Monthly Archives: August 2014

Writers, When Do You Write?

 

When I first crashed on this planet, many hundreds of days ago, I was enamored with television shows, movies, video games, and books. But as I’ve gotten used to the atmosphere (I think I am about 96% Human at this point), I’ve become too busy to do everything.

I find that I spend less time watching, and more time writing. Yet, when I try to write most mornings, I can’t eek out more than a single sentence. There is just something about the sun glaring at me through the window that cuts off my creative spark.

Although, when the night comes, when parts of the world are finally going to sleep, it’s like something inside of me is just waking up. And it’s exciting. I lose track of the time, and I can’t help but write deep into the night.

Writers, are you a night owl like me? Or is it the midday sun that super-charges your inner visionary? Maybe the smell of coffee in the morning excites your creativity?

When do you write?

Replacement Parts

They smiled at her, like parents watching their second child’s first steps. They loved her curiosity, the way she clenched her new fingers (metal) and curved her new torso (carbon fiber). 

But they wouldn’t look at her face. She wanted them to, so they could see the way she screamed at them with her eyes. If only they hadn’t taken her eyes, too. 

Where Does a Good Story Start?

Writing is a very nauseating experience, like eating a can of heavily irradiated tuna. Most new writers haven’t developed that leaden stomach lining yet, so when they see a blank page they get sick and tend to vomit buckets of useless information all over it.

Something is better than nothing, I suppose, but there is a much better way to go about writing the beginning of your story.

Start with a Scene

Think of your favorite movie or video game. Every single one starts with a character (usually the protagonist) in a rich, immersive setting doing something interesting. The first scene has an introduction, a rising action, a climactic moment, and a resolution; it’s like it’s own mini-movie.

Does it have to be relevant to the rest of the plot?

Absolutely not.

As an example, take Casino Royale (the James Bond film). In the beginning, there is a huge crowd in a slummy part of Madagascar. The crowd is uproarious as they watch a cobra and a mongoose fight to the death. While all of this is going on, Bond is sneaking through a crowd, trying to catch up to his unsuspecting target. There is a mistake, the target sees Bond, and the chase is on.Of course, we now get to watch Bond display his physical prowess, but more importantly we also see him outsmart his enemies.

The opening scene sucks us into the world of 007. We see almost everything that is unique, visceral, and real about the world, and it’s amazing to watch unfold. On top of that, we learn mountains about Bond’s character (ruthless, quick-thinking, and bad ass).

Casino Royale is an action film first. Your story does not need to start out with this much high-octane, roof-jumping madness. But it does need to show the reader how immersive your world is, and how interesting your character is.

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Action Film, get it? He gets a lot of action? AHHHH!

Before the First Turning Point

Most stories have several turning points, or important situational changes. These turning points are usually spread out evenly, to give the reader enough time to adjust, to allow the characters to worry or gloat over their fortunes, and just because it makes a more interesting story.

You want to keep this in mind when starting your story. You don’t want to start too close to the first turning point, because then your readers haven’t had the time to appraise your characters, or to become familiar with the world. And if you start too early, your reader will get bored.

And boredom is worse than radiation sickness.

Outlines, even short, single-page outlines can save you from having to cut out volumes of writing. Try to figure out your major plot points ahead of time, and at least your first turning point before you start the story.

In Media Res

In media res means your story starts “in the middle”. This one is tricky to handle, as it often requires convoluted narratives or extensive flashbacks. It’s hard to keep this kind of story from becoming a spiderweb of plot points and changes and everything.

However, in media res can inject a sense of immediacy to every story, as well as shrouding the tale in mystery. If you want to see how other authors do it, try reading something from this list, like Life of Pi by Yann Martell, or Wool Omnibus, by Hugh Howey.

Or, if your ‘to-read’ list is already longer than an epic fantasy novel, I recommend this movie: 513005ba58d3390ec4d17a355167a7360fc7f3c8

One last piece of advice:

Do not (do NOT) start your story with a character just waking up, or dreaming, or regaining consciousness (unless you have an invincible reason for this).

How does your favorite story start? Why did you find it so immersive?

Was It Not Glorious?

