Tag Archives: critique groups

5 GAMES FOR WRITERS

By Kevin Paul Tracy

Lively Discussion

Writers block is rarely the inability to think of something to write, as most people think of it. Sometimes it is more insidious: we feel as if we’re in a rut, writing the same old thing and not able to break out of the stricture; the plot we’ve outlined for our current project works, but doesn’t inspire us or entice us to sit down and write it; or we sense we are treading ground already tread by other writers and while, yes, we could probably do it as well or better, is what we can do with the subject sufficiently fresh and original to make it worth the effort.

Even if it is writers block in the traditional sense, there are ways to break out of it, with, as the Beatles put it, “a little help from (our) friends.” What follows are five games a group of writers can play to help get the juices flowing again. These can be played in a critique group, at a writers retreat, or just while sitting around sipping wine and discussing our craft. The final output of these games may not be anything of value or use at all, but that isn’t the point. The point is to recharge the creative batteries by stepping away from our current project and indulging in a little bit of literary silliness!

THE CASTING SLOUCH
Before the writers gather, the host creates three characters. She doesn’t name them, only gives them character traits: age, appearance, occupation, quirks, habits, deep dark secret, etc. She then creates a setting: time, place, weather conditions, whatever. Now, as the game starts, the writers are given 30 minutes to write a first chapter or scene, roughly ten pages, using all three characters and the setting to introduce a conflict and begin the plot that will presumably carry through an entire novel. Spelling, grammar, even structure doesn’t matter, what’s important is the story. Once completed, they read their chapters to each other and discuss.

POSTHUMOUS, THE FRIENDLY GHOST WRITER
In this game, the writers sit around a table or in a rough circle. Each writer is given 5 minutes to write a part of a chapter or story. In the first 5 minutes he starts it, then the pages are passed clockwise. In the subsequent rounds, each writer has 10 minutes (5 minutes to read what was written) to continue the chapter they were just given, and so on until the last writer on each chapter concludes it. The writers then read the chapters together. Once again none of the mechanics of writing matter, only the story. The trick here is not to try to fit your writing style to the writer who went before you, but only to continue the story in your own voice, while possibly giving some twist to stump the next writer.

TWISTER FOR GENRES
Here the writers draw genres from a hat. If it is a genre in which they normally write they should put it back and draw again. It is okay if more than one writer gets the same genre. After this, each writer is given 30 minutes to rewrite the first chapter of one of their projects, whether it is one on which they are currently working, or a published one, in the style of the new genre they have drawn. Need I repeat mechanics don’t count, only story. When done, they read them to each other.

CHARACTER ROULETTE
In this game, each writer is given 15 minutes to develop a rough character. A scenario is drawn from a hat, such as: Godzilla has just stepped on the characters’ favorite coffee shop; or a sudden mudslide carries the restaurant at which the characters are dining out to sea; or, the characters show up at a party only to discover it is really an FBI sting operation. Then, without waiting to take turns, the writers state how their characters would react, not only to the situation at hand but to the actions of other characters as they are described by their writers. The trick here is to find creative, original ideas for their reactions that would move a plot forward.

BETTER…OR MORE BETTER?
This one is pretty simple and easy. The writers take turns discussing one major or popular work for fiction from literature, movies, the stage, even a well-known commercial and how they would have rewritten a better ending for it. The writers discuss why this would be or may not necessarily be a better ending.

I know these games might seem silly, but a little silliness never hurt anyone, and you’d be surprised how they break loose the cobwebs and inspire writers to expand their boundaries or even break loose from them entirely. I encourage you to try them.

RMFW Spotlight on Monica Poole, Critique Chair

Each month we feature a Q and A with an RMFW board member or a non-board volunteer. These are wonderful folks who generously share their time and expertise, keep RMFW alive and growing, and provide opportunities for members to perfect their craft. An important part of the writing process is getting feedback from critique partners and groups. The RMFW critique groups are active throughout and beyond the Denver area.

