1000K Words Challenge

Posted by Jess
For some reason, I suffered from a huge writing funk last week. I wouldn't have called it writer's block. It was more like I was trapped in an entanglement of chicken wire, and my brain lost all ability to function. Not just on my story, but on any kind of writing in general. Even my text messages felt like a battle. (Jet Lag may have been the culprit, however results are inconclusive.)

No matter how many ideas came into my head, I just couldn't transfer them into written words. And then Mark Galarrita saved the day! (I told him I was going to write a post about this. He thought I was joking. =D )

Mark and I met at a writer's coffee shop on Saturday, and he challenged me to a duel. Whoever writes the most words in an hour wins. The goal is to breach a thousand. The loser must buy the victor a book. 

Despite my writing ailment, I accepted this challenge because let's face it, I never say no to a free book ( ;-D ). So I set up my laptop across the table from his, and he started the timer. Go!

For fifteen minutes straight I typed absolutely nothing. Well, that's not true. I had, "What are you doing?" written at the top of the page. I'm pretty sure it was a message to myself.

"38 minutes," Mark said. Ahh!
We compared word counts. He already had over 700 words! My fingertips grazed over the keyboard, itching to press one of the black buttons. Any of the black buttons. Just write something Jess! I told myself.

And then several minutes later, something beautiful happened. I started typing. It was a mess, but it was just the mess I needed to break out of my funk.

"15 minutes," Mark said. My fingers rushed over the keys, but I was still no where close to his 700. Not to mention I was taking breaks to talk to him. Sitting across the table from an interesting person is like Kryptonite when I'm trying to get work done.

Tap! Tap! Tap! My fingers raced over the keys, while my brain tried to hold down the conversation at the same time. The tiny numbers at the bottom of my page ticked higher and higher with every stroke. I can do this! I got this! The book is miiineeeee!

Aaaaaaaand, I lost. I ended up with just under 500 words. But inside I was jumping for joy. I can write again! My heart shouted. "Yea, I know. I'm the one who did it stupid," my brain shouted back. It was great!

We ended up at a thrift store that was selling 2 books for $1 on the sidewalk. Yes, 2 for $1! I couldn't believe it. There was a nice elderly man sitting across from the book table. He was the money collector, and he was very wise.

"I'll give you 2 more books for free if you can answer this riddle," the wise man said to me. "There are 12 birds sitting on a line. If I shoot one, how many are left?" 

Do you know the answer? Post your guess in the comments below. 

After a few moments of pondering and visualizing the scenario, I found the right answer. And we got two free books! Mark gave the man a dollar anyway. The thrift store donates its proceeds to the AIDS movement. If you're ever in Philly, you should definitely check it out: Philly AIDS Thrift. Also if you want to read some original short stories and fiction, I suggest you check out Mark's page! You wont be disappointed.

So the moral of this story is, next time your brain is trapped in writer's chicken wire, call a friend and challenge them to duel! If anything, at least you'll get a free book. 

BTW, even though I lost, Mark bought two of my books for me, and I surprised him with one he'd been looking at. It was a good day to be a writer!

p.s. We found Pope Francrex! <3

Until next time,

6 Exercises to Find Your Character's Voice

Posted by Jess

Each scenario is built to reveal different aspects of a personality. Some of these may not be relevant to the world of your story, so by all means tweak them to fit into the world you’ve created. Grab a notebook, a pencil, and get ready to jump into the heads of your characters!

Scenario #1: Dealing with a bully.
Have your character react to being bullied, or perhaps he or she is the one doing the bullying, maybe they’re witnessing someone else being bullied, or it’s possible that they don’t even notice the incident or care. Would this character interfere? Turn a blind eye? Egg it on? Would they stand up for themselves? Fight back? Laugh and walk away?

This reveals how the character deals with confrontation and conflict. It uncovers their values, their confidence level, whether they’re a leader, a follower, or blind to the plight of others. It also shows how others view this character. However, more importantly, it reveals how strong the character is mentally. A character's mental state dictates what they say out loud.

