Unlock the Muse – June 27, 2018

It’s the end of June. 2018 is half over already. How is that possible? Nonetheless, it is true. And it also means it is time once again for Camp NaNoWriMo, July edition. For this session, I’ve decided to return to a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid novel that I started some time ago. Lately it has been clamoring for my attention

Here is your writing prompt for this week:

Setting the stage: Is the time and place of your latest story clear? Go through your work, and extract words or phrases that depict the surroundings. Have you clearly set the place and time?

This week I began reading the chapter on dialogue in The 3 A.M. Epiphany, by Brian Kiteley. A real life conversation is messy, but a fictional one can’t afford to be. It’s important to make every word count in your fictional conversations – those said as well as unsaid. In fact, what goes unsaid is often even more important. Here’s an exercise to help you focus on body language:

Write a “conversation” in which no words are said. It might be best to have a stranger observe this conversation, rather than showing us the thoughts of one of the people involved in the conversation, because the temptation to tell us what the conversation is about is so great from inside of the conversation. 600 words.



Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – June 20, 2018

We’re nearing the end of June. Summer officially begins tomorrow. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but where I live, temperatures are growing uncomfortably warm. But I am from Oregon, and what is uncomfortable to me is time-to-put-the-sweaters-away perfect for someone else.

Your writing prompt for this week is:

Characterization check: Take a central character from your latest story, and jot down attributes, physical features, mannerisms, goals, fears, secrets and any other relevant characteristics. Take this list and compare it to your story, do you spot any places where he or she is acting “out of character”?

Fiction comes from a variety of sources – history, observation, experience, pure imagination. From The 3 A.M. Epiphany, by Brian Kiteley:

Fiction need not be the least bit autobiographical, or it may be nearly pure autobiography. Nevertheless, the exploration of your own history can be very useful in the search for subject matter for your fiction. Even the most experimental, objective, or distanced story usually has an element of autobiography in it, something analogous to the author’s experience.

Explore your personal history. Write down your memories, experiences, observations. Keep a journal and play around with the ideas, see where they take you.

It’s vocabulary week! I haven’t been especially inspired by a specific word lately. So let’s take a look at a potentially dangerous word:



1. The action of delaying or postponing something.

It also has some fun and interesting synonyms: dithering, stalling, hesitation, vacillation, dilly-dallying, shilly-shallying.

The word procrastination is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare, combining the prefix pro- “forward” with crastinus “of tomorrow” – hence, moving something forward from one day until the next. Here is a fun article on the history of the word procrastination from slate.com.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – June 13, 2018

School is officially out for the summer. It’s time to be outdoors as much as possible, watch the butterflies flitter about and listen to the bees buzz about the clover. Whether you’re vacationing at home, or out traveling about, don’t forget to take your notebook along!

Here’s the writing prompt for this week:

Write about your journey to the end of the rainbow. What did you find when you got there? Were you happy, sad, disappointed, frightened?

Is there really a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Is it nothing but fool’s gold? What does your journey look like?

I’m still reading through The 3 A.M. Epiphany, by Brian Kiteley. Here’s an exercise from the chapter titled “History.”

The Day After. Imagine a moment just after some major historical event. Use ordinary people, not the Napoleans or Nancy Reagans. This will demand some research. Don’t be afraid. It may be that these people have no idea what has just happened. The barkeep in a tavern in Philadelphia in 1777 has no idea the Articles of Confederation have just been ratified down the street. He serves the signers with warm beer and a huge suppawn with milk (a whole stewed pumpkin). 800 words.

Let’s take a look this week at the comma. Here is rule #3 of Strunk and White’s Elementary Rules of Usage:

Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. This rule is difficult to apply; it is frequently hard to decide whether a single word, such as however, or a brief phrase is or is not parenthetic. If the interruption to the flow of the sentence is but slight, the commas may be safely omitted. But whether the interruption is slight or considerable, never omit one comma and leave the other.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Next week is word of the month! Got a word with an interesting story you’d like to see profiled?

Unlock the Muse – May 23, 2018

This weekend, in the United States, we will celebrate Memorial Day – a day set aside to honor those who died in service to their country. Born out of the Civil War, it was originally called Decoration Day and was “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country.” (General John Logan, 1868)

Here is this week’s random writing prompt:

What event would you never write about, and why?

I’m not sure how to answer this. If it is something I would never write about, how can I possibly answer? Doesn’t that mean I will have to write about it?

What is it you will not write about? War? Joining the circus? Your high school reunion? The death of a loved one?

In Brian Kiteley’s 3 A.M. Epiphany, this exercise appears in the chapter on Women and Men, which deals with “ways of seeing.”

