Writing Excercises From Carol Lynch Williams

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I don’t know about you, but I am in a personal writing slump.  I have all of these great ideas (or what sound like great ideas to me) floating around in my head, but I always think, “Oh, I can start on that tomorrow.”  Well, no more!  And what better way to jump start some great writing then with writing exercises?  These are from Carol Lynch Williams, one of the most talented YA literary writers out there, and an excellent writing instructor.  Seriously, take a class with her and you would see.  She consistently gave the best free-writing exercises and doles them out for free on her and author Ann Dee Candee’s blog, Throwing Up Words.  Each Thursday she writes a Three Things Thursday post, usually featuring some great, insightful writing exercises to help you hone in on your main character, plot, and setting.  Below are some of my favorites from the past year. (Also, check out her list of Whys and Whats to really help you zero in on your book and its focus.) (Read either The Chosen One or Waiting to understand Carol’s brilliance.)

Writing Exercises Carol Lynch Williams

Plain text version:

  1. For the next few hours, view the work you do – whatever it may be – as the main character in your novel. How do you and your character see things differently? The same? How does this inform your writing?
  2. Using your senses, describe where you are now.  What about where your character is? It’s not a bad idea to use ALL of the senses (yes, all five!) while writing.
  3. When your character daydreams, what are her thoughts?  What is her biggest and best dream for herself?
  4. Look at five best sellers that are not up to snuff in plot and writing.  How would you change them and make them work?
  5. Look at the climax of your novel.  If you tell the climax (which should be about one chapter) in half that amount of space, what would you get rid of?  Try this exercise and see how this works for you.  Keep only the best words, the strongest words.  Make sure what you save moves the story forward to the end.  Keep what is essential.  Rewrite to make this work.

Waiting – Carol Lynch Williams

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There are few books that I cannot walk away from until I am finished.  Few stories that capture my attention and linger with me even when I have put it down and walked away.  Carol’s novels often do this to me, and her newest book Waiting is no exception.

Waitingdoes not have an elaborate plot, and never relies on such devices as arenas, explosions, or vampires.  Instead, in her masterful way, Williams tells a simple and heartbreaking story about London.  London’s brother Zach died several months before, and still she struggles to move past his death, to accept that he is gone.  Her mother no longer speaks to her and her father is increasingly distant.  In a time when they should be striving to be closer as a family, they are falling apart.  Things start to change when the new girl at school hoists her friendship upon London, and her ex-boyfriend begs for her to spend time with him, to talk to him.  As London comes out of her grief-stricken fog, she admits to herself and others what she wants, what she needs from her family.  She demands to have things change, to be recognized as the child that still lives.

Not many writers can accomplish what Williams does so effortlessly.  She makes her characters come alive, makes them live and breathe and demand your attention. Waiting is written in an almost poetic, short style (I suppose you would call them prose poems, but I just thought of them as thoughts embodied on the page).  This easy style combined with London’s strong character creates a depth almost too painful to read.  London pulls you in and will not let go.  Even now as I have finished the book, I am wanting to know more, wanting to read more about London, about her new-found strength, about the life that she will get to live.

Even the small side characters who make up London’s growing network of friends feel so complete that they are almost real people.  This includes London’s former best friend Lauren (known as Queen Suck Face much of the book) who you discover has trouble connecting with London now because she misses Zach so much.  This incredible emotional depth resonates from the page, dragging you in, making you forget that you are not really in London’s head.

While I love the big-action books that include a good fight against injustice or travels to magical worlds, Williams is the epitome of what a good author should be.  Her stories may be small, but they are real, full, and transport you. Waiting carves out a small piece of a teenage girl’s heartbreak and allows you to feel with her, to journey with her, and to grow with her.  There are no magic fixes for the pain that London feels, but Williams is adept at making you root for her to move past the pain and begin to live, even if it is just within the page.

Rating: 10/10