The Canon

Stack of books

Photo via Visualhunt.

I read an interesting article today by a literary agent about the importance of reading the canon. These are the books that “one must have read to be considered well-educated” in your genre or category.

Because she is an agent who represents books in the crime/thriller category, her top five books are:

The Mirror Crack’d by Agatha Christie
The Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan
The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

She says the point isn’t to only pick five, but rather to “figure out what works in a novel that appeals to you for YEARS. A novel that you’d use to illustrate essential elements of a novel. … A novel that can be YOUR signpost for moving ahead.”

I thought it would be fun to try my hand at determining the canon for my category, which is YA fantasy romance, with an emphasis on fairy tale retellings:

 

Beauty by Robin McKinley Beauty by Robin McKinley

A strange imprisonment

Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”

 

 

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (technically Middle Grade, not Young Adult, but still a classic)

At her birth, Ella of Frell receives a foolish fairy’s gift—the “gift” of obedience. Ella must obey any order, whether it’s to hop on one foot for a day and a half, or to chop off her own head! But strong-willed Ella does not accept her fate…

Against a bold backdrop of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella goes on a quest to break the curse forever.

 

 

 

 

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s stories and learning the language of the birds, especially the swans. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady in waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to help her. She becomes a goose girl and must use her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

 

 

 

 

East by Edith PattouEast by Edith Pattou

Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun. As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.”

 

 

 

My Fair Godmother by Janette RallisonMy Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison (and the subsequent books in the series about the unconventional Godmother)

After her boyfriend dumps her for her older sister, sophomore Savannah wishes she could find a true prince to take her to the prom. Enter Chrysanthemum Everstar: Savannah’s gum-chewing, cell phone-carrying, high heel-wearing Fair Godmother. Despite a few wish-granting mishaps, Savannah’s fairy-tale ending might not be as far off as she imagined.

 

 

 

 

Update!

I was reminded of a book I used to love that better fits this list of fairy-tale based stories, and so have added East to this list. I originally included Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith—which I still love—but it’s an original fantasy, not a fairy tale retelling.

 

What do you think? Do you agree with my list? Would you choose different books? If you have any to recommend, I’m all ears. If you haven’t read one of these… well, what are you waiting for? You need to get started ASAP!

How to start writing when you feel stuck

Writer tapping pencil on blank notebook

Photo via Visualhunt.

Ever had a writing assignment or a new story idea, but the blank screen or notebook page kept mocking you in silence? Just me? I find that blinking cursor to be particularly impertinent. As if it’s saying, “Why. Aren’t. You. Writing. Any. Thing. Yet? Are. You. That. Inept?”

Cheeky little brat.

Well, never fear. With these steps you’ll be able to wipe that smug look off of its face with the punch of a few keys, before it can even blink another insult at you.

Figure out what you’re writing first

The first and most important step before you write a single word is to know what you’re trying to write. Most likely, not knowing what you’re writing exactly is what’s paralyzing you. Answering the question “What am I writing?” sounds simple, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Is it an article? Is it a poem? Is it a story? Is it a school assignment? Okay, that’s the easy part.

Here’s the harder part: If it’s an article, what is its purpose—to encourage, to educate, to inspire? If it’s a poem or story, what kind is it? Is it romantic? An adventure? Is it tragic? Do you have a specific message you’re trying to get across? Do you want to spur people into action or just leave them with a warm feeling in their hearts?

In short, what is the point? What are you really trying to say?

Once you’ve wrestled with that and have come to a conclusion, the rest with follow. If you try to plunge into it without really knowing what you’re writing, you’ll end up with a lot of wasted words as you cut, rewrite, and edit repeatedly.

Need an example? I’m writing a blog post to help budding writers get over the feeling of paralysis that comes with a new project. I’ll provide concrete steps to follow so that their blank page becomes a finished project with the least amount of hair pulled out as possible.

Next, make a loose outline

As a student, I always hated outlines. Teachers would make me fill out outline worksheets before I could write my research paper, like this:

Example of an outline using Roman numerals and alphabet letters

Just writing that out for this post made me shudder. Ugh. I really hated those things. Sometimes I found it easier to secretly write my paper first and then make the outline match afterword.