Scenario #2: Getting Pulled over by the police for speeding.
How your character(s) react(s) when they see the flashing lights… as they park on the side of the road while glancing in the rearview mirror… how they speak to the officer. Do they fix their hair in the mirror first, tap their fingers on the steering wheel, wipe their hands on their jeans, curse, check out the officer as he’s approaching the car?

All of this reveals how the character views, and reacts, to authoritative figures. Every story has some form of authority whether it is a boss, a parent, a tyrannical government. Tweak this by using the authoritative force in your story. For instance, if this were the Hunger Games you could use President Snow. This is a good way to find out what your character thinks vs. what he or she actually does. It also reveals how much power they think they have vs. how much they actually have.

 Scenario #3: A stranger tells them they're cute.
A confident character may respond with ease, flirt back, seal the deal, or perhaps not respond at all if they're overly confident. A self-conscious character might try to justify the compliment or question it: "She didn’t really mean that" OR "He’s only talking to me because no one else asked me to dance" OR "It’s only because Macy put makeup on me." Maybe the character will start babbling, telling awkward jokes, or reveal some other quirk that’s lurking inside them. Your job is to find that quirk!

This exercise reveals a character’s confidence level, but mostly it reveals how the character views and feels about him or herself. And that is where the juicy stuff is!

Scenario #4: Have one character write a letter to another.
Have your character write a letter to their best friend in the story explaining what’s happening to him or her [in this point of the story]. OR you can have the character write a letter to the antagonist, or a love interest, or a parent.

This especially helps me when I have writer’s block because it allows the character to speak freely. It reveals how the character feels about their current situation, as well as their level of comfort with the character to which they are writing. Notice how their diction changes depending on whom they're addressing.

Scenario #5: Shopping in a department store, grocery store, or whatever kind of store your story’s world would have.
Your character can be shopping alone, or with a group of friends. What do they buy, where do they go, what type of items do they window shop for? Maybe they hate shopping and they’re pissed that they’re at the mall. Maybe they run into another character while they’re there. Just roll with it, and see what happens.

This reveals how your character acts in public, how they view the public, how they view the ideals of the society in which they live. Something that comes to mind is a scene from the movie Fight Club (my absolute favorite movie! I literally watch it at least twice a month!) In the scene, Brad Pitt and Ed Norton are standing on a bus. Norton looks at a Gucci ad and says, “Is that what a man looks like?” Pitt laughs. A few beats later a stranger bumps into Pitt and both characters size up the stranger. These are the types of situations you should put your characters in for this exercise. Have them glance at the ads in the store, the other people walking around, the actual products. Think of all of the times you’ve gone shopping. Now put your characters into those memories.

Scenario #6: Two characters have dinner together.
It could be in a restaurant, at a bar, a taco truck, or a home cooked meal. If these characters wouldn’t normally have dinner together and they are out of their element, express that! Show it! Let them be awkward with each other. See how they behave when they’re out of their comfort zone. Or perhaps the characters click and form a bond that you didn’t see coming. Like I said before, just roll with it and see what happens.
Start off with just two characters at a time, and then when you feel more comfortable with their personalities, add more guests.

This exercise isn’t about creating scenes for your story, it’s about revealing how your characters feel about each other, how they express those feelings, and more importantly, how they speak to each other. (That is what we're looking for!)

Your options are endless with this type of development because you can literally throw your characters into any type of situation. As your character weaves through each scenario you'll start to see patterns in their speech, their actions, and their thoughts. I like to highlight these patterns when I reread what I wrote. I also highlight random dialogue and actions that ring true as I'm writing. It may take your characters a bit to warm up, but you'll definitely leave each scenario learning something about them.

