Thursday, October 1, 2020

Fall Writing Frenzy Contest


Fall Writing Frenzy Contest

The Red Spark

by Jakki Licare

             My little sister holds the bright, red leaf up to her eye. “One more time. Please.

“I shouldn’t have done it before,” I say, pulling her down the path.

 Her lip quivers, making my resolve disintegrate.  I really shouldn’t. If I’m found out they’d take me away, but it’s nice to share my magic with someone who isn’t afraid.

 I check around and the path is clear. “Last time.”

Her wide smile is so warm, it wraps me up like a woolen scarf. I concentrate on the leaf’s flame-red color and it begins to sizzle. Its tips curl as the smoke mixes in with our steamy breath. Until pop, a spark flies into the air, then another and another. Crackling sounds silence the chattering squirrels and the glowing flecks hover like stars come down to earth. 

I send the red sparks to dance around my sister and her giggles fill the crisp air. She chases the sparks as if they were fireflies. Flinging them into the sky, we ooh and awe as they explode like fireworks. All the red sparks fade away, except one. In the distance, the red glow of a cigarette smolders as someone watches us.

Thank you Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez and Lydia Lukidi for setting this up. It was a fun challenge!

Friday, June 26, 2020

How to incorporate Background info without boring your readers: An analysis of Veronica Roth's Divergent

    As I was reviewing my first chapter, I realized that it was bogged down with background information. Large chunks interrupted the flow and completely ruined the rhythm of my manuscript. Yet, if I took these sentences out my readers wouldn’t be grounded in my science fiction world. I was stumped. How can I get that information in without boring my readers? I hauled out my mentor texts and started analyzing how the pros make this magic happen.

    In this article, I will be analyzing the first chapter of Veronica Roth’s Divergent. Divergent’s first chapter is roughly comprised of 120 sentences. Only 20 of these sentences convey the necessary information that a reader needs to understand the story world. By this I mean those 20 sentences didn’t have any emotional context or descriptive or narrative purposes. For example: “Candor values honesty, but our faction, Abnegation, values selflessness.”

    So what background information does a reader need to know to understand the Divergent world? Well first off we need to know that Divergent is set in dystopian chicago where there are 5 different factions. We need to know the names of the factions, what each faction believes, and the political atmosphere between the factions. So how did Roth manage to convey all of that when only 17% of her sentences were comprised purely of background information. Roth uses uniforms, her setting and actions to sneak all of this information in.

    Roth created each faction's uniform to clearly define each faction’s beliefs. Abnegation only wear gray drab colors so as to not draw attention to themselves. Candor wears black and white colors because they believe the truth is black and white.

    Roth also uses her setting to push the faction ideologies through to the readers. Dauntless dare each other to climb sculptures to prove their bravery. Abnegation don’t have paved roads because they are so selfless that none of them have cars.

    Perhaps the most poignant way Roth delivers her background information is by how the different factions treat Beatrice. Most ignore her, but at one point a Erudite boy slams into her in the school hallway. Not only does this boy say rude things to her as he knocks her down, but no one else at the school helps Beatrice up from the floor. This key moment highlights the tension between Abnegation and the rest of the factions.

    All of these clever techniques allow Roth to cut out those boring sentences devoted to background information. I am looking forward to trying some of these techniques in my own writing.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

The First Draft Experiment: A Beginner Writer Tries to Write 5,000 words Per Hour