But that’s not the kind of outline I’m talking about here. You don’t need anything that formal or rigid. Blog post outlines are the easiest examples, so here, you can see mine for this post:

A text document showing the title and subheads for this post

As you can see, I figured out what I was writing about and put that at the top. For blog posts, that’s a good place to start for the title. An opening sentence to flesh out the title/the point of the post can help. Next, I wrote the subheads that will lead each point so that as I’m writing the post I don’t lose my way. It makes writing blog posts quicker and less rambly (because I am definitely prone to rambling).

If I’m honest, this kind of outline isn’t that different from my school-age outlines, but it’s much more casual. I find the end result feels less wooden, too (blog post vs research paper), which I consider a boon.

Outlining like this works for stories, too. What do I want to write? How about a YA romance that encourages friendships before relationships? Great, now I know what I’m writing about. Let’s flesh it out a bit: The story is about a two high schoolers, Nathan and Amy, who struggle to fit in at school but find a place of belonging in each other. Okay. What’s my outline?

Amy is new. She is sweet but quiet; she doesn’t stand out. She meets Nathan in class. He is very showy and a know-it-all, and doesn’t mind disrupting class because he likes the attention. He finds her unflappability fascinating.

It is quickly evident to all, especially the teachers, that Amy and Nathan pair well. Nathan is smart but Amy can keep up, so he competes privately with her instead of annoying everyone else with his competitive spirit. She also accepts his quirks without judgement, which in turn tones him down. Their schedules are arranged so they share many of their classes, which allows Nathan’s classes to run more smoothly.

They learn about each other. Nathan is from a big family full of big personalities, and he’s had trouble finding his place. He deals with loneliness by trying to draw attention. Amy lives with her single mom, and has developed a “good girl” personality to anchor her drained mother at the expense of her own needs. She is the first to recognize in Nathan her own struggles with loneliness, and sharing this thought with Nathan seals their friendship.

Amy’s mother is in a car crash and is hospitalized. It is the first time Nathan witnesses Amy crying. They struggle through their new roles of Amy depending on Nathan (instead of vice versa), but the process turns their friendship into a relationship. Both gain confidence in themselves and their own abilities, as well as find a place of belonging in each other.

Amy’s mother comes home. Nathan’s family warmly welcomes her and Amy, and the families develop a tight bond. Nathan and Amy make a private promise to love each other always as the story ends.

There! Now I have my whole story outlined, whipped up in a few minutes. All that’s left is to flesh out the parts I’ve already decided and then smooth those together with new writing for the parts I don’t have yet (maybe there’s a subplot about how Nathan relates to his siblings, or Amy has a part time job).

It’s much easier to write a novel this way since I know where I’m going. I don’t have to make it up as I go along, only to end up throwing out large chunks that don’t work with the new direction the story ends up taking me. Or worse, write myself into a corner and end up having to abandon the project. I was able to work out those awful kinks in the outline in a few minutes instead of wasting days or weeks fighting them in the body of my novel.

Side note: Your outline isn’t written in stone. Remember, it’s casual, not rigid like school outlines that are judged by a teacher. It’s a tool to help you write your story without inhibition, but if something doesn’t work or you come up with a better idea, it’s okay to change the outline. Just fix the outline before you write any more in your project to save yourself some time.

Fill out each point in your outline

This next step is fairly obvious. Take a look at that image of my blog post outline and compare it to the actual post you’re reading. See how it’s fleshed out with all these paragraphs full of details? I just went point by point and explained what I meant by each subhead. It’s really that simple.

The handy thing about outlines is that they keep you from losing your way, so you can choose to write from the beginning to the end, or to skip around from point to point (or in the case of a story, scene to scene), as you see fit, until all the points (scenes) are addressed. Write in whatever order is easiest for you.

Smooth things together

Here’s where you make sure the piece flows together as a whole. This is particularly important if in the previous step you jumped around instead of writing consecutively from start to finish. Did you reference things your reader hasn’t gotten to yet, because you wrote it out of order? Do you need a transition from point A to point C? Better write that point B now.

