Writing and Publishing

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Meets Taken

I’ve listened to the Writing Excuses podcast for years. In the first nine seasons they would sometimes give writing prompts. In season ten they started giving homework at the end of each episode.

I’ve gone back to year ten and am going through the homework. Though the assignments are most annoying, they’re even more beneficial.

The assignment for 13.35 is to have a friend list three books or movies they really liked. Then list three of your own. Randomly select one from each list and make a mashup, as in title A meets title B. Then write that story.

I aimed for a micro-fiction piece (under 100 words), but it went longer. Still it nicely fits in the flash fiction category (under 1,000 words).

Here’s my story:

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Meets Taken

Ed Rooney drove his nondescript minivan down a suburban road. Ahead walked an attractive teenager. He pulled alongside her and lowered his window. “Sloane, would you like a ride?”

“Principal Rooney, why aren’t you in school?”

“I should be asking you the same thing.” He got out of his car and walked around. “Let’s talk about your truancy.”

Sloane stared at him but said nothing.

“You’re a very attractive young lady.” He extended a hand toward the teenager.

“Mr. Rooney, you’re making me uncomfortable.” Sloane took a step back and stumbled.

Rooney steadied her with one hand as he brought a white cloth to her mouth with the other. She collapsed in his arms. He shoved her in his car and sped away.

Minutes later his phone rang. He hesitated before answering. “Ferris Buehler, you’re going down.”

“No, Mr. Rooney, you are. Let Sloane go. Or my sister will beat you up, I’ll have your car towed, and you’ll have to ride the school bus.”

The call went dead. Rooney cradled his head in his arms. “What have I gotten myself into?”

Writing and Publishing

What Do You Like and Dislike in the Books You Read?

In the book From No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty (founder of NaNoWriMo), talks about constructing our Manga Carta 1 and Manga Carta 2. What does he mean by that?

Manga Carta 1 is a list of what we like in the novels we read. Manga Carta 2 is a list of what we dislike in the novels we read.

Once determined, we can use these two lists to inform our own books as we write and edit them.

Here are my two lists:

Manga Carta 1 (what I like in a novel):

  • Strong main character
  • Character growth
  • Interesting characters with a bit of a quirk
  • Balanced characters with good traits and bad, including the antagonist
  • Unexpected twists
  • Believable story arc
  • Short chapters
  • Page-turning read
  • Snappy dialogue
  • Short or concise writing without fluff, wasted scenes, and unneeded description

Manga Carta 2 (what I don’t like in a novel):

  • Multi-POVs all told first person.
  • Sad endings
  • Ambiguous endings
  • Over-the-top, mean characters
  • Implausible plot twists
  • Blocks of description
  • Meaningless details
  • Preachy or agenda driven
  • Flowery or poetic writing
  • Boring middles that just plod along
  • The predictable, sometimes manufactured, major roadblock at two-thirds to three-fourths of the way through the novel.

I encourage you to make your own lists. Then consider them as you work on your novels.

Writing and Publishing

A Creative Way to Deal with Rejection

Rejection hurts. We’ve all heard stories of popular books that had scores of editors or publishers reject them before someone realized the potential and published them. The rest is publishing history.

Since writers deal with a lot of rejection, Writer’s Digest had the idea to provide a creative outlet for them to vent their frustration. They called it “Reject a Hit.” The popular feature ran for many years.

The premise was to pick an immensely successful book and write a fictitious rejection letter. It offered a safe way to allow authors to poke fun at the gatekeepers who blocked their path to publication. You can read some of these letters online.

I sent them my contribution, but the magazine shuttered the column about the time I made my submission. It never ran, and there is no suitable outlet to share my prose.

So, I’ll post it here:

Reject a Hit: The Bible


I was a bit surprised to receive your submission for the Bible. Though I had lofty expectations, the writing left me disappointed, and the substance perplexed me.

First, this is an anthology—sort of. Anthology contributors should be contemporaries, not span several centuries. And you must pick one genre. Jumping from historical nonfiction to poetry is a stretch, and the prophetic works are repetitive.

Though I like the biographies of Jesus, do you really need four?

Dystopian is hot now. Could you rework it?

The writing styles are also jarring. Paul’s rhetoric annoys me. John’s words have a lyrical flow but confuse me. David’s poems seem bipolar. Luke’s writing is solid, though he does switch perspectives in the middle of Acts.

Also, there are too many layers here. It would take a lifetime to grasp; no one will invest that much time in one book.

Plus, the Bible is no place for violence, incest, and rape. Your characters must be wholesome if you want acceptance by religious book buyers. Additionally, I suggest you remove “Song of Songs.” It borders on erotica.

With great trepidation, I must reject your submission—all the while praying you don’t strike me dead. From a business standpoint, I don’t see an upside to this. I can appreciate that you expect the Bible will become the most popular book ever, but that’s unrealistic. Not even your contributors will buy a copy—they’re all dead.

Though I don’t see any future in this as a book, you may want to consider movies. There are a couple of good stories hidden in its pages. With some poetic license and the right director, you may be able to salvage some of this.


Rev. Uptight Preacher, PhD

Religion Editor, Pharisee Press

Writing and Publishing

What’s Your Happy Place?

I sometimes give writing prompts on this blog, but it’s been a long time.

Here’s one for today: whether real or imagined, describe your happy place. Share your happy place in the comment section below.