Brother Hamish refused to believe he had killed a man. Yet, here at Hamish’s feet lay the body of a man with a rusted dagger in his stomach. His eyes were half-closed, his mouth half open, as if in the throes of ecstasy. The man had recognized Hamish and now he was dead.

The Brother’s lips, stained purple with the Wine of the Goddess, quivered as he looked on the body. Hamish could only wonder, Who did this?

Brother Hamish held his hands up to the rain, as an act of supplication. Drops of scarlet beaded off his skin, slipped between the wooden boards of the road, and were swallowed by the swamp. Hamish pulled off his hood and let the water slide down his shaved head. He checked the road to see if anyone was watching, but he saw no one.

He gripped the dead man by the shoulders, and pulled him to the edge of the boardwalk, grunting with effort. He thought about giving the Last Rites, but the rain was growing stronger. The swamp had already started to rise, and Hamish heard thunder rolling over the marsh.

“Goddess, bring this man into your fold. May his mortal sins never stain his immortal soul.” Hamish pressed two fingers to his own stained lips, and made a sign over the body. The thunder was growing louder. With both hands Brother Hamish rolled the body off the boardwalk.

The body fell with a splash into the black water, but it didn’t sink. One limp arm still rested on the wooden boards. Hamish was reminded of Brother Joseph’s arm, and the way it hung off the bunk bed every night as Hamish said his prayers.

Beneath the thunder, Hamish heard a whinny. Hooves clunked on the wooden walkway that carved it’s way through the marsh, and in the lightning Hamish could see the outline of a rider on a horse. The rider was close.

“Shit!” Hamish shoved the body into the water, but the dead man’s hand caught in between the boards, and the body tumbled lazily underneath the boardwalk, making a soft bumping sound. Hamish wrestled the body, drenching his robes in swamp water as the rider approached.

“Hallo! You there!” The rider swung a lantern in Hamish’s direction as called through the downpour, “You alright, friend?”

Hamish stood over the boardwalk, covering the deadman’s hand with his robe. He bowed in the Brother’s Way before the rider, “I’m lost, sir. I’m a Servant of the Goddess and I lost my guide.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. He ran ahead when the rain started, and I’ve not seen him since.” For a holy man, Hamish found it surprisingly easy to lie.

“I bet he ran off with your money too, didn’t he? Cutthroats everywhere, I say.”

“Yes-” Hamish choked.

“Come, Brother, I am headed back to Black Crest. Will you walk with me?”

***

Black Crest was the largest settlement in the swamp, and the Goddess had commanded Mother Ama to build a temple here centuries ago, with the hope that the Faithful would gather. But not many marsh dwellers agreed with the Word of the Goddess, and the Faith had struggled to grow.

When Hamish had been assigned to Black Crest, he had come with the zeal of a newly trained recruit, and that zeal had still not left him almost a decade later. He was the only brother who went out every week to another marsh village or bog hovel. Even the heathens should know the Goddess’ love.

Hamish whispered silent prayers through his violet lips. The stone temple had emptied hours ago, and the other Brothers had snuffed out their candles and locked away their books. The last to go, Brother Jacob, left a candle on for Hamish and wandered off to sleep without a word.

The sound of rain on stone muffled Hamish’s fervent whispering, and soon his shaved head bobbed gently in the candlelight. Hamish fell asleep on his knees.

***

The candle was about to drown itself in its own wax when the temple door creaked open and a gust of wind snuffed out the flame. Hamish was still kneeling, arms on the pew in front of him, and snoring into his folded hands.  Shadows rose and fell as the door shut soundlessly.

Murderer”.

Hamish’s snorted himself awake, “Wha-?”

A shadow swept across the stone floor and the voice echoed off the stone, “Your deeds are known.”

Hamish scrambled on the bench, banged his knee on the wood, and staggered into an upright position, cringing in pain.

“Who’s there? Who are you?”

“You have been chosen to join us, Brother.” There was a shimmer in the darkness, like the heat from a flame, and a man stepped out of the shadows, “Will you embrace the Gloom, Brother?”

“What in the Holy Name are you talking about?”

