Tag: fiction

Advice to Your Avatar This Week's COW Writing Challenge

Writer Robert Kroetsch, an Officer of the Order of Canada, was known for using unreliable narrators in his novels.  Just when you thought you could put your confidence in the third person narrator, he’d throw in a comment, an opinion, or a contradiction to let you know the reliability of the narrator should be brought into question.

As kids, we received advice all the time from adults and older kids.  Of course, we’ve learned that, just like the narrator in a Robert Kroetsch novel, not everything we hear is terribly reliable.  This is especially  true when an older kid gives advice to a younger one about a new school, a teacher, or a new grade.

In this COW Writing Challenge, students have an opportunity to use their imaginations and give outrageously unreliable advice to their avatar.  The writing prompt is: “The most important thing you have to know about . . .”  Students can give advice on:

–what school is like.

–what their grade is like.

–the best way to do household chores.

–how to earn extra spending money.

–or any other advice they can think of!

The bonus words that pop up periodically should spark the writers’ imaginations in creating outrageously unreliable advice for their avatar and general audience.

Here’s an example of really bad advice:

The most important thing you have to know about . . . getting household chores done quickly is to find stray animals.  For example, if you have dishes to wash, find a stray dog that’s really hungry and take him into the kitchen.  Lay the dirty plates out on the floor and let the dog lick the plates clean.  Just put them in the cupboards, and you’re done the dishes before you know it!  

As for laundry, if you can find a goat, your job is pretty much taken care of.  All you have to do is turn the goat loose in the laundry room and the dirty laundry will be gone in no time!  Just be sure to check back and make sure the goat doesn’t start eating the rest of the laundry room!

When it comes to mowing the lawn . . .

Take our advice . . . This will be a really fun writing challenge for your students!  Honestly!


This Week’s Writing Challenge: Hallowe’en Howl! Plus, Eight Ways to Bring Your Reader to the Edge of Their Seat

In this week’s COW Writing Challenge, “Hallowe’en Howl,” students have an opportunity to write their very own suspenseful story on the theme of Hallowe’en.  As a writer building tension within a story and having your reader sit on the edge of their seat with each word  is very challenging.  So, how do writers create suspense in a story?

1.  Create a character your reacher cares about, and put them in a dangerous situation.  Early in the story, introduce a character that your audience can connect with.  Then, put them in a very dangerous, scary situation.

2.  Another way to create suspense is to write in the second person.  For example, “You walk up the narrow stairway, stumbling through the darkness.  You reach forward into the darkness, and your hand grasps something slimey and cold.”

3.  Lead your reader into thinking something terrible is going to happen, but approach that moment slowly.  If there’s a door that needs to be opened, have your character approach it slowly, then provide second by second details on the opening of the door.  “He reached toward the doorknob with a trembling hand and grabbed the ice-cold metal.  Slowly, he turned the doorknob to the right and heard a clunk.  The door inched open, as he felt a cool breeze on his face.”

4.  Show, don’t tell.  Instead of saying that your character is terrified, show your reader by telling them about their trembling hands, their wide-eyed look, the beads of sweat on their forehead, and other physical signs of terror.

5.  Have your readers know more than your characters do.  For example, if your readers know there is something very dangerous behind a door, have your character approach the door unknowingly.  As they open the door, your audience will cringe with anticipation of what will happen when the door opens, while your character remains blissfully ignorant of the dangers.

6.  Remember that violence is not suspense.  The anticipation of possible violence or danger is far more suspenseful than having a scene involving violence. 

7.  Think about what your reader might find suspenseful as you write each part of your story. For example, draw upon certain common human fears, like having a rat run across your back.  What other common human fears can you build into your story?

8.  Build suspense by having a countdown or a deadline which the main character faces.  Is there a ticking clock showing the countdown to something terrible?  Try to build tension during the countdown as the character gets closer to a deadline.

Building suspense in a story is very challenging for a writer.  Yet, there are few more engaging styles of writing than a suspenseful story which holds the reader to the edge of their seat down to the very last word.

The Mad Scientist’s Workshop Another Visual Prompt


Imagine this is the workshop of a mad scientist by the name of Dr. __________________.

Look carefully at the workshop, and try to imagine what wonderfully strange inventions Dr. __________________________ creates.  Once you’ve told us about some of the inventions, create a story telling us what happens when Dr. __________________ unleashes these inventions upon an unsuspecting world.

The Parking Lot Monster Another Visual Prompt



A car pulls into a parking lot. The owner says, “I’m in luck!  An empty parking space!” They pull their car into the parking space, and…

Five Senses Writing: Touch Another Writing Challenge

In our last Five Senses Writing Challenge, we asked you to imagine walking through an old building (it could be a house) in pitch black darkness. We asked you to describe the sounds you heard. 

For this writing challenge, imagine you are feeling your way through the darkness. (For example, your hand runs along a smooth wall before running into the sharp corner of a fireplace brick.) Describe the textures and shapes you feel as you make your way across a room or through a house.  Do you encounter anything unexpected? Something furry? Something slimy? Something wet? Can you tell what it is?

Once you’ve written your story, check out the stats page and the “Sense Words” pie chart to see how many touch words you have used.

Here’s a summary of this writing challenge:

  1. Use the Alieo Bonus Word list.
  2. Start a new story. Begin with no prompt. Start your description by feeling your way through the front door.
  3. Describe as many things in the building as you can by using descriptions of touch.
  4. When you’ve finished writing your story, check the stats page to see how many “touch” words you have used.

What’s Your Point of View? A Visual Prompt



For this visual prompt, imagine you are one of the two characters in the picture. What is going on in your head? Tell the story from your point of view as either the cat or the… whatever that is. Give us a detailed telling of what is going on in the character’s head over the next few seconds from the moment shown in the picture. How is this encounter going to end?



Using Maps to Inspire Writing

When I first read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, one of the most engaging aspects of the books for me were the maps.  I’ve since encountered other great fantasy works which include detailed maps of the imaginary worlds in which the novels are set.

As a writer, when I look over a map relating to a novel, I’m wondering, “What came first: the map or the novel?”  Was the world created through words, then interpreted in a map, or vice versa?  The answer may sit somewhere in between.

Regardless of how J.R.R. Tokien, George R.R. Martin, and other authors used their maps in the writing process, I’ve found with young writers, drawing a map can be a great pre-writing strategy.  With their imaginary world set out before them, the ideas for plot development flow much more effortlessly when they can actually ‘see’ where their story is taking place.

For further reading on the topic of maps of imaginary places, check out this great article by Maria Popova:  “Legendary Lands: Umberto Eco on the Greatest Maps of Imaginary Places and Why They Appeal to Us.”

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