Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For a change of pace, I thought I'd share a snippet from my work in progress. It's a YA contemporary that picks up roughly 18 months after my debut, Never Gone.

My protagonist, Danielle, is a lifetime New Yorker who is spending a few weeks in central Pennsylvania (or so she hopes) when her grandfather is hospitalized after a bad fall.

===

Photo credit: arien from morguefile.com 
I step out to the back patio to check on Rhys. The chain tethered to the patio railing is tightly looped around a small birch with no dog attached. What the heck? I jog over to the tree and find the clasp bent wide open. He must’ve seen a squirrel and broken free.

“Rhys? Reeee-sss!”

Nothing but chirping birds and the air conditioner’s hum.

How could I lose him my second day here? I kick the tree in frustration and a flock of sparrows bursts out of the leaves, twittering at me. I check tall shrubs around the house; no dog. The garage now has a coffin in one of the parking bays, but no Rhys. The garden shed holds nothing but dusty tools and ancient sacks of peat moss. I search the grove of trees behind the house and the mysterious outbuilding as well, but still no sign of my dog.

I guess this means Rhys took off through the woods. Right. I can do this. It’s just trees. Songbirds. Chirpy little crickets. Spiders…rattlesnakes…black bears…pumas. What chance does Rhys have against a puma? God, help me. I’ve got to save my poor dog before he ends up disemboweled on a rock, left for vultures to pick apart.

I run back to the garage, grab a splintered baseball bat and dive into the thicket. Brambles scratch my bare arms. Dandelions spill silken seeds that flutter into my face and tickle my nose. Burrs hitch a ride on my shorts and socks as I kick deeper through the undergrowth.
“Rhys! Reee-sss!”

I swat away the gnats buzzing around my head. I’d rather roam the Met when it’s wall-to-wall sweaty tourists than be out in all this creepy nature.

Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

I stumble, nearly dropping the bat. What was that? The rapid tapping repeats. It can’t be a rattlesnake, can it?

“Woof!” Rhys’s distant bark rings through the trees. I turn around and around trying to guess his direction. If there are poisonous snakes in these woods, we’re both dead.

A flash of red catches my eye as a mid-sized bird swoops past. It lands on a dead tree and cocks its head. I stand stock-still and stare at its black body, skunk-striped face, funny red hat of a crest. It’s such a beautiful creature, I instinctively pat my back pockets for a sketch pad and pencil. The bird squawks, turns, and rapidly pecks the tree trunk. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

That’s what I’ve been scared of? A harmless woodpecker? Jeez.

More distant barks pull my attention to the deep woods. No more of these stupid fears. I stand tall, tighten my grip on the bat, and follow.

Past the low shrubs and brambles, the woods are soft and cool. Ferns and moss make a pungent carpet across the forest floor. Light shivers among the breeze-bent branches. An earthy scent lingers among the trees. I close my eyes, suck in lungfuls of it, strange as it tastes to my city-girl tongue. Breaths come like prayer.

Behind me, branches snap and swish. My eyes flash open and I see a guy on a big, black horse circling me. He has a hunting rifle in his right hand, pointed at the sky for the moment. One false move, though, and he might just turn its sights on me.

===

What are you working on these days?
7:00 AM Laurel Garver
For a change of pace, I thought I'd share a snippet from my work in progress. It's a YA contemporary that picks up roughly 18 months after my debut, Never Gone.

My protagonist, Danielle, is a lifetime New Yorker who is spending a few weeks in central Pennsylvania (or so she hopes) when her grandfather is hospitalized after a bad fall.

===

Photo credit: arien from morguefile.com 
I step out to the back patio to check on Rhys. The chain tethered to the patio railing is tightly looped around a small birch with no dog attached. What the heck? I jog over to the tree and find the clasp bent wide open. He must’ve seen a squirrel and broken free.

“Rhys? Reeee-sss!”

Nothing but chirping birds and the air conditioner’s hum.

How could I lose him my second day here? I kick the tree in frustration and a flock of sparrows bursts out of the leaves, twittering at me. I check tall shrubs around the house; no dog. The garage now has a coffin in one of the parking bays, but no Rhys. The garden shed holds nothing but dusty tools and ancient sacks of peat moss. I search the grove of trees behind the house and the mysterious outbuilding as well, but still no sign of my dog.

