Daily Post Prompt: ‘As the Plot Unravels’ – a short story

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MAN AT DESK b & w“I don’t know what to do,” Neville groaned, rubbing his hands roughly over his face. Then he pushed his laptop out of the way and leaned both elbows onto the coffeehouse table, propping his chin in his hands.

“What’s wrong?” Clarence, the waiter bussing the table next to Neville’s, turned to question him

Neville looked up, startled. “Oh … blast … I didn’t realize I had said that out loud. Sorry,” he added looking sheepishly around the room to see if other customers had heard. He was relieved to see that Elixir of Life Coffeehouse was having one of its quieter days.

“No problem,” Clarence answered and walked over to Neville’s table. “Can I get you a refill?”

“Yeah, that would be great,” Neville answered, handing the boy his cup. “It’s been a rough writing day.”

The young man returned in record time with Neville’s refill and stayed to talk a moment. “Do you have what they call writer’s block?”

“No.” Neville shook his head and continued. “No, Clarence. This isn’t writer’s block. In fact, I almost wish I did have that dreaded condition. My problem isn’t that I can’t get the story to move along. This story is moving along at an incredible pace. The problem is that it’s writing itself, and my original plot is unraveling as fast as I can put my fingers to the keys.”

“You mean you’re not in control of your own story?” Clarence looked at Neville as if he had lost his mind — just a little. And that made Neville laugh.

“Don’t worry, my boy,” he said. “I’ve not gone bonkers yet. And … thanks for making me laugh. It helps. But to answer your question, no, I’m not in control of my own story.”

“Well, how does that happen?” Clarence asked, really into this new information he was being exposed to.

“Well it’s not too unusual for a writer to get into a novel and find that one of his characters seems to gravitate in a direction other than what he had originally planned — or that the story seems to be flowing toward an ending that’s different from what he jotted down in his outline. But what’s happening in my story is different.”

“How?”

Neville shook his head and sighed. “I’m not sure how it’s happened, but every character seems to be taking on a brand new identity and making his own decisions. The guy I had pegged as the hero has suddenly become the villain, and the woman he loves is rapidly developing feelings for his best friend — which means he will probably end up killing his best friend — he’s already entertained the idea — and maybe even offing the woman as well.”

“But does it matter who ends up being the villain and the hero — I mean — as long as you have one of each, it’ll come out even, right?”

Neville chuckled. “Well, it’s not quite that easy. My publisher assigned me a contract to do a specific kind of story. One that will be a believable sequel to my last three novels. They were moneymakers, and I’d hate to mess up a record like that. I spent the money I made on them, and now I need more.” He rubbed his face agitatedly again. “Besides that, I’d be breaking my contract if I didn’t give them what I guaranteed.”

“MmMmm, you do have a problem,” Clarence said, so engulfed in the conversation now that he just sat right down at the table beside Neville.  They both sat in silence for a moment, and then Clarence asked, “Well, why don’t you just delete all that part that changed and go back to your first chapter and start over on the story you intended to write. That would take care of it wouldn’t it?”

“Well, that’s the other problem. I’ve totally lost track of the story I intended to write … and besides ….” He paused and glanced off to the side, lost in thought for a long moment. Clarence waited, figuring Neville was trying to work out a plan.

Suddenly Neville looked back at Clarence with a smile on his face. He looked serene rather than agitated, and Clarence was a little confused. “You figure something out? How to stop this runaway story?”

“Nope,” Neville said, grinning wider. “I’m not going to stop this story, Clarence.”

“Huh?”

Neville reached over and rested his hand on Clarence’s shoulder. “Clarence, my boy, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to give this story my whole heart and soul and let it lead me wherever it wants to go.”

“But what about your contract and all?”

“Blast the contract,” Neville said, beginning to close up his laptop and slip his notes into his briefcase. “If that publisher can’t see the truth about the value of this story, then he can sue me.”

“But –”

“No more ‘but’s‘ my boy,” Neville answered, rising from his chair, laptop under his arm. “This is the best damn story I’ve ever written in my life, and I’ve just decided I’m free enough to give my creativity its own head and let it take me to my destiny.”

He slapped down his last five dollar bill as a tip for Clarence and headed out the door, whistling.


