indoor, water, overheated. I could write about a blind date in a restaurant totally decorated with animal horns, which absolutely creeps out the woman. No, that’s clichéd—it creeps out the man. She thinks it’s awesome, and orders the Safari special, grubs and crocodile eggs…)
HOMEWORK: I’m going to give you a topic word. Without looking at the other responses, make a list of 5-10 things that immediately come to mind (and thus should not be the basis of a challenge entry). THEN, come up with 1 out-of-the-box approach to the topic. And just because it's out-of-the-box, that doesn't mean it has to be insanely weird. Just not something that would be likely to be thought of by others.
THEN—I encourage you to look at the other responses on the thread, to see if your list corresponds with theirs, and also to see if your out-of-the-box idea shows up on anyone else’s list.
Please feel free to comment or ask questions! And don’t apologize if you were one of those mouse writers; it’s really not necessary. I was feeling testy last week, and I wasn’t a judge—and you were in good company!
I’d love to hear from anyone in Advanced or Masters who has their own process for coming up with out-of-the-box entries. C’mon, you creative thinkers—how do you come up with those wonderful ideas?
YOUR TOPIC WORD: FIRE
Last edited by glorybee
on Sun Mar 07, 2010 10:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.