I guess this means Rhys took off through the woods. Right. I can do this. It’s just trees. Songbirds. Chirpy little crickets. Spiders…rattlesnakes…black bears…pumas. What chance does Rhys have against a puma? God, help me. I’ve got to save my poor dog before he ends up disemboweled on a rock, left for vultures to pick apart.

I run back to the garage, grab a splintered baseball bat and dive into the thicket. Brambles scratch my bare arms. Dandelions spill silken seeds that flutter into my face and tickle my nose. Burrs hitch a ride on my shorts and socks as I kick deeper through the undergrowth.
“Rhys! Reee-sss!”

I swat away the gnats buzzing around my head. I’d rather roam the Met when it’s wall-to-wall sweaty tourists than be out in all this creepy nature.

Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

I stumble, nearly dropping the bat. What was that? The rapid tapping repeats. It can’t be a rattlesnake, can it?

“Woof!” Rhys’s distant bark rings through the trees. I turn around and around trying to guess his direction. If there are poisonous snakes in these woods, we’re both dead.

A flash of red catches my eye as a mid-sized bird swoops past. It lands on a dead tree and cocks its head. I stand stock-still and stare at its black body, skunk-striped face, funny red hat of a crest. It’s such a beautiful creature, I instinctively pat my back pockets for a sketch pad and pencil. The bird squawks, turns, and rapidly pecks the tree trunk. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

That’s what I’ve been scared of? A harmless woodpecker? Jeez.

More distant barks pull my attention to the deep woods. No more of these stupid fears. I stand tall, tighten my grip on the bat, and follow.

Past the low shrubs and brambles, the woods are soft and cool. Ferns and moss make a pungent carpet across the forest floor. Light shivers among the breeze-bent branches. An earthy scent lingers among the trees. I close my eyes, suck in lungfuls of it, strange as it tastes to my city-girl tongue. Breaths come like prayer.

Behind me, branches snap and swish. My eyes flash open and I see a guy on a big, black horse circling me. He has a hunting rifle in his right hand, pointed at the sky for the moment. One false move, though, and he might just turn its sights on me.

===

What are you working on these days?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

Photo credit: ManicMorFF from morguefile.com 
What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he should do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling.

The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing her hands when she doesn't immediately understand something--she'll make use of all the intellectual tools at her disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. A ten-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would s/he really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? These lines of questioning can open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.

How might "maximum capacity" make your plots more compelling? In what circumstances do you think Frey's "rule" might not be the best way to go?
7:00 AM Laurel Garver
In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

Photo credit: ManicMorFF from morguefile.com 
What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he should do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling.

The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing her hands when she doesn't immediately understand something--she'll make use of all the intellectual tools at her disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. A ten-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would s/he really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? These lines of questioning can open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.

How might "maximum capacity" make your plots more compelling? In what circumstances do you think Frey's "rule" might not be the best way to go?

Friday, September 05, 2014

In the lead up to a new school year beginning, I've gotten out of the blogging habit, sadly. Today I thought I'd "get back in the saddle" so to speak with a quick review of a book everyone's been talking about this summer.

Fan art from Tumblr
What surprised me most about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is the light touch gallows humor and wry narrative voice. This book had me laughing far more often than I'd expected for an ostensibly weepy kind of story. That was a big plus.

I also loved that Green shows how living with a life threatening illness influences personality in a way that struck me as wise and insightful: the ever-present threat of death would quite reasonably make a kid into an "old soul" who tries to think big thoughts and be someone special in a very condensed lifetime. He even does a good job of showing the tremendous tedium of watching someone die.

Where I wasn't as deeply gripped was the romance part of the story. There's an extent to which Hazel is trying to protect her own heart and Gus's. But when she does decide to love, I didn't quite feel the shift as much as I'd hoped. It remained still a very intellectual kind of love.

The story's most fascinating character was, to my mind, the antagonist Peter Van Houten, a misanthropic alcoholic author whose first novel is a favorite of the teen characters. This once eloquent, wise soul has become wonderfully horrid in a way only truly broken people can be. His response to personal loss is what Hazel most fears her illness will incite in others (she once refers to herself as a grenade that will explode, leaving casualties).  Van Houten's bad behavior has surprising consequences; it incites Hazel to at last show she has developed a backbone and a strong voice in the midst of loss.

Whether Van Houten ultimately leaves behind his wallowing and changes for the better remains an open question, like the unwritten sequel to An Imperial Affliction. Van Houten either is or isn't redeemable. Hazel and Gus ignite change in him or don't. It's the kind of ending that, like suffering, exposes rather than changes one's views of human brokenness.