To participate visit Daily Post.

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Daily Post Prompt: Silence

Today’s prompt is “Silence.”  I originally wrote the piece below well over a year ago. But it fits the prompt so perfectly that I am giving it a second airing.

 

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THE SONG OF SILENCE

My fingers touched the keys of silence, and I played its song. It pulled from me a longing that I thought was gone forever – the yearning to release my soul in flowing words that birth new life in images and sounds that intertwine and reach another soul and draw it close to mine.

I feared my well was dry, my soul an empty sieve, and that I’d nevermore know a yearning to create with words that live.

Ah … now …  the peace, the solace that replaces fear. For now I know I have it still – the gift to make words living things. All it took was spending time with silence for a while, and as it’s music played, it filled my well again.

 

 

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Recipe for Creative Writing: A Quiet Corner, a Cup of Coffee, & Chocolate

What?  You don’t think I’m serious about this recipe? Well, I assure you that I am. In fact, I’ve been writing — very successfully, I might add — for many years now using these ingredients on a regular basis.

BLACK TYPEWRITER w. quiet1. A Quiet Corner:

I must have quiet when I’m creating.  If I’m simply relaxing — or doing housework — or eating — I often enjoy listening to music, a TV program, or a lesson on a subject that interests me. But if I am intent on creating something with words, I do not want any conversation or music whirling around me. I want to be closed into my own private world — just me and my words — until I have received conception of and given birth to that brand new entity that has been waiting on me to bring it into the world. So this ingredient is a must.

2. A Cup of Coffee:

COFFEE STEAMING - REDMy, there’s just nothing that quite equals the soothing, uplifting aroma of fresh-brewed coffee. And I’m tired of hearing all the uninformed critics out there who try to make coffee drinkers feel guilty because there is an element of caffeine in coffee. I have always maintained that, since the Lord told us in Genesis that He made the seed-bearing trees and plants for us to eat, then we should be able to partake of coffee with a clear conscience and a happy heart. And let’s not forget that God made the coffee bean with the caffeine in it. We human beings did not add the caffeine the way we add so many artificial ingredients into our food. That caffeine must have some good qualities in it, or the Lord would not have put it into the bean in the first place.

Furthermore, there have been numerous medical and scientific experiments done over the past half dozen years that prove coffee has many beneficial qualities for the human body — everything from quickening our brain function to eliminating headaches as quickly as aspirin to protecting the body against several kinds of cancer and heart problems. Naturally, nothing is good for our bodies if we partake of way too much of it, to the exclusion of other important elements. But in moderation, coffee is a great blessing. And considering the fact that, in my family, a good cup of coffee has always been associated with family togetherness, wonderful fellowship, and comforting relaxation, coffee is, for sure, a substantial ingredient in the recipe.

3. Chocolate:

BOX OF CHOCOLATESAs with coffee, the medical field has grown in its understanding over the past decade concerning chocolate. Researchers in the field have learned that chocolate has many helpful — and healthful — benefits for our bodies. Again, we remember that everything we ingest is most helpful when taken in moderation. But there’s one more quality associated with chocolate that we must add to our evaluation of it. We need to consider the connotations associated with that delicious treat — you know: mother’s love, romantic love, comfort, and a little extra surge of energy. Now, given all those positives, why would anyone want to leave chocolate out of the recipe?

Combine all ingredients in whatever ratios make you happy.

So there you have it folks. There’s just no other recipe quite so perfect for the dedicated, committed creative writer. And if you haven’t yet tried this particular recipe, you should. You’ll be surprised at just how well you write when you partake of these ingredients.

 

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A Sharpened Pencil

 

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There’s just something about sharpened pencils – lead pencils, colored pencils – it doesn’t matter.  There’s just something about sharpened pencils that brings out a craving in me: a craving to write!  I’m not alone, of course. It happens to all of us who were born to be writers.  In fact, that’s one of the ways you can know for sure that writing is in your genes – in your soul – in your gut.

I suppose paintbrushes do the same thing to the artist, and adding machines the same to accountants. As a matter of fact, I’m going to make it a point to ask my accountant friends if they feel this uncontrollable itching to punch buttons when they see an adding machine sitting there with a pristine roll of paper tape rolling out of the top and just begging to be imprinted with numbers. I’m sure they do.

That’s what happens to me when I look at sharpened pencils. I have this almost insurmountable urge to pick up one – or more – and start moving it across an untouched sheet of paper. At least my preference is untouched, uncontaminated paper, but when such is not available, I have been known to grab a napkin, a piece of cardboard, or the back of a used envelope. But write I must.

Or if I’m sitting and looking at a cup full of freshly sharpened colored pencils mixed in with the lead pencils, as I was today, I run for my sketch pad and begin to draw. Am I an accomplished artist? No. But I can no more keep myself from putting those colored pencils to paper and moving them across it in gliding, soul-satisfying strokes than I can keep myself from reaching into a just-opened box of chocolate candy and taking a piece.

However, whether lead or colored, when the point is no longer sharp, then I must change pencils. That is the other cardinal rule that governs this addiction. Dull pencil points will absolutely not give me the fix that I need.

So what do I write – or draw? Now, honestly, that part really doesn’t matter where this addiction is concerned. The requirement is that I write (or draw) SOMETHING. And therein lies the only real advantage of this craving: by giving into it, I am put in a position of creating something that never before existed – something out of my own being, my own entity – something that relays who and what I am.

When I’m writing – which is what I do most often, of course – the product may turn out to be superfluous words that don’t make any real difference in this world I live in. But more times than not, those words – once they are tweaked, re-arranged, and polished – offer something satisfying, inspiring, entertaining to myself and others who read them.

And truthfully, this addiction doesn’t require wooden pencils to have its effect on me – or on the rest of us who call ourselves writers. A computer keyboard and a blank white document page on the screen in front of us will do exactly the same thing.

But we are not quite as susceptible to the keyboard and screen, because unless we are sitting in front of them already, they don’t pull on us the way that pencil does. We are likely to run into those pencils almost anywhere. And when we see one – that is if it’s nice and clean and sharp – look out world: we just may unleash our greatest masterpiece on you before you know what hit you.

 

 

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You Say You Want To Be A Writer?

CARTOON WRITER CLOTHED - editedYou say you want to be a writer? Then START WRITING!

Mystery author Agatha Christie once said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement.

You know, you don’t have to live a weird life — or even a particularly exciting life — to be a great author. In fact you can live a very ordinary, chicken-frying, auto-repairing, laundry-washing, diaper-changing kind of life and still write books that will lift people out of the ordinary and into a place where imaginations rise to peak places, where new dreams are ignited, and where hope and faith bring victory into life’s struggles.

So pick up that pen, sit down to that keyboard, or start dictating into that recorder — whatever method works for you.  If you’re sure you want to write, START WRITING. 

 

BLACK TYPEWRITER - sepia regular sizeNow that you’ve started, you come to your next decision. Do you want to be an “occasional writer” – sharing an idea or a complaint only now and then – when the mood strikes you? Or do you want to be a “serious writer” – making writing one of your primary goals in life and, therefore, at the top of your list of priorities.? If your answer is the first option, then you are free to write or not, depending on how you feel on any particular day. However, even in that situation, the more you write, the better you will be at it when you feel it counts.

But if you are serious about writing – if you feel it is a necessary part of your feeling successful in your life – then you must live by a different law: You must commit to writing on a regular basis and stick with the program, regardless of how you feel on any particular day – or how anyone else feels about your work.

Unfortunately, this decision to be a serious writer must be made anew every few days. The “new” wears off after a while. The excitement turns to frustration after several days of reaching for just the write words and falling short time after time. The bright ideas seem to fade a little when the family and friends don’t find your first chapter exciting enough to want to listen to you talk about it for three hours non-stop. But if you really do want to write, you must make yourself write faithfully and regularly, regardless of the struggles involved. If you sit at your keyboard three hours and type onto the screen only one sentence worth keeping, you have accomplished writing a sentence that never existed before.