Write a short scene in which a woman becomes invisible briefly, for no explained reason. I leave it up to you what she will observe in her state of lucidity and transparency: her boyfriend’s or husband’s or male friend’s life, a short scene of men without women, or a scene of another woman and her man (innocent or not). No one can see or hear her. She is not a ghost, and at the end of your narrative, return her to her fully fleshed out self, again with no explanations. In other words, don’t worry too much about the problem of imperceptibility. Just jump into the story and follow its political, rather than science fiction, consequences. 600 words.

I will leave you this week with a quote from one of my favorite authors. And, since I’ve been reading vampire stories, I thought it should have something to do with those fascinating creatures of the night.

Fantasy is my favorite genre for reading and writing. We have more options than anyone else, and the best props and special effects. That means if you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead.
Patrick Rothfuss

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:


Unlock the Muse – May 16, 2018

Another month half gone already. This year is flying by too fast. My first soccer season is nearly over. The kids will be out of school soon begging to put up the pool. And this weekly writing prompt adventure is a year old!

Speaking of time passing, here is this week’s writing prompt:

Aging happens. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror, and write a poem praising the changes that the maturing process has brought to your face.

My mother has beautiful silvering hair, and doesn’t look remotely like the 68 she is. I can only hope time will be as kind to me.

In the second section of The 3 A.M. Epiphany, Brian Kiteley focuses on Images, on the idea of showing a story, not telling it. He says: “Image is the primary engine of most fiction.” The first exercise in this section is titled “No Ideas, But In Things.”

Write a very brief story told only in images—concrete, simple, visually efficient movements and details. This exercise does not ask you to eliminate people from your prose, just to watch what they do and what objects they crave and caress rather than what they say or think about these objects and actions. 300 words.

The last several weeks I have been taking my oldest son to soccer practice at least once a week, often twice. Thus, we are spending a lot of one on one time together, trapped in a car. I am a captive audience to his million and one questions. Anyone else have an exceptionally curious eight year old?

One of the questions that has popped up recently is in regards to street names. What is a boulevard? Why is that called Foster Avenue? Why? Why? Why? I decided why, indeed? What makes a road a road? What makes it a boulevard or an avenue or simply a street?

The word for this month, therefore, is boulevard. What does it mean, and where does it come from?




A wide street in a town or city, typically one lined with trees.

From etymoline.com:

1769, “broad street or promenade planted with rows of trees,” from French boulevard, originally “top surface of a military rampart” (15c.), from a garbled attempt to adopt Middle Dutch bolwerc “wall of a fortification” into French, which at that time lacked a ‘w’ in its alphabet.

The notion is of a promenade laid out atop demolished city walls, a way which would be much wider than urban streets. Originally in English with conscious echoes of Paris; in US, since 1929, used of multi-lane limited-access urban highways.

Wherever your adventures take you this week – along wide, straight boulevards, or winding, country roads – happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Unlock the Muse – May 9, 2018

This second week of May has brought sunshine punctuated by thunder storms. All just a part of spring in the Pacific Northwest. My writing this week has sort of mirrored this. Periods of sunshiny idleness punctuated by frantic thunder storms of activity. I can only hope the moody “weather” of spring will result in rapid growth, much like the front lawn.

Last week the assignment was to set a certain time to write, and then write during that time. While I managed to stick to the thirty minutes of writing each night, I often did not write at my assigned time. Usually, I was later than I wanted to be. Still, I managed to organize the new material I wrote last month during Camp NaNoWriMo, and twice complete a blog post.

This week, your task is to:

Imagine you’re the creator of a fantastic weight-loss formula… with one odd side effect. What’s the drawback?


Writing is hard work, but this book can make that hard work a little more fun, a little less painful.
Brian Kiteley, The 3 A.M. Epiphany

The unanimous vote (of one!) has me reading The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction, by Brian Kiteley. Thus I’ll share a few bits of wisdom as I encounter them. It isn’t the usual book on writing craft. Rather, it is a series of prompts designed to stretch the fiction writer beyond their usual routine.

The first section of the book includes a handful of exercises centered around the theme: point of view. Here is the first exercise which Kiteley has titled “The Reluctant.”

Write a first person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I or me or my) only two times – but keep the I somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing. The point of this exercise is to imagine a narrator who is less interested in himself than in what he is observing. You can make your narrator someone who sees an interesting event in which he is not necessarily a participant. Or you can make him self-effacing, yet a major participant in the events related. It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize that this is a first-person narration. Show us quickly who is observing the scene. 600 words.

For added fun, try using the prompt from the Inspire section above in this exercise.

In this week’s grammar lesson from The Elements of Style, we’ll take a look at a word that has been diluted by overuse.

Hopefully. This once useful adverb meaning “with hope” has been distorted and is now widely used to mean “I hope” or “it is to be hoped.” Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say “Hopefully I’ll leave on the noon plane” is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you’ll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you’ll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven’t said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable and even useful to many, it offends the ear of others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense.

I confess, I am guilty of using hopefully in this incorrect manner in my daily conversations. I don’t know that I use it in my writing, however. I hope I do not!

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here: