Weekly Writing Prompt: Gender-Swapping

wall-2794569_1920William Shakespeare did this all the time–he wrote characters taking on opposite gender roles. This makes us think about gender in different ways. He’s not the only writer to have done so on a regular basis, either, and writers are still doing it today.

So for your prompt, I want you to take a fairy tale and write it with the protagonist in a different gender. For example, if you have a female protagonist, you can rewrite the fairy tale with a character who identifies as transgender, and/or non-binary, male, or self-described gender. Pay particular attention to the binary cues that exist in the original fairy tale.

There’s no length requirement on this one. Do the subject justice.

Feel free to post a link to your story in the comments below!

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming…

I was going to do a post about a book, but I feel it’s important to call to your attention a one-question reader survey. If you’d take a moment to answer the survey below or in the sidebar on this blog, I’d truly appreciate your feedback. As I’m building out my platform, I thought rather than blog about what I think you might want to read, I would go ahead and ask. I’ll leave the survey open for a week or so, and continue posting each day on the topics in my editorial calendar until then.

Thank you for your participation!

Book Cover of the Week: The King by Skye Warren

I love the damask-like pattern, and the compositional flow created by the chess piece. The gold pattern with the crimson title also conveys a regal quality. Click on the book cover to get the book. (I haven’t read it; I just like the cover.)

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3 Plots that Boosted Character Development

Character development is all the rage. The reason is that characters are a reader’s pathway to connect to a story. A plot can be exciting but if the characters are boring and static, it can be a huge turnoff. On the contrary, when plots aid character development, something magical can happen. Check out these 3 books that have that je ne sais quoi.

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#1: Fever by Mary Beth Keane

I just read and analyzed this book for my MFA coursework this semester. It has been, by far, among my favorite reads this year. Even though I analyzed it for the characters’ addictions, the plot also works to drive character development and change. The book is about Typhoid Mary and takes place around the turn of the twentieth century in New York City. It’s vibrant, human, and masterfully written.

#2: Shogun by James Clavell

This is an old favorite of mine that I read several times over in my high school and college days. If you like underdog stories and fish-out-of-water stories, this is a great book to read. It’s long, so carve out enough time to really dive into its 1,000+ pages. The story takes place in the early 17th century and is told from the point of view of an English pilot stuck in Japan, who meets Toranaga, the fictional version of Tokugawa, the last Shogun.

#3: Emma by Jane Austen

This was once my least favorite book by Austen, though I still loved it because she wrote it. Oddly enough, when I was in middle school, I loved the movie Clueless, which is based on this novel. This novel is about how Emma changes–as well as how Mr. Knightley changes–driven by the plot. The interesting thing about this plot though is that much of it is triggered by Emma herself, even though it doesn’t conform to her intentions.

Removing Adjectives and Adverbs

One of my greatest takeaways on a micro level from my MA fiction coursework is that adverbs should be avoided as much as possible. The reason for this is that they tell instead of show. If I say, “Susie ran quickly,” isn’t it better to say, “Susie sprinted,” and show the reader with a stronger verb?

(The answer is yes.)

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So, I tried to write without adverbs whenever I could, with one exception–in speech. I don’t know about you personally, but I, and most people I’ve observed fall back on laziness in speech. I use “very” and other adverbs, because I’m trying to get a thought across fast enough to keep up with conversation, and sometimes the more powerful word doesn’t jump off of my tongue.

But in writing, there is plenty of time to draft, unless you’re participating in a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo, which I no longer participate in (but that’s a topic for another day), or unless somehow you don’t plan for deadlines and have to rush to get work done. In that case, stop reading this post and go organize your work so you don’t find yourself in that precarious situation.

Then, after drafting, there’s plenty of time to edit and revise. There’s time to go back through and think of the more powerful words to replace those lazy substitutions our brains make when we’re just trying to get ideas onto paper or screen before it flits out of our heads again.

And that, my friend, is what I want to talk about today.

My experiment started with my mentor’s feedback.

Months ago–wow, has it really been that long?–I received my first round of feedback from my mentor. I was ecstatic that she approved my thesis topic–the themes that drive the novel I’m working on for my MFA. I was less enthralled to discover I’d fallen into the trap of using adverbs in my narrative.

How did that happen?

After forcing myself to break that habit two years ago, how did I fall back into it? Simple. I was focused on other elements and let my guard down. Like an infection, adverbs infiltrated my prose and took it over, with the help of their slightly less harmful cousins, adjectives.

Wait, what’s wrong with adjectives?

Nothing really, except for when there are too many of them. My mentor commented that the text felt bogged down by them. She understood I was worldbuilding, but by focusing on that one element, I’d unwittingly abandoned character development and plot. They were there of course, so perhaps I didn’t really abandon them, but they had taken a back seat to shaping the 17th-century world.

My mentor said many of my descriptions were beautiful, but that’s not enough.

My first reaction was to wonder if I’d gotten in over my head. So I put down her email, which I had printed as though that would change the words, and went to sleep. The next morning, I woke knowing that I wasn’t in over my head, but that I had to take a drastic step to undo the laziness to which I’d allowed myself to succumb.

The Delete Key

I deleted every single adjective and every single adverb from my work. What happened next was eye-opening. Suddenly, I had space to explore my character. I had space to draw out the plot points and make them exciting.

And the worldbuilding? Don’t worry. It’s not gone–but it’s woven in more subtlety.

I remember years ago when I was working on a historical fiction piece, one of my beta readers told me she stopped reading because she didn’t know what a “davit” was. I always kept that memory with me, but now, thinking back on it, I decided a few things:

  • She didn’t need to know in that instant what a davit is.
  • She could have looked up the term instead of expecting me to stop my plot to explain every detail in the moment.
  • I shouldn’t have felt compelled to compose an encyclopedic dump on whaling vessels and their parts.

Instead, what I ended up doing, was writing from the point of view of a character who had never worked on a whaling ship before. Just because I knew the parts were called davits didn’t mean anyone else had to at that time. Instead, I described the parts by their function–they’re wooden arms built off of the side of the ship with pulleys. They’re used to raise and lower whaling boats, among other things.

Do you need to know they’re called davits? No. I was being pedantic and a little lazy, and my reader was being lazy, too–perhaps because I had been.

A time and a place…

Just as I said there was a time and place for adverbs (only in dialogue or internal thoughts), there is a time and place for an adjective. They can be used, but only when they add to the value of the narrative, and never when they detract from it.

I spoke with my mentor on the phone recently and tried to get a definitive answer from her but she reminded me that answering that would mean telling me what my style should be.

I’m still feeling that out–exactly how often I should let myself include adjectives. But I know this: When I don’t include them, my writing is more active and more exciting. When I do include them, it’s prettier, but it slows everything to a crawl. For now, I’m using pacing as my guide, and in the meantime, I’m enjoying writing my character’s thoughts and feelings in addition to his actions.

Weekly Writing Prompt: Time Travel

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I’m currently working on a short story that involves time travel…so I want you to do the same!

It can be any length. Any time period (even the 20th century). The only rule is that it must include at least one scene that takes place in a time before you were born.

Have fun! Feel free to come back and comment with a link to your story.