Read your piece from start to finish and note any clunky parts… and then fix those clunky parts. This is the time to look at the big picture, rather than worrying about little things like word choice, typos, or punctuation. It’s the first stage of editing, but it doesn’t feel that way because it still involves a lot of writing.

Edit, edit, edit. And then edit again.

Now you’re elbows deep in editing. This is where you read through your piece looking for all of the little things. If you liken your writing to hair, you’ve already finger combed through it, so it’s more or less presentable. But now it’s time to go through with a brush and get all of the tangles out.

Once you’ve done that… you’re still not done. This time, read your piece out loud to yourself. I promise you will find more things that need tinkering that way. When we’re forced to read something aloud, we catch things our eyes gloss over when reading silently because they’re used to seeing it.

Our minds have a habit of filling in any accidental blanks with what’s supposed to be there, which reading in a new way can help you catch. Reading your work aloud will also help you notice weird rhythms, repetitive words, or accidental alliterations (ha!) that you might not have noticed while reading in your head.

Once you’ve done that… you’re STILL not done! This time you let the piece rest. You close the document, you put the notebook in a drawer, you lock your writing in a chest and bury it on a deserted island—whatever you have to do to ignore it for a while and not take a peek.

How long you let it rest depends on its length. Something shorter like a blog post can rest a few hours to overnight. Something long like a novel probably should rest one to three months. After the rest, you’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and be able to spot things you couldn’t before, and you’ll also be able to polish the best parts to make them even better.

I followed these steps with this post, too. Can you spot the differences between the current post and my original outline? I stuck pretty close to it, but there were some changes.

You’re done!

Now you can submit that assignment or give your story to someone else to read with confidence. Look at that! You were stuck on a blank page, not knowing how to start, and now you’ve got a finished piece. Not bad, eh?

How do you get started when you don’t know where to begin? Maybe your method is more simple than mine, like putting on your lucky writing hat, or using a writing prompt (like “write a poem that uses the words ‘silver,’ ‘toad,’ and ‘happy’ “). After all, “figure out what you’re writing” sounds simple, but often can be the hardest part! By the way, am I really the only one who loathes that blinky little line on my screen that I swear judges me every time I hesitate when typing? Please tell me I’m not alone.

7 steps to re-establishing your writing habit

Freshly sharpened pencil on notebook

Photo via Visualhunt.

It’s happened to all of us. You have this great idea, or these characters that won’t leave your thoughts alone, and you start writing in earnest only to trail off and leave the project unfinished. Or you decide that you’re going to write for at least 30 minutes every day, but after a week of daily successes you have to miss a day (you’re sick, you’re running late, etc.). Before you know it you’ve fallen off the wagon and you’re not writing at all.

Or maybe you committed to writing one blog post a week, and somehow it’s been four weeks since your last post… like me. Oops. How do you pick up the habit again?

Forgive yourself

The people who succeed in their goals aren’t the ones who never make mistakes. They’re the people who don’t give up. So, when you recognize you’ve made a mistake, don’t waste energy beating yourself up or assume it’s too late to start again. It’s never too late! Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt—and then buckle down and do the work.

This is not only true for re-establishing habits, but also for perfectionism. You’re not a writer if you don’t write. But if you write, you’re a writer, even if it isn’t published. Don’t worry about how it sounds when your ideas come out of your head. Just focus on putting the words to paper (or screen). There’s a reason why every writer revises—even the best of the best don’t get it perfect the first time!

Remember why you write

It’s easy to lose your focus when you don’t remember why you’re even doing this in the first place. Why are you writing? Is it to complete a novel? Is it to submit articles and see your name in print/online? Is it to practice so your skills improve, rather than to show anyone else? Is it for fun? Different goals require different kinds of habits. Knowing why you want to write helps you build more effective writing habits.

Visualize the end goal

Once you know WHY you want to write, it’s time to visualize what that goal looks like. For me, I write this blog to get in the habit of writing more often. I love to write, but it’s easy for me to let other things take priority. And I want to be in the habit of writing because I want to complete and publish my novels.

