Nathan Bransford’s 5th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate 1st Paragraph Challenge

7 Feb

oracle cover 200 pxOnce again, I’ve joined the great slush pile experiment of glee. (Well, it’s genuinely fun for me.)

A few days ago I was able to type the magical words THE END on my second novel ever, and, to celebrate, I entered its first paragraph in Nathan Bransford’s challenge. I managed to make it in as paragraph number 29 of 869, so I’m excited that, if nothing else, most people will at least skim mine before their eyeballs blow out from fatigue. It may not register, they may not like it, but they’ll have read it, and, um…yay.

Here it is, for posterity:

Mid-tackle, feet in the air, Jim realized this was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. But it was too late. Cartoon characters could stop time, could backpedal and change direction as they fell. Lowlife vermin Jimmy Scott was no cartoon character.

From: The Tale of the Fugitive Phantasmic Oracle

A twelve-year-old runaway decides to pay “rent” on his woodland hideout by becoming fairy godkid to the family who owns the land – eavesdropping in order to grant wishes, serve as a human Ouija board, and perform anonymous good deeds from the tree tops. However, his “magic” keeps leading to disaster, winter’s on the way, and rumors are spreading that could lead to discovery by the stepfather he’d hoped to escape.

Literary Christmas Gifts, Year Five

25 Dec

IMG_3675This year’s literary themed gift from my sister.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Narnia

Brown “fur” for the coats in the wardrobe
Pastel drawing of a street lamp in the woods
Turkish Delight
“Jeweled” goblet
hot chocolate

NaNoWriMo: If NaNo-ing Is Wrong, I Don’t Wanna Be Right (Reprise)

4 Oct

A lot of irrational things annoy me.

  • The term “animal style” at In-N-Out
  • Humidity
  • Crisp, overdone foley sounds in movies or television, like “sexy” whispered voice-overs on ads, crumpling paper/plastic, or the sound of footsteps. (Wanted to Hulk out every time they amplified the tap shoes in So You Think You Can Dance last season. Ugh! I’m making fists just thinking about it!)

I’m sure I annoy people with the things I do, too — like turning everything into a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference (just annoyed myself by typing the asterisks between the letters) and, now, apparently, by being a part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

I really don’t understand the hostility. I get the stress from agents whose inboxes strain beneath the weight of the naïve each December, but most participants know better than to query their raw product, and most of the criticisms I read are not from agents but from writers. Perhaps they’re tired of hearing about it. Perhaps they’re evil. Perhaps it’s just the sound of the word NaNoWriMo that makes their skin crawl the way the word dander freaks out my mom. Maybe you all want to slaughter me for my poor grammar and sentence fragments. We’ll deal with that later. Right now, I just want to explain why I participate in NaNoWriMo.

Let us begin with a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference.

In The One Where Phoebe Runs (video here), Rachel is embarrassed by Phoebe’s headlong running style and shuns her, not wanting to seem ridiculous by association. She doesn’t get the value or appeal of such a thing. Phoebe explains that it brings back the fun of running, the joy from when you were a kid and ran so fast you thought your legs would fall off.

NaNoWriMo, to me, is like running until you think your legs are going to fall off — and loving it.

When I first began writing in grade school, I did it because it was fun and made my friends laugh. When I took up fiction writing again as an adult, I did it because I’d had a really tough couple of years with unemployment, the loss of my dad, and my toddler’s bout with melanoma. Writing was therapy. Writing my heart out made me feel happy again. Alive again. Put color back in the world. I still love it. I still enjoy it. But now I spend most of the year fussing over it, getting serious, running it through workshops and critique groups, agonizing over every word, stressing at deadlines. Worrying about what people will think.

Then November and NaNoWriMo arrive with arm-flailing abandon, reminding me to let go every once in a while,  feel alive again. Join the galloping, galumphing, windmilling parade.

Writing is usually a solitary pursuit. Lonely. Even when you belong to a class or a critique group, you’re all pursuing different goals, are at different points in your stories, and you’re there to get down to business and be serious. These are not bad things. Most of us belong to writing groups and are grateful for the resulting improvement. NaNoWriMo, however, is different. In November, writing becomes a social activity. You no longer feel alone. You’re in it together. Writers from all over the world congregate on one site to crash its servers celebrate the joy of writing until our legs fall off. We’re allowed to cheer each other on, we bring back the joy, and we walk away with a stitch in our sides from laughing. And sometimes a couple of new friends.

Do I think this is the way to go full time?


Do I think I’m there to write a masterpiece?

Heck no. It might happen, but I’m not concerned about that.

