Poetry is my first love. Whenever I get stuck writing, I stop and find a poem and read it aloud. This helps me hear the rhythms of the language. It helps me jump start my own work.
Today’s Writing Prompt: Go to poets.org and find a poem (it’s free!) and read it aloud. Then take a line from the poem as your prompt and make it your first or last line. Write for 10 minutes, then title the poem ‘How to Crack an Egg.’
Devi S. Laskar is a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., and holds an MFA from Columbia University. The Atlas of Reds and Blues—winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and the Crook’s Corner Book Prize—is her first novel. It was selected by The Georgia Center for the Book as a book “All Georgians Should Read” and named by The Washington Post as one of the best books of 2019. A former newspaper reporter, Laskar is now a poet, photographer and novelist.
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The setting or environment in which our stories take place can have a huge effect on how our readers view characters or scenes. Young Writers Program participant Asher M. is here with us today to share how to make the most out of this often overlooked aspect of storytelling:
Something I’ve seen many writers struggle with is unique plots. It seems like every story has already been written. As a writer, you may see a three-act novel with the same subsections every single book seems to follow. As a reader, do you see it the same way? I doubt it.
For this explanation, we’ll be using a simple example plot:
Act 1: Ellie is a normal kid in middle school. One day, her principal (who’s secretly a wizard) tells her she has to go defeat the evil wizard Wright Erz Blok. After some deliberation, Ellie goes with her two closest friends on an adventure to fight Wright Erz Blok.
Act 2: The group set off on their trip with the help of a magical map. They gain tools from various mentors as they leave, and gain skills by defeating lesser villains as they get closer to Wright Erz Blok.
Act 3: The heroes almost fail, but manage to defeat Wright Erz Blok for good. They come back to school and receive a hero’s welcome.
So, how would your environment influence this story? I’ll break it down. Your environment has three main influences on your writing: character, pacing, and story.
Character encompasses the personality, mannerisms, and speaking style of each character. In our example, we have four important characters: Ellie, her two friends, and Wright Erz Blok. Your social environment influences character the most. A social person might find themselves pulling qualities from their friends for their characters, while an introvert may pull more qualities from themselves. Someone with positive social influences may give Ellie’s friends more individual characteristics and story arcs, while someone with negative social influences might diminish them into being supportive characters.
Pay attention to how you interact with others. It shows up on the page.
Pacing is the speed at which different plot points happen. In our example, we have our three acts, each with three components. Your physical environment influences pacing the most. If you’re in middle school or were in middle school recently, you know a lot about middle school. You’d be pretty good at stretching out Act 1 by adding details about daily middle school life. If you’re writing in a busy space, like a coffee shop, you might find yourself stretching out descriptions of people or environments as you observe the environment’s intricacies. Notice how your physical environment inspires your writing, and switch it up if things are feeling stagnant.
Story is anything and everything happening outside of the plot’s skeleton. Your life experience influences the story the most. Writers draw from their own life experiences to develop their stories. Ellie’s relationship with any siblings she has would influence whether they’re part of her motivation to fight evil. Wright Erz Blok’s motivation for committing evil deeds shapes the audience’s idea of whether they’re empathetic. If Ellie and co. are journeying through a forest, the types of people they encounter will be very different than if they’re traveling across an ocean. Every single aspect of motivations, setting, and relationship change based on the author’s own experiences.
When writing, consciously make the choice to allow your environment to influence how you write. If you have the option to, change physical environments regularly and think from someone else’s point of view to give yourself a chance to write with fresh senses. And don’t be afraid to recycle plots. Your experience and your environment make every story unique.
Don’t hold back, my friend. You have endless stories inside you.
Asher M. is an avid fan of classical authors, despite not writing anything in their style. He’s currently working on his first novel, focused on betrayal and growth, in a series about magic, politics, and adventure. When he’s not writing novels or op-eds, you can find him doodling in his many sketchbooks or painting on his bedroom walls. He hopes to double major in English and Psychology, with plans to become a neuroscientist who writes on the side.
Character creation and development is a lot of writers favorite part of writing, so why not make a game out of it? Today NaNoWriMo participant Alice Radwell brings us a fun exercise to help us learn how our characters think and react in different situations:
Roleplaying is an exciting hobby enjoyed by enthusiasts around the world. Taking on campaigns, players seek to vanquish monsters and find treasure together, leveling-up characters through a stat-based points system. However, there’s more to it than just fun. Roleplaying can be useful in strengthening writing and creativity, and the two can connect together effectively to create powerful emotive characters and interesting plots within fiction.
