DAY #29: A Modified “NaNoWriMo” Challenge (Write 15 Minutes of Garbage Every Day)

It’s Day 29 of this self-imposed 30-day writing challenge.  I’m having so much fun writing this story (Working Title:  “Charlie Weaver and the Magical Object of Doom”), that I’m going to continue writing it as long as I can.  At least through the end of November.

I’m going to back off from Charlie Weaver and the telepathic “Yoda” cows to return to Shivani, Charlie and the dwarf attack.  I think this story needs a prophecy, so here goes (starting with a few lines from Day 26):

“Oh, my God,” Shivani said, clenching her hands into fists.  “What on Earth is the point of this committee?”

“This isn’t Earth, dear,” Professor Pedantic said gently.  “You’re in Bharat.  Poor thing.  Do you need Miss Prissy’s smelling salts?”

Shivani scowled at Professor Pedantic.  Before she could reply, we heard a loud cry.  “AAAAAAAIIIIIIIEEEEEE!!!!!!!”

Shivani and I whirled around.  We looked out the window just in time to see a dwarf flying through the air towards the castle.  Both of us gasped as he slammed into the wall.  Director Fussybottom quickly approached the window.  We watched the dwarf slide down the wall into the moat.

“Heavens,” exclaimed Mistress Prissy Pants, placing one pudgy hand on her ample bosom.  “What was that?”

“The dwarves have some sort of contraption,” Director Fussybottom muttered, as he stared out the window.  Swarms of dwarfs were pushing a large wooden platform with wheels on it.  A small dwarf scrambled into something that looked like a scoop.

Shivani expelled a snort of disgust.  “It’s a catapult.  Don’t you people know anything?”

“Catapult?”  I said, bracing myself for her reply.  Shivani always tossed out these strange terms from her realm.  Sometimes, I had a feeling that she thought we were stupid for not understanding them.

“That poor little dwarf,” Shivani muttered, leaning halfway out the window.  “I hope he’s okay.”

Three dwarves jumped into the moat and dragged the unconscious one onto land.  One large dwarf scowled up at us from the other side of the moat.  When he saw us watching him from the tower window, he shook his fist and yelled something at us.  But we couldn’t hear what he was saying.

“A dwarf hit the wall,” Professor Pedantic repeated.  His ruddy cheeks turned pale as exchanged glances with Director Fussybottom.  “You know what this means, right?”

“Oh, no,” Mistress Prissy Pants whispered.  Her eyes widened.  “The prophecy?”

“Prophecy?”  Shivani repeated, as she returned to the table.  She crossed her arms and snickered.  “Well, this should be good.”

“What prophecy?” I asked with trepidation.  My body tensed.  Prophecies always meant trouble for heroes like myself.

“No,” Director Fussybottom shook his head.  “It can’t be.”

“But it makes sense,” Professor Serenity replied.  Her face suddenly looked weary.  “I hate to admit it, but Pedantic may be right.”

The walls of the tower shook as another dwarf slammed into the castle wall.  Their aim was getting better.

“Oh, dear,” Miss Prissy wailed.  Her lower lip began to quiver again.  “Loud noises wreak havoc on my nerves.  I may have to lie down if this doesn’t stop soon.”

“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?  What prophecy?”  Shivani demanded.

Director Fussybottom sighed and walked over to his large desk at the opposite end of the room.  He opened the top drawer and pulled out something before walking back to us at the table.  As we stood up and gathered around him, he unrolled a scroll.  A very old, faded, dusty scroll of yellow parchment paper.  He read the words out loud:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

This is a prophecy

So it must be true

There were murmurs of agreement.  This prophecy was filled with wisdom.  I didn’t want to miss a single word, so I focused all of my attention on the crumpled piece of paper as Fussybottom continued.

Beware of the dwarf

When it first hits the wall

It’s a sign of life changes

For one and for all

“Heavens,” Miss Prissy gasped, reaching for her smelling salts.  She opened her mouth to say something, but Director Fussybottom held up his hand.  She remained silent as he continued.