I’m just there to run my legs off and rediscover the magic. I want to put aside my inhibitions, limber up my twisted imagination, and fall in love with what I do again. When I’m doing NaNoWriMo right, I know it because I once again feel that heady rush of new love. I can’t wait to get back to the story, I think about it day and night, and I (obviously) can’t stop talking about it.

I wasted too many years of my life not knowing or enjoying who I was because I was too busy toeing the line, forcing myself into herd mentality because the moment I stepped out of the mold, the Eternal Junior High Mean Girls of the world were ready to taunt me, torment me. Shun me. The world would see I was “crazy.” As much as I hated to be noticed and labeled as a brain (You’re such a brain. I hate you!), I feared the least deviation from perfection and hard work because that would expose that I was a sham, an idiot, and thus subject to more ridicule.

So I need NaNoWriMo’s help to let go of that. I like being allowed — encouraged — to be BAD, to be WRONG, and to see that no harm will come from it. In fact, a lot of good comes from it. Being able to laugh at yourself is a major skill in life.

People complain that those of us who are celebrating writing “crap” are wasting an opportunity to do something serious and valuable and “good”. I disagree. First of all, one man’s good is another man’s crap, and vice versa. Second, I think they’re missing the point of what this month means to people like me. This isn’t my only opportunity to write. I write all year long. I revise, rewrite, and edit all year long. I treat my primary novel with the care and seriousness of a parent. I don’t go into NaNoWriMo with the aim of producing the next great classic. I don’t pose for a woodcut portrait on Barnes & Noble’s walls.  I use NaNoWriMo to revive my creative energy so that I can go on to strive for a masterpiece,  whether through extensive rewrites and editing of my NaNo novel or through starting something new with the momentum I gain. It’s a workout.

I should have a better concluding paragraph, but I don’t. I’m sleepy and have thousands of words to write before I rest. That makes me happy. So I leave you with the following — a dramatic recreation of how I feel about the sound of crackling paper and amplified tap shoes, brought to you by Ms. Phoebe Buffay and Ms. Pacman.

NaNoWriMo: Time for Extra Credit

26 Nov

I’m terrible. I realized that we could start validating wins on the NaNoWriMo site yesterday, and suddenly nothing would do except crossing the finish line by the end of the night. I was 5000-some words away.

But I made it! I ended the night with 50,033.

The story is gathering momentum now, so I’m going to see how much more I can write before the thirtieth. Maybe I can reach The End by then.

NaNoWriMo: Over the Hill

22 Nov

I just passed forty thousand words, and I’m over one of the last hills, hoping to roll my way down the slope to 50k on sheer momentum. My protagonist is barefoot, being hunted by several parties, and has been spotted by a mysterious Scottish man who looks like a gunslinger. It’s snowing, and I think Protagonist is about to steal a cat.

The story is getting pretty bloated. There will be a lot of editing later on. Chris Baty had a good suggestion this week in a pep talk, and I hope to follow it. He said to do what you could to get to the incredibly motivating and validating words The End by November 30th. That you didn’t have to have a fully fleshed-out story to get to The End. You just had to map out the most essential scenes between where you are and where you need to end, and then write them, even if just in scaffolding form. (That may not have been his exact message, but it’s how I understood it, and, hey, it’s late.)

I hope I can get my scaffolding built without getting bogged down in too many details. Then I can hit 50k with a resounding The End and tears of joy. THEN I can go back and start coloring inside the lines in the comfortable knowledge that my book is not an open-ended fragment.

(And, somewhere in there, I’m hoping for lots and lots of sleep. Lots.)

NaNoWriMo: Hey Nineteen

19 Nov

My score at the end of Day 19

Now, this is good. Right here. This blissful moment of meeting my word count goals for the day — above both the daily and the overall quotas, and higher than my randomly selected stranger/adversary that I must beat or else. (Or else nothing and they’ll never know?) (Don’t knock it. It’s motivating to me.) (What? I am NOT competitive!) (I just talk to myself, parenthetically.)

Anyway, it’s good to meet my goals for the day just as my eyes are getting warm and blurry and the world begins to warp in my happy, sated exhaustion. Who knows what tomorrow brings, but tonight I sleep the sleep of a clear writing conscience.

Good night and happy writing to you all.

NaNoWriMo: Sweet Sixteen

16 Nov

I’m a wordcount-half-full kinda gal tonight: 25,077 words. Feeling good.