        After spending three years writing and editing my first YA novel, I promised myself never, ever to spend so much time on one book. So, to help me create better writing habits, I bought a copy of 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox. It's a book that gets straight to the point and tells you exactly what you need to do to be a faster writer. 
I personally had been in a horrible cycle of writing a sentence, then editing the sentence. Then I would edit the entire paragraph and then the entire page, chapter, etc. Needless to say, it took me forever to actually finish my first draft. And guess what? When I did finally finish, I decided to trash that entire first two chapters and cutting one of the characters. I wasted so much time editing something that wasn’t necessary to the book (check out the lessons I learned from finishing my first manuscript here). 
That’s why Fox’s book appealed to me. His philosophy is when you are writing, you are ONLY writing. You do not edit, tweet, answer phones, or do anything other than write. He believes that once you are in the zone you will write faster. He has a lot of great tips that will help you get in that amazing writing zone. 
So after reading his book (which is wonderfully short and sweet), I sat down and followed Chris’s advice. I started out writing a little under 2k words per hour. When I finished my first draft,  I was writing over 4k words per hour! Something I honestly never thought possible. Plus, drafting became fun! When I stopped worrying about what I was writing, I was able to set my imagination loose.
In the beginning it was really hard to break the habit of editing while I wrote. In fact the first two weeks, I cheated and went back and fixed all my mistakes. I truly cringed as I wrote horrible dialogue or  terrible metaphors, but I’ve learned that all that can be fixed when I’m editing. The reality is, that it is so much more important to finish a whole draft and get your story arc right than having beautifully written dialogue for a character that you may cut in Rev 2.
I also had to spend more time thinking about what I was going to write before I sat down to write. With my last manuscript I would write a simple sentence or two to guide me in drafting my chapter. This time, I needed 6-8 sentences before I could start writing.  This prevented the slow down in drafting and also taught me to walk away from writing if I didn’t have the answer. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is give your brain a break.
If you are looking for a book that will you set up good writing habits and help you write faster than you got to check out 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter

Water, Earth, Fire, and Air Writing Prompts


  1. The current pulled me down into its’ icy grip. I twisted and tumbled through the river,  banging against rocks along my way. 
  2. The waves crashed over me, pushing me under again. I came up spluttering, blinking the salty water from my eyes. My heart scrambled when I realized the boat was nowhere in sight.
  3. The waterfall shielded me from their view. I shivered as I stood in my wet clothes, tears dripping down my face. 
  4. After a moment’s hesitation, I reached my hand out. I jerked it back as a raindrop fell onto my palm. I couldn’t believe it, it really was raining.
  5. With a yell, I charged across the grass and tucked my legs as I jumped. I splashed into the pool. The cold water engulfed me.  
  6. I reached out my hand catching a large snowflake. I shivered as it turned into a puddle. Who knew beauty could be so cold and fleeting?


  1. My hands scraped the warm earth as I dug a little hole.  I snatched the ____ from my pocket and dropped it into the hole. With a quick prayer, I quickly covered it back up.  
  2.  Dust blew into my face, clogging my mouth and making it hard to breathe. I shouldn’t be out here, but I couldn’t go back without him. I spat out the dirt and screamed his name again. 
  3. The crystals twinkled above me in the dark cave. The cold air prickled my neck as gazed around the cavernous space.  I've never felt so small and...
  4.  My nails dug into the dirt as I crawled through the narrow tunnel. I ground my teeth as  rocks cut into my knees, but I didn't dare slow down.
  5.  My breath came in great gasps as I reached for another hold on the slick mountain side. A  pebble tumbled down and hit my shoulder, but I didn’t dare watch it fall.


  1.  With a sigh, I wet my finger and grasped at the candle’s flame. It's pretty light dance across the table illuminating the empty chair across from me.
  2.  My heart pounded as I ran to the window. My fingertips trembled as I covered my open mouth. Smoke poured out from the volcano; it had finally erupted.
  3.  Muttering under my breath, I pulled my chair closer to the fireplace. I tried to ignore the fact that she sat right next to me.  The fireplace crackled, illuminating her smile.
  4. The smell of cinnamon filled the kitchen I swiped the sweat from my forehead as I pulled more loaves  from the oven. I yelled as my hand hit the oven side. Could this day get worse?
  5. Tears streamed my face as the smoke blinded my view. The peaceful green forest had disappeared and Orange now surrounded me


  1. The soft breeze brushed my face. I sighed happily letting the warm breeze embrace me. I was free.
  2. I sucked in a breath. The cold air stinging my lungs. I bit my lip till I tasted blood. I would never let them see me cry.
  3. We swooped upward. The ground disappeared below us. I flung out my arms and tried to catch the cloud as we flew through. 
  4. I sucked in a breath that wasn't there. I wheezed struggling to get more air into my lungs. I banged on the wood, praying someone would hear me.

6 Things I Wish I had Known Before Writing my First Draft

As I prepare myself to enter the query trenches, I decided to make a big list of all the things I learned from writing my first YA novel. Why? Because whether this manuscript will go on to be the first of ten books I have to write before becoming published or an instant bestseller, it’s all about improving my craft. And what better way to recognize my growth than writing it down.

1. Don't constantly revise your first draft
This was hands down my biggest mistake in writing this ms. I wasted so much time going back and perfecting dialogue for characters who ended up being cut or rewriting scenes that had to be completely changed due to plot changes. Next time, I’m letting the mistakes sit until I’m sure the plot and characters are settled.

2. Take the time to get into your character’s head
Before I started my first draft I had spent some time getting to know my character. I knew certain things about her personality and past, but I didn’t really take the time to get in her head. I was so excited about the book that I delved right in expecting to be able to figure things out as I went along. This was a big mistake because I kept throwing my personality into her dialogue and reactions. While her actions and decisions were definitely my mc’s, the rest was all me. So next time, I am spending A LOT of time getting to know my MC inside and out and hopefully keep me out of the mix.

3. Use your synopsis as a tool to play with plot
Yes, yes, yes, the dreaded synopsis. I put off writing the synopsis for the longest time, but after attending the most amazing lecture by Tara Sullivan I realized what a huge mistake this was. She opened my eyes to the power of the synopsis and how to use it as a tool to play with your plot. I could have saved so myself so much time, if I had just analyzed my plot points in a synopsis format instead writing out an entire draft!

4. Understand the pacing of your genre

I struggled A LOT with pacing. Originally my pacing was way too fast because I lacked internal dialogue and taking moments for my mc to react. But then my pacing became too slow as I added in extra scenes to make my storyworld richer. I can’t say I’ve 100% nailed this one yet. I have a feeling I'm going to need a lot of practice. One thing that has helped me at least identify my pacing problems (other than great critique groups) is studying the plot progression of books in my genre. My inner ravenclaw jumped for joy as I broke out the sticky notes and highlighters and dissected my favorite science fiction books.

5. Integrate action into dialogue. That's right, cut out that useless said.
My first draft had said EVERYWHERE. This was the hardest habit to break. Now I have new bad habit to keep my eye out for: don’t always put the action in the front of your dialogue. I need to mix it around

6. Active Verbs
This subtitle sounds redundant, but I truly struggle with verbs as a writer. I have my character thinking, seeing, watching, analyzing, etc INSTEAD of just doing the thing that needs to get done. My wonderful critique group is constantly pointing out to me my useless verbs and I am hoping to shake this bad habit off by the next book.

I would love to hear what things you have learned from writing your first book, so please share!

25 Sensory Writing Prompts

One of my favorite things to do is to take a few minutes out of my day and just journal. It allows my creativity to flow in an unrestricted manner. I don't have to worry about setting limitations, character development or plot. So, I hope these prompts help free some of your creative energy.


  1. The dog’s ears perked as he scented something I could not
  2. His body odor reeked making me
  3. The minty smell filled the house and calmed my frayed nerves 
  4. The sweet smell wafted out of the window making me want to
  5. I wrinkled my nose at the strong smell of bleach.
  6. I hurried as the smell of burnt


    1. The mosquitos buzzed outside masking the sound of
    2. The bass of the music vibrated my whole body
    3. Underwater, I couldn’t hear anything
    4. Her shouting hurt my ears, I wish I could
    5. The clicking of utensils was the only sound at the table
    6. The whistle broke the silence 


      1. The water sprayed my face. I liked my lips tasting its saltiness
      2. The sweet food burned my throat as I swallowed it whole
      3. I jerked my head backwards as the bitter liquid hit my throat
      4. I laughed as his face puckered from the sour taste of...


      1. The rough bark scraped my hands as I
      2. The soft towel rubbed my cheek as I
      3. My hand stuck to the sticky substance that coated the 
      4. I burnt my fingers as I
      5. My toes froze as I dipped down into


        1. The darkness was impenetrable, I could only make out
        2. The light from the ______ blinded me.
        3. From the corner of my eye, I saw a blur of movement. I now knew I wasn’t alone
        4. I crashed into it, completely unaware of how close I was.

        Fall Writing Frenzy Contest

                     Fall Writing Frenzy Contest The Red Spark by Jakki Licare                 My little sister holds the bright, red leaf up to her...