So the goal that I’m visualizing is that I’m a published author with multiple novels for sale, with an author blog that posts regularly and receives a number of comments in return. Having this clear image in mind when I’m tempted to let things slide makes it easier to follow through with my writing habits. It also helps keep me from getting discouraged when I lose sight of why I’m doing this.

Sometimes it helps to think about how I’ll feel too, both positively and negatively. Let’s say I become the published author I’ve visualized. Imagining myself this way makes me feel accomplished and proud of myself. I feel energized and want to accomplish even more, knowing the hard work pays off.

But what if I don’t reach that goal? What if I don’t write? I’ll wonder why I’ve been so busy with things that don’t have long-term results. I’ll feel embarrassed for always wishing but never doing what I’ve wanted to do for years, and I’ll regret not having pursued my dreams. I’ll have nothing to show for all the thoughts and stories in my head that occupy my time.

This yucky feeling is usually enough for me to set my course straight again when I’ve let myself get distracted. Kind of like how watching the show Hoarders makes me want to clean and organize my house.

Discern what went wrong

Our lives aren’t static, and sometimes even good habits that are well established break when our lives begin to shift. Other times it’s pretty obvious that our bad behavior is at fault. What went wrong in your case? In mine, my weekly writing time, which is the only morning during the week I’m kid-free, gradually was taken over by other responsibilities that had to be done before the kids came home from preschool.

In the past I’ve lost steam on a project because I didn’t take enough time before writing to figure out what I was writing about. After the few scenes that captivated my attention were written down, I didn’t know what to write next. It was too hard to work it out after writing myself into a corner and I had this other shiny idea pestering me, so instead of pushing through I gave it up. A little extra note taking ahead of time would have saved me a lot of wasted words later.

Do you know what caused you to stop writing? Give it some honest thought, though without condemnation (remember, we are forgiving ourselves).

Remove distractions

Now that you’ve identified what went wrong, you can pinpoint what the catalysts were. Are you ignoring your alarm and letting yourself sleep a few extra minutes, leaving not enough time to write before you head out for the day? Try going to sleep earlier so you’re not so tired in the morning. Or maybe set your alarm far away so you have to get up to turn it off.

Maybe you’ve decided to write after you finish your homework in the afternoon, but by then you feel like consuming (watching TV, reading a book, checking social media) instead of creating. Try finding another time during your day in which to write. Even night owls aren’t necessarily the most prolific at night.

Are you spending too much time on your phone or the Internet, or letting notifications interrupt you when you’re supposed to be writing? There are apps you can use to silently observe and then report how much time you’re spending where, or to block certain sites temporarily, or to silence distracting notifications. Use Google to find what you need.

Attach your writing time to a trigger

Habits work best when they’re automatic. Each of us only has a certain amount of willpower at our disposal, so the less we have to use it to get stuff done, the more we can accomplish. What’s something you do automatically already? Attach your writing time to that, and it’ll be easier to make your writing a habit.

Let’s say that every weekday you come home from school and hang up your backpack, grab a snack, and sit at the table. You don’t even think about it, you just do it. How about keeping a pen and paper nearby so you can write while you snack? Or maybe every Sunday afternoon your family hangs out at the library. You could be reading or playing computer games while you’re there. Or you could take your laptop with you and use that built-in weekly time to write.

Be held accountable

It’s easy to let things slide when there aren’t any consequences. So, make some. Some people work well with deadlines, because they take the word literally—you cross this line and you’re dead. With a serious enough consequence, they’ll work hard to avoid it. I know someone who gave their friend a lot of money to hold. If they met their deadline, they got their money back. If they didn’t, the friend got to keep it. Talk about motivation!

Other people work better with a partner, who checks in on them occasionally to make sure things are being addressed little by little instead of piled up at the end (350 words a day over the course of a month is a lot easier than 10,000 words due tomorrow).

Some people work best when it’s a competition. Try racing your friends to see who writes the most words in 10 minutes. Start your short stories on the same day and see who finishes first. How many days did it take, including revisions? Find a way to use a new vocabulary word in your writing; have someone read it over to make sure you’ve used it correctly. There are lots of ways you can turn your writing goals into a game.