NaNoWriMo: I Think I Can

15 Nov

Halfway point today. Should have 25k words, but I’m feeling pretty good about the 18k I’ve written. One or two good days, and I should be able to catch up. I might have caught up already, but I squandered a lot of time yesterday watching the Hunger Games trailer a zillion times. It looks perfect. Can’t wait.

Off to write some more!

NaNoWriMo: Eleventy-‘Leven

11 Nov

I’m up to 9400-ish words in NaNo Land. Almost halfway to where I’m supposed to be. But I’m catching up.

I finally felt like posting an excerpt on the NaNoWriMo site today. Might be the migraine meds affecting my judgement. I put the entire (unedited) first chapter up. I shall similarly afflict you, my dear readers, here and now.

Maybe I feel like, since I’m so behind quota, I need to prove I’ve written anything.

The first draft of the first chapter of my third NaNoWriMo project, The Tale of the Fugitive Phantasmic Oracle (plus its quick synopsis):


A twelve-year-old runaway decides to pay “rent” on his woodland hideout by becoming fairy godkid to the family who owns the land – eavesdropping in order to grant wishes, serve as a human Ouija board, and perform anonymous good deeds from the tree tops. However, his “magic” keeps leading to disaster, winter’s on the way, and rumors are spreading that could lead to discovery by the stepfather he’d hoped to escape.


Catskill Mountains, 1962

Mid-tackle, feet in the air, Jim realized this was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. But it was too late. Cartoon characters could stop time, could backpedal and change direction as they fell.

Jim Scott was no cartoon character.

A blur of trees, and then he slammed into the taller of the two boys with bone-crunching pain. It was pretty much for sure that he’d exploded, broken into shrapnel the color of idiot would-be kid hero. Was the other guy made of granite or something? He waited for the thunder of falling stone followed by the patter of a zillion shards of No Good Jim Scott. He was flabbergasted to hit the ground with more of a roll and a thud, just two guys. Meat and bone.

Probably intact.

But who knew?

He was blind; he was numb. All he knew was the bitter smell of adrenaline and the roaring in his ears. For a moment. Then the pain came back with a vengeance. But the silence stretched out.

Confused, Jim blinked and opened his eyes. He was on a bark-padded trail through the woods he’d found on the far side of the ridge from his house. He’d never tried the path before. He’d rather stick to the trees above and feel invisible. He didn’t come here for company.

On his left stood the two little girls this pair of guys had been menacing. On his right stood the shorter (but stockier) of the two boys. They were a matching set of giant eyes and mouths. He could almost see tonsils.

He looked down at the villain he still straddled, and the world went more topsy-turvy upside down and vomitorious than before. Was he insane? This wasn’t a guy. Blond hair that half-covered blue cat-like eyes, long lashes, high cheekbones.

He’d tackled a girl.

Then the girl’s limp body went rigid as stone again, and Jim found himself back in the air, this time landing on his back in the mulch at the edge of the path. She’d thrown him as easily as a rag doll, and now towered overhead, one foot on his chest.

Jim took another look. Adam’s apple, wide shoulders, muscular arms, and a face that was a lot sharper without the initial surprise.

Jim drew a breath of relief. Thank god. Definitely a guy.

A quick scramble and he was back in the fray.

He’d climbed over the ridge of the hill a few minutes earlier, escaping trouble back at home, and from up above he’d seen the two girls cowering and clinging together, he’d heard boyish voices shouting and gloating. Skulking around the trees, Jim had come into view of the boys. They held ropes, sticks, and the taller one held a black sphere that looked like a bomb. He’d grinned as he passed his hand over it like some explosive crystal ball, and he said, “Beat the wenches? Or just drag them to their doom in the caverns?”

His friend had yawned and said, “What’s quickest? I’m ready for lunch.”

That set the girls screaming, and Jim had thrown himself into the fight.

Now he stood facing down the tall guy, hands in fists, but the guy broke the stare first, turning toward the girls as the ruddier one pointed at the black ball, which had rolled a few feet away, and called to Jim. “Bash his head in with it!”

The other girl, pale and hollow-eyed, whimpered.

The first girl looked at Jim and jumped up and down. “Ooh! No. Never mind. Let me do it!”

Were even the little girls savages over here? Jim almost felt admiration, then he blinked out of it. The guy was distracted. It was now or never. What the hell. He’d already started it with the tall guy. No looking back.

And the guy’d been after the girls. He deserved it.

Another launch of his body, fueled by righteous fury, and he knocked the guy to the ground again, this time from behind. Grabbing the guy’s hair, he shoved his face into the splinters and pebbles of the path.