A Warrior, A Weaver

A Seer and More

Must follow the call

And walk out the door

Some will live

Some will die

Some will smile

Some will cry

What more can I say

To those in this room

Go on this quest

Or perish in doom

The Elders all stared at each other in horror as the words of the prophecy registered.  My mind whirled as I tried to make sense of it.

“Let me see this,” Shivani said, snatching up the parchment to study it closely.

“But what does this mean?”  Miss Prissy whimpered, reaching into her bag.  She pulled out a large handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes.  “Are we all going to die?”

“Wait a second.  It mentioned something about a weaver,” I said, frowning.  My stomach started to churn as I realized something profound.  “My name is Charlie Weaver.  Am I the weaver in this prophecy?”

“Oh, for goodness sakes,” Shivani said, waving the prophecy at us.  “Have any of you really looked at this?  Whoever wrote it has really bad handwriting.”  She rolled her golden eyes.  “And it’s written in crayon.  How am I supposed to take this seriously?”

I could tell that Shivani wasn’t taking this prophecy very seriously.  “Shivani, this isn’t funny.  You’re a warrior and I’m a weaver.  We need to go on this quest.”

“Well done, Charlie,” Professor Pedantic nodded with approval.  I admit that I glowed under his compliment.  “I think you’ve interpreted one part of the prophecy.”

“What quest?”  Shivani started laughing.  Tears streamed out of her eyes.  “The whole thing is ridiculous.  Where are we supposed to go?  What are we looking for?  The whole thing is a complete joke.”  She plopped down on a chair, laughing hysterically.

The Elders all stared at Shivani, some with open disapproval.  Professor Pedantic shook his head.  “These are matters for the committee to evaluate,” he said, which sent Shivani into another fit of laughter.

“You may think this is a joke, Miss Roy, but we take our prophecies very seriously in Bharat,” Director Fussybottom said sternly.

DAY #28: A Modified “NaNoWriMo” Challenge (Write 15 Minutes of Garbage Every Day)

It’s Day 28 of this self-imposed 30-day writing challenge.  I may be the only one who finds this entertaining, but since I’m laughing my ass off as I write this, I’m going to continue the story of “Charlie Weaver and the Magical Object of Doom” from yesterday….  (a.k.a. A satire of Harry Potter/Percy Jackson/Gregor The Overlander)  I’ll start off with a few sentences from yesterday and continue to take this story to a whole new level of absurdity/stupidity:

The walk to the pasture was at least one mile.  I kept staring at the hole in the bucket as I munched on the biscuits.  There was no way I could carry all of that milk without losing it to the hole.  Aunt Bertha would beat the living daylights out of me if I came back with less than a pail of milk.  But what could I use to patch up the bucket?

I was so worried about the hole that I didn’t notice that I was being watched.

As I walked through our grazing pasture, I looked around for our milking cow, Clarabelle.  She was nowhere to be seen.  I had a sinking feeling that she may have wandered off again.  My fears were confirmed when I saw the broken boards in the fence surrounding my family’s small property.

“Clarabelle,” I called out, as I hopped over the fence.  This wasn’t good.  Our neighbor, Mr. O’Toole, had already threatened to shoot Clarabelle the next time he caught her eating any of his prize-winning squash.  I had to find her before he did.

“Here, girl,” I shouted, as I landed in a large, ankle-deep puddle.  Although I was wearing Paw Paw’s knee-high rubber boots, which offered some protection, my pants were already splattered with mud.  I made a mental note to hose myself off before going to school.  “Clarabelle, where are you, girl?”

Suddenly, I heard a voice in my head.  I’m over here, Charlie Weaver.  By the golden apple tree on the hill.

I don’t know why, but something mysterious prompted me to run towards the tree.  The voice was right.  Lo and behold, there was Clarabelle, calmly munching on some apples.  The large brown cow looked at me reproachfully.  What took you so long?  My udder is full.

I stopped and stared at her.  Did her lips just move?  As I scratched my head, thoroughly confused, I wondered what was wrong with me.  Was I hallucinating?  Why could I understand what Clarabelle was thinking?

Clarabelle made a sound like a moan.  Well, Charlie, don’t just stand there like a gawking at me like a ninny.  Milk me.  She swung her head towards the tree.  There’s a stool over there.  Hurry up.

