Writing Prompts: The Vacation Edition

With summer comes sunshine, no school, and the need to get away from it all with a fun vacation. Some of you may go camping in the great outdoors, others may travel across the country on an epic road trip, and others will have an adventure backpacking across Europe. But if you find some spare time between exploring new sites and trying new foods, then exercise your writing muscles with these vacation writing prompts.

Vacation travel writing prompts

  1. Trisha’s dreams of visiting Paris are coming true, and she is more than ready to see the Eiffel tower, try escargot, and check out the latest fashion trends. But her dream vacation goes awry when she accidently boards a plan heading for the Congo instead. What happens next?
  2. Zoe grew up having weekly fishing and camping trips. In contrast, her new boyfriend, Dennis, is a city slicker who doesn’t know the first thing about starting a fire (let alone making s’mores). However, he wants to impress Zoe and take her camping. How does he attempt to do this without letting on that he doesn’t even know how to set up a tent?
  3. Marissa, a small town girl who struggles with agoraphobia, is the sole inheritor of her great aunt’s massive fortune. However, in order to receive the desperately-needed money, Marissa must complete ten tasks all over New York City. How does she manage to overcome her fears and complete the tasks?
  4. With both divorce from his wife and estrangement from his adult children looming on the horizon, Walter proposes a road trip across America as a means of bringing the family back together. What happens?
  5. High school student Jeanne didn’t want to do a study abroad in South America for the summer, but her parents would do anything to put distance between Jeanne and her boyfriend. However, Jeanne plans to sneak back home. What happens next?
  6. Joe’s relaxing Hawaiian vacation turns stressful when he is accidently mistaken for a member of the mafia. What happens next?

Do you know any more great vacation writing prompts? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Book Recommendation: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Archaeology, mystery, and an ancient Egyptian mummy come together in this Victorian-era novel. Meet the indomitable Amelia Peabody in Crocodile on the Sandbank which was written by Elizabeth Peters and published by Grand Central Publishing in 1975. Mystery fans will enjoy the headstrong characters and the exploration of ancient Egyptian artifacts in this story.

Crocodile on the sandbank quote-God help the poor mummy who encounters you, Peabody

Summary

After receiving an inheritance upon her father’s passing, proud, blunt spinster Amelia Peabody decides to explore her passion for ancient language and history by visiting Egypt. Along the way, she takes on a companion in Evelyn, an English gentlewoman with a tarnished past. They fall into the lot of two archaeologist brothers, the stubborn, bullhead Emerson and his mild-mannered brother, Walter.

“The truth is, I wanted him to be a villain—a veritable crocodile, like the one in the ancient poem, that lay in wait for the lover seeking to win his sweetheart. A woman’s instinct, I always feel, supercedes logic.”

Amelia’s Egyptian adventure soon takes a spooky twist when a mummy goes missing and is seen walking about at night. The group suspects it is one of the villagers trying to scare them away in order to pilfer artifacts from the tomb, but they soon realize their Egyptian ghost has taken a strong interest in Evelyn. Will they catch the culprit, or is the mummy really a curse from a disturbed king’s grave?

“Really, the mummy was becoming ridiculous! Its repertoire was so limited; why didn’t it do something different, instead of creeping around waving its arms?”

If you loved this book, then check out the rest of the Amelia Peabody mysteries.

Red Herrings and the Surprising yet Inevitable Plot Twist

There is nothing more satisfying than a shocking but brilliant plot twist that you simply cannot get over, even years after reading it. However, if you are a writer, you know that plot twists are not as easy to create as we would like. If you want to craft an incredible plot twist that will make your readers’ jaws drop, then check out the tips below.

Red Herrings and the Surprising yet Inevitable Plot Twist

What is a plot twist?

In a nutshell, a plot twist (and sometimes the climax and resolution) is something that turns the story upside down. However, when you look at the anatomy of the plot twist, you will see exactly how complex it is because it requires two essential elements to be a good plot twist: it must be surprising, yet inevitable.

Why should a plot twist be surprising yet inevitable?

This seems like a contradiction because how can something be a surprise if it is inevitable. But if you remove either of the elements, the answer is clear why both are necessary for plot twists. If the plot twist is inevitable (without being surprising), you will have known it was going to happen for most of the book, and you will want to smack the characters for their stupidity at not seeing the obvious twist coming. If the plot twist is surprising (without being inevitable), then it is too surprising. It feels like it has come out of nowhere like a deus ex machina.

How to make a plot twist surprising yet inevitable?