Monica Poole1. Monica, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I encourage members to seek out, join, and actively participate in a critique group. Visiting a critique group was my first introduction to RMFW. I had been to a few other critique groups organized by other writing groups, and they were the blind leading the blind. Visiting the RMFW group was an eye opening and immensely helpful experience. I came away from that meeting knowing that RMFW was a group of writers who not only knew how to write, but who also knew how to share their writing knowledge with others. I want every member to have that sort of positive experience.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

I’m working on three books, two are in the fantasy genre. One is really intense with a lot of character angst and the other is a little more fun, as much as any of my books can be called fun. I tend to build dark, dystopian type worlds. The third book is a nonfiction account of my daughter’s journey through her diagnosis of schizophrenia and how our family was able to treat that through diet. It was a long journey that led to my opening my specialized bakery. It took me away from fiction writing for 10 years, but I’m back.

3. We’ve all heard of bucket lists — you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish– what’s one of yours?

My mother noticed that I liked making up wild stories and bought me a red, plastic Fisher Price typewriter when I was in second grade and told me to write down the stuff I had made up. Don’t ask me how I knew how to type in second grade, but I did.

I didn’t believe adults would read stories about made up worlds. Then in fifth grade our teacher read aloud The Hobbit. I thought, hold on, Middle Earth doesn’t exist and adults like this book. I’m going to be a writer. That was it for me. I’ve been writing ever since. But when I tell people I write, the first question is, are you published? I’m very ready to answer YES to that question.

I’d also like to do some traveling, but NOT to any of the places I’ve made up.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what’s yours?

I too often go down a bunny trail when I’m writing. Then I like where the path leads and I want to work that plot line into the book. Let that happen too many times and you can end up with a tangled mess. Dropping fun plot lines is always a tough cut, but in many cases, it has to be done.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

Getting to the end of a scene and writing that last line and knowing it is a good scene. This is especially true if the character in the scene just overcame the big obstacle or had a revelation. I love that feeling. It’s addictive.

I also really love meeting with other writers, working with them in a critique setting. The positive feedback as well as the corrective suggestions keep the creative juices flowing.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Just write it already! Get the first draft done. The words are never perfect, or even good, right out of the shoot.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

Oh my, no one wants to see my desk  I write at work, in my office and my desk is a mess of papers and empty coffee cups.

My current WIP is always open on my computer, whatever computer I happen to be working on. Whenever I get a few minutes, I jot down as much as I can. The boss doesn’t mind. I write at work, at home on my laptop, and if I don’t have my laptop, I jot ideas down on a notebook in my car, usually at a stoplight, but I have been known to write and drive. I’m always thinking about a scene, the next one or the one I’m having trouble with, and I never know when the right idea will fly into my brain.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I am re-reading The Wheel of Time series and am into the second book, The Great Hunt I believe is the title. I’ve never paid much attention to book titles. All I know is that there are a lot of books in this series and now that the series is completed I want to read them all straight through. When I started the series, years ago, I had gotten through book 7 but it became too tedious waiting for each new installment. So I decided to stop reading until they were all out. So here I am.

I’m also reading book 5 in the George RR Martin Fire and Ice series. Again, I can’t remember what it is called. I can hear all of the writers out there who painstakingly labor over their titles, just having a fit, but oh well.

I’m also reading The Book Thief, and a young adult fantasy titled Eon. Then there are all of the books and bits of books that I read for the members of my critique group or from past critique groups or for writing contests.

I like to have lots of stuff going on at once.

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Thanks so much for answering our questions, Monica.

Readers, if you’re a member of RMFW and want to find a critique group in your area, you can contact Monica at critique@rmfw.org.

Being in Community with Other Writers

By Pamela Nowak

In the twenty years I’ve been writing (well… writing with publication as a goal), there are two things that I’ve come to learn are vital:  learning craft and being in community. Since many of us often talk about craft in our blogs, I thought I’d talk about community and how important it is to the writer.

