WFMAD Day 19 – Anger is a writer’s best friend

If you haven’t read the post I wrote at 4 am this morning about the lawsuit recently filed that accuses authorities at a Republic, MO middle school of covering up the alleged rapes of a special needs student, please do so now.

We do not have a word in English that adequately expresses how angry I am about this.

But this is a WFMAD post. It is not the place for me to go all fire-and-brimstone on the hindquarters of adults who epically fail in their responsibilities to the children in their care.

One of the tricks to being a balanced, productive writer is to take the emotional fastballs that life hurtles toward your head and transform them into something you can use in your writing. If you want to write for teens and kids, the chances are almost 100% that you care deeply about them. This means you are going to spend a lot of time being upset at the way they are treated.

Anger, stoked in a righteous fire and smoothed with the hammer of integrity, becomes narrative energy.

Ready… Don’t take any time to be ready. Tell the people around you to leave you alone for 15 minutes. Put on head phones. Make the stupid world go away. And don’t give me any back-talk, OK?

Set… “Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.” AND “I get angry about things, then go on and work.” both quotes from Toni Morrison

Today’s prompt: What pisses you off? What action, person, offense, crime, indignity, injustice, horror scratches your soul like a sulphur-tipped match on sandpaper? I’m not talking about the jerk who cuts you off in traffic, or a parking ticket, or a partner who leaves socks on the living room floor. I’m talking about dangerous anger. World-changing anger. Revolutionary rage.

Write about what makes you that angry. I double-dog dare you.

Extra bonus points if you get so fired up that you write about what makes your character that angry, too.

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble…

WFMAD Day 18 – Getting By With a Little Help

In my humble opinion, Joe Cocker’s version of this song is way better than the Beatles.

What does Joe Cocker have to do with your writing?

Your character needs some friends. We are often so focused on developing our main character and The Forces Of Evil Who Rally Against Her, that we neglect to use the vast potential that a friend can bring to our story. You can tell a lot about a person by the friends they keep, can’t you?’

Ready… Your character is not the only person who needs friends. If you don’t have someone you can trust (and to whom you are NOT related by blood or marriage) enough to share your writing with, now is the time to figure out how you are going to find that person. (If you are writing for children or teens, your best bet is to join SCBWI. If you’re writing for adults, I don’t have a clue. Sorry.) Once you figure out who that person is, schedule some meetings over coffee, or Skype, or on the phone so the two of you can commiserate and cheer each other on as you push forward on the writing path.

Set… “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway

Today’s prompt: Develop a friend for your main character. Make sure that she’s not a cliche; no “trusty side-kicks” please. How are they different? What irritates them about each other? Why are they loyal to each other? What secret do they know? How did they meet? Don’t worry about how this friend is going to fit into your plot. The answer to that problem will come to you as soon as you’ve developed the character well enough.


Write about the person who was your closest friend in elementary school. Open up the floodgates and let the memories flow.

Scribble…. Scribble… Scribble…

WFMAD Day 17 – Classical borrowings

Welcome to a blast from my past.

Fractured Fairy Tales was a feature on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, a cartoon that ran in the early 1960’s (and is now available on Hulu).

Aside from being stupid-funny and guaranteeing that your children will regard you as ancient if you go all nostalgic as soon as you hear the theme song, they offer a wonderful structural device for writers.

Ready… If character comes easy to you, but devising plot is a problem, look to the classics of storytelling for a little help. One of the reasons that classics endure is because they resonate so deeply with readers they survive the tests of age. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the structure of a known tale as you are trying to figure out your own plot. Adapt the elements to the needs of the character, instead of stealing and reproducing the story. It will be much more satisfying to put your own spin on the story.

Set… “Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” Agatha Christie

Today’s prompt: Choose a fairy tale from this list. (Reread the tale quickly if you don’t remember the story clearly.)

Now fracture the fairy tale. Insert a new main character; you, a character from your work in progress, a new character you just dreamed up, or a friend, neighbor, child or dog you know. Rewrite the tale quickly, but make the reactions of the main character true to who he is instead of making him simply be a puppet to voice the original text. Allow your story to drive off the map and head for destinations unknown. Have fun with this!!

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble…

WFMAD Day 16 – Early bird catches worm, etc.

August is half-over! MORE than half-over. When I came out of swim practice tonight, the sun was nearly set.

Screw your courage to the sticking point, friends! Dig deep and find the fortitude that will keep you writing until August fades away!

It’s late and I’m beat and you’re impatient, so let’s hop to it, shall we?

Ready… Have you missed a couple of writing days this month? Are you joining us late? Do not waste ONE SECOND scolding yourself! You can’t change the past. Focus on today. Plan for tomorrow. If you’ve been having a hard time squeezing out fifteen minutes a day for your writing, then set your alarm clock fifteen minutes early for tomorrow. I promise that the temporary discomfort of getting out of bed a wee bit early will be more than offset by the pride and joy in having written something.

Set… “God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest.” P.D. James

Today’s prompt: Remember that list of settings you composed yesterday? I sure hope you held on to it.

Pick the three settings that are the most interesting or terrifying to you. Write a few lines to describe a scene with your main character in this setting. Who would she come across there? How would they interact?


Write down what place scares you the most. What chills your blood? Describe it in terrifying, chilling detail. Then explain why it freaks you out so much.

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble…

WFMAD Day 15 – The Genius of P D James

I would do anything for this woman.

Image credit David Sandison

This is P. D. James, one of the finest mystery writers, no, one of the finest writers alive. She just turned 91 and is still writing. (She didn’t publish her first novel until she was 42.) She is my hero.

From an article in The Guardian newspaper ten years ago: “Curiously, James identifies indolence as one of her chief short comings. She is very bad in the afternoons, she says and tasks that bore her, like letter-writing and paperwork, are only grudgingly and belatedly attended to. For the past 10 years she has been helped in these labours by her assistant, Joyce. But for 25 years she not only worked full-time, attended night school to qualify as a medical record-keeper and cared – albeit with the aid of her parents-in-law – for two daughters and an incapacitated husband, but also rose every morning at 6am and wrote for two hours before work, all of which she puts down to necessity. “My most valuable trait is tenacity,” she says, “but what got me where I am now is courage.””

Even better than her life story is her writing. I read her novels over and over again, enjoying her mastery of craft as well as her world-class storytelling gifts. She is particularly good at setting. Interestingly enough, that’s usually where her novels start.

“My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by a method of murder or a character,” she writes in her non-fiction gem, Talking About Detective Fiction.

Ready… Reserve one of P.D. James books at your library or buy one at an independent bookstore. One of her novels will teach more about writing than a million blog posts.

Set… “We can experience nothing but the present moment, live in no other second of time, and to understand this is as close as we can get to eternal life.” P. D. James

Today’s prompt: It’s rare to think about setting first. Too often, we go for what is safe and predictable. If we have a teen protagonist, then we set the story in a high school. If it’s a middle grade novel, there might be scenes at the mall, the skatepark, and a babysitter’s house.

Make a list of 10 different settings where you would NOT expect to find your main character. Be as detailed as possible; instead of saying bus station, say “the Greyhound station in Albany slumped in the shadows under the highway overpass; fifty shades of gray paint flaking slowly to the dirt.”

The goal is to stretch. Put your character on the moon if you want. Just describe it well. If the description does not come easy, think in terms of small detail. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow!

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble…