I'm a published novelist and freelance writer, editor, and audio tech. Check out my journal for creative writing tips, short stories, and news. To learn more about my books or my services, navigate using the links above. 

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Entries in writing games (8)

Sunday
May282017

Upcoming Writing Games Classes - Spring 2017

Writing Games is back at the DC Public Library! We're celebrating the start of Summer Reading by encouraging some summer writing; writers of all ages are welcome to join any one of these five free classes this June. All classes will be different, and each can stand alone, so come for as many as you'd like. There's no homework and no prerequisites. Just show up ready to create! Each class is two hours.

June 2017 Writing Games Dates

Monday, June 5 @ 6:30pm: Mt. Pleasant Public Library

Monday, June 12 @ 6:30pm: Southeast Public Library

Saturday, June 17 @ 2:00pm: Deanwood Public Library

Monday, June 19 @ 6:30pm: Tenley Public Library

Saturday, June 24 @ 2:00pm: Rosedale Public Library

 

This summer's class theme is World Building. Whether you love scifi and fantasy, historical, or contemporary fiction, all genres involve world-building. Learn how to create an immersive world for your story, through a series of interactive games focused on creating rules for your universe, describing setting, and exploring even familiar places as if you're an alien explorer.

Never joined a Writing Games class before? Past students have described it as "improv theater for introverts." Each session includes 3 - 4 in-class exercises. We use pass-the-pens, multi-layered prompts, and verbal games to inspire creativity and energize you to keep writing at home. All the exercises are self-contained; you don't need to bring in an existing work-in-progress, and you don't need to work on anything in between classes, unless you want to continue writing a story you began in one of the exercises.

Monday
Apr182016

Letter to Students: Positive Techniques for Busting the Exposition Trap

The latest session of Writing Games begins TODAY at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop! Sign up here.
Every week of Writing Games class, I send an email to my current students with a few extra thoughts on writing and the themes or techniques we explored that week, plus take-home exercises and more. The Letters to Students blog series collects highlights from some of these emails. To sign up for a Writing Games class, visit my Events page.
 


Last week's Letter to Students featured some emotional techniques for dealing with the "exposition trap" and self-limitation. This week, I offer three concrete, stylistic tips for reducing or transforming exposition in our work.

This week we did three short games to explore three common sticking points for writers. The overarching theme was fighting the tendency to get lost in exposition instead of slowing down and creating scenes instead of flying past them with expository prose. We have three tools to fight Creeping Exposition: dialogue, action, and the creation of incident/filler scenes/transitional scenes.

Dialogue: How many times in your writing have you skipped past an opportunity to write out a dialogue scene? I recently experienced an example of this. In my current work in progress, a teen sneaks out all night to participate in some scary supernatural stuff. When she returns in the morning, her mom catches her and asks her where she was. Her alibi is that she snuck out to sleep with her boyfriend for the first time. As I was revising my first draft of this book, I realized I'd just written something like "And then we had an awkward conversation about sex," and then moved on to the next scene. Looking back at it, I thought, "Um...I need to write out this dialogue."

Action: The same thing happens with action -- action can be as difficult to write compellingly as humor. It's easy to skip past it without even thinking, too: "They chased the hero down the alley. It was a close one but he made it out." That could be: "The turned, chasing him into the long, dark alley. He dodged behind a dumpster, holding his breath. They shuffled down the alley with muffled steps, hoping to surprise him, looking for any sign of his presence. He held in a sneeze, clenching his fists. They got to the end of the alley, rattled the chain-link fence in frustration, and then marched out again. The hero waited until the sound of their steps was far away, before taking a deep breath." To break the habit of skipping past action, err on the side of too much detail; it'll train your brain to think of action sequences as a series of small and distinct actions.

 

Creation of Incident: Often we imagine stories in the form of a synopsis, hitting on the major peaks and valleys, and then we sit down to write and realize we have to fill in the gaps with incident, and we're stumped. My suggestion for this challenge is less of a technique and more of an attitude change. If we approach these transitional or filler scenes as unique opportunities to create "mini" stories within the story, they no longer seem like a boring chore, and they become a fun writing experience within themselves. See if you can approach your own work that way.

 

To view all the Letters to Students, click here. 

 

Thursday
Apr142016

Join us for the 2016 CHAW Writing Showcase!

 

 image via freevintageimages.com

Join us for the 2016 CHAW Creative Writing Showcase, on April 21 from 6:30 - 9pm! The Creative Writing Showcase is held open-house style, so stop in for as long as you like, or stay for the program of student and instructor readings from 7pm - 8pm. Admire the latest art installation in CHAW's gallery while you enjoy:
  • Free wine and snacks
  • Readings by students and instructors
  • Announcements about upcoming writing classes
  • Social time with your fellow writing students
  • The opportunity to share your own work!
WHAT: CHAW Creative Writing Showcase 2016
WHEN: April 21, 6:30pm - 9pm
WHERE: Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, Front Gallery
545 7th Street SE
Washington, DC

 

 

RSVP Here 

 

Monday
Apr112016

Letter to Students: Come Play With Me

Writing Games is returning to Capitol Hill Arts Workshop on April 18! Time is running out, so sign up to secure your spot now. Click here to register!

Every week of Writing Games class, I send an email to my current students with a few extra thoughts on writing and the themes or techniques we explored that week, plus take-home exercises and more. The Letters to Students blog series collects highlights from some of these emails.

image via freevintageillustrations.com

Writing Games is based on the idea that the biggest thing holding you back is the voice in your head that tells you, "Don't write that, that's stupid." The belief that one doesn't have any inspiration is just a result of listening to that voice for too long.

In class, we play rapid-fire, collaborative games to try to overcome that voice. How can you continue to do that at home, without the timer, the team atmosphere, or the crazy prompts?

There's a reason that I try to give you take-home assignments that include things like "try something new" or "write a friend a long email," in addition to the more traditional prompts. Overcoming that negative voice isn't just a matter of writing technique; it's an entire attitude shift. It's deciding that you don't need permission from anyone to write. It's embracing the belief that your ideas are valid and worth expression. It's also a willingness to make mistakes and try something, even if you know you'll do it imperfectly, or it may be uncomfortable at first, because trying is how you learn and improve.

When a guitarist wants to get better at guitar, they practice. Yet, so often, when writers want to improve themselves, they sit on their hands, unwilling to sacrifice a good idea to a weak phase in their career for the sake of learning through experience. I'm not quite sure where we all expect improvement to come from if we don't try, but for many writers, the wish for improvement is paralyzing.

Don't fall into that trap. Come play with me! The newest session of Writing Games at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop begins on April 18. Sign up here to secure your spot today!

To view all the Letters to Students, click here. 

Monday
Apr042016

Letter to Students: Showing, Telling, and Self-Limitation

Writing Games is returning to Capitol Hill Arts Workshop on April 18! Time is running out, so sign up to secure your spot now. Click here to register!

Every week of Writing Games class, I send an email to my current students with a few extra thoughts on writing and the themes or techniques we explored that week, plus take-home exercises and more. The Letters to Students blog series collects highlights from some of these emails.

image via freevintageimages.com

This week we explored various ways to "bust the exposition trap," which is a writing habit many aspiring authors fall into. The exposition trap is when we rely too heavily on descriptive or analytic prose instead of placing readers directly in the scene or world we're depicting. Some people call the remedy to the exposition trap "showing instead of telling," but I think that distinction has limited usefulness because really compelling writing combines a bit of both showing and telling. However, as we explored in our exercises, sometimes to break the habit we have to overcorrect, and challenge ourselves to write something that exclusively "shows" (like our action verb game) in order to stretch those underused creative muscles.

I've taught a few classes on the exposition trap so far, and each time, it makes me pause and reconsider a lot of the writing axioms that we learn, such as "show, don't tell." Like any proverb, it's about 70% true, but it's so neat and tidy that it's easy to reach for it all the time. After all, it makes our writing decisions for us! When any piece of writing "wisdom" is treated dogmatically like that, it winds up having the opposite of its intended effect--it can just serve to create another issue. So rather than focusing on telling you what not to do, I tried to design this class to help you see all that you can do--rather than setting up a false dichotomy of "show, don't tell," why not learn to do both really well, and have twice as many tools in your writing box?

There's a big difference between self-awareness and self-limitation. We all have these fears about our writing: am I telling too much, and not showing enough? Am I not original enough? Is my material not serious enough? Not funny enough? Am I copying too much from my own life, and not inventing enough?

Self-awareness means being able to recognize what needs improvement and what works about your writing, and learning that even the areas that require improvement are open doors to development, experimentation, and new efforts--not shut doors of "forbidden technique." I think writers suffer especially from this attitude, inculcated by workshops and even our pop-culture images of writers as tortured and self-loathing: that self-improvement means self-limitation, self-flagellation.

But what I've learned through personal experience and observation is that growth and improvement come much more rapidly when we focus on what we can do, not what we can't. Even if it results in error, I think it's much easier and more productive to reel in an overly ambitious or adventurous style than it is to try to pry ourselves out of the clutches of self-consciousness and self-limitation. I hope this week's exercises helped.