As a window into a very, very underrepresented minority in literature--disability and illness are pushed to the margins even more than race or poverty--I'd recommend this book. I finished with a tremendous appreciation for my health and a renewed sense that we need to do more as a culture to love those with physical differences, whether chronic or acute.

What are your thoughts about this best-seller? If you haven't picked it up, would you? What have you been reading lately?
12:16 PM Laurel Garver
In the lead up to a new school year beginning, I've gotten out of the blogging habit, sadly. Today I thought I'd "get back in the saddle" so to speak with a quick review of a book everyone's been talking about this summer.

Fan art from Tumblr
What surprised me most about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is the light touch gallows humor and wry narrative voice. This book had me laughing far more often than I'd expected for an ostensibly weepy kind of story. That was a big plus.

I also loved that Green shows how living with a life threatening illness influences personality in a way that struck me as wise and insightful: the ever-present threat of death would quite reasonably make a kid into an "old soul" who tries to think big thoughts and be someone special in a very condensed lifetime. He even does a good job of showing the tremendous tedium of watching someone die.

Where I wasn't as deeply gripped was the romance part of the story. There's an extent to which Hazel is trying to protect her own heart and Gus's. But when she does decide to love, I didn't quite feel the shift as much as I'd hoped. It remained still a very intellectual kind of love.

The story's most fascinating character was, to my mind, the antagonist Peter Van Houten, a misanthropic alcoholic author whose first novel is a favorite of the teen characters. This once eloquent, wise soul has become wonderfully horrid in a way only truly broken people can be. His response to personal loss is what Hazel most fears her illness will incite in others (she once refers to herself as a grenade that will explode, leaving casualties).  Van Houten's bad behavior has surprising consequences; it incites Hazel to at last show she has developed a backbone and a strong voice in the midst of loss.

Whether Van Houten ultimately leaves behind his wallowing and changes for the better remains an open question, like the unwritten sequel to An Imperial Affliction. Van Houten either is or isn't redeemable. Hazel and Gus ignite change in him or don't. It's the kind of ending that, like suffering, exposes rather than changes one's views of human brokenness.

As a window into a very, very underrepresented minority in literature--disability and illness are pushed to the margins even more than race or poverty--I'd recommend this book. I finished with a tremendous appreciation for my health and a renewed sense that we need to do more as a culture to love those with physical differences, whether chronic or acute.

What are your thoughts about this best-seller? If you haven't picked it up, would you? What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Photo credit: RoganJosh from morguefile.com 
How often are you going happily along in your routines when—BAM!—some misfortune or difficulty derails you? One's natural instinct is to get through, get out, get away from the hardship as soon as possible, looking neither to the left or the right.

But there’s another way to think about life’s rough patches—as opportunity.  This perspective is something I’ve been raised with, but didn’t always appreciate. A mishap with the plumbing in our hundred-year-old urban rowhouse was a poignant refresher course.

In early August 2009, I had a harrowing night when our third floor toilet’s water line broke. The problem went unnoticed for about 20 minutes, until the water started raining into the second floor through a light fixture and continued downward into the first floor and basement. The next few hours were eaten up with bailing, mopping, tamping down towels, laundering towels, running fans. The next morning, as I stumbled around, fatigued and worried a ceiling might still collapse, I couldn’t help but remember what my mother always says about these sorts of disasters: “it will make a good story later.”

If my life is a story, then it’s the messes, mishaps, and failures that actually make it interesting. Not that I seek these things out, but when disaster does occur, it carries with it the promise of bringing something ultimately transformative, maybe even redemptive. “It will make a good story later” makes me notice things I otherwise wouldn’t, from the shape of stains on the ceiling to the way my husband’s shoulders slump as he contemplates them.

Watching Mom over the years ferret away details in the midst of turmoil then transform them into captivating comic stories has been quite an education. Not only have I learned to see the humor potential in all things (and to never take myself too seriously), I’ve also gained a habit of attentiveness when life goes awry—a valuable skill in any writer’s toolbox.

As you come to grips with the possibilities of  “it will make a good story later,” you can begin to develop both a habit of attentiveness and a new perspective on what makes you truly the writer you are, with stories only you can tell.