Something propelled me to grab the stool from under the tree, set the pail down, and start milking her.  Clarabelle emitted a loud sigh of relief.  In the middle of milking, I heard a noise behind me.  It sounded like mooing.

Who be your friend, Clarabelle?

Your friend, who he be?

Two beautiful Jersey cows walked around me and stood on either side of Clarabelle.  The larger one was all black, while the other one had a shiny black coat with large white spots.  They both watched me with eyes that were surprisingly human in expression.

Clarabelle mooed her response.  That’s Charlie Weaver.  He’s my caretaker.

The cow with the spots watched me as I finished milking Clarabelle.  She turned to Clarabelle and tilted her head in my direction.  Milk me, can he?  Full udder I have.

And I also, Clarabelle.  Full udder I also have.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead before pulling the pail out from under Clarabelle.  The milk immediately started to leak from the hole in the bucket.  I quickly placed my thumb over it and wondered how I would make it all the way back to the house without losing any milk.

Thank you, Charlie Weaver.  Can you milk my friends as well?

A loud guttural sound emitted crossed my lips without effort.  It took me a few moments to realize that I was conversing with the cows in their native tongue.  In short, I was mooing my responses.

“I’m sorry, Clarabelle, but I can’t.  My bucket is full,” I held up the pail and tapped it with the side of my head.  “Although it won’t be full for long, because of this stupid hole.”

Clarabelle looked at me thoughtfully for a moment before speaking again.  If I can fix your bucket, will you milk my friends?

I looked at the sun rising in the East.  Based on its position in the sky, I estimated that I had a few hours before school started.  So I shrugged.  “Sure, I can milk your friends too.  But how will I carry their milk in this bucket?  Should I dump yours out?”

No, no, Clarabelle shook her head and spat out an apple core.  You must keep all of the milk that you collect in your bucket.  You will need it later.

I had no idea what she was talking about.  “Well, whatever,” I shrugged again, swiping my sweaty forehead with my sleeve.  “I’ve got school, so let’s just get this done.  Which of you wants to go first?”

The cow with the white spots approached me after Clarabelle moved away from the stool.  First I will go.

The other cow nodded and stepped behind her.  Go you shall first.

I began milking the cow with the white spots.  I could feel a surge of adrenaline as I reached for her teat.  When the first drops of milk hit the pail, an eerie calm settled over me.  I just lowered my head and focused on the milk.

Even though I was consumed by the milk, a part of me could still feel the tremors of the earth as a herd of cattle descended on our group.  Voices echoed in my head.  Milk you he will.

And I did.  It felt as if time stood still.  I just kept on milking one cow after another until no more cows stood in front of the stool.  After the last cow walked off into the meadow, I collapsed onto the ground.  I felt utterly exhausted after milking what must have been over 100 cows.

Clarabelle nudged my foot with her nose.  You have our gratitude, Charlie Weaver.

Both of the Jersey cows nodded their agreement.  Our gratitude you have, Charlie Weaver.

A boon we will give you.

Give you a boon, we will.

As I lay in the cool, comforting mud, I stared up at the sky and whispered,  “What’s a boon?”

Clarabelle, to her credit, did not roll her large brown eyes at me.  “A gift for your services.”

My Three Revelations About Storytelling

I’m starting to realize a few things about writing and storytelling that I wanted to share in this post:

Writing vs. Storytelling

There’s a difference between being a good writer and a good storyteller.  I used to believe that the two were always interlinked, but recent book successes (cough, cough, 50 Shades of Grey, cough, cough), have proven otherwise.  I haven’t read Fifty Shades.  The subject matter doesn’t interest me, but I do admit that I was intrigued enough by the hype to read a preview of this book on Amazon.  I couldn’t get past the first few pages without growing irritated.  Why on earth is this book selling?  The 1-star reviews on Amazon were written more eloquently than the book itself.  (Plus, they were hysterical.)

But, obviously, the international sales figures for this book speak volumes, so who am I to judge?  E.L. James did something right.  If you can look past the questionable writing and subject matter, which I admit was difficult for me to do, she’s a genius when it comes to connecting with her audience.  Readers identify with her characters.  There are plenty of well-written books gathering dust on the shelves of libraries and bookstores across the nation.  I have to give credit where it’s due.  E. L. James is a phenomenal storyteller and I can learn a lot from her.

