Bizarre Prompts No One Should Use

Whenever someone asks me for a prompt, I just blurt the first thing that comes to mind, which ends up being a bizarre scenario no one should ever use. Naturally, my writer friends have insisted I put up some of these bizarre prompts on my blog because evidently my followers don ‘t think I’m weird enough.

1. Bees

Character A is late for work and runs into Character B. B falls over and cracks like a pinata, but instead of spewing candy, they spew bees.

2. Objectively Terrible

Character A is eating a sandwich when B comes along and slaps it out of A’s hands. When A asks why, B says it’s because the sandwich was objectively terrible.

3. Plants Are Dicks

A character brings home a plant and soon discovers the plant can talk. In true plant fashion, it loudly sings show tunes at odd hours and insults A’s physical appearance. Because plants are dicks.

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Tips on Worldbuilding

For those who are inclined toward the fantastic and utterly absurd, writing has extra challenges. Fantasy requires worldbuilding to a level that many people don’t care to try–more so for those of us who write high fantasy. Not only do we go through the pains of creating interesting characters and thrilling plots, but we have to make up new laws of the universe, within which the characters and plot exist. Some fantasy writers are like me. We painstakingly chart out every aspect of our fabricated universe until we have entire notebooks filled with rules and exposition and cultural analyses. Some fantasy writers are on the other end of the spectrum. They don’t plan anything and make up the rules as they go along. Regardless of where you fall, here’s some tips to help with worldbuilding, so you don’t succumb to exposition dumps and confuse your readers.

1. Write as if your narrator was born in the world you made

For some of you, your narrator was, in fact, born in the world you’ve made, and if that’s the case, then make sure you remind yourself of that when they’re talking about the properties of the world. The narrator, regardless of if they’re first or third person, is a character. You are not the narrator (unless you are, but this article isn’t geared toward non-fiction). When the narrator talks as if this is just the way the world is, rather than trying to explain how it works, they engage the readers. For instance, a narrator in a crime novel wouldn’t explain who “police” are. That’s just something everyone knows. While your readers may not know that “Blade Runners” are special types of police officers, it wouldn’t be fun to read a long explanation about Blade Runners. A more effective and engaging method would be for the narrator to talk about Blade Runners as if they’re just something everyone knows about, and the reader gains knowledge of them via context. If a narrator says that Blade Runners catch outlaws or arrest people, the readers get an idea of who Blade Runners are without the narrator ever explicitly saying it.

2. Be just a little repetitive

At the end of the day, the world you created doesn’t exist in reality. Your readers will eventually put your book down and go back to their regular lives. They may forget some things about your world in between reads. It doesn’t hurt just to be a little repetitive. Just a little. You don’t want to hit your readers over the head with reminders about what/who something/someone is, but sprinkle in a reminder here and there. It’s like adding salt to food. Too much, and it’s unpalatable. Too little, and it’s like you never added salt in the first place.

3. Limit the concentration of unfamiliar words

I know you really want to talk about Salini Torsedare’s Janic Osonus Eduratu, but to your readers, too many made up words in a small area are going to give them a headache. Even if your words aren’t made up–e.g., they come from a different language–chances are the majority of your demographic doesn’t speak the lingo. Space out the unfamiliar terms as if you’re breaking them up into bite size, easily consumable pieces. An easy way to do this is go through your word document and look at where you see large concentrations of red underlines. My general rule of thumb is no more than four red words per paragraph.

4. Get inspired by other cultures/religions

When I was working on one of my books, I was also at the height of my anthropology research concerning world religions. In effect, I drew on Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judeo-Christianity, and Hinduism for my story. What I ended up with is a world with asuras, ghuls, qarins, and daevas, which is a mix anyone familiar with these religions wouldn’t have expected. You have to be careful with this, however. If it’s not your culture or religion, you may accidentally offend people who are part of them. Cultural appropriation is a real and problematic phenomenon, so always do your research and be respectful of the beliefs from which you draw.

5. Rules, rules, rules

Last but not least, have rules. Make them before you write anything. Keep them pinned above your computer as constant reminders. I cannot tell you how many fantasy books I’ve read where the rules of the world were malleable, which led to confusion and enormous plot holes (e.g., Harry Potte[which I do love dearly but still had bendy rules]). Your rules cannot bend. They must be as infallible as gravity. Your rules provide the entire structure upon which your world is built. Make them sturdy.

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Giving and Taking Criticism

Criticism is a vital part of any writer’s career. We depend on editors and friends and strangers to give us feedback on our writing, so that we may improve and develop our craft. But every once in a while we’ll get a review that is not only unhelpful, but purposefully hurtful. These reviews are in the realm of “You suck! This is awful! How could you write this?” Occasionally, a review like this actually has good stuff to look at, and the critic is just particularly passionate about the issue. If you, as a writer, are prepared to brave reading that review, I applaud you; however, if you are reluctant to even look at a bad review, here’s my guide to both taking the criticism and effectively giving it to someone else.