Now that we have covered why a plot twist must be two contradicting elements, we need to explore how to create such a difficult thing. One effective technique I have noticed repeatedly is the red herring, which is, in short, misdirection. The clues you leave that make the plot twist inevitable must have some other purpose in the story in order to misdirect the reader’s attention so the plot twist will be surprising. The clues could develop character, belong to another story line, be a joke, etc. In short, the clues that are really an indication of a plot twist must be disguised with some other purpose in the story. After a plot twist occurs, the reader should be able to think back on the story and recognize how all of these clues really came into play.

Example of a Plot Twist

A good example of a plot twist comes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 Episode 18: “Earshot.” To make a long story short, Buffy gets a demon infection that allows her to read minds. She hears someone think of how they will kill everyone at school the next day, but she doesn’t know who thinks it. Xander the goofball makes a dumb joke about how the lunch lady has had it in for them all for years, but all joking asides, Buffy’s friends need to find the potential killer before it is too late.

They interview several people who seem like the type who would kill, but a kid who works on the school newspaper keeps avoiding them. He must be the killer. But when they confront him, it turns out that he was avoiding them because he gave Oz’s band a bad review in the paper. We then see Jonathon, a reoccurring character who has been the butt of everyone’s jokes for the entire show. He is putting together a gun. Buffy finds Jonathon and manages to talk him out of killing everyone. To her surprise, Jonathon says that he had not been planning on killing everyone, but had been planning on committing suicide. We then go to the school cafeteria where Xander is trying to find some jello when he sees the lunch lady pouring a whole box of rat poison in a pot of soup.

This is a great example because it has several plot twists. We assumed the newspaper kid would be the killer because he was avoiding Buffy’s friends, but he was doing so because of the review of Oz’s band, making him a red herring. Jonathon as the killer was surprising because we had assumed it was the newspaper kid initially, yet inevitable because we knew he was a harassed loser so it made sense why he would crack and take his anger out on his fellow schoolmates. However, he too ended up being a red herring. In the end, Xander’s joke about the lunch lady (which we had all chalked up to Xander being Xander) ended up being the truth, making the plot twist surprising yet hilarious (and inevitable).

Book Review: Shatter by Nikki Trionfo

If you want to read a mystery where you don’t know which characters you can trust, and all of your suspicions change throughout the unending line of shocking reveals, then have I got a book for you. Shatter is written by Nikki Trionfo and published by Cedar Fort Publishing. In the midst of her sister’s death and the growing tension of the peach strike, Salem asks herself one question: was her sister’s death really an accident?

shatterblogtourbanner image via Cedar Fort
Image via Cedar Fort Publishing.

“Maybe Carrie was murdered. Maybe she wasn’t. Maybe I’ll never know. How can I live like that? My thought pattern loops tighter and tighter. I can’t live like that. She was my sister. I can’t wait forever, hoping the police or Dad will do something.

“I have to investigate.

“I have to find out for myself if Carrie’s death was more than just an accident.”

Summary

Salem’s sister, Carrie, died in a gas explosion. A few days later, the body of a union leader is found in their father’s orchard. From this moment on, Salem starts to question the possibilities of Carrie’s death. Was it really an accident, or was it dealt by the gang who tagged Carrie’s car before she died? Or did it have anything to do with the peach strike and the rising conflict between the peach growers and the union Carrie avidly supported. As Salem digs deeper and deeper into the mystery, she uncovers secrets that were meant to be kept and knowledge that will change her perspective on all the people she knows, including Carrie.

“Nothing is more impossible to accept than a random event with large consequences.”

Review—5 Stars

I received a digital copy of Shatter from Cedar Fort Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

In short, this book was phenomenal. This intense, thrilling mystery kept me gasping “What?!” throughout its entirety. It had numerous layers, and unveiling each one revealed a fantastic shock every time. I loved its complexity and the many secrets all of the intricate characters kept. Every aspect of this book is extremely enjoyable, and I couldn’t put it down as I tried to discover who killed Carrie.

“ ‘Violence is for the unimaginative,’ I translate.

“That’s exactly the kind of thing Carrie would say. She paid attention to things like that because she was imaginative. She had dreams. Dreams she can’t pursue anymore because one of the unimaginative, violent people she worked so hard to outsmart killed her.”

This brilliant book made you suspect every character and it escalated the conflict in unimaginable ways. I was fascinated by the tangle of conspiracies and plot twists it offered every step of the way. It keeps you guessing and guessing at who the killer is, but you won’t find out until the very end. Amazing book!

To see more reviews of Shatter, check it out on Goodreads, Amazon, or its Cedar Fort blog tour page.