And therein lies the intrinsic value of writing. Everyone who writes becomes a creator. Once you have written an original piece – no matter how small or how large – you have created something that never before existed! And it does not matter if anyone else reads it. It does not matter if anyone else likes it. It does not matter whether it ever sees a publisher’s imprint or a bookstore shelf. The fact remains that you have created an entity that never before existed. I repeat that point because it is a powerful reality that very few writers recognize.

And another related fact – one that many unpublished writers in particular seem to miss — is that once you have created a written product, you are a writer. You’re not “going to be” a writer. You’re not a “would-be” writer. You’re not an “aspiring” writer. You are a writer. You are an author. You are a creator. When you do recognize these two truth, they will empower you to keep creating and to create even more effectively.

Author Jules Renard said, “Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.” Well, I’m not sure that’s entirely true. When I was earning no money, I had a significant number of people tell me that I should put my writing aside and apply myself more diligently to “real work.” That being said, I would have to come into agreement with Mr. Renard to some extent anyway, because for the writer who feels the desire strongly enough, it really is not about money at all. It is about pouring out the rich treasure that is inside, just waiting for its release. If you truly are a writer, you must write – for yourself.

But to return to my main point, once you have realized that you are a writer and that you have created something that had no existence before your efforts, you will then come to realize a third truth that is just as important: As a writer, you have a heavy responsibility to your readers. From the moment an individual picks up your work and reads the first sentence, you begin to influence that person – for good or evil. And the more of your work people read, the greater your influence grows.

So it is important to remember that, although you may feel you are writing for yourself, if you intend to allow your work to be read by anyone else at all, you are responsible for what that work does to influence that reader. There is a passage in the Bible, Luke 12:48, that says, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”

Although the statement is found within the pages of Scripture, it is a truth outside of those pages as well. One does not have to be of the Christian faith to recognize the validity of the point being made. In accordance with that law of life, when we are endowed with the powerful gifts and talents that allow us to create through the written word, we then become accountable for what we do with that word.

QUILL & SCROLL - sepiaAs long ago as 1839, English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton stated this truth most succinctly when he wrote, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Centuries prior to that date, Martin Luther proved the truth of that statement when his words shook a corrupt religious system to its very roots – as did Thomas Paine in his endeavors to move men in the “New World” to fight for their freedom. By the use of the pen (or keyboard) nations can be established, but societies can be destroyed just as easily. Personal lives can be blessed and lifted to a new level, or they can be pulled down into sordidness and filth – depending on what flows from the point of that pen.

A poem I wrote not long ago echos this truth as well:

Weapons

One man may wield with ease a sharp-honed sword,
And drawing blood, strike death with that long knife.
Another for his weapon chooses words,
Yet with dead aim, he too destroys a life.

‘Twould seem that power resides in reservoirs
And can be drawn and used for peace or strife.
Ah, yes, and ’tis the Master Wordsmith’s Word
That teaches in our words is death and life. *

Powerful? Yes. Exciting? Indeed. Scary? You bet. Because with so much power comes an equal amount of responsibility. We must never lose sight of the fact that words really do create — for good or evil. And words move people — to good or evil.

But isn’t it a great joy to know that the power works both ways? As writers, we have the opportunity to build lives – to bring encouragement, hope, revelation, and even laughter. Allow me to quote from one more passage of scripture. The book of Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 22, says, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” And in the last century, medical science told us that scientific tests had proven that laughter really does change the physical condition of the body in a positive way. Yes, even writing something that makes another person laugh can change a life.

If you want to be a writer, you are aspiring to a high calling. Go for it, always remembering to use your power wisely.

And as you pick up that pen or set your hands on that keyboard, you can count on two things coming your way for sure:

# 1 — Frustrating, taxing, aggravating challenges.

# 2 – The exhilarating, elevating, life-renewing joy of having created something out of yourself that never before existed. There is no other experience like it in the world!

HANDS AT KEYBOARD - SEPIA

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*Scripture reference: Proverbs 18:21

This article is an excerpt from the curriculum Releasing the Creative Writer in You, © 2013 by Sandra Conner.

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Want To Make Your Brain Sweat?

Warning: The real purpose of this article is to get you to do some writing exercises. However, once started, those exercises can become seriously addictive. So think carefully before you read any further, because once you are hooked on this habit – honestly – only God knows where you might end up!