Keep in mind, the scenarios you use should be basic. They should be ordinary, every day situations because it's a lot easier to pinpoint characteristics when there's not an overload of emotions involved. Once you pinpoint your character’s quirks, thoughts, reasoning, and view of him/herself and their world, then it will be much easier to amp up those traits when say their best friend is killed in battle or they’re caught by the enemy or when they're interacting with their love interest. Uncover the basics then amp it up for your story. As I’ve said time and time again, just roll with it and see what happens!

If there's an exercise that you use to find your character's voice let me know in the comments below! I'm always looking for techniques to add to my tool belt. Hope this post helped!

Until next time,

Got Writer's Block? Take it Scene by Scene

Posted by Jess
When you think about it, a novel is really just one big collection of individual scenes. I remind myself this when I'm feeling overwhelmed. Just take it scene by scene I say, but sometimes it's not that simple. Sometimes I feel blocked because my mind won't give itself over to the scene that's forming inside my head. It's like I can see it, but my feet aren't touching the fictional ground. So here are four techniques that I use to help me step on in there.

1. Write the scene from another character's point of view.
This is the technique that I use most. It is also the one that helps me the most. Especially when I'm having trouble finding out how the scene progresses. When I can see it from another perspective it often helps me see how the scene should play out. Also, you'd be surprised by how much you learn about your narrator through the eyes of another character.

So here's what you do: First, find a character who plays a principle part in the scene. Then write the entire scene from his or her point of view. Have them drive it instead of the narrator. What is this character thinking? What are his or her motives? What do they know that the narrator doesn't, or vise versa. What happens to them in the scene? Write all of this down in a new document, or on a piece of paper. It can be in the third or first person, which ever is less of a distraction to your thought process. Now, when you're done, go back, and use what you found out to rewrite the scene through the eyes of the narrator. It should be a little easier now that you know what happens. And you can use the other character's reactions/actions to drive how the narrator acts/reacts in the scene. If it didn't help then perhaps the character you chose didn't have a pivotal enough part. Try using a different character. Keep doing this until all of the pieces fit together. I find this helps me because it takes an originally empty scene, and breaks it up into each character's view. Each new view molds together forming what will eventually become a shadow box rumbling with life.

2. Remember that your characters are people, and people think.
Sometimes I get stuck trying to figure out what a character's reaction should be. It's in those moments that I ask myself, "Well what are they thinking?" What were they thinking right before this moment? Have them look at their surroundings. What do they see? How do they feel about it? Does it remind them of anything? What emotions does it ignite? Write all of this in their character development notebook (or simply on a piece of paper). Once you figure this out, go back to the scene in your draft. The character's reaction should be clear.

3. Take a few minutes to write out a memory from your childhood, or adulthood, with you as the main character.
Let's call these memories "scenes". Maybe you feel blocked because you're stressing out about how much less your paycheck was than you were expecting. Write about the moment you opened your check or account balance page. What were your expectations as you clicked on the bookmark, the feeling of hovering the mouse over the view account tab, barely realizing that you're holding your breath as you click and the new page loads, the deep exhale that follows deflating every crevice in your heart as you realize you won't have enough to go to LA.
Or you can pick a specific "scene"  that makes you happy, like waking up and running down the stairs on Christmas morning. Or your very first day at work. Or an experience that's related to what your character is going through. No matter what scene (memory) you chose, you already know what happens. You know what decisions were made and why, who said what and how you responded. By writing a memory, you take out the thought process of having to create believable characters and events, which subsequently allows your mind to open up and see the scene as vividly as possible. (Which is how it should be for your fictional scenes... Vivid pictures in your head). I like to think of this technique as the stretches you would do before exercising to help limber up your joints-- or your thoughts in this perspective.  

4. Sketch out the setting of the scene that you're having trouble with. Now before you start saying, I don't know how to draw! I want you to know that I don't know how to draw either. For some reason my dad didn't give me that gene. (Stingy pants!) But sometimes it helps me to do a rough sketch of the setting so that I can better visualize what I'm looking at. And so that I don't have my characters picking up things that I moved two scenes ago. Even if it's just straight lines and stick figures, it helps.

