Writer’s Boot Camp: Kicking Word-Smithing Butt

At the end of my last post, I proposed a writing exercise and decided to take my own advice and get writing!Pen&ink copy

If you have a novel idea kicking around, give yourself 15 minutes, take a deep breath and write the opening lines. Don’t pause, don’t edit – simply write without stopping. Then take a look at what you’ve done…and I’m sure you’ll be surprised.If you don’t have a novel idea at this time – read the opening lines of a favoured book. Pick a minor character, make them major and write the opening lines for a novel featuring them.

I’ve been noodling around with a YA (Young Adult) supernatural novel featuring witches (I do love magic and not the kind that pulls rabbits out of hats)….so I put the timer on for 10 minutes picked up my Pilot GreenTechpoint 5, stared at the abyss and for a split second paused at the precipice.   Putting those first words to blank paper is frightening but also exhilarating. I guess it’s my version of an extreme sport.

Here’s the result:

She plunges her hand into the rich red fur of the fox. Somehow Leni knows this is a dream but the animal’s pelt feels so real. Her fingers nearly disappear into the thick fur, to touch the ultra soft inner coat, soft as feathers.

 She sniffs and the fox’s scent fill her nostrils – it’s wild – dark brown shot through with sun.  As she strokes its back the fox stares into her face. She can see her reflection in its yellow eyes – her hair a dark brown tangle, her hazel eyes open in wonder.


Courtesy of pixabay.com



Just then the fox twists and snaps at her hand, the sharp teeth puncturing the skin. She screams in pain and draws her hand away as the fox stands looking at her, his tail bristling.

 She feels a heat, a deep burning and looks down at her hand. The glow is coming from inside her. Her veins throb and crackle red and without thinking she flings her hand towards the animal and sparks emit from her fingers.

 She is a flame and she is filled with a force that is terrifying. The sparks catch the fox’s fur and the animal disintegrates into dust. She collapses to the ground, gasping.

 A twig snaps behind her and she whirls around. The fox stands before her and then it speaks – the words penetrating her mind.

“Eleni, remember pain should not be the provoker. You should be. The fire is you,” it says.


Courtesy of pixabay.com

I also figured I’d do the second half of my writing exercise and take a minor character from a favoured book, and write the opening lines of a story featuring them.

In my case, the first character that came to mind is Phoebe Caulfield, Holden’s sage little sister from The Catcher in the Rye.

She’s no minor character – one that I would call “supporting” that is integral to Holden’s story arc. I wondered what a grown-up Phoebe – just out of college would be like.

I think that’s one of the things we do love as readers – what the characters could be doing when they’re not in that particular novel universe – either before or after the book’s timeline.

This wondering and fascination has led to some amazing books. One example that comes to mind is Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea which features Rochester’s mad wife in Jane Eyre before she marries him, during their turbulent marriage and her descent into madness while confined to Thornfield Hall. In Jane Eyre she is no more than a shell of a being – but Rhys gave her life.

Again I put the timer on for 10 minutes, gripped my pen, and plunged in. It’s not fabulous – but it was incredibly freeing to do. To see where the act of writing and the openness of my mind (the creative spirit or muse if you will) took me. Something perhaps I’ll tuck away and come back to more seriously at some point.

Here’s the result:

In 1966, I went to work for a private investigator in Hell’s Kitchen named Hiram Litchfield. I was 21, fresh out of Wellesley College where I majored in History and had an affair with my professor. Martin wasn’t my thesis advisor – thank God, but he was in the department.

 I remember seeing him for the first time and my initial summation was stalwart. He looked like the picture of Sir Galahad in my brother DB’s old King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table book.

 I’m a bit of a romantic I guess. Or so I’ve been accused.

 His skull was narrow, his black hair closely cropped, his skin was pale and his eyes dark. I squinted and imagined him in armour and holding a sword. Then I walked over an introduced myself. My best chum Mitzi was delighted. She told me that I was shameless.

 Now I’m not the type of girl who needs rescuing or so I thought.

 I’m the only sister of three brothers – one dead, the oldest a Hollywood screenwriter, and the middle is a writer of a different sort. He’s a tortured type but living in rural Vermont gives him less time to brood. I put it down to all the wood he’s got to chop.

 Even though I was the youngest I felt motherly towards them all. I couldn’t help it. I’m like my father in that way. My mother is a good soul but she’s slightly insane as Holden would say. I just think she’s scared of her emotions. How do you know that? Holden asks me and all I can say is that I just do.

It’s easy to attune myself to other’s feelings yet not be overwhelmed by them. Mitzi (who’s deeply into psychoanalysis) says I’m blessed with wonderful perspective and a teensy Florence Nightingale complex.

People are mysterious and finding out what makes them do what they do fascinates me. Hence the private investigator job.

But I digress…I was talking about Marty wasn’t I?

It feels a bit weird to show my work in progress on the internet. Until this point I’ve only shared completed and polished pieces, but I’m trying to be braver about sharing. A book I read recently made some good sense: Show Your Work! 10 Ways to share your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on writing without a parachute. Please share your writing. Go ahead – feel the adrenaline rush of letting your writing take you away!



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