I often have people ask me where I come up with the ideas for my novels. There are many answers to that question, but one of those answers is that while doing a simple writing exercise one night, I found myself in the middle of a brand new novel about people, places, and events that I had never before considered for a story. My original intent, as I planned this article, was just to respond to this question about my own ideas. But as I pondered writing this for my readers, I decided that perhaps many of you would like to experiment with these exercises as well, so I’ve included some specific instructions in this article.

Now, back to my personal experience: At the time, I was in the middle of working on two separate books, but one evening, I just felt blah about working on either of them. I wasn’t experiencing anything like “writer’s block.” In fact, I’m not sure I really even believe that there is such a thing. But that’s a different subject. This particular evening, I was just not in the mood to “work” on either project – or to do anything else significant for that matter. That’s when I decided to do what I often had my creative writing students do in order to keep themselves honed: work on a writing exercise.

These writing exercises are similar to the “challenges” and “prompts” that WordPress offers in an effort to give their bloggers ideas to write about. The main difference between those prompts and the exercises is that, with the WP prompts, you can take your time and think, organize your ideas, and tweak things as you go. Not so with the exercises. One of the primary components of these writing calisthenics is to force yourself to give your innermost imagination totally free rein to dig deeply into that gold-mine of creativity that lies within.

You must write for the specified amount of time, and you must not stop to consciously “think” about what’s coming next. It’s a little like those psychological tests where the doctor says a word, and you must respond with the “very first” word that pops into your mind. You know: automatic reflex. So in order to get any good out of the exercises at all, you must be absolutely honest with yourself. If you cheat and “stop to think,” you’ve already lost a chance at the “gold” that’s lies deep within your own personal mine.

The basics are as follows: Decide on an allotted time span (3 minutes, 5 minutes, 15 minutes …). Grab the very first 2-word phrase that pops into your mind. (This can be done with only one word or with a 5-word phrase as well, but I’m just giving you an example. And it’s good to sit down once in a while and just jot down little phrases like that in a notebook so that they will be available for this kind of exercise whenever you’re in the mood.) Now, DON’T THINK about the 2-word phrase. Just write it onto the sheet of paper in front of you. Once you have written down those words, KEEP WRITING. Do not stop for any reason – especially not to think or plan what’s coming next. I keep repeating that part because that’s where everybody tends to bog down. (I know: I’m sounding like a teacher now, right?)

Now … back to my own experience once more: When I decided, on that fateful evening, to accept the challenge of doing an exercise, I sat down to the computer without any preconceived notions and just literally grabbed the very first two words that popped into my head. They were the words “peanut shells.” I was totally surprised. There was nothing going on in my life at the time that would have given me any expectation of those words being at the “top” of my thoughts. But I wrote down those two words and – without any further conscious thought – kept writing.

In this case, I didn’t bother with a time limit, because I was wanting something to do for a while anyway. I wrote until nothing was flowing freely any longer. By that time I had almost two chapters of a brand new novel, and I was so into the story that I felt it was going to be one of my best. It isn’t quite finished yet, although the ending is written. I know everything else that needs to go into it, but my “day job” has kept me from getting it completely finished.

I will throw in another thought here as well: One of the perks I’ve enjoyed as a creative writing teacher is that I’ve had many opportunities to work closely with some extremely gifted young people. It is such a pleasure to see what they are capable of, and this kind of exercise has gleaned some very good results for – and from – many of them. Generally, in the classroom, I have the students draw from a list of words or phrases that were made up by someone else, so that we are positive that no preconceived ideas got in the way. A few of their exercises have led to pieces that have been, not only fun, but quite funny as well. At the end of this article, I will share two of them that I think you will enjoy.

So … can we expect that every such exercise will bring us literary gold from which we can glean articles that will sell? No. Of course not. But if you want to write and enjoy all the pleasures and treasures that can come from that kind of career – or hobby – doing these exercises on a somewhat regular basis will eventually lead to a wealth of material that can be used in any number of projects that lie ahead. And periodically, there will be one that really will launch you into an entire book within a matter of minutes. Actually, even if you don’t particularly want to write professionally, but you just enjoy new challenges to your intellect and creativity, these exercises offer a storehouse of enjoyment.