For instance in a scene of my book (which I actually ended up chucking) the mailman is sitting on top of his mail tuck with a small scruffy cat sitting next to him. The truck is parked on a rooftop in the city. So I drew this out-- the mailman, his truck, the cat, and the surrounding buildings. The rooftop, and the door on the opposite end that leads inside the building. The main character poking her head out of the driver's seat, seeing if anyone is out there. She didn't know the mailman was on top of the truck. She thought the roof was empty. So, when I was writing this scene I was having a hard time figuring out a natural reaction to this, but after I drew it out I could see how freaked out she was at first to see him sitting up there, and then how curiosity took over as she wondered what it would feel like to sit up there with him looking at all of the buildings. It wasn't the best sketch, but it helped me step into the scene.

So next time you're feeling blocked, try out one of these techniques and let me know how it works for you!

Also, I'd love to know what you do when you have writer's block. Do you know of any other exercises that help you step into a scene? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

10 Finger Morning Mantra

Posted by Jess
Last year I started doing a mantra every morning to help remind me of the person I want to be. I wrote down ten things that I wanted to work on, and assigned each one to a finger. Here is my mantra for this year. Before I start my day I go through each finger and say its meaning out loud. This is how it goes:

...Inhale...    ...Exhale...











The last one is my favorite: "Stop comparing myself to others."

I'd love to hear your mantra, or if there's something else you do in the morning to ease your mind into the day. Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time,

Breathing Life into a Character

Posted by Jess
In order for the reader to believe your character is real, the character must first be real to you.

This is something that I was struggling with when I started writing my book. I knew what my characters looked like. I knew all of their motives, desires, their backgrounds, but I was having a hard time finding their voice, especially when it came to my main character, who happens to be the narrator. You can see how this was a huge problem. Every day, I read article after article about character development, but no matter how much I learned, I still couldn't find my main character's voice (her name is Kits). I knew everything about her, yet I felt as if I knew nothing at all. She wasn't real to me, she was just a two dimensional character.

Then one day it hit me: What's the best way to really get to know someone? You become their friend. The answer was that simple. I know how to make friends, I thought, I do it all the time. So, I set out to become best friends with the main character of my book. And it turned out to be much harder than I thought. Mostly because I felt silly talking to an invisible person, even if I wasn't speaking out loud. Eventually, I got over it. I came to revel in the silliness of it all, and now Kits is a living and breathing person within my story.

So how did I do this? Well, here's how my process usually goes. First I imagine what she looks like. Her hair, skin, eyes, nose and mouth. Is she wearing jeans and a tank top, or is she in a dress? (Of course it's not a dress. She only has one dress and she hates it.) Once I have the image of her in my thoughts, I say: "Hey Kits?"
"Yea Jess." Is how she usually responds.
"Can you tell me your story?" I ask. Or sometimes I say, "What do you want to talk about today?" Or "Let's talk about Nate," or some other character in the book. Then I wait, and I wait, until she finally answers. Sometimes I have to coax her with a different question, but if you're patient, your character will eventually answer you.

Sometimes I take her around with me. I show her places, and we talk. Obviously not out loud. Don't quote me, but people will probably think you're crazy if you walk around talking to someone that only you can see, even though you know you're just talking to the star of your new book. (Well technically it's their book because it's their story. They're just using us to write it. Kits and I talk about this sometimes, she never wants to give me any credit.)