Insomnia, Chocolate, and Other Fun Facts About Authors and Their Books

Behind every great story is another great story. However, these stories about the authors, how their books were initially received, and other interesting literary tidbits are not often known, so today I am going to share some of these fun facts about well-known authors and their books.

Insomnia, Chocolate, and Other Fun Facts About Authors and Their Books

  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife burned his first draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because she didn’t like it, calling the story “nonsense.” Robert Louis Stevenson had to rewrite it.
  • It is believed that Shakespeare added over 1,700 words to the English language.
  • Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was an insomniac. How’s that for irony?
  • Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when poet Lord Byron proposed a ghost story contest among a group of friends.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, in only three weeks. He also ran a medical surgery during this time.
  • Authors Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe were neighbors when they lived in Hartford, Connecticut.
  • Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” was published in 1841 and is commonly recognized as the first modern detective story.
  • Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham was banned from China for portraying “early Marxism.”
  • Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, used to work for Cadbury after school taste testing their chocolates.

Do you know any more fun or interesting facts about authors and the books they wrote? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Writing Prompts: The Spring Edition

Spring has sprung, the grass has risen, and it’s time to grow some story seedlings. With the scent of tulips in the air and the hopes of summer vacation approaching, take some time to plant words in the fertile sod of paper with these spring-themed writing prompts.

Spring Writing Prompts

  1. Elise is a poor, avid gardener who has just started planting flowers for a new employer when she discovers buried treasure in one of her employer’s plots. What happens next?
  2. Graduation is approaching, but Tyler might not get his diploma unless he can raise his failing history grade in the last week of classes. How does he do it?
  3. Burt’s new neighbor, Katherine, loves flowers, and he wants to impress her by growing a whole garden of them in his yard. Unfortunately, they all seem to die. What does he do next?
  4. Gretchen has run her church’s annual spring picnic in May for the past 20 years. However, this year, the snow isn’t melting in time for the picnic. What does she do?

Do you know any more great spring writing prompts? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Book Recommendation—Why I Don’t Hide My Freckles Anymore: Perspectives on True Beauty

Though I love fiction books with excellent characters and stories, this month I’ve decided to recommend a nonfiction book that is very important to me. In days of commercialized beauty where you have to makeup yourself, stay slim, flatten your curls, etc. the book Why I Don’t Hide My Freckles Anymore shows us a different perspective on true beauty. This collaboration of essays written by BYU students, faculty, and many others was published in 2013 by Deseret Book as part of project to remind us where beauty truly lies.

Why I Don't Hide My Freckles Anymore-Beauty is a virtue quote

Summary

We live in a media-saturated culture that tells us that we aren’t good enough unless we are thin, blond, sexy, tan, perfect, etc. The constant bombardment of what the world perceives as beauty leaves many women with feelings of depression and inadequacy where their appearance is concerned. But Why I Don’t Hide My Freckles Anymore redefines beauty into being who we are rather than what we are.

“The strength in beauty refuses to allow us to be formed by cookie cutters. Cookie cutters are for children. Let us be women! Women with vision. Women who revel in what others might call imperfection. Women who recognize ourselves as capable of moving the world.”

The countless experiences shared by these women draw on faith, love, and trials to show what true beauty really is. What does one woman do after she learns her husband was never physically attracted to her? How does another woman learn to accept herself after losing her hair to chemotherapy? And after struggling with an eating disorder, how does a woman begin to see herself as God sees her? These powerful essays encourage women everywhere to love themselves the way they are.

“I am beautiful because I choose to believe it and that decision has set me free.”

Book Group Questions

  1. Which essay in this collection was your favorite and why?
  2. Have you ever felt that you weren’t beautiful? Share your experience and how you learned to accept your unique beauty.
  3. What is true beauty in comparison to the world’s idea of beauty?
  4. Why do we often connect beauty to love and acceptance? In what ways is this good and bad?
  5. Many of the women who wrote these essays relied on religion and spirituality to discover their true beauty. What are your thoughts on this?

The Pros and Cons of Bookworm Dream Jobs

After starting my new job as a Library Shelver, I realized that I have held most of the dream jobs bookworms would kill for. While reviewing, stocking, and writing books may sound like the perfect job to those of us who prefer books to people, there are (unfortunately) still some downsides to these dream jobs. Today I am going to cover some of the pros and cons of bookworm dream jobs that I have experienced.

Bookworm Dream Jobs pros and cons

Book Reviewer

Pros: Why get paid in money when you can get paid in books?! In the Travels of a Book Tourist section of my blog, I have had the opportunity to review many wonderful books. Not only do publishers provide reviewers with a free book, but you often get a copy of the book before it hits stores, so you can read it before everyone else!