The man tucked his long, greasy hair behind his ear and grinned, “You went into the swamp with a guide, but you came out alone. Your deeds are known, murderer.”

“Get away from me,” Brother Hamish stepped away from the pew. The long-haired man followed, lengthening his grin.

“What did it feet like, Brother, to free another soul from his earthly burdens, to feel flesh give in to your blade? Did you see his eyes?”

“Stop it! I never, I never-”

“Did you hear Death, Brother? Did you hear the wings, beating?”

Hamish’s heart was pounding in his ears. His feet got caught in his robe, and he fell backwards, toppling the candelabra and spilling wax over the stones.

 

There was silence, and for an instant he thought he was waking from a nightmare.

 

The voice slithered into his ear, “Was it not glorious?”

“NO!” Hamish’s hand closed around the cold metal of the candelabra, and he swung with his entire body.

There was an organic crunch, a breathless sigh. Brother Hamish, devout follower of the Queen of Mercy, had killed again.

Three Reasons Why Shorter Writing is Better

In writing, size matters. All writing is about giving as much information or entertainment to the reader without giving them a headache. Keeping your prose clean and your structure tight can go a long way to keep the reader’s attention.

Look at the formatting and content of almost every successful blog. They understand that their audience is looking for quick bites before their attention is whisked away by the next brightly colored, bullet-pointed list.

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Some bloggers use tricks to keep their readers’ attention. This parrot, for example,  is supposed to keep you reading.

While blogging may not be the pinnacle of literary or informative writing, it does do one thing right: it keeps things short. Bloggers often write vertical posts that make the reader feel like they are sucking up a great deal in a short time, but good posts also contain huge gobs of information in their odd structure.

All writing can benefit from this mentality. Before this post gets too long, let’s get into why you should keep your writing as short as possible.

You won’t lose your reader

Like the student listening to the long-winded lecturer, everyone has their limits. Every time your reader tunes out something you’ve written, there is another chance they won’t enjoy your work. And then how will you become a millionaire?

Think about every sentence, every word. Is it necessary? Do you really need another adverb? Will your description of the flowers on the windowsill really change how much your readers love your story?

This is your work. This is a beautiful piece of your mind that other people should read. Don’t give them a reason not to.

You will make a stronger impact on your reader

Have you ever read a description of setting that went on for more than a paragraph? Do you remember any of it? Some paragraphs are not important. It can be hard to cut out some of your favorite sentences, but good writing is not about great lines; it is about great ideas. The shorter your work is, the more likely it is that readers will get the point and remember it. Unnecessary words cloud meaning.

So-the-writer-who-breeds

You will get to the next exciting development faster

Most stories run through a simple arc, with the climax near the end. You want your reader to get more excited the more they read. By keeping your writing concise you allow them to move on to the next breathtaking moment even faster. People will call your work ‘a real page turner’ and people in business suits will fight over the rights to your next book (and you will become a millionaire).

You are the writer, and you are responsible for moving your reader through the story. While you may have all the time in the world to work on your flowery prose, your readers have a million other things clawing for their attention. So stop worrying about hitting a word count and go cut something down.

More Characters and A Real Writing Prompt

I’m about to head off to some family gatherings, so this post might not be the most substantial, but I promised a few more characters, and then I had an idea.

Writing Prompt: Write an antagonist with one of these characters (or even Auxilius) as the protagonist. Do it however you want, but keep in mind that every villain is a hero to someone. Post what you wrote below and enjoy your weekend, dear reader!

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Davis, Possessed by Riches

The liquid was gold, but it was not expensive. It was ruining a very expensive carpet, but what is the use of a floor if you can’t use it?

He was drunk, which was very unusual. Davis had an ‘anti-hol’ tube in his throat, which kept him from getting drunk, partly because his probation required it, and partly because he thought it was awesome that he was going to be ‘a fuckin’ cyborg dude’.

Some habits can’t be erased with machines. Or all machines can be circumvented by human ingenuity. Or by the internet. He was being profound, talking like he knew everything about life and pissing on his father’s carpet. Really, though, he had just found another way to get his drinks into his body.