Life’s interruptions to routine can be a creative gift to you. They put you in new places with access to new relationships and experiences. They force you to understand suffering, fear, frustration, anger, sorrow, and all other shades of negative emotion necessary to create deeply real characters that readers connect with.

Don’t panic when life interrupts your writing routine. Pay attention. It will make a good story later.

What hardships have made you the writer you are? What storytelling mentor has shaped your approach and how?
12:10 PM Laurel Garver
Photo credit: RoganJosh from morguefile.com 
How often are you going happily along in your routines when—BAM!—some misfortune or difficulty derails you? One's natural instinct is to get through, get out, get away from the hardship as soon as possible, looking neither to the left or the right.

But there’s another way to think about life’s rough patches—as opportunity.  This perspective is something I’ve been raised with, but didn’t always appreciate. A mishap with the plumbing in our hundred-year-old urban rowhouse was a poignant refresher course.

In early August 2009, I had a harrowing night when our third floor toilet’s water line broke. The problem went unnoticed for about 20 minutes, until the water started raining into the second floor through a light fixture and continued downward into the first floor and basement. The next few hours were eaten up with bailing, mopping, tamping down towels, laundering towels, running fans. The next morning, as I stumbled around, fatigued and worried a ceiling might still collapse, I couldn’t help but remember what my mother always says about these sorts of disasters: “it will make a good story later.”

If my life is a story, then it’s the messes, mishaps, and failures that actually make it interesting. Not that I seek these things out, but when disaster does occur, it carries with it the promise of bringing something ultimately transformative, maybe even redemptive. “It will make a good story later” makes me notice things I otherwise wouldn’t, from the shape of stains on the ceiling to the way my husband’s shoulders slump as he contemplates them.

Watching Mom over the years ferret away details in the midst of turmoil then transform them into captivating comic stories has been quite an education. Not only have I learned to see the humor potential in all things (and to never take myself too seriously), I’ve also gained a habit of attentiveness when life goes awry—a valuable skill in any writer’s toolbox.

As you come to grips with the possibilities of  “it will make a good story later,” you can begin to develop both a habit of attentiveness and a new perspective on what makes you truly the writer you are, with stories only you can tell.

Life’s interruptions to routine can be a creative gift to you. They put you in new places with access to new relationships and experiences. They force you to understand suffering, fear, frustration, anger, sorrow, and all other shades of negative emotion necessary to create deeply real characters that readers connect with.

Don’t panic when life interrupts your writing routine. Pay attention. It will make a good story later.

What hardships have made you the writer you are? What storytelling mentor has shaped your approach and how?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I don't know about the rest of you, but August can be a very chaotic month for me, with vacations and back-to-school preparations and a total lack of routine in far too many areas. My daughter's dance lessons are "drop ins" and her guitar teacher shifts days around, some church activities don't meet, while others are more frequent.

But even when I feel this scattered, I have a couple of routines that help me not lose all track of my writing.

Walk

Image by jorgeyu, morguefile.com
A fifteen to thirty minute walk first thing in the morning makes me more alert and helps me gather my thoughts. I bring no gadgets, no music, no companions. This is distraction-free time when I can just think.

An April 2014 study from Stanford University found "Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter." They also noted "Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting."

The good news? It's the act of walking and not the environment that matters. So when the weather's horrid, stepping onto a treadmill can give you similar benefits.

Of course, there are also health benefits to a daily walk, including reduced cancer, diabetes and heart disease risk. And if you're struggling with low energy, short walks are the ticket to breaking the vicious cycle of lethargy (lethargy tends to breed more lethargy). A bit of sun exposure during an outdoor walk will increase your levels of vitamin D, an important nutrient that improves not only bone health but also mood (why that is hasn't yet been studied in depth, but depression can be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency).

A walk can also be a great afternoon pick-me-up, especially when you've hit a crossroads in a story and can't decide how to proceed. Let your mind roam as your feet do, and your creative mind will offer ideas and solutions.

Write longhand

While I have no desire to return to the days of all longhand composition, I do find it extremely helpful to do some longhand writing every day, whether note jotting, brainstorming, or free-writing. I've tried all kinds of warm ups over the years and longhand is the one that never fails to "prime the pump" for me.

Apparently educators and cognitive scientists have been looking into why longhand writing is so beneficial to our brains. Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, used brain scans in her research on the benefits of longhand. She found that "as your hand executes each stroke of each letter, it activates a much larger portion of the brain’s thinking, language, and 'working memory' regions than typing." Keyword there? The language portion of the brain is more actively engaged.