What is constructive criticism?

Let’s define constructive criticism before we continue. Wikipedia defines it as “…the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one.” For a lot of you, that definition probably makes sense, but I’m going to offer another definition.

I have three criteria for what constitutes constructive criticism:

  1. The criticism offers suggestions and reasons for those suggestions.
  2. The criticism points out problems and explains why they’re problematic.
  3. The criticism doesn’t comment on who you are as a person.

Using these criteria as a definition, I find it easier to identify when someone is being purposefully hurtful and when they’re trying to help me out. It also helps with developing constructive criticism, if I want to give it.

So you got a bad review…

So what? There are tons of people on this planet, and their opinions are not going to align most of the time. You’re going to get bad reviews. It just comes with being a writer. The most important part of getting a bad review is not taking it to heart. I don’t mean disregard it completely–unless the person is just blurting out terrible things that obviously have nothing to do with your work, which does happen. I mean remember that this person has no idea who you are other than what they’ve read in your online bio or maybe parts of your writing, and that’s just a tiny, tiny glimpse of you. And at the end of the day, it’s just their opinions. All opinions may be valid, but none are true. It’s your job to pick out the good criticism and apply it to make your writing the best it can be. In essence, a bad review is just an opportunity to improve.

So you want to write a bad review…

Maybe you read this book that made you so angry you’re about to burst a blood vessel. *cough* 50 Shades *cough* You have two options: angrily rant about how terrible the book and its author are or give some constructive criticism. As much fun as it is to completely rip a shitty book to shreds, nothing good is going to come out of it. You’re just going to be met with conflict. It’s essentially a stalemate. No one wins.

As I said, a bad review is just an opportunity to improve. When you give constructive criticism, you are offering your opinions with the intention of helping someone improve. Offer suggestions; give your reasons for them; point out the problems; explain why they’re problematic; and never, ever comment on who the author is as a person. I wouldn’t want someone telling me that I’m a terrible person, so I wouldn’t say that to someone else. If you don’t think you have it in you to give constructive criticism or you just want to tear someone down, don’t say anything.

Reviews and feedback are a service. Neither you nor anyone else is under any obligation to provide that service. Don’t waste the author’s time and your energy being angry and spiteful. It’s a disservice to everyone–especially yourself. And if you do give constructive criticism, a good writer will take it graciously.

I’m not sure if I’m giving constructive criticism…

If you want to say something that’s in a gray area of the criteria for constructive criticism, here’s a list of questions to ask yourself:

  1. Does what I have to say offer insight into the topic?
  2. Do I have good intentions?
  3. Is my language professional?
  4. Am I being helpful by adding this point?

If you answer “no” to any of these, reconsider your criticism. Conversely, if you’re not sure that someone is giving you constructive criticism, you can use these questions by changing them to the third person and analyzing what the critic said.

Now, read the bad reviews, take some notes, and criticize the criticism.

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To Plan or Not to Plan?

I spend about 90% of my time with writers. It’s due mostly to the fact that writers seem to naturally gravitate toward each other. (Creativity, frustration, and tears–what writers are made of–develop bonds faster than anything else I know.) Interestingly enough, writers all have a different system for planning their stories. My girlfriend is the type that doesn’t plan anything. Every word is something of a surprise. I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. I plan everything, every scene and world detail and character trait, before I ever write a word. Most writers aren’t as extreme as my girlfriend and me, falling somewhere in between.

So if you’re a writer, and you’re struggling to find what works best for you–to plan or not to plan–here’s a short guide to help you get started.

Step 1: Write a one-sentence summary

This step is meant to give you a central focus to your story. It gets you thinking about your premise and what’s most interesting about it. Also, you’ll be expected to make a one-sentence summary in a query letter to agents, so this step is really just good practice. If you’re not even sure what your premise is, see step 3.

Step 2: Write down all major characters and their most significant trait

If you don’t know your characters, it’s not going to be much of a story, but if you’re the type to just make up characters as you go, this might be a good exercise in getting to know your pre-existing characters better. If this step is not coming to you, see step 3.

Step 3: Write a scene

Why would I direct you here when steps 1 and 2 aren’t working? Because you’re probably not a planner, and you need to just write. So sit down and write a scene. Any scene. Whatever inspires you. When I asked my girlfriend about her writing process, she said, “I tend to start from words. Like, words and feelings/pictures associated with the words come to me before characters do. Once I’ve found the scene, the characters get to enter, and then it flows from there. I do little analysis of whether the characters are behaving according to their backstory, but instead, kind of just feel it.” So don’t worry about making perfect characters. Just write.