To view all the Letters to Students, click here. 

Tuesday
Mar292016

One more chance to sign up for spring Writing Games!

 

image via freevintageillustrations.com

 

The final spring session of Writing Games is almost upon us! And this time, we have six weeks of fun, creativity, and exploration to share!

The next session of Writing Games begins April 18 and runs Monday nights for six weeks from 6:30pm - 8:30pm at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th Street SE, Washington, DC. Sign up now, before space runs out!

I love, Love, LOVE hearing from Writing Games students who have finished their novels, or picked up the pen for the first time in years. Will you be the next?

Click here to sign up for Writing Games at CHAW!

Monday
Mar282016

Letter to Students: Get Some Action

Every week of Writing Games class, I send an email to my current students with a few extra thoughts on writing and the themes or techniques we explored that week, plus take-home exercises and more. The Letters to Students blog series collects highlights from some of these emails. To sign up for a Writing Games class, visit my Events page.

 

In our last class, we played a selection of games to explore plot development, writing action scenes, and writing endings. A quick take-home challenge: if you find yourself struggling to write or imagine action scenes in one of your stories, try our action-verb-only exercise. (Every sentence must contain at least one action verb.) It might not result in a scene you want to use in your final draft, but it should help jar you out of your doldrums and start thinking in terms of physical action, and how to keep things moving forward briskly.

Another neat exercise, just to stretch your creative muscles, is to "novelize" an action scene from a movie. Pick a movie you like a lot, and then try to write out one of its action scenes as a story. Explore the pace and type of language you use to describe the scene. See if you can carry that tone over into your own work.

To view all the Letters to Students, click here. 

Monday
Mar142016

Letter to Students: Suspense (Part 2)

Every week of Writing Games class, I send an email to my current students with a few extra thoughts on writing and the themes or techniques we explored that week, plus take-home exercises and more. The Letters to Students blog series collects highlights from some of these emails. To sign up for a Writing Games class, visit my Events page.
 

image via freevintageillustrations.com

Suspense doesn't have to be cartoonish, nor is it solely the realm of thrillers, horror, and mystery. Virtually every well-told story involves some degree or type of suspense--it is the essence of what makes any book "unputdownable." And, as I said in class, I also think that making an effort to build suspense is one way that writers can show respect for their readers. It is something we are creating forthem--because we pull the strings, we will never feel suspense in building our own stories the way readers do when they consume them. It also shows that the writer cares about whether the reader is interested or not, an acknowledgement that the vast majority of us read to be entertained, even when we're also reading to be enriched and enlightened.

Even though I said that suspense is present in all literature, I keep coming back to horror because I've always loved a good ghost story, and thinking about why is what led me to create some of the games for this class.

But I didn't just want to understand why on a technical level, by thinking about the kinds of tools writers can use to build suspense. I wanted to understand why suspense is so appealing to us on a human level. I'm still chewing on that one, but I've come to think that it's partly because suspense, in addition to putting us directly into the world of a story in an interactive way, also gives us something to believe in. Because suspense isn't only the product of surprise--because it also depends heavily on inevitability and convention--it allows us to believe that events make sense, that the wonderful or strange is possible (but in a way that's structured and not too frightening), and that the events of a life can fit a neat story arc--that it's all going somewhere. Like Mulder, we all want to believe.

I often urge students to learn the rules before they break the rules. There are a couple of reasons. First of all, learning how to work within the rules--such as the rules of suspense and world-building that we practice in class--can demonstrate that writing "conventionally" doesn't have to be conventional at all--there's lots and lots of room for invention.

Secondly, when I teach "the rules" I try not only to talk about the conventions of writing, but the human reasons behind them. If you can understand why readers crave suspense, it can help you decide whether you really want to deny it to them, or if that would go against the emotional affect you're trying to achieve. It also encourages a respect for your readers: instead of viewing writing conventions as a shortcut for lazy writers and readers, it opens you up to greater empathy with your readers and why they crave the things they do.

Those things lead to the third reason to learn the rules before you break the rules: if you know the rules, you can break them in a more deliberate and masterful way, in ways focused on your emotional or artistic objective. Some of the most conventional and hackneyed writing is a result of trying to "break" the rules (or exploit them) without fully understanding how to use them in the first place, or why we use them.

For my part, I think I'll continue to explore suspense--even in its conventional forms--in my own writing. There have been few things more enticing to me than a good ghost story, and I won't stop tinkering until I figure out why.

To view all the Letters to Students, click here.