Still others work best when they can see a dangling “carrot” that they want and use the reward as an incentive. This can be as simple as a sticker on a chart for each day you write (it feels good to see them in a row with no spaces) or as big as a shopping trip at the mall as a reward for a completed project.

Do you recognize yourself in one of these? Is there another way you can keep yourself accountable?

I hope I’ve encouraged you to keep up your writing habit. If you find yourself out of the habit again, you’ll have the tools to get back into it. I’ll be using these steps for myself, too!

I’m a perfectionist procrastinator, meaning I put things off if I can’t get them done perfectly the first time. I’m learning to give myself grace and accept that “good enough” is better than “not done at all.” I’m also a poor judge of how long it’ll take me to do something, so thinking, “Well, I’ll just get this out of the way first and THEN I’ll write,” ends up being my downfall. That’s how I fell behind this time. Grace, grace, grace! I’m forgiving myself and starting over. How about you? Have you struggled with your writing habits lately? Any victory stories about how you overcame such obstacles? Let us learn from you!

Short Story: Something To Do

Old fashioned steam engine train

Photo via Visualhunt.

The town looked deserted as it methodically swept past Thane’s train window. His face and hands were pressed up against the dark, cold glass as he tried in vain to see if anyone was out and about. No one was.

He slumped back into his seat completely bored. His governess was snoring softly next to him, and there was no one else in their compartment. Thane subconsciously kicked his feet as he looked around. It was a tiny space. A boring space. A brown, dull, baggage-filled space. There was nothing out the window to catch his interest and certainly nothing in the compartment, and he wasn’t allowed to leave to find something interesting elsewhere, not even to the dining car.

He dug around in his coat pockets, his fingers itching to find something to play with. When he found nothing, he rolled his eyes and sighed with his bottom lip pouted out, causing his fine blond bangs to flip up momentarily. He paused, then blew again. His governess had been mentioning hair cuts lately, but he kind of liked his hair this way. None of his friends could blow their bangs up like that, he was sure of it. Or at least, he had never seen them do it. Then again, they probably never had to sit on a boring train with nothing to do but blow up on their bangs either.

He crossed his eyes to look at his nose. Nope, nothing interesting there. He let his tongue slide out of his mouth to see if he could touch his chin with it. No, again. He flipped his tongue up to touch his nose. He stretched his tongue and contorted his face again and again, but he couldn’t get them to meet. So instead he wiggled his tongue all around while making funny noises and ended it with a wet raspberry. He smeared the back of his hand across his mouth.

Thane glanced up at his governess and noted she was still asleep. He sighed as he leaned against the wall and stared out the window again. Wasn’t there anything to do?

His eyes widened at a sudden thought: He hadn’t checked his governess’ pockets yet. Oh, he would get in so much trouble if she woke up with one of his hands still searching through her coat. But oh! What a game it would be; an excellent game—as long as he didn’t get caught.

Still against the wall, he let his fingers tip toe towards her. He slowly leaned forward as his fingers inched closer and closer. She was still snoring quietly, completely unaware of the situation.

Thane carefully undid the button on her coat pocket and lifted the flap. He wiggled his fingers inside and felt around until he touched something smooth and cold. He wrapped his fingers around it and gently pulled it out. It was a pocket watch. Thane didn’t know she even owned one of those, let alone carried one with her. He inspected it carefully with the eye of an explorer as he swung his feet back and forth. One of his shoelaces had come untied and was occasionally flicking at his leg, but he ignored it.

The gold watch didn’t have a chain, and the front covering had hundreds of tiny indentations that looked like swirly lines when he held it an arms length away. Thane brought it back up to his face. How did it open? The only ones he’d seen before had buttons that would pop it open when pressed. But there wasn’t anything like that on this one. Maybe it wasn’t a pocket watch after all. He shook it, but didn’t hear any rattling. He pressed it to his ear and squeezed his eyes shut. There was a faint ticking. Thane grinned as he opened his eyes. It was a pocket watch.