Everyone was yelling now. Jim was squished by a new weight on his back, and a strong arm around his neck showed the other guy had finally joined the fight. Jim refused to suffocate or have his head torn off, though. He kicked, struggled, and got the tall guy in a similar headlock. The three of them punched, kicked, and strangled their way down the path. Must have been rolling because Jim started noticing the side of his head scraping against the dirt, and when they finally stopped, the tall guy was on top, choking and wheezing, but he didn’t give in to Jim’s attack. He just gasped, “My spleen! You’ve turned it to jelly.”

Shocked out of his fury, Jim almost laughed. Then he felt his brutal grip on the boy, remembered the kick he’d just delivered to the guy’s back, and he balked. His mouth filled with spit. He was going to throw up. Muscles turning to water, he let go, and the stocky guy finally managed to pick him off, throw him to the path, and help the tall one to his feet. The tall guy wiped at his mouth and turned, face streaked dark with mud but not so much that it hid his expression of utter disbelief, something even Jim understood and recognized. He couldn’t believe himself.

Jim closed his eyes and curled up on the ground, reeling and trying to breathe. Confusion. It was day; it was night. He saw this guy’s face; saw another face with stubble and broken veins. He felt each blow he’d delivered like it was happening to him.

Then it really was. Kicks, punches, and rocks hit him. The guys were back.

But the voice was wrong.

Jim twisted, tried to sit up and look. The blows continued, but through his flinches he saw the two guys standing a few yards away and laughing. Standing over Jim was the girl who’d wanted him to bash in a skull with the black thing, and she was livid. Maybe she’d meant she wanted to bash in his head.

He tried to say something in his defense but wasn’t fast enough. Talking was never his strong suit, and that power went away altogether when fists were flying. All that came out was, “Hey! Hey! Hey!”

“Get off my brothers!” The girl slowed but didn’t stop her punches.

Blocking her as well as he could, he forced words. “They were hurting you.”

She stopped punching him. But then she went right back to it. “You moron! It was a game! Are you that nuts?”

The stocky guy helped Jim stand and shooed away the girl. Up close, he could see that this guy was older than the others, even if he wasn’t tallest. Maybe a high schooler. He’d guess the tall guy was closer to his own age. Twelvish. The girls seemed a few years younger. Embarrassing as that was, since one had beat him up.

The tall boy stared at Jim – lofty and cool but with half a squint and a crease between his brows. He was half turned to go, but he didn’t move. Stayed a tall blond statue. With dirt and scrapes all over his pretty face.

“Just trying to help,” Jim muttered. “Didn’t know.”


The stocky guy chuckled, though. He put on a pair of thick glasses and said, “C’mon, Amie. That’s enough. Laura? You okay?” Gathering the two girls, the rope, and the weapons, he headed west down the path, calling “You coming, Robin?”

The tall boy – apparently named Robin – blinked and frowned. After a pause, he said, “I believe the saying goes, ‘Look before you leap,’ my dear little fox.”

As Jim scowled, rubbing his bark-covered red hair, getting the taunt, Robin bent and lifted the black ball. He held it up – just a toy, one of those Magic-8 Ball fortune tellers he’d seen in the back of a comic book. He looked hard at Jim then shook the ball, flipped it over and read something in the circular window at the bottom. A smirk and a nod. “Yeah. Just like I thought.”

Down the path, his brother shouted, “Robin!”

Robin stepped closer, and Jim recoiled. Too close. He didn’t like people to be so close. Except, apparently, when he was beating on them.

Robin darted his hand toward him, and Jim managed not to bolt. But his cool broke when Robin tugged on his t-shirt, showing how it was torn from hem to arm pit. Jim spun, yelping against his will. No touching. No touching. He couldn’t make his breath slow down.

Robin was silent. Jim turned his head to look at him.

“Did we do all that to you?” Robin tilted his head as though trying to see around to Jim’s front again. His lofty, princely tone was gone. Games over.

“Screw you.” Jim pulled the shirt tighter to cover the sea of cuts and bruises, many faded and scarred.

When he looked up again, Robin curled his lip and shoved the Magic 8-Ball into the pocket of his now-rumpled, scuffed great coat. Jim noticed that he wore similarly destroyed, expensive looking boots. Coat billowing behind him, Robin strode down the trail toward the others, only turning back just before reaching a bend to glare. Then he disappeared.

NaNoWriMo: Nine, Ten, a Big Fat Hen

9 Nov

Still haven’t broken the 7k word mark.

Flippin’ flappin’ laptop. I need some smelling salts for the dadburned thing.

I am itching to rewrite many of those 7k words, realizing that my MC isn’t driving the action so much as going along for the ride. I have a good idea how to do it. But it’s Day Nine. I don’t think I should be going back at this point.