Scene Construction

My last post on this blog, I Am The Daughter Of Foreigners, received the most response.  People actually read it and sent me positive comments.  That’s huge compared with the crickets chirping after some of my other posts.  So, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out what I did differently on this one so that I can replicate it in future posts.

The bottom line is that I focused on the story.  I wrote for myself.  I had a clear picture of the scene in my head, since I actually lived it.  This post took all of 15 minutes to write.  I spent another 45 minutes polishing it, which included walking away from it and returning to it a few times.  But that post almost wrote itself.

When I went back to analyze it, I noted a few points about how I constructed the scene:

1.  Title:  A few friends told me that they stopped to read it because of the title.

2.  Setup:  The first paragraph setup the story at the Secretary of State’s office and introduced the main characters.

3.  Framing:  I didn’t start the scene too early and I didn’t drag the story on for too long.  I got to the point.

4.  Conflict:  There was an obvious confrontation between me (the Protagonist) and the older couple (the Antagonist).

5.  Resolution:  The “story” had an emotionally satisfying conclusion.  “Justice” was served.

6.  Emotional Premise:  The “racism/immigration” theme of this post would make most anyone’s blood boil.

7.  Information Exposition:  I knew the point that I wanted to make with this post without even thinking about it.

I’m not sure if I can replicate this each time I post something.  Every day of my life isn’t a conflict (thank goodness!).  But I think the takeaway from this is to have a clear picture in your head of the scene and the point that you want to make before writing it.

Selling A Book Will Be Harder Than Publishing A Book

Okay.  Let me be up front about this.  I don’t have a finished manuscript.  I’m nowhere near publication.  But only two months into this blog, I’m starting to realize that it’s hard to get people to read what you write.  There’s so much noise.  How does a person cut through all of that?

As challenging as writing a book is, publication is harder.  As hard as publishing a book will be, selling it is the ultimate challenge.  If I can’t get people to read the FREE content on a 900-word blog, how will I get people PAY MONEY and read 300 pages in a book?  (NOTE:  The assumption is that the free content on a blog is technically well-written and emotionally evocative.  That’s the minimum requirement in this market, and I’m still learning the craft.)

Let’s assume that I’ve written the next Harry Potter book and that it’s been published.  (I know that this is arrogant, but hear me out.)  So what’s the next step?  How do you get readers to actually look between the covers of this supposed jewel if you’re an unknown author?  How did J.K. Rowling, who had her struggles getting HP published, get people to read her book before she became a writing legend?  At some point, no one knew who she was.  How did she break through the barriers to entry?

I’m an engineer.  I like to figure out puzzles and to me, this is the ultimate marketing puzzle.  I will definitely share any insights that I uncover, so stay tuned!  Happy Selling!

Post 10: Story Structure SETUP

Okay, I feel like pulling my hair out of my head.  I’ve spent the last few days poring over books and online posts about story structure setup.  For the love of whatever deity you want, I know that they’re writers, but is it necessary to be so wordy?  Why don’t they just get to the point?

For my own sake and the sake of other irritated novice writers, I’m just going to cut through the flowery crap and get to the point.  The Setup of a story is the first 25% of a story.  It does exactly what it sounds like it does – “sets up” the hero to make a pivotal decision at a major plot milestone called the First Plot Point.  In this post, I’ll start the discussion of Setup by presenting a quick overview of my interpretation of the Setup.

Every story runs on a timeline.  The clock is always running in a book.  Every action, event, and word that the author uses must keep the story moving forward along this timeline.  If not, the story loses its momentum and possibly, its reader.  That’s where the story structure milestones come into play.