Step 4: Make a timeline

The timeline is perhaps the center of my planning system. I chart everything in chronological order with major plot points on a timeline, so that I have something to look at if I ever move my scenes out of order. For some writers, this step is impossible. Either because they don’t know where their story is going, or they don’t know enough of their story to make a timeline. That’s fine, too. In fact, many people will just repeat step 3 over and over again until they have a working story.

Step 5: Decide your ending

Perhaps the most crucial step, deciding your ending gives you and your story a place to go, no matter how much you stray from the path. Even if you’re not the planning type (especially if you’re not the planning type), make your ending. This helps to give you focus, and you’ll notice yourself adding elements to the plot as you write that contribute to the ending.

Step 6: Write

If you don’t write, you won’t even have a story. So no matter what system you have for making a story, just keep writing, and you’ll get there eventually.

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T.K.’s Angry Guide to Writing Essays (a.k.a. How to Bullshit Essays)

For some people, writing essays is tantamount to pulling teeth or willingly putting your hand in the garbage disposal while a toddler fiddles with kitchen switches. This guide is for those of you who struggle with writing essays or have not yet mastered the art of bullshit.

Paragraph One (Intro):

1. Give background on your topic
2. Summarize your topic
3. Throw in some shitty metaphors about it
4. Your thesis statement is last

Note: Decide your thesis first, then build steps 1-3 around it.

Paragraphs Two Through Whatever (Body Paragraphs):

1. Shitty topic sentence that also incorporates your thesis
2. Some background to a quote you about to drop
3. Drop that shitty quote
4. Explain that shitty quote as it relates to your thesis, but don’t summarize
5. Some more background to another quote you about to drop that emphasizes the quote you just dropped
6. Drop that other shitty quote
7. Explain that other shitty quote as it relates to your thesis, but don’t summarize

Note: Pick your quotes before you write a single word. Design your paragraph around the quotes.

Paragraph Shitstorm (Conclusion):

1. Take the topic sentences of your body paragraphs and copy-n-paste them here
2. Rephrase your shitty topic sentences into different shitty sentences saying the same goddamn thing, but differently
3. After each of your shitty, rephrased topic sentences, write a sentence that relates back to your thesis concerning that topic
4. Use shitty, rephrased topic sentences to remind people of your shitty thesis and write a sentence or two of that at the end

Note: If you can’t imagine yourself dropping the mic at the end of your conclusion, it’s not strong enough.

*This guide is meant to get you comfortable with the basic format of essays, and once you’ve mastered this bullshit, you can play around with the format.

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Angry Writing Advice: Inspiration, Motivation, Pep, Whatever the Hell You Want to Call It

The only way to get better at writing is to practice, so WHY ARE YOU SITTING ON YOUR ASS READING THIS?!

Just kidding. You’re reading this because you don’t have the answer to that question, so here’s an angry, step-by-step guide on how to get inspiration, motivation, pep, whatever the hell you want to call it.

Step 1: Take a goddamn break

I know this one seems counterintuitive, but let’s face it. Your eyeballs are bleeding staring at that goddamn blank page, and it’s because your tired ass is crying through the eye strain. So take a break. Put the computer away. Put the notebook down. Go take a goddamn nap. Do something else.

Step 2: Read shit

Also seems counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to get your writing mojo back is to read other people’s shit. And I don’t mean unedited crap that came from the bowels of fanfiction erotica. I mean, pull out the well-written books with almost poetic prose–the books that make you have to really look at the words and flow and diction. Classics are good, but it’s always best to read in the same genre as whatever shit you’re writing.

Step 3: Interview your shitty character

After you’re done with steps 1 and 2, sit the hell down and write out a couple of questions to ask your shitty character. If you can’t think of any, have a friend make some of their own shitty questions or pull some from online, then write a scene where you interview your own character. If you want, you can take an extra step and interview multiple shitty characters.

Step 4: Write a fucking scene

I know you just wrote an interview scene, but chances are you can’t actually put that shit in your story. So sit the hell down again and write another scene. Any scene. Whatever shit your brain comes up with, write that. Even if it’s a shitty idea for a scene, just write it. If you’re really drawing a blank, choose from scene prompts online and write that shit.

Step 5: Keep writing shit

Sometimes all you need is to get things flowing, and then the inspiration/ motivation/ pep/ whatever the hell you want to call it just comes naturally. If this step isn’t coming to you quite yet, repeat steps 1-4 until it does. Add music to it, if you want. Or watch cat videos. Cat videos can work.

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LGBT Spoken-Word Poetry

Found this gem today:

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