You want to write better. You want to write more.

Ann Linquist I’m Ann Linquist, freelance writer and online writing instructor.  Whether you’re interested in writing fiction, creative nonfiction, or effective business documents, I invite you to explore this site and find out how to reach your writing goals.

The Un-Galumphing

Instead of assembling tricky items into a story or plot, I want you to connect a horribly predictable set of stock novel elements into a very unpredictable plot.  It’s going to take a very tricky mind to avoid the easy connections and cliches!

  • Nazis
  • Time travel
  • Attractive female doctor
  • Masculine undercover agent
  • Wise men from Tibet
  • Secret societies of mercenaries
  • Atlantis

 

Five Honest Statements

I’ve been reading a book called My Name if Lucy Barton.   The author reminds me of students I’ve taught who learned to write on their own, without much guidance or instructors telling them how to write. It’s fiction (at least I think it’s fiction), but what is most striking about the story is how honest the narrator is. She’s blunt, not fancy. She repeats herself at times, as we might if we were storytelling aloud. She doesn’t dress up her sentences or her story. It feels as if she has found an editor to remove obvious language mistakes. Even so, the clunkiness of her writing remains at times, and it underlines her truth-telling.

So here is your challenge. Write five honest statements about yourself. That’s the only rule. Let your honesty make the impression. I’m not asking you to embarrass yourself or reveal secrets you’ve kept for years. That’s for Facebook or your journal. I’m asking you to simply state five honest things about yourself that you could write about.

Here are five of mine:

…I picked up a handful of snow today and wept.

…Cooking fills up a welcome couple of hours daily.

…I take three steps forward for each two steps backward and count this as my usual progress.

…The things I write surprise me, as if someone else wrote them.

…I like to notice when happiness overtakes me.

The Unfolding Path of Plots

When writing fiction, the writer is required to carve out the path forward. You have to deal with the fact that if Character X stops and looks back, it may mean that Character Y may have to shoot her or perhaps that Character Z will have to check his wallet to see if he has enough money. We sit at the forks of our plots over and over, deciding who to move where and what to have them do.

It’s even more fun when you’re not sure what the ending is going to be. Then you have to loose your arrow even though you’re in the fog and hope that somewhere out front there is a target with a well-defined bullseye on it. Given the restraints of making stories mean something and the responsibility to be credible, it happens that often the bullseye has a homing device on it, pulling your arrow in the right direction. Or not. Yes, we often have to backtrack, dig our way out of a dead end, or climb the brick wall that blocks our plot.

One of the biggest obstacles to plotting well seems to be the temptation to indulge in a cliché. For example, it’s easy to have Ariel’s husband divorce her so she can move to a small town in Arizona where handsome and artistically inclined Theo turns up to make her life full and rewarding. Or perhaps Dr. Zeno, the evil inventor, is thwarted by Josh, the crafty kid with no friends at school, but who does have special powers. Or take techno spy, retired CIA operative, Brett, who discovers the underground plot of a long hidden KGB cell that now has connections to terrorists. So easy. So predictable. Add a few plot twists and bake for two months. Voila! Predictable genre fiction.

Instead, I have found that the moment the easy cliché path pops into my head is also the time when I have the opportunity to turn the plot on its head. Ariel’s move to Arizona after her divorce includes neither a lovely new romance nor a new career. She’s going to spend all her time in the desert, fasting, and trying to find the meaning of life. Maybe Dr. Zeno is actually trying to invent a time machine to travel back to the past to visit his beloved mother who died when he was the same age as Josh. Maybe Josh’s special powers are that he has an extra strong sense of smell, which just makes him feel weirder than the other kids. Or maybe Brett, our techno spy, ends up in Arizona deciding to let the terrorists take care of themselves while he joins Ariel in the desert, fasting and searching for some other interpretation of life that doesn’t involve shooting people and keeping vital national secrets.

Or, maybe you have a better plot for our heroes Ariel, Josh, or Brett….

Time to Dream

I don’t know about you, but it’s cold where I live, and the snow won’t be leaving for some months now. That means it’s time to dream by the fire. (No, I’m not going to ask you to describe a flame. Ack!) Life marches on, and most of us have picked our path or at least been handed one that we’ve had to follow. Even so, those dreamy flames encourage the fun of imagining all those paths we might have followed.

Let’s say you can command the forces of fate and pick a couple of other paths. What would have liked to try?

Would you have liked to be a trapeze artist named Regina Glorina? Or perhaps a world-famous environmental attorney, defending the preservation of pure water and clean air? How about an explorer who circled the globe in a boat you made in your garage?

What dreams (you are not limited to one!) lurk in your flames?

Your Chance to Write a Sitcom

I have to admit I’m a bit tired of predictable plots In TV dramas and sitcoms. Certainly we can do better. If I give you some characters and a location, can you come up with an episode?

Location:

A lovely bay on one of the Great Lakes, where vacationers can go out on a small sailboat for a two-hour morning, afternoon, or sunset cruise. The boat holds six plus its captain and his teenage son, who helps out.

Characters:

Captain

The teenage son

The sailboat

The current group (from one to six people) who have signed up for the sunset cruise.

Conflicts

The weather isn’t all that great; a storm may or may not come in.

The captain and his son are in the middle of a fight about the father’s latest girlfriend

The group includes people with certain disagreements about religion

Was that a Firetruck?

Bev sat on the metal lawn chair she kept on her front porch, bouncing a bit, idly swatting mosquitoes who were attracted to her fat arms, and considering her next snack, even though it pained her knees to pull herself to her feet.  Her iced tea had gone watery, and her magazine was so boring that she nodded off.

In her dream she was young again.  A yellow striped sundress blew against her shapely legs.  As she walked down the sidewalk, her transistor radio played, “I Got You Babe” but for some reason Cher was out of tune and apparently traveling by at a fast clip.

Bev pried open her eyes.  She thought she smelled smoke.

Odd Holiday Events

The Winter Solstice brings together a number of religious and holiday traditions, including welcoming the New Year.  These celebrations typically involve families gathering, perhaps some gift giving, a variety of parties (both at work and with friends) and lots of eating.  No two people in the world have the same experience of the holidays.  I’d like to hear about an odd holiday event from your past.  It can be a unique tradition, an unusual memory, or even something best forgotten.

Take us with you into a weird holiday scene.  Fiction and nonfiction are both welcome!