Writing is a solitary task. We sit down at our keyboards and immerse ourselves in the worlds within our minds. We write in our pajamas, our hair a mess, not seeing anyone all day long. At times, we emerge from a muse-inspired streak amazed that hours have passed. Sometimes, we tweet or update our Facebook status to brag about our frenzied, pajama adventure.

But we’re still alone.

Oh, but when we get a Like or a Comment or someone tweets back, something happens—a gooey warmth because we realize we aren’t alone in our solitary task.

When it comes down to it, those times when we discover others do exactly the same thing, we feel a sense of belonging that buoys us up and gets us through those times when we get discouraged by the writers’ block and the rejection letters and the editors who are making insane demands of us.

This incredible sense that I am not alone is one of the things that has made RMFW my family.

And who can’t use more family, right?  (Well, as long as they don’t interrupt the muse!)

Family, though, is more than being part of a community.  It means being “in” community together, interacting.

Interacting?!  Talking to people?  People you don’t know?  (Reader sticks head in sand).

Small steps can get you there and bring you the surprise of your life!

For me, the first step was joining a critique group. I got lucky the first time out. I discovered a genre-specific group I fit with well, one I could learn from, one in which I felt comfortable laying myself bare. When that group moved too far away from me (I lived in Wyoming at the time), it took a bit more effort to find a group that felt right.  Several of us created a private on-line group and I joined a multi-genre group.  Throughout those early years, I learned far more than I ever imagined was possible about craft and made friendships that nurtured me and allowed me to grow as a writer and a person.

I also began attending conference…standing in the corner looking on mustering every bit of my energy just to avoid fleeing to my room.  It took several years for me to venture out of the corner and interact but I spent those early years learning craft. But every year, I knew more people and discovered that the time with them provided me with a boost that inspired months of writing.

Still, it was my move to the Denver metro area that really allowed me to discover the meaning of community.  Someone asked me to help with the editor/agent critiques for conference.  A few months later, I was recruited to chair conference. I was fully, completely, in community. Nearly six years later, I still volunteer for several conference committees and serve on the RMFW Board. I also serve on committees for another writers’ group, WWW. Being involved has allowed me to get to know so many of my fellow writers, to be part of a family with them, to become a bigger person.

So…to the point of my rambling…

If you’re writing but still feeling that constant isolation, still expending lots of energy at conferences and feeling lonely while you’re there, I invite you to be in community with other writers. Join a critique group if you haven’t done so and allow yourself to develop friendships with your critique partners.  Let those friendships stretch beyond your monthly meetings. Attend monthly education events and talk to the person sitting next to you. Go to conference and step outside your social box. Spend time getting to know other writers. You have something in common to talk about, after all. Volunteer.  It doesn’t have to be for anything big. Even small tasks make you part of the bigger family and bring you in to contact with other writers.   Again, you already have something in common.

You’ll discover that we are all introverts that write in isolation but that we can thrive in discovering others who share our same hopes, dreams, fears, and struggles. And, once we share, we grow stronger and increase our energy until it becomes a big snowball.  And who doesn’t like snowballs?

The first steps toward being part of community may be difficult but they are so worth it.

For more information on community:  critique groups, education events, retreats, conference, or volunteering, check out the RMFW website:  www.rmfw.org.

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Pameladownload Nowak writes historical romance set in the American West. In addition to widespread critical acclaim, her books have won multiple national awards. In love with history and rich characters for most of her life, Pam has a B.A. in history, has taught prison inmates, managed the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and run a homeless shelter. She was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year in 2010, chaired three conferences, and now serves as president. Pam and her life partner Ken live in Denver. Their combined families include six daughters and several grand-children. Together, they parent two dogs and a cat.

Pam loves hearing from readers and invites them to visit her on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.