Anyways, when I was first getting to know her, I just walked around with her in my head all day. I sat her character development notebook in the passenger seat of my car and pretended that she was riding next to me. This is what happened the first day I tried this:
First we went to Smoothie King. I usually get the same thing (a strawberry shredder or a chocolate lean one), but today I decided to let her choose. A couple walked into the store behind me, but I let them order first. I read each description on the large wall of options, while asking Kits if any of them sounded good to her, however, I couldn't get a feel of what she wanted. Or perhaps she's just as indecisive as I am. The couple orders, and I briefly tune into their conversation with the guy behind the register.
"Are you two sisters?" he says.
They laugh. "No, this is my wife."
"Oh! I just thought, because you look a lot alike," he says quickly.
The women laugh. 
"I'll take it," one says. "It's better than what we usually get. Most people ask if I'm her mother."
I grin as they all laugh. The couple takes a seat and now it's my time to order. Only, Kits hasn't decided yet. And if she has, then she didn't tell me, or perhaps I wasn't listening. 
"You look so confused," says the guy behind the register.
I glance at him and then laugh. "Yea, I'm having a hard time choosing."
"Maybe I can help. What kind of taste are you looking for?"
"The gladiator is always a good choice!" says one of the ladies from the table.  
"Yea, I love the gladiators." I turn to them with a smile. Then I decide to fill them in on my process.
"I usually get the same thing, but I'm writing a book and I'm trying to get to know my character, so I decided to choose one that she would get. But, I'm having a hard time figuring that out."
"Oh wow," says one of the ladies.
"That's cool," said the other.
"Well, tell me about this character," says the guy behind the register. I later found out that his name was Tim. 
I give him, and the ladies, a brief description of Kits' story.... which she later told me I completely butchered. 
"Definitely the Strawberry Lemon Twist!" One lady says as soon as I finish speaking.
"Yea, that or the angel food," says her wife.
I look at both choices, and the strawberry lemon twist seems to stand out, so I ask Kits if that's the one she wants. I couldn't really hear what she was saying because I was still getting used to having her in my head, but it felt right so I ordered it.
The lady gives me a thumbs up and I smile. 
I then chat with Tim as he makes Kits' smoothie. "I would love to read your book when you're done," he says.
I always get excited when strangers are eager to read my story even though it's not even finished.
I learned that Tim's passion is music, "But I just realized I have the gift of teaching," he says. He told me that he wanted to write a book about love based off of teachings from the bible. He asked me if I would be interested in coauthoring it with him. 
I bashfully laughed and said, "Oh, I'm not that good yet." I wanted to tell him that I was struggling to get the words out of my own story and that most of what I wrote was a mess, and that my book was about assassins, so I'm not sure I'm person he wants to help.
"I'm sure you're better than you think," he says.
He asked me for some advice on writing and this is what I told him:
"Just write it down. What ever scene, thought, lesson or idea comes into your head, write it. It doesn't have to be eloquent, just make sure you get it all down. Most of my notes sound like an illiterate child wrote it." I'm exaggerating, kind of. He laughed. 
"The point is to get the ideas down. Then go back later and rewrite them how you would actually say it. Eventually all of your notes will start connecting and forming your story."

Anyways, when it was time to pay my bill, I tried to hand him my debit card, but he wouldn't take it. He watched the front door open and close as the couple left. His eyes then set on mine and he smiled. "Those ladies just paid for your drink."
My lips spread into the biggest smile, and I could feel Kits smiling too. Wow. That was so nice of them. I left a tip in the jar, and then Kits and I made our way out. 

She loved the smoothie by the way. It was a little too sweet for me, but once I broke through to her I realized what she really liked was the tartness of the lemon, which mellowed out the sweetness. I drank the entire thing. When we got to Barnes and Nobel, I didn't even make it inside because Kits had begun telling me her story. I could see it through her eyes and feel what she felt. I wrote in the car for hours. 

Check out the post below to find out what happened while I was writing in the Barnes and Nobel parking lot.... it was so random!

Also, let me know in the comments what techniques you use for breathing life into your characters. 

Until next time,

Strange Things Happen When You Write in the Barnes & Nobel Parking Lot

Posted by Jess
{A post script of Breathing Life into a Character}

While I was writing in the parking lot, a car pulled in two spaces away and an elderly gentleman got out. I glanced at him and then continued writing. I was using my phone because Kits didn't give me enough time to grab my notebook from the trunk. (Kits is the main character in my book, for those of you just tuning in.) 

"Excuse me." The man walks up to my door, which is open. I tense, but relax when I realize he's not going to attack me.
"You wouldn't happen to be a private investigator would you?" He asks.
I laugh loudly. "No, I'm not."
He nods, I smile and then he walks away.

I watched with bewilderment as he strolled into the bookstore. Why would he think that? I thought to myself. Maybe because I was sitting in my hot car with the door and windows open, typing on my phone. He didn't know I was writing a scene. Or perhaps it's because I was wearing all black. To me it was just a pair of yoga pants and a tank top, but to him I must've looked like a spy. And then I wondered: Why was he curious? Did he think he was being followed? Or perhaps he was looking to hire one. I was so curious that I almost forgot about Kits. I tried to continue writing, but then I wondered what the man would've done had I said yes. The joke did occurr to me. Would he have driven away? Shot me? He looked like a nice grandpa but maybe he's the leader of a gang. Ghouls and Gramps, I named it. I looked at his car, it was average, but I noticed that the passenger seat was almost fully reclined, the way they are in rap videos. Who was sitting in that seat? Curiosity was getting the best of me.

Kits was still trying to tell me her story, but I couldn't stop thinking about this man. So I apologized to my main character and asked her if we could go inside. Obviously she said yes.

When I entered the store I ordered a drink and found a table in the cafe. I spotted the man sitting in a booth behind me (That was completely unintentional) He was reading by himself. I sat down and tried to write, but there were too many distractions-- Too many people talking, too loud of music, and too much urge to go ask that man why he thought I was an investigator.

I took a sip of my drink and spilled some on my arm. Of course I didn't have any napkins. The guy spotted me when I reached the condiment table, but it was only a glance. I wanted to talk to him, but I was unsure of how he would react. If he is the leader of Ghouls and Gramps, then I don't want him slitting my tires thinking he needs a getaway. So I went back to my table and tried to write. Moments later the guy got up and went to the magazine section. He stood in one spot staring at the same magazine cover on the shelf for several minutes. Now he must really think that I'm following him. I laughed and then went back to my car to write. I still had the urge to ask him his story, but one: he probably wouldn't have told me because he thought I was stalking him, and two: it was Kits' time to talk. And I was completely ignoring her, which isn't good behavior if you're trying to become friends with your characters.

Long after I'd been writing in my car again, the old man came out. He silently got in his car, and drove away. I glanced at his license plate, it looked normal. And then I realized what I was doing. I wouldn't have even given him another thought had he not asked me that question. It was as if he'd sparked the private investigator hiding inside me because that is exactly what I felt like once the words were spoken. I found myself wondering, could I be one? I don't think I'm that slick, but apparently this guy does. Then I realized that as writers, we are kind of private investigators. Knowingly, or unknowingly we watch people in their everyday lives and try to figure them out-- their stories, their motives, their desires, not to go back and tell a spouse or an enemy, but to breathe real life into our characters and stories.

Anyways, if I learned anything from this day, it's that hanging out with my characters is fun!

Until next time,

A Reaper's Playlist

Posted by Jess
I'm officially halfway through writing my first book! (Woot! Woot!) This is part of the playlist that I use for inspiration.
 photo ReapersPlaylist_zpsfx4ya9ne.png
For some reason, I cant listen and write at the same time (my concentration isn't that talented). So instead, I listen to it whenever I'm not writing, like when I'm driving somewhere or need a little inspiration. This way I can take the story wherever I go, and hop back into it when I'm stuck. As soon as I hit play I feel like I'm walking through the candlelit tunnels of the Brotherhood of the Reaping (the main setting of my book). I usually only get halfway through the playlist before I pause it to start writing again.

Do you guys make a story inspiration playlist when you're writing? If so, post it in the comments. I love finding new music!

Until next time,