Tag Archives: writing tip

Writing Prompt: The First Lie

Salut!  So, some of you must be wondering what happened to my posts for the last week and a half.  WordPress decided that it won’t post my scheduled posts in full.  The post text is deleted and replaced with my initial draft line, like the post was never saved.  So, I apologize for any emails that didn’t link to posts.  I think I have it under control.  To rectify the situation, both of the last two Writing Life posts will be posted this weekend.

LfBH will now be posted bi-weekly.  I can’t keep up with the volume and quality, and if I want to have less editing work later, I need to put the time in to make sure each post is up to standard.  The next LfBH installment will go up on Monday, October 24.  I know, it’s a long time from now, but I’m plotting a NaNo novel, and editing the hell out of the first 13 chapters of LfBH.  So, wish me luck.  =]

Now, for the writing prompt!

Write a scene in which a lie lands yourself or your character into a pot of hot water!


Filed under Writing Exercise Friday

Writing Life: It’s Okay to be Human

Through the Woods

Find your inner "happy place." Image © will wilson *

Writing is an art.  You read, write, research, and observe to hone your craft; work yourself dizzy trying to make every word in every sentence in every paragraph just perfect.  We toil, we cry, we let our index fingers hover threateningly over the “delete” key, after an angry ctrl+a….  But we recoil, and we do because, no matter how much we cry, we still love what we do.  I’m here today to tell you:

It’s okay to be human.

We all have lives, jobs, and families that continue buzzing about as we sit with our backs to the world, trying to allot our novel some love before the high-pitched screaming toddler in the background will eventually require a diaper change.  We love our novels, but it’s okay to love the rest of our lives, too, because, I repeat:

It’s okay to be human.

Our pets need feeding, our spouses need reassuring, our bills need paying, our lives need livingWriting is important to you, and you want to do it well.  Everyone will tell you that you need to write to improve your craft.  You need to write and read and research and write some more– and they’re right!  But you’ll never improve your writing with your face on your keyboard in a puddle of your own tears, sobbing over those four pages your child lost when she gave the keyboard a swat.

Go to your happy place.  If you have to sacrifice ten minutes of writing for your own mental health and inner quiet, would you really consider that a set back?  Your writing will improve when your state of mind improves.  I don’t know about you, but the more stressed I get, the worse I feel, the less likely I am to write anything worthwhile.  I forget to eat, my brain stops functioning, I get dizzy and irritable and prone to tears and rude outbursts.  Take a breath.  Take a walk.  Read something for fun instead of for the sake of picking apart storytelling strategy.  Have a glass of water to rehydrate yourself.  Remember:

It’s okay to be human.

How can you create humanity in your writing if you don’t allow a bit for yourself?


How do you deal with stress?  Do you have a “happy place” or a de-stressing routine?  How do you find silence in your every day life?


Flickr Photo: Will Wilson


Filed under Writing, Writing Life

Exercise 2: I SLASH Your Description!

Alright, I’m going to give you guys something new and exciting this week (well, maybe not exciting, but new anyway), and give you a brief break from character development. Next week, though, I’m going to swat you again with something character-related. It seemed to be a bit of a problem, and since getting over trouble spots is the whole idea behind these writing exercises—you get the idea.

This week, (are you ready to hate me? Oh, you guys are going to hate me… >=]) I want you guys to write a descriptive piece, as long as you like, but a minimum of a paragraph. The kicker? I want you to do your best to eliminate adjectives. Why? Because I know at least a handful of writers that use adjectives as a descriptive safety net. I know you won’t be able to kill them all, but believe me, making yourself aware of how often you use extraneous adjectives will give you a whole new tool to use in your descriptive writing.

In case you’re wondering, I did have to do this for a class once, so I didn’t just pull it out of my—ear. If you’re not anal-retentive yet, you might be by the end of this. XD

To review: Write a descriptive piece a minimum of a paragraph, and do your best to eliminate adjectives from your writing. It can be a setting, character, hell, it can be the couch in your living room for all I care. Just describe something. =]

Don’t forget to send me your links when you’re through so I can post them here! Good luck!

Steve at Crazy As… I’m leaving it at that, Steve. I can’t get your blog spelling down without referencing it. XD


Filed under Writing, Writing Exercise Friday

Kill the “conflict argument” – Holly Lisle

So, you guys have probably learned my ridiculous love and respect for Holly Lisle by now, I’m sure.  Well, this is her latest e-mail tip.  I thought that my awesome writer friends wouldn’t mind a peek.

Holly’s Tip — Kill the “conflict argument.”

I get some questions in my mailbox that just HAVE to go out to a
wider audience that the person asking them, and this question from
Shanice is a perfect example.  She writes:

Dear Holly,

I am a beginning writer, who on the recommendation of a friend of
mine, subscribed up to your “Holly’s Tip” email… thingy… (Sorry
at the moment I cannot think of a better word than thingy) and I
would like to say that it has helped me so much I cannot begin to
describe it (well I could but it would bore you to death).