Another study of elementary aged children found "writing by hand improves students’ creative writing skills, and elementary students actually write more quickly by hand than when typing. Compositions are also longer when written by hand...."  My experience bears that out--when writing longhand I'm more apt to write more ideas and edit less. There's something about the flow of the physical act of moving a pen across paper that keeps ideas flowing. (For more on this line of research, see "How Handwriting Trains the Brain.")

If you want to get out of the vicious cycle of having nothing to say, try journaling about it with a pen and paper. Chances are pretty good that you'll have more to say about having nothing to say than you might believe. Then voila, you've taken the first baby steps away from wordlessness and toward expression.

What routines do you try to maintain in chaotic times? What benefits have you found from walking and/or writing longhand?
3:10 PM Laurel Garver
I don't know about the rest of you, but August can be a very chaotic month for me, with vacations and back-to-school preparations and a total lack of routine in far too many areas. My daughter's dance lessons are "drop ins" and her guitar teacher shifts days around, some church activities don't meet, while others are more frequent.

But even when I feel this scattered, I have a couple of routines that help me not lose all track of my writing.

Walk

Image by jorgeyu, morguefile.com
A fifteen to thirty minute walk first thing in the morning makes me more alert and helps me gather my thoughts. I bring no gadgets, no music, no companions. This is distraction-free time when I can just think.

An April 2014 study from Stanford University found "Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter." They also noted "Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting."

The good news? It's the act of walking and not the environment that matters. So when the weather's horrid, stepping onto a treadmill can give you similar benefits.

Of course, there are also health benefits to a daily walk, including reduced cancer, diabetes and heart disease risk. And if you're struggling with low energy, short walks are the ticket to breaking the vicious cycle of lethargy (lethargy tends to breed more lethargy). A bit of sun exposure during an outdoor walk will increase your levels of vitamin D, an important nutrient that improves not only bone health but also mood (why that is hasn't yet been studied in depth, but depression can be a symptom of vitamin D deficiency).

A walk can also be a great afternoon pick-me-up, especially when you've hit a crossroads in a story and can't decide how to proceed. Let your mind roam as your feet do, and your creative mind will offer ideas and solutions.

Write longhand

While I have no desire to return to the days of all longhand composition, I do find it extremely helpful to do some longhand writing every day, whether note jotting, brainstorming, or free-writing. I've tried all kinds of warm ups over the years and longhand is the one that never fails to "prime the pump" for me.

Apparently educators and cognitive scientists have been looking into why longhand writing is so beneficial to our brains. Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, used brain scans in her research on the benefits of longhand. She found that "as your hand executes each stroke of each letter, it activates a much larger portion of the brain’s thinking, language, and 'working memory' regions than typing." Keyword there? The language portion of the brain is more actively engaged.

Another study of elementary aged children found "writing by hand improves students’ creative writing skills, and elementary students actually write more quickly by hand than when typing. Compositions are also longer when written by hand...."  My experience bears that out--when writing longhand I'm more apt to write more ideas and edit less. There's something about the flow of the physical act of moving a pen across paper that keeps ideas flowing. (For more on this line of research, see "How Handwriting Trains the Brain.")

If you want to get out of the vicious cycle of having nothing to say, try journaling about it with a pen and paper. Chances are pretty good that you'll have more to say about having nothing to say than you might believe. Then voila, you've taken the first baby steps away from wordlessness and toward expression.

What routines do you try to maintain in chaotic times? What benefits have you found from walking and/or writing longhand?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Photo credit: xololounge from morguefile.com 

Instead of dispensing advice this week, I'm seeking feedback from you, dear readers. This will be short but sweet because I'm heading to the Catskills with the family later this week, in part for my daughter to compete in an Irish Dance Feis. We figured we'd make a mini-getaway out of it.

I've been busily working on a productivity writing resource I hope to wrap up in the coming months. Among other topics covered will be brainstorming techniques. One that I haven't used much myself is listmaking, so I thought I'd ask you to share your experiences.

Answer any or all of these in the comments:

Do you use listmaking as a brainstorming tool when working on a new story? 

At what phase(s) of writing do you make lists? 

What kinds of lists do you make?

