November is National Novel Writing Month


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.


Drama is based on the mistake…

“Drama is based on the Mistake. I think someone is my friend when he really is my enemy, that I am free to marry a woman when in fact she is my mother, that this person is a chambermaid when it is a young nobleman in disguise, that this well-dressed young man is rich when he is really a penniless adventurer, or that if I do this such and such a result will follow when in fact it results in something very different. All good drama has two movements, first the making of the mistake, then the discovery that it was a mistake.”

W.H. Auden

Ender’s Game: The Movie

I’m not sure how I didn’t know about this, but Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game is well on its way to the silver screen.

For years, I taught the novel to freshman English classes, and now that Mrs. Tankersly has taken over English I, she teaches it next door.

It’s not the most literary, but it is a great young adult novel with an interesting plot and some important themes.

For the final assignment, I often had the students storyboard a multi-level video game. Here’s an example I found in my files.  Who knows, maybe a video game version will follow the film’s release.

If you haven’t read the book yet, check it out. And hurry! The movie is set to release in November!


from Sum by David Eagleman

In this excerpt from Sum by David Eagleman, the writer presents a grimly monotonous scenario for life after death:

In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.

You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.

You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in
line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower. Two weeks wondering what happens when you die. One minute realizing your body is falling. Seventy-seven hours of confusion. One hour realizing you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Three weeks realizing you are wrong. Two days lying. Six weeks waiting for a green light. Seven hours vomiting. Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy. Three months doing laundry. Fifteen hours writing your signature. Two days tying shoelaces. Sixty-seven days of heartbreak. Five weeks driving lost. Three days calculating restaurant tips. Fifty-one days deciding what to wear. Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about. Two weeks counting money. Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator. Thirty-four days longing. Six months watching commercials. Four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time. Three years swallowing food. Five days working buttons and zippers. Four minutes wondering what your life would be like if you reshuffled the order of events. In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand.

Words I Never Want to Read

In this instructive piece, editor Jamie Chavez talks a bit about pet words in creative writing, but mostly she focuses on “some words and phrases [she] really wish[es] you wouldn’t use, because,  frankly, [she is] tired of reading them.”

• I couldn’t help but … (notice, think, wonder)
This phrase shows up in many variations, and all of them are unoriginal and empty. Stop it. Just say, “I noticed …”

• Truth be known
Aside from the fact it’s way overused, it’s awkward. If you really must use it, it should properly be If the truth were known. Don’t tell me it’s your voice. Please.

• Suddenly
The hallmark of an inexperienced writer. Think about it: everything in fiction (in life!) happens suddenly. One second it wasn’t happening … and then it was. Suddenly.

• Blurt out
You remember my post on dialogue tags, right? I’m already not crazy about blurt for that reason, but when you write he blurted out, I cringe at the redundancy.

• I thought to myself (or he thought to himself)
Of course you think to yourself! Who else is in there with you? Now, you can say things to yourself. That means you’re speaking out loud, but are not engaged in a dialogue with another character. And that’s fine. Although it is, they say, one of the first signs of insanity.

• Then, then, and then
It’s not necessary to keep reminding me that one action came after another.

• Memories that flash or crash
Why is it so difficult to write about memories? Phrases like Memories of that day came crashing down on him or He flashed back to a happier time are just overdone. Corollary: memories that stab, as in Waves of guilt stabbed at him. Ick.

• That
He used to think that he couldn’t live without her. Then he realized that he could. If I had a nickel (as my father used to say) for every superfluous that I’ve removed from manuscripts, I could retire to that little beach house on Tybee Island I’ve had my eye on.

Read her full post here.

Sentiment vs. Sentimentality

There was a bit of interesting discussion over the difference in sentiment and sentimentality in one of the discussion threads in my online course.  I found this at Writer Bug and thought I’d share what that blogger had to say:

My former mentor, Hester Kaplan, taught a wonderful lecture on how writers can get their readers to feel the characters’ emotions without being sentimental about it. What’s the difference between sentiment and sentimentality? Namely that sentimentality makes you feel something through the use of the narrator’s voice not through the characters/events of the story, and sentiment means you feel something legitimately through experiencing the characters/events of the story.

Sentiment creates a thought or view that arises out of good descriptions and characters, whereas sentimentality manipulates the reader’s emotions through highly charged imagery that elicits unearned feelings.

How do you avoid sentimentality but elicit sentiment?

  1. Use specific images and situations, not general/abstract ones.
  2. Don’t rely on adjectives
  3. Don’t rely on cliches or hackneyed subject matter
  4. Don’t tell the reader what to feel, let him/her experience feelings along with the character.
  5. Use events/images that surprise your reader.

While this post seems to be talking mostly about fiction, the advice could be applied very readily to nonfiction narrative essays as well. She also suggested this writing exercise, which again could be done as fiction or nonfiction:

Write about falling in love in a way that is not sentimental.


Should school libraries ban The Hunger Games?

“Suzanne Collins’ hit trilogy ranks third on the just-released list of U.S. library books that drew the most complaints last year, according to the American Library Association. The Hunger Games focuses on a 16-year-old girl from a dystopian country who is drafted to fight other teenagers to the death in a government-sponsored reality TV competition. In 2010, The Hunger Games ranked No. 5 on the list, but with the film boosting the trilogy’s profile, complaints have skyrocketed and grown more varied: “Anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence,” to name a few. Do these complaints justify the books being removed from library shelves?”

via Should school libraries ban The Hunger Games? – The Week

You can check out a review of the book’s content at They recommend–and I think they are on target here–that the book is appropriate for junior high school and up.

I’m not a fan of censorship in general, but schools who house K-12 libraries (like ours at Chadwick) have some tough decisions to make about which titles should be kept on the shelves and how to keep certain books in the hands of the students for whom they are the most appropriate.

If you’ve read books from this series, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.