Now, if you would like to try some of these exercises and would like to share what you come up with, you are very welcome to post a comment on here that includes your final product – or post it on your own blog and give us the link. But remember: DO NOT do any serious editing. I realize that you will automatically tend to stop typing and hit the “backspace” key if you see a typo pop onto the page, but try to hold the “backtracking” to a minimum. One thing that will help is to remember that this is not a “typing test.” You don’t have to type “fast.” Just don’t stop writing to mull over ideas before you put them down. And if you feel you are extremely slow with the keyboard, you might want to write your article by hand and then type it for posting. (But remember: no re-writing while you type.)

If, when you’re done, you have some typos, misspelled words, or punctuation that will make your article too difficult to read, then go ahead and correct those. But please do not sit and re-write sections before you share them with us. We will automatically assume that you would go back and make corrections and bring the article up to publication level before doing anything professional with it. Remember: these are “exercises.” You expect to look slightly grungy when the workout is just finished. The rest of us will not read your work as editors; we will just enjoy the fun of finding out – along with you – just how creative you really are.

5 Minutes:

If you are going to try an exercise, here’s what I suggest for the first time. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Choose a word or phrase from the lists I provide below. Write it down and don’t stop writing, no matter what, until the timer goes off. When the timer goes off, you may finish the sentence you are in the process of writing, but no more.

Now, if you find yourself on a roll, and you think you have something that may be growing into a piece you really want to publish, don’t stop writing completely. Do this: Mark the place where you were when the timer went off, but then keep writing. If you decide to share what you wrote in the 5-minute limit, give us just that amount.

And please do not feel obligated to share what you have written. You may want to do these exercises on a regular basis for your own sake and never share them with anyone. That’s perfectly fine as well. After all, the real purpose is for you to discover that creative gold inside. I’d just like to give you an opportunity to share if you feel inclined to do so. You can type the whole exercise into the Comment box attached to this article, or you may just put a link there to the exercise on your own site.

To All My POET Friends: I’ve never tried these exercises with poetry personally. I’m sure it’s more of a challenge for you because of not being allowed to stop and think of rhyming words. But if any of you are interested enough to try it, I’d really like to know what you come up with.

ONE FINAL IMPORTANT NOTE: Please bear in mind that my site is one that is devoted to wholesome and family-friendly material. If you find that you have written a piece that does not fall into that category, please do not share it on this site. Just think G / PG rating, and you will be fine.

Word List: (Must be the very first word in your piece)

cotton

blue

dilapidated

straining

Phrase List: (Must be the very first words of your piece)

the doorbell rang

I can’t see you

never again

in the laundry room

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Here are two examples of results from writing exercises that you may enjoy.

Both of these pieces were the work of a high school junior named Joanna Allen, who holds the copyright. They have since been published in a book entitled Imagination X 6, which includes a variety of works by high school students.

Exercise # 1: The phrase “don’t eat that” had to be used as the first words of the piece.

Don’t eat that piece of gum your sister dropped on the floor! She was at school today, and she borrowed some gum from her friend. That friend has a father who is a professor of chemistry at the university. They are working with the CIA to devise a gum that they will give to foreign diplomats who are causing America problems.

The gum contains a chemical that they will ingest into their system. That chemical will kill them and their advisers within two weeks. The advisers will die by breathing their diplomat’s breath.

Then we will choose each of those countries a new diplomat with whom we can reason. So … don’t eat that!

Exercise # 2 Student was given one word: Period. It had to be used in the very first sentence of the piece.

Where is your period, Natalie?” her teacher asked.

I am truly sorry, Mrs. Conner, but you see, as I was trying to finish my rough draft, a bolt of lightning hit my computer, and then my dog went crazy, jumped up on my desk, and snatched my homework right out of my printer. I chased after him, but by the time I retrieved my homework, it was all wet and unreadable.

My dad went to Best buy and bought a new laptop, but when he got home, he told me I had to be in bed by 11:00. We set it up really fast, and at 10:59, I finished my paper with the last sentence. But before I could add the last punctuation mark, the clock chimed 11:00, and I had to go to bed. And that’s what happened to my period.”

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HAPPY EXERCISING