All thoughts/feedback helpful! Thanks!
12:02 PM Laurel Garver
Photo credit: xololounge from morguefile.com 

Instead of dispensing advice this week, I'm seeking feedback from you, dear readers. This will be short but sweet because I'm heading to the Catskills with the family later this week, in part for my daughter to compete in an Irish Dance Feis. We figured we'd make a mini-getaway out of it.

I've been busily working on a productivity writing resource I hope to wrap up in the coming months. Among other topics covered will be brainstorming techniques. One that I haven't used much myself is listmaking, so I thought I'd ask you to share your experiences.

Answer any or all of these in the comments:

Do you use listmaking as a brainstorming tool when working on a new story? 

At what phase(s) of writing do you make lists? 

What kinds of lists do you make?

All thoughts/feedback helpful! Thanks!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“Epistle” is a fancy word for letter or correspondence; coming from the Greek, it means “send news.”

Epistle brainstorming is a method in which you write imagined correspondence by a character or even between characters. Since it’s imagined, you can conceive of exchanges happening slowly, as with postal-service mail or rapid-fire, as with texting or instant messaging.

Photo: SRCHEN from morguefile.com
The goal is to get characters speaking in their own voices. It’s a great warm up for dialogue. It can also help you figure out how your protagonist would think through and interpret an event so you can narrate it in your protagonist’s voice.

Epistolary exercises might also help you brainstorm back stories. Sometimes the act of telling a story to someone else can help clarify which details are most important.

You can also use epistolary brainstorming to interact directly with your characters to develop plots that feel organic and emerge from who the characters are. Imagine you, the author, are instant messaging with your character in order to ask deeper questions.


Epistolary exercises

  • Write a letter describing a pivotal experience that changed a character’s life.
  • Write a text exchange between the protagonist and best friend explaining a major plot turn.
  • Write a text exchange in which one character tries to pump information from another.
  • Write a love letter that lists the beloved’s most loved characteristics and describes the time s/he knew that affection and admiration had become something more.
  • Write a text exchange in which one character tries to hide information.
  • Write a letter in which a character summarizes his/her entire childhood.
  • Write a letter in which a character summarizes the events that led him/her to make an important decision or life change.
  • Write a letter in which a character describes his/her family to another character who has never met them.
  • Write a text exchange in which you ask your character his/her reasons for taking a particular action or his/her feelings about events or other characters.
  • Write a text exchange in which you ask the protagonist what s/he thinks should happen in the story—how s/he would prefer to tackle the story problem.
  • Write a text exchange in which you discuss your revision ideas with the protagonist.
How might you use epistles to explore your characters and their opinions, attitudes, beliefs and voices?
12:57 PM Laurel Garver
“Epistle” is a fancy word for letter or correspondence; coming from the Greek, it means “send news.”

Epistle brainstorming is a method in which you write imagined correspondence by a character or even between characters. Since it’s imagined, you can conceive of exchanges happening slowly, as with postal-service mail or rapid-fire, as with texting or instant messaging.

Photo: SRCHEN from morguefile.com
The goal is to get characters speaking in their own voices. It’s a great warm up for dialogue. It can also help you figure out how your protagonist would think through and interpret an event so you can narrate it in your protagonist’s voice.

Epistolary exercises might also help you brainstorm back stories. Sometimes the act of telling a story to someone else can help clarify which details are most important.

You can also use epistolary brainstorming to interact directly with your characters to develop plots that feel organic and emerge from who the characters are. Imagine you, the author, are instant messaging with your character in order to ask deeper questions.


Epistolary exercises

  • Write a letter describing a pivotal experience that changed a character’s life.
  • Write a text exchange between the protagonist and best friend explaining a major plot turn.
  • Write a text exchange in which one character tries to pump information from another.
  • Write a love letter that lists the beloved’s most loved characteristics and describes the time s/he knew that affection and admiration had become something more.
  • Write a text exchange in which one character tries to hide information.
  • Write a letter in which a character summarizes his/her entire childhood.
  • Write a letter in which a character summarizes the events that led him/her to make an important decision or life change.
  • Write a letter in which a character describes his/her family to another character who has never met them.
  • Write a text exchange in which you ask your character his/her reasons for taking a particular action or his/her feelings about events or other characters.
  • Write a text exchange in which you ask the protagonist what s/he thinks should happen in the story—how s/he would prefer to tackle the story problem.
  • Write a text exchange in which you discuss your revision ideas with the protagonist.
How might you use epistles to explore your characters and their opinions, attitudes, beliefs and voices?