Unlock the Muse – October 29, 2019

November is only days away. For many this means end-of-year holidays are upon us. Fall has nearly fallen. And football season is in full swing.

It also means National Novel Writing Month. This year I’ll be trying to balance a 50,000-word writing goal with a 100+ books-read goal. I’m still behind on my reading challenges, and I hope that doesn’t translate into a disastrous NaNo.

Of course, before we can arrive at November, we have to get through Halloween. Or All Hallow’s Eve to some. The night we put on our disguises and become the monster within. Or perhaps it’s truly the disguise that falls away, and the true self emerges.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

You may be thought of as “your father’s son” or “daddy’s little girl,” but are these descriptions true? In one sentence, write a description of yourself through your father’s eyes.

This is an exercise in empathy. Can you think enough like the other person (in this case, your father) in order to describe yourself the way they would?

It’s bonus week, and National Novel Writing Month begins in three days. If you’re participating this year, here are a few thoughts and resources to help you make it through:

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – October 22, 2019

Two of my favorite things about the fall are football and National Novel Writing Month. One, I can enjoy from the sidelines as a passive participant. My son is playing in his second season of flag football this year, and has gone from scoring no touchdowns last season, to scoring at least one in three games in a row. I’m super proud of him.

The second thing – National Novel Writing Month – requires me to be a little more actively involved. This is my tenth year of participating in this event, and I hope to continue my winning streak. I don’t feel very prepared for it this year. I need to work on getting my head back in the writing game. Really, I need to get into the heads of my characters.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Pretend that you quit your job to spend your days as someone you’ve always dreamed about being.

Alright! Here’s your chance to be whatever, or whoever, you’ve always dreamed of being! Want to be a top Wall Street exec? Small time pioneer farmer on Mars? First string violinist in your high school orchestra? Develop that alter-ego and write about your typical day.

To finish this week, here’s a roll of Rory’s Story Cubes, Voyages edition:



Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – October 15, 2019

I love the fall. The world around me has changed its appearance. Trees are disguised as living torches, and the morning sun is concealed by clinging fog. It is a beautiful time, full of mystery and transition. A time when anything is possible and the alter ego is let loose.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Pretend you’re forced to dye your hair. Why are you being forced? What color would you choose? How do you think your friends would react?

Why would you dye your hair? Hide your identity? Practical joke? Now it’s your character’s turn. Give one of them a reason to dye their hair – or force them to do it. How do other characters react to this change?

I think I’ll go with purple. Or electric blue.


Give (someone or oneself) a different appearance in order to conceal one’s identity.

A means of altering one’s appearance or concealing one’s identity.

As a verb, the word disguise dates back to around 1300 meaning “to conceal the personal identity of by changes of guise or usual appearance, with the intent to deceive,” from the Old French desguiser (change one’s appearance).
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – October 8, 2019

It’s still early in October, but already the masquerades have begun. Pumpkins are being carved. Costumes are being purchased. Parties are being planned.

So let’s play dress up! Put yourself into the shoes of your characters. Dress the part, talk the part. Go shopping as your MC. Go jogging as your villain. Find a partner and role-play that scene you’re struggling with. Don’t be afraid to put on a disguise and bring your characters to life.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Audition” your characters. Think about a place in your novel where you know you’re going to need to introduce a new character. How will this affect the other characters already introduced?

This prompt puts me in mind of Luna Lovegood from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. She is one of my favorite characters, and during a recent reread of the series, I came to realize she is not mentioned once, not even in passing, until book five. Whether this was done intentionally, or Rowling had no need to create this character until this time, doesn’t make much difference. The point is, how is she introduced?

It can be tricky introducing a new character so late in the story, but Rowling pulled it off perfectly. Luna is a year younger than Harry. She’s in a different House. There was no real reason for them to travel in the same circles until she appears on the scene. Harry and Ron are surprised by Luna. Ginny Weasley, who is a year younger than Harry and Ron, already knows Luna. In this way, Luna is brought seamlessly into the story line.

If you find yourself two-thirds of the way into your story and the need arises for a new character to take up a particular task, introduce them in such a way that it doesn’t bring the whole thing crashing down. It needs to make sense. If you can, go back and insert the character earlier. Or at least the possibility of said character.

Here’s a final thought on disguises from psychiatrist Carl Jung:

Disguise quote 2

Happy writing!

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel: A Review

The 2019 ATY Reading Challenge prompt #48 is to read a finalist or winner from the National Book Awards from any year. I chose to read Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award.

I was intrigued by the premise of this post-apocalyptic novel. It follows a troupe of nomadic players twenty years after a massive flu pandemic decimates the population of the planet. For the past two years, this group of actors and musicians have traveled a circuit around the Great Lakes. This year, however, brings some disturbing changes.

The book opens in “present day” during a production of King Lear. The lead, a famous Hollywood actor, dies suddenly onstage. In the audience is a former paparazzi who is now an EMT. Recognizing the actor’s symptoms, he jumps on stage and attempts to save his life.

The story line goes back and forth in time from Year One to Year Twenty, and sometimes flashes back to before the event. Mandel weaves together a beautiful tapestry of seemingly unrelated lives, highlighting the moments where these lives intersect. It is a wonderfully drawn picture of humanity, and how we interact with one another in the face of both ordinary and devastating events.

I chose the audio version of this book, narrated by Kirsten Potter. It is very well done. I highly recommend this book.

Unlock the Muse – October 1, 2019

October is here! It’s my favorite time of the year. The trees are turning gorgeous colors. Leaves are crunchy underfoot. There are pumpkins – so many pumpkins! And, of course, the month ends in the festive holiday of Halloween.

Costumes, candy, corn mazes, haunted houses and hay rides. Halloween is fun for all ages. Especially the costumes. A costume provides the opportunity to step outside of your own skin, if only for just a little while. It is an alter-ego you quite literally garb yourself with and pretend to be something, or someone, you are not.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

The critic inside you can prevent you from writing freely. Give this critic a name, and write a short description of how it grabs a hold of you.

This is an opportunity to do a little role-playing on paper. Take on this persona of your inner critic and write yourself right into a corner. Keep that critic there indefinitely. At least, if you’re working on drafting. Be sure to let the critic find a way out when it comes time for editing.

So yes, the theme for the month of October is Disguise. As a writer, we get to take on the roles of a variety of characters. Get into the heads of your characters. Dig deep into the motivations that drive them. Walk around in their shoes for a time and live in their skin.

Happy writing!