However, one problem I continually run into, when writing, is
conflict. I cannot write anything above a minor argument, I just
don’t know how to. I’ve tried looking over conflicts that have
happened in my life, and I’m lucky to say that they have only been
minor, which doesn’t help my writing unfortunately. Whether it be a
fight between two friends, or a fight which leads to a war, I just
cant seem to write what would happen, and if by some chance I do
manage to write a conflict, its so easily resolved it essentially
becomes useless for me to put it in there in the first place. So, I
was wondering, would you be able to gave me a few tips on writing

Yours Sincerely,


The first thing you HAVE to know to write good conflict is that
while arguments and fights are conflict, CONFLICT IS NOT ARGUMENTS.

On a sheet of plain paper, draw a HUGE circle—the biggest you can
put on the page.  It’s okay if it’s lopsided.

Now, somewhere inside the circle, draw a tiny, tiny circle.  TINY.
You can see a little bit of white on the inside of the circle, but
an ant could not turn around in it without crossing outside of it.

Label the big circle CONFLICT.  Label the little circle ARGUMENTS

Arguments are about the worst and least interesting form of
conflict to put into fiction.  They’re rarely relevant, they’re
frequently bitchy, and they almost never move your story forward.

If you’re looking for conflict, you address the following three

POINT ONE: WHAT does my character NEED to do more than
anything else in the world?

This question is the heart of whatever story you’re writing—if it
isn’t the actual summary of your story, you’re either writing about
the wrong character, or you’re telling the wrong story.

(In scenes featuring secondary characters, you ask the same
question, but the need will be different, and generally less
directly connected to your main story).

POINT TWO: WHO OR WHAT stands in the way of your character
RIGHT NOW to prevent him from doing what he NEEDS to do?

You ask THIS question on a scene-by-scene basis, and it will cover
everything from direct attacks by your primary antagonist to the
woman on the subway having a baby to your hero’s bad head cold,
depending on your scene and its circumstances.

POINT THREE: WHY does your reader care?

You can also ask this question as “WHAT are the stakes?” but you
can convince yourself to hang on to a pointless, boring scene with
that question.  From personal experience, I’ve discovered if you
ask why your reader should care, it’s a lot harder to lie to
yourself about needing the scene.


Bob NEEDS to rescue his girlfriend Kate, who has been kidnapped by
a wacko admirer and would-be rival.

Three potential conflicts for the scene:

1) He’s spotted her in a crowd, and is racing to her.  A woman
stops him to ask him the time, delaying his pursuit and causing him
to lose sight of her.


2) He gets the phone call from the kidnapper, and afterwards argues
with his buddy—who was with him during the call—over whether he
should go to the police or not.


3) He’s taking ransom money to a designated drop point when he
realizes that the drop point is a trap and the kidnapper wants to
kill him to get him out of the way.

Take a minute, and write down why you would or wouldn’t use each of
these conflicts.  I’ll wait.   :-)



. . . . These dots are me waiting, and giving you some white space
so you won’t read ahead and see my answers. . .







Conflict #1 just sucks.

It follows the story progression of Bad thing happens/ Character
does something stupid/ Bad thing gets worse BECAUSE character does
something stupid.

You don’t sell a story using stupidity as your plot device.

Your hero sees the love of his life in a crowd, being dragged away
by a lunatic, and he actually allows himself to be stopped for a
pointless question from some equally pointless stranger?

HOW can your reader care about an idiot whose priorities are so
obviously nonexistent?

He can’t, he won’t, and you’ll lose a reader.

Conflict #2 is irrelevant.

It follows the story progression of Bad thing happens/ Character
does nothing/ nothing changes.

Heroes take action.  They do not sit on their butts arguing with
their friends about whether or not they SHOULD take action.

TALKING IS NOT ACTION, no matter how many bull-session yakkers
think that arguing the future of the world over pizza is going to
actually affect the future of the world.

Any argument that does not happen WHILE characters are DOING
something that actually moves the story forward has no place in
your story.

Your reader will watch these two fools sitting on their couch
arguing, and he’ll think, “What’s the kidnapper doing to his victim
while they’re doing nothing?”  And he’ll close your book and go
shoot evil aliens on his X-Box.

Conflict #3 is solid.

It follows the story progression of Bad thing happens/ Character
takes action/ Action takes character deeper into trouble.

Bob does SOMEthing—and it’s something that should fix the
situation, if the kidnapper were an honorable man.

But kidnappers aren’t honorable, and as Bob and his bag of
hard-earned bucks are walking into the dark alley, Bob’s sudden
realization that the kidnapper can have his money AND his life, and
get his girl at the same time, will give your reader something to
care about.

WHAT your character needs.
WHO stands between him and it.
WHY we care.

Write with joy,


P.S. These are conflict’s baby steps, and I cover this material in
much more depth in How To Think Sideways
as well as from a completely different angle in in How To Revise
Your Novel.

But this will get you started, and will keep you from making the
awful “argument as conflict” mistake while you’re writing.

This email is Copyright Holly Lisle. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of any portion of this email is strictly
prohibited without the express written consent of
Holly Lisle.

Get your own copy of this newsletter here:


While doubting that Ms. Lisle will ever read this, I’d like to extend my well-wishes.  She’s been ill, and the doctors don’t know what’s wrong (except that it’s not a brain tumor or an aneurysm), so “Get well soon, Holly!”

I hope you all enjoy the tip.


Filed under Life, Writer's Group, Writing