He nervously glanced at his governess again to make sure she was still asleep, and then turned his attention back to the watch. He was determined to figure out how to open it. He spent several minutes running his fingers over it and tapping or pressing certain places in hopes of finding the secret button. But when he still couldn’t figure it out, he started to get bored again. Why wouldn’t the stupid thing just open? Frustrated, he dug his nails into the side intending to yank the front off. Instead, it opened smoothly. Thane blinked at the open face of the watch. That was easier than he expected.

Now that it was open, and he realized it was just an ordinary watch, he snapped it shut and snuck it back inside his governess’ pocket. He had been hoping for something a little more exciting than that for all the effort he had put into it. Thane tiptoed around to the other side of his governess to check her other pocket. She stirred and mumbled something. Thane dove into the seat in front of him.

Getting caught could mean a week of staying indoors and no desserts after supper. Or even worse, he’d have to be “nice” and play dolls with his sister when he got home. He shuddered. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than that.

He sat with his ankles crossed and his fingers intertwined in his lap as his eyes fidgeted around the room. He was so bored! What he wanted to do more than anything was to get off the train and play outside. But he knew that wouldn’t happen.

Thane looked up at his governess again. She was still sleeping. He studied her face as he weighed his options. He could wither away with boredom while she slept, or he could have a little fun. If he had fun, he might get away with it, but she might wake up, too. Basically, it came down to dying, having fun, or his sister. He shuddered again as he moved back to his seat by the window. He stared out at the scenery for a while, but he couldn’t stand it for long.

He didn’t want to risk waking his governess up, so he decided to tackle her purse instead, which she had resting beside her. She often said a lady always keeps the entire world in her purse. If that was true, and if he was a real explorer, in what more convenient way could he explore the world than this?

He lifted the purse onto his lap and began quietly rummaging through the contents. There were pencils and paper, makeup, and some sewing tools. There were also several other things he had never seen before, but they didn’t look all that exciting, so he ignored them. He dug around a while looking for anything interesting and was about to give up when his hand touched metal. Confused, he lifted the object out of the purse and discovered a pair of scissors in his hand.

He looked at his sleeping governess and cocked his head to the side in thought. What could he do with these? He smiled mischievously. She’s the one who kept talking about hair cuts. Wouldn’t she be surprised to wake up and find that she had one? Thane covered his mouth to keep from giggling. Oh, this could be fun!

He put the purse on the floor and stood up on the seat next to his governess. He carefully lifted her large hat off of her head, and stifled a sneeze when a fat feather tickled his nose. He gently put the hat behind him.

Her hair appeared stapled to her head. She had dozens of hairpins tacking up coils of hair up off her neck and face, which had been hidden under her massive hat. After some thought, Thane decided to leave the hairpins as they were, rather than risk waking her up. He checked one last time to make sure she was still snoring before he started snipping the scissors through the coils. He cut each one twice—the large ones three times—but they were all still fastened tightly to her head with the pins. He gently placed her hat back on her head, and sat down.

Thane had barely put the scissors back in her purse when a loud horn sounded. They were arriving at the station! He shoved the purse next to the governess and jerked his hands back into his lap as her eyes fluttered open.

“What? Here already?” she asked. She yawned rather ungracefully. “Well, we’d best get ready,” she said as she picked up her purse.

It wasn’t long before they were on the platform with their luggage and their ride. As the driver shoveled the bags into his vehicle, the governess turned to Thane and said, “Now, wasn’t that a pleasant trip?”

He smiled sweetly and said, “Oh yes, Ma’am.” When she turned and walked away, Thane whispered to himself with a grin, “It was very pleasant, indeed.”

————

This was a story I wrote during college, over ten years ago. The assignment was to write a short story beginning with the line “The town looked deserted.” There are some changes I would make if I was rewriting this today, most of them involving pacing, but I still really like this naughty boy.

Feel like trying out the assignment yourself? Start with “The town looked deserted” and see where it takes you. We had about twenty or so students in that class and no two stories were alike, in spite of all of them beginning the same way. I believe the word limit was 1,500 words, since mine is only just barely under it.

I always write stories too long and have to trim it down to the word limit. How about you? Do you have to fluff it up to reach an expected word count or do you have to trim it down? If you’re the type who manages to write right on target, teach me your magic. Please!