Anyway, a more helpful bit for my writer-readers (I hope)…

I read a great writing “rule” this week. More of a storytelling tip, but an important one.

In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder talks about Act I being the Thesis (The Before picture), Act II being Anthithesis (Act I turned on its head), and Act III being Synthesis (getting chocolate in your peanut butter*). I’ve had a loose grip on the concept for a while, but it wasn’t until I read about Goldilocks on Wikipedia that I found a simple, concrete way of thinking about it.

Author Christopher Booker characterizes [the story] as the “dialectical three”, where “the first is wrong in one way, the second in another or opposite way, and only the third, in the middle, is just right.” Booker continues “This idea that the way forward lies in finding an exact middle path between opposites is of extraordinary importance in storytelling”.

I now have a simple test to apply to my manuscripts and a simple way of planning the basic flavor of each act in new stories. Act One is too hot/tall/hard. Act Two is too cold/low/soft. Act Three is where the characters mix elements of I and II to obtain the solution that makes everything just right. **

Also from Save the Cat is the notion that the hero and antagonist are often just opposite sides of the same coin. Two lawyers with different ethics in Pretty Woman. Batman and The Joker. Luke and Anakin. Etc. Helps me think about my characters and makes sure that one side of the coin isn’t out of proportion — they should be very nearly matched in scale and strength (whether they realize it or start out that way or not).

NPR is going to announce the winner of the Three-Minute-Fiction competition this weekend. I have no right to be nervous — implies I think I have a chance of winning — but I’m still a fidgety mess.

*My son is allergic to peanuts. I shuddered just typing the word. Used to love the stuff, but now it represents poison to me. So I guess, in my world,  my analogy only works if the MC’s solution is to poison the bad guys. 😉

** I was watching Fairly Oddparents with my son the other day and laughed to recognize the above structure in the 20 minute episode.

Timmy’s fairy godparents have a baby, and so they decide to “babyproof” all his wishes, making them all safe and soft. Timmy, as any normal kid would, feels frustrated, insulted. In the catalyst scene, he discovers there’s a clause in the fairy godparent contract where he can request a temporary fairy godparent if his are not satisfactory. His current godparents advise him not to do it, but he ignores them. We swing into Act II where he’s assigned an uber-macho, vain fairy godfather who is willing to grant all his most exciting and dangerous wishes. And escalate them. Fun and games ensue. Then Timmy starts to feel exhausted and threatened, but his new fairy godfather won’t relent, is only getting more and more violent. Timmy’s not sleeping, is constantly in peril, and can’t see any way out. The temporary contract is for one year or until Timmy explodes, whichever is first. The only way to get out of it is a clause where a kid can fire the temp if he balks at granting enough wishes. But what could possibly upset this new fairy godfather? Act Three begins with him realizing a plan — keep wishing for babyish things to humiliate the uber-macho fairy godfather — bringing Act One and Two together to come up with a solution. After wishing for macho fairy godfather to wear a baby bonnet and diaper on the field of a stadium full of his peers, he succeeds in making his new godfather release him from the contract so that he can return to his former set of fairy godparents.

NaNoWriMo: Back in the Saddle

5 Nov

I’m procrastinating to tell you all that I’m not procrastinating anymore. I have my laptop back (still on the fritz, alas — can’t afford a new $300 motherboard), and I’m diving in there. I totally flaked on my local write-in today, but at least I got a thousand words out. It’s starting to be fun. Hope the momentum continues.

In other news, they still haven’t chosen my short story to be a featured item on NPR’s Three Minute Fiction site — phooey — and the competition is winding down. I didn’t expect to win, though. I’m just happy I submitted this time.

Edit: I wrote two thousand words this afternoon, for a total of 2622. Hoping to do more later. Must nap now.

NaNoWriMo: Gremlins

3 Nov

Listen, All Y’all, this is sabotage.

Day 3: Laptop (which overheats at the drop of a hat, thanks HP) passes out.

Day 4: Laptop still out for the count — and is now out for repair. For who knows how long.

I’m thankful for remembering to email myself my latest draft yesterday (small as it is) before my laptop crashed, and I’m thankful to have this tiny netbook. It’s like typing into my rear view mirror — only see a few lines at a time — but it works. (I’d go pen and paper, but my hand cramps after a sentence or two, and I can type fast enough not to lose track of my thoughts.)

So, day four, less than six hundred words, and cruising on the computer equivalent of a mini-spare. I’m not giving up, though.

Wish me luck!