A story’s timeline can be broken down into four parts or quadrants:

1.  First 25%:  Setup

2.  Second 25%:  Response

3. Third 25%:  Attack

4.  Final 25%:  Resolution

In case you’re wondering, the classic three-act structure is just another way of breaking down a story.  I’ll just mention it here to avoid confusion:

1.  First 25%:  Act 1 (Set up)

2. Second 25%:  Act 2A (Response)

3.  Third 25%:  Act 2B. (Attack)

4.  Final 25%:  Act 3 (Resolution)

I’m just going to use the quadrant terms because I’m used to it.  Within each quadrant, there are pivotal milestones that keep the story moving along the timeline.  The milestones in the Setup are as follows:


  1. Hook
  2. Inciting Incident
  3. First Plot Point (20-25%)

I like learning things “top down,” so I’ll start at a higher level and discuss the Setup as a whole before deep diving into purpose of the Setup’s milestones in a different post.


For me, a story’s Setup is the most difficult portion of the book to write.  I’m an impatient reader.  I guess that’s why I’m an impatient writer.  I just want to get to the heart of the conflict and move on with life.  But, wait a second.  According to the “writing experts,” that’s not what I’m supposed to do.  And to be fair, after reading more about the setup’s purpose, I agree with them.

Basically, the Setup shows what the hero’s life is like before he or she is dragged into conflict.  The author must accomplish two primary objectives in this section of the book:


I struggled with this.  Diving straight into the main conflict on page one just seemed like a cool thing to do.  But why should the reader care if Anita Bath is about to jump off the cliff on page one?  Who cares if Jacque Strap just caught a disease?  What difference does it make if Holden Magroin holds up a liquor store?  I could keep going, but I’ll stop here.  You get my point.

The best writers make their readers weep or cheer or both for their heroes within the first quadrant.  Think Harry Potter and his dysfunctional Muggle family.  Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon kept him in a cupboard under the stairs.  His cousin Dudley was a bully who subjected him to daily torment.  Harry didn’t even get to celebrate his eleventh birthday or any other birthday.  Is there anything more pathetic?  I wanted Harry to turn his relatives into slugs and crush them under his heel.  Go get ‘em, Harry Potter!  Turn them into slugs!  But that’s what I mean.  We all cared about Harry from the very beginning of the story.

And what about poor Katniss Everdeen?  She and her family were starving in poverty-stricken District 13 before she was dragged into the Hunger Games.  When her father died, she stepped up to take care of her mother and sister.  She was honorable and a fighter.  Who wouldn’t root for this girl?

Luke Skywalker was bored out of his mind living with his aunt and uncle on a farm in Tattoine before flying away to fight the Evil Empire.  We could sense his yearning for excitement and adventure, but admired his willingness to stay home another year to help his uncle with the farm.


For me, the best stories also show the antagonistic force at work in the “Life Before” world.  The first chapter of Harry Potter talks about “The Boy Who Lived” without an explanation of how.  In “Star Wars,” we see Princess Leia being taken prisoner by Darth Vader but we really don’t know why.  Both of these books use prologues to show the antagonist at work WITHOUT fully explaining their evil plans.

The Hunger Games uses a slightly different technique.  It doesn’t have a prologue, but we still immediately understand that something is wrong within the first few pages.  We meet Katniss for the first time on an unusual day.  The streets of her town are empty.  There are no coal miners trudging along to work.  There’s a mysterious event called a “reaping” that’s going to take place.  Obviously, “Life Before” isn’t very good for Ms. Everdeen.

All three stories do a fantastic job of pacing the information exposition in the first quarter of the book.  None of the authors just dumped the entire world on the reader like a cold bucket of water.  They slowly immersed the readers into their worlds.  Everything in these setups leads to a critical decision that each hero makes at the first Plot point, which I will discuss in more detail in my next post on story structure.

Post 5: Story Structure – “The Hero’s Journey Mad Libs”

I’m a terrible person to take to the movies.  Just ask my husband.  “Gravity” was on T.V. a few months ago.  Do you know this movie?  It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  They’re astronauts.  They have a problem with their space shuttle.  They float around in space trying to figure it out.  Their lives are in danger.  Yada, yada, yada.  I suspect that there’s some tear jerking ending that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it.  It’s all very suspenseful.

“Gravity” received positive reviews, so my husband wanted to watch it.  Unfortunately for him, I’ve been studying story structure and I’ve discovered a new game.  It’s called “Guess How The Movie Ends Without Watching It.”  I told my husband what I thought would happen, which ruined that movie for him.  When I looked up the synopsis of the movie later, it turned out I was correct.