Writing and Publishing

Do You Have an Author Bio?

The best time to write your author bio is before you need it. That means, write it today. I gave some pointers on this in my post, “Why You Should Write Your Author Bio Now.”

We need multiple length bios for different uses, but today, let’s focus on a 25-word or 50-word bio. Here are the basics: Written in the third person, it’s usually two to three sentences that tells who we are and gives our credentials, plus a plug for our book, project, or blog.

Here’s one of my 25-word bios:

“Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect via social media.”

I’m still working on it, but it’s a start.

A 50-word bio contains the same elements but allows more room for development. Here’s another example:

“Jesus-follower and wordsmith Peter DeHaan, PhD ( shares his passion for life and faith through words, changing the world one word at a time. A movie buff and nature lover, Peter looks forward to the day when pizza and popcorn are reclassified as major food groups.”

I’m still working on that one, too.

Now it’s your turn. Write your bio and post it in the comment section below. It doesn’t matter if it’s polished or a first draft. Someday you’ll be glad you worked on it now.

Writing and Publishing

Do You Have a Memorable Photo?

I wrote this last week—and revised it today—in response to a writing prompt Ted Kluck gave at a writing conference. His assignment challenged us to describe a memorable photo:

It may have been the pinnacle of my high school track career. It was at the biggest meet of the year, perhaps my life, and I stood on the medal stand with my relay team. The beauty queens presiding over the ceremony presented our foursome with our awards.

The medal was tangible and the smile the queen gave me, memorable, but the quick congratulatory kiss on the cheek was epic. I stood up, brimming with emotion, accomplishment overflowing.

My teammate’s mom stood nearby, poised to capture the scene with her camera. Sensing a photo op, I thrust my fist high into the air, proclaiming to all our victory, our physical prowess, our athletic achievement.

She snapped the picture at that instant, preserving the moment – and the memory—forever.

Writing and Publishing

What’s Your Life Story — in 150 Words?

The Reader’s Digest recently asked readers to submit their life story—in 150 words or less.

With over 6,000 submissions, Facebook followers voted and RD picked the best from the top 100. The winners are all excellent. If I had to pick my favorite, I’d go with “A Meaningless Diagnosis” or perhaps “I’ve Got Dirt: Memoirs of Your Housekeeper,” or… Okay, I can’t pick a favorite.

Although I heard about this too late to participate, it makes for a great writing exercise.

I’m still cogitating how to condense my life story down to 150 words but if I do, I’ll add it as a comment.

Writing and Publishing

A Logline Writing Contest

A logline is a brief summary of a story that is designed to hook the reader. Ideally, it is one sentence long.

I recently entered another writing contest, where the challenge was to write a logline. Not just any logline, but a really bad logline. The rules were it had to be one sentence and under 60 words long. We were allowed two submissions. Interestingly, my two entries came to me rather quickly and with minimal effort.

My two bad loglines are:

  • In this fast-paced action thriller, protagonist Peter Piper is shocked to realize that his thumbnail needs to be trimmed, but lacking the appropriate tool to do so, he is left in a quandary as to how to proceed, all the while suspecting that the fate of mankind must surely rest in the balance.
  • Ladd, half-wonder dog, half mutt, is a caped superhero at night and a lovable, albeit lazy pet during the day, but when a sudden disaster strikes in the daylight hours, Ladd must choose between revealing his true identity and… “Squirrel! Did someone say, ‘squirrel’?”

How did I do? Do you have a bad logline to share?

Writing and Publishing

Eleven Writing Exercises to Sharpen Your Writing

Like physical exercises, which are beneficial for your body, writing exercises are beneficial for developing your skill as a writer. While exercise is seldom pleasant, it is a wise and worthy pursuit. Here are some exercises to consider in developing your craft as a wordsmith:

  1. Revise something you wrote to hit a specific word count. This could be to expand it or condense it. Both are helpful skills to have. Editors appreciate it when you can hit a target length.
  2. Completely rewrite something without referring to the original. Then compare the two. Note what is the same, what is different, and what is better. Now merge the two into a third⁠—and hopefully superior version.
  3. Taking a 1,200-word article or essay that you wrote, condense it into a 600-word version. Then revise it to a 300-word blog post. Finally, turn it into a 140-character tweet.
  4. Do the reverse, taking someone else’s tweet, expanding on the concept (don’t plagiarize) to make a blog post. Then expand it further to become an article, essay, or short story.
  5. Write a short story using only one-syllable words (or any other creative restriction you can concoct).
  6. Write a 26-sentence story where each sentence starts with a successive letter of the alphabet, A through Z.
  7. Subscribe to A Word A Day. Each weekday they will email you a unique or interesting word. Use that word in conversation or writing that day.
  8. Rewrite something you wrote, adding alliteration to the text.
  9. Write metered poetry, song lyrics, or haiku. All of these force writers to fit cogent ideas into a certain rhythm or number of syllables.
  10. Often writing magazines will suggest a writing exercise. These add variation to your writing workouts. Some also have contests. Even if you’re not ready to submit your work, it is great practice.
  11. Come up with an interesting or catchy title⁠—now write to that title. The same can be done writing to reach a predetermined, pithy conclusion.

Personally, I have done most of these at one time or another. What I find most helpful are those that affect word count, helping me to be more concise or more inclusive in what I write. I’m also a big fan of alliteration but need to guard against going overboard with it.