Cons: Unfortunately, you may not love every book you review. In fact, you may hate some of these books. Normally if you dislike a book, you can return it to the library without reading the whole thing. However, as a reviewer, you promised to read it, so you have to force yourself to plow through every single page. Plus you feel a little guilty about pointing out the many flaws of the book when you provide your honest review.

Working at a Bookstore/Library

Pros: You are surrounded by books! You get to touch the books! You get to organize the books! You get to smell the books! You get to talk about the books! You get discounts on the books! I got to experience many these benefits when I worked at Deseret Book and at my current job working for Salt Lake County Library Services.

Cons: If you are an introvert (like many hardcore bookworms), then assisting customers/patrons can be nerve-wracking, especially if you don’t know how to help them and they are angry and want to blame all of their life woes on you.

Writer

Pros: Though I have worked as a writer, I’m still in the aspiring category where fiction writing is concerned. However, I do have some experience in this field and I have learned a lot about it from others. A writer is a dream job for a bookworm because you can create the stories you have always wanted to read. You can count yourself among the many writers you love. You can provide books for others to read and enjoy.

Cons: Anyone who has ever looked over their first draft knows that writing is not as easy as we would like it to be. Plus there is the matter of breaking into the field, working with agents/publishing houses/editors (or doing it all yourself if you self-publish), marketing your book, and praying that at least a few people will read it and like it.

More Books Writers Should Read—4. Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story is a unique writing guide that utilizes brain science to show what readers want out of a story. Cron uses various psychological aspects to explain how to craft characters, plots, and conflicts in a way that will allow your readers to enjoy your story and want to keep reading it. She covers the development of a protagonist’s external and internal conflicts, the cause-and-effect trajectory of story, how specific details need to have relevance to the plot, and much more.

Wired for Story-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.”
  • “A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result.”
  • “Simply put, we are looking for a reason to care. So for a story to grab us, not only must something be happening, but also there must be a consequence we can anticipate.”
  • “To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must be there on a need-to-know basis.”
  • “Writers who can’t sum up a story they’re telling in a clearly focused, intriguing sentence or two probably haven’t written a clearly focused, intriguing story.”
  • “The story isn’t about whether or not the protagonist achieves her goal per se; it’s about what she has to overcome internally to do it. This is what drives the story forward.”
  • “Ultimately, what moves a story forward are the protagonist’s actions, reactions, and decisions, rather than the external events that trigger them.”
  • “Conflict must be palpable long before it rises to the surface. It’s the potential for conflict that gives urgency to everything that happens, underscoring even the most benign events with portent.”
  • “In short, ‘telling’ tends to refer to conclusions drawn from information we aren’t privy to; ‘showing,’ to how the characters arrived at those conclusions in the first place. Thus ‘show, don’t tell’ often means show us a character’s train of thought.”
  • “Constantly upping the ante gets the protagonist in shape, which is crucial, since the final hurdle he’ll have to sail over will be impossibly high. Thus the more you put him through before he gets there, the better.”
  • “The villain has to have a good side, however fleeting and minuscule. After all, no one is all bad. Or, if they are, they rarely see themselves that way.”
  • “Readers are always on the lookout for patterns; to your readers, everything is either a setup, a payoff, or the road in between.”
  • “All subplots must eventually merge into—and affect—the main storyline, either literally or metaphorically”

This is the last post in the More Books Writers Should Read series. If you know of other great writing guides, then tell me about them in comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

More Books Writers Should Read—3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic isn’t specifically a writing guide, but creativity is an essential part of writing, so I decided to include this book on my list. Elizabeth Gilbert shows us that creativity isn’t something to dread or an implement of suffering, but rather creativity should be embraced as something divine, fun, and magical. Through courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, and trust, we can reach the divinity of creativity and develop more wholesome lives.

Big Magic-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and . . . [an] interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”
  • “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”
  • “Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do . . . There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
  • “I don’t sit around waiting to write until my genius decides to pay me a visit. If anything, I have come to believe that my genius spends a lot of time waiting around for me.”
  • “The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust—and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.”
  • “Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes—but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work.”
  • “What you produce is not necessarily sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”
  • “Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its Everything I have ever written has brought me into being. Every project has matured me in a different way. I am who I am today precisely because of what I have made and what it has made me into. Creativity has hand-raised me and forged me into an adult.”
  • “Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living.”
  • “I think a lot of people quit pursuing creative lives because they’re scared of the word . . . they quit as soon as things aren’t easy anymore, as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something n their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part—the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself.”

Check out my blog post tomorrow where I will share a writing guide that uses psychology to teach writers what readers want from their story.