The benefits of roleplaying as a storyteller are numerous. In the well-known and well-enjoyed game ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ and its counterparts, which span a plethora of genres and styles, players create a character with certain traits and characteristics and work within this mind-set to complete challenges imposed upon them by the game master. Without being aware of what will come next, players must navigate their character’s thinking patterns and limitations to work within a team to face down foes and problems. As a writer, this is a useful exercise in character development.
Sitting as a separate entity before a page, a writer must endeavor to accurately portray the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of their protagonist, but when roleplaying as said protagonist, the writer must react with those thoughts, feelings, and motivations in real-time, experiencing them first hand as situations unfold —and as such, they must experience the consequences first hand, be they positive or negative. It’s a very strange form of method acting, where during a quest the player is forced to place themselves in the head of their character and ask ‘How would I respond? What are my motivations?’ using personal pronouns in reference to their character rather than themselves.
“Having to work creatively like this breeds a spontaneous, quick thinking mindset perfect for beating writer’s block and keeping first drafts flowing.”
So, let’s say, a roleplayer has entered the mindset of a young rogue. The game-master then announces a conundrum. A key is hidden in the pocket of an innocent man, and in order to retrieve it, the rogue is going to have to kill him. If you don’t kill him three captured peasants, also all innocent will be wrongfully executed. What would that rogue do? In a situation where a writer is sitting in front of a page, there is no great urgency to have the character act. A writer might ponder for days as to the moral threads of the character’s thinking, but in roleplaying, particularly with other players waiting on your move, time to contemplate isn’t a luxury you have. From the head of your character, you must react as they would in real-time. Having to work creatively like this breeds a spontaneous, quick thinking mindset perfect for beating writer’s block and keeping first drafts flowing.
There’s also another interesting roleplaying trick to help create story events. This can be done alone and doesn’t require any specialist equipment that multi-player experiences might. Start by writing a few lists of places, objects, types of people, or conflicts. Another good idea is to get friends and family to write them, this way they will be a surprise for you. If using your own list, however, assign numbers and use a random number generator to pick one item from each list. Once you have a place, an object, a person and a conflict (or whatever works for you) start roleplaying your character in the middle of the situation. The idea is to think like them in that situation. Try not to think too long or too much, just react to what is happening as you write it. By forcing yourself to think like the protagonist in a scenario that is completely foreign to them, you are not only solidifying their motivations, actions, and feelings in your mind, you are also trailing scenes that you can contextualize to suit your story and advance your plot.
There are many ways to experiment with roleplaying which can help a writer develop creatively, both within a team and alone. It’s up to us as individuals to explore the possibilities, step into the minds of characters and create stories which we ourselves can enjoy as well as future readers.
Alice Radwell is a Creative Writing graduate living in Scotland. She spent her twenties working as an non-fiction Ghost Writer, but has loved writing from early childhood. She is currently working on a fantasy novel while raising a small human. She loves all things fantasy, chocolate, books and tea, and writes a personal blog at https://aliceradwell.wordpress.com/
Camp NaNoWriMo is your online writers’ retreat, designed to help you set and reach your personal writing goals. Join us for your next writing adventure!
For those of you who have participated before, Camp NaNoWriMo looks a little different this year, as we’re hosting it on the new nanowrimo.org site. But the gist of it remains the same: set your own writing goals, join an online writing group, and give yourself a creative retreat this spring!
How can I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo?
To participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, just announce a project, then make sure to check “Associate with a NaNoWriMo event”, and select the current Camp NaNoWriMo event.
Once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start tracking your project! You’ll be able to start tracking your writing at 12:01 AM on April 1 in your time zone!
Once you’ve reached your writing goal, the site will automatically confirm your win, and you’ll receive a certificate celebrating your achievement, along with a bunch of other winner goodies!
💬 Join our #CampNaNoAdvice tweet chat on Friday, April 3, 1 PM PST (Your Time Zone)! Ask our Camp Counselors and published authors An Na, Dallas Woodburn, Devi S. Laskar, and Jennifer Ziegler your questions. They’ll also be delivering daily advice to your NaNoMessages here throughout April!
👋 Become part of a writing group!You can now join or create a 20-person writing group to post messages and chat with your fellow writers. (Looking for cabin mates? Find them on our forums!)