Someone else would clean it up. They always did. If his father didn’t blame it on the persian leopard, then maybe Davis would get a good clean up too. With his father’s righ fist. And left fist. And foot. And probably a few plates or belts or whatever else was lying around. It didn’t matter, it would go away.

See, that’s the problem Davis had with everything. It always went away. Nothing lasted.

No feeling. No desire. No anger. No money. No love. Not fucking anything or anyone. If he had been religious, he might have believed everyone had a purpose, a destiny. But he wasn’t. So he didn’t. Things just went away when they did. So fuck it.

 

Anja

Goddamn she’s beautiful, thought the girl who liked to be called a woman. I wish I looked like her. If only she knew. If only she knew.

 

J__________

Too close, he writes. Too close, that time. They will find out. They will find out and then they will come for me. They will come for us. What can we do? I have hidden myself, I have blacked out the sky and the stars still shine through. If only they were more like us, if only they could understand what we understand.

But no, nothing will satisfy their curiosity. Their greed. They will consume every one of us, they will tear us from our homes and supplant us with something less real, and more beautiful. They will destroy everything we love, and we will be forgotten and they will be remembered, and they will deserve it.

If only we were more like them.

Romans and Their Wine (Flash Fiction)

“I need more wine, more gold, and more girls.”

“Choose one of them.” The emperor’s messenger holds the quill at the ready.

“Well, the wine, it always comes. Someone finds a cellar, a merchant, or something, and the wine always comes.”

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Photo Credit: Andreas Adelmann

“So, women or money, Auxilius?”

Auxilius picks up a pewter cup, drinks, and wrenches his face up so tight that it looks like he’s been stabbed in the stomach.

“Wine. Definitely more wine.”

The messenger sighs, scribbling on a scroll, and bids Commander Auxilius farewell as he gallops away from the camp.

The camp is raucous with energy, like a colony of ants returned from a kill. Hammers ring off nails and saws grind tree trunks in half. Orders and yells and laughter clamor for attention in the mid-morning activity. Around one wooden structure, a ring of soldiers fan out.

A short man, laden in armor, stands with his hands on his hips, a sneer on his face, and a rope under his foot. Another soldier, thin as a snake and just as long, struggles to pull the rope with both hands.

“Get off, Amus!”

“That’s Centurion Amus, runt.” The centurion grabs the rope and yanks it, sending the young recruit sprawling into the dirt. Some of the soldiers laugh. The other men have already seen Auxilius, who stands by, watching the engagement.

“Don’t you know how to kneel properly, runt?” The centurion sweeps the ground with his foot, connecting his metal shinguard to the sprawling recruit’s ribcage. The thin soldier coughs, and puts his hands on the ground to push himself up. The armored man’s leg smacks the young soldier twice more before he falls on his face. More laughs.

“Grovelling on the ground like that, like a slave, how can you serve Rome, runt?”

“A GOOD QUESTION, CENTURION.” Auxilius steps into the ring of other soldiers, and the laughter ceases. The centurion Amus turns just in time to see Auxilius reach toward him with a massive, open palm.

The commander tugs the centurion’s hand into the air, as if in triumph, “How can you serve Rome? Learn from this man’s example.”

The newest recruits are confused, even afraid. Amus, surprised, smiles. The veterans are intrigued, but only because they know what is coming.

“This man is a true Roman.” Auxilius continues pulling the centurion’s arm up until the centurion’s smile turns into a grimace, “A master of leadership, he knows the best way to teach his fellow Romans is through example. Tomorrow, when we attack the walls of our enemy, this true Roman will be at the front of the line, leading the charge! Learn from his courage, brothers!”

Those who did not pity Amus the centurion laughed. Some of the veterans clapped him on the back. Auxilius ordered an attendant to give Amus double his share of wine that night. 

I wrote this and quite a few others as part of the exercise from my post on Creating Characters. I’m sure I will post a few more soon.

As I wrote, Auxilius quickly inhabited the strong leader archetype, something I was not expecting at all with the character I began with. In the piece, there is no description of Auxilius at all. I am curious, what did Auxilius look like to you? Strong or tall or light or what? Did the lack of description detract from any character?