I know.  I’m awful.  No one will ever hang out with me at the movies again.  But seriously, we don’t have a lot of free time these days.  Who wants to waste two hours watching a movie when you know how it’s going to end?  I did the two of us a favor.

I’ll stop here to issue a warning.  If you don’t want to ruin stories/movies for yourself, stop reading here.  Anyone interested in ruining stories for friends and loved ones should keep reading.

If you think movies are formulaic, you’re right.  Most stories follow the same basic pattern.  The only change is the context.  The better the storyteller, the better the context.  Two authors who are famous for their work on story structure are Joseph Campbell (“The Hero With A Thousand Faces”) and Christopher Vogler (“The Writer’s Journey”).  Both of them discuss a commonly used storytelling formula known as “The Hero’s Journey.”  Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but most popular books and movies don’t deviate from this formula.

I found this pseudo-“Mad Libs” template for the “Hero’s Journey” on the internet.  (Source:  It does a great job of demonstrating how the formula works in two movies – Star Wars and Harry Potter.


[Insert Hero] is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of [Insert Location].

[Hero] is rescued from [Insert 1st Antagonist] by wise, bearded [Insert 1st Ally] who turns out to be a [Insert Special Occupation].

[1st Ally] reveals to [Hero] that [Hero’s Father] was also a [Insert Special Occupation] and the best [Insert Person with Special Skill] he had ever seen.

[Hero] has many adventures in [Insert New Magical Location] and makes new friends [Insert New Allies].

In the course of these adventures, [Hero] distinguishes himself as a top [New Magical Occupation], making a direct [Insert Strike Against Enemy] that secures the [Insert Group Of Allies] victory against the forces of [Insert Evil Enemy].

[Hero] also sees off the threat of [Insert Enemy Leader], who we now know murdered his [Insert Loved Ones]. 

In the finale, [Hero] and his new friends receive [Insert Recognition]

All of this is set to an orchestral score composed by John Williams.



So here’s how this would work with Star Wars:

LUKE SKYWALKER is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of TATOOINE. 

LUKE is rescued from ALIENS by wise bearded BEN KENOBI who turns out to be a JEDI KNIGHT.

BEN KENOBI reveals to LUKE that LUKE’S FATHER was also a JEDI KNIGHT and the best PILOT he had ever seen.

LUKE SKYWALKER has many adventures in THE GALAXY and makes new friends HAN SOLO AND PRINCESS LEIA.

In the course of these adventures, LUKE distinguishes himself as a top X-WING PILOT, making a direct HIT that secures the REBEL victory against the forces of THE EVIL EMPIRE.

LUKE SKYWALKER also defeats the threat of LORD VADER, who we now know murdered his UNCLE AND AUNT. 

In the finale, LUKE and his new friends receive MEDALS OF VALOR

All of this is set to score composed by John Williams.



Hey!  That was fun!  Let’s try this with Harry Potter:

HARRY POTTER is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of SUBURBIA.

HARRY is rescued from MUGGLES by wise bearded HAGRID who turns out to be a WIZARD.

HAGRID reveals to HARRY that HARRY’S FATHER was also a WIZARD and the best QUIDDITCH PLAYER he had ever seen.

HARRY POTTER has many adventures in HOGWARTS and makes new friends RON AND HERMIONE.

In the course of these adventures, HARRY POTTER distinguishes himself as a top QUIDDITCH SEEKER, making a direct CATCH that secures the GRYFFINDOR victory against the forces of SLYTHERIN.

HARRY POTTER also sees off the threat of LORD VOLDEMORT, who we now know murdered his PARENTS.    

In the finale, HARRY POTTER and his new friends receive THE HOUSE CUP.

All of this is set to score composed by John Williams.

Wasn’t that fun?  This kind of feels like telling the truth about Santa Claus, but I think it’s an awesome template.  What a great way to summarize the plot of a new novel!

All kidding aside, I admit that I’m curious to see if this template works in practical application, so I’m going to use it as a starting point for my next manuscript.  Now all I need is a four-syllable name for a protagonist and I’m ready to go.