Kindling – Part 1

When someone has hurt me, I take a week off and go to the woods. There’s a trail up to this pond. I leave around mid-morning, when the sun has just reached the top of the trees. The trail is shaded, so it doesn’t get too hot, even in the summer. You can hear birds thrashing around so often, rustling the leaves. It’s different if it’s a rabbit or something. Birds only make one rustle every so often. Rabbits make one big one and you can hear it hop away.

The hike’s not too rough. Only a mile and a half, with a real gentle slope. The tree roots are the real danger. I’ve banged up my knees on just about every single one.

I spend walking that trail thinking. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I’m sad. But I’m out there because someone did something to me that I can’t get out of my head, so I think about it. I’ve been up there enough times that I barely pay attention to where I’m going. Probably why I keep getting caught in the roots.

The pond’s a real looker. I get there usually by noon, when the sun is directly overhead. Frogs start jumping in and the whole thing starts to just glitter like it’s made out of glass. That’s when I usually set up my camp. Sleeping bag, make a survival shelter in case it rain, dig a fire pit, fetch wood, that kind of thing. I have to focus a bit more, so I don’t think as much. Once I get the fire going, I start boiling water. By then it’s getting a bit dark, and there’s not much else to do.

See, in my head, some stuff you just can’t deal with. Like losing a family member. Or finding out someone’s been lying to you for years. That kind of stuff you can’t deal with in just a couple of days. So I put it away for later, like I’m freezing meat. You make your cuts, box up the meat, put it in the freezer, then pull it out when you can. Sometimes you got lots more meat than you thought, or the animal’s a bit bigger than usual. So you cut smart, make use of the space. But for every bit of meat you put in, you gotta take some out.

So that’s what I do. I pull out the old frozen meat first. I scream. Strip naked, piss in the water, walk on the coals, drink, whatever I feel like. Being alone in the woods really eases your inhibitions. I don’t remember when I stop. I think I pass out sometime around then.

The next morning, I sweep and clean the area. The breakfast is small and light on carbs. Nothing heavy. Mostly nut and berry mixes. I might even fast. The day is meant to purge out the last bit of what didn’t come out in the night. All the big bold, easy stuff goes out in the night. Day is tougher. You have to live with what happened. Gotta root out all the small little feelings you didn’t know existed and get ’em out. There’s not enough room in the freezer.

Character Profile: Flora Macedo

Flora has kept intelligent care of her appearance. She wears her auburn hair in a loose bun. Her makeup is minimal, with most of the effort spent on shaping her eyes. Her nose is small and rounded, her ears neatly pierced with two pearl earrings. Her clothes are conservative in both color and texture, and are void of any wrinkles or ill-fittings. Her purse, however, is incredibly large and bulky, yet she manages it easily underneath one arm.

Flora has a very confident step to her. She holds her head high and leads with her chest when she walks. Her posture is immaculate. She keeps her purse tucked neatly under her arm as she walks, preventing it from swinging side to side. If a narrow space were to appear in front of her, Flora’s brisk pace would hardly be slowed.

Flora learned early on that being a woman in the world isn’t a blessing. Lecherous men and catty experiences with other women have caused her to diminish her external energy. Instead of defiantly tackling the world, she has resigned herself to flow around it, taking care to avoid obstacles rather than face them directly. One would have to aggressively disrupt Flora’s routine to surprise her, and if successful, it would take a while for her to recover.

Like or dislike this character? Have an idea for a character that you want me to try? Let me know by leaving a comment (look just below the title of the post!).

The Argument For: Applying Realism to Fantasy

Any Game of Thrones fan surely noticed that the writing from this last season has slipped. I will avoid giving spoilers, but surely many noticed that multiple times, great distances were traveled almost instantly, crossing the vast continent of Westeros multiple times, usually ignoring the actual method of travel and often ignoring the time pressure of the always impending White Walkers. For some, it was breaking a sense of immersion or disbelief. Others had the reaction of “it’s a show about zombies and dragons; why attach realism to it?”

Here’s why.

When you read, watch, listen, or otherwise consume media, you’re applying your suspension of disbelief. In other words, you’re choosing to become emotionally involved with the characters for the sake of their story. Everything the people responsible for creating that story is done with that one fact in mind. You as the audience member are the participant willing to be taken for the ride. If that ride is ruined for you, for whatever reason, there is no pulling back. It’s like going to Disney World just for a picture of Mickey and then finding out that he’s not at the park for the day. The entire trip is ruined.

As writer’s, we create our suspension of disbelief via worldbuilding. Whether it’s a contemporary drama set in New York, 2003, or a high fantasy comedy set in Fartbilkington, Central Glordon, 761, every rule we establish must be maintained. That means no iPhones in 2003. And if in Glordon, all elves have pointy ears, then a round ear humanoid can’t be an elf.

When you break suspension of disbelief without giving its due, you weaken your story. It pulls the reader out of it. That’s why having rules or systems are important. If your characters can teleport, why haven’t they been teleporting the whole time? If it takes less time to travel cross-continent then it does to move from a small fishing village via boat, how is your slowly approaching doom any threat?

So when you’re writing, pay attention to the world you’re establishing. Travel that takes weeks should take weeks, even if you handwave the time behind “three weeks later”. If something floats upwards when it burns in your story, then don’t put your villain standing in front of a fireplace, even if the setting seems perfect for it. If you simply must break an established rule, give an excuse, even a bad one. “This? It’s a prototype for some new phone Apple is making.” Sure, your reader might roll their eyes, but at least those eyes will end up on the next page, and not on Google fact-checking your inconsistencies.

There are probably countless more examples of blatant handwaving. Got any favorites? Disagree with me? Let me know! Click “Leave a comment” just below the title of the post and give me your two cents. Please. I’m broke.

The Frozen Exile – Part Two

Jack gnawed at the root, trying to break it in half to get at the meat inside. He had been impatient again. A mistake, but one that could be corrected in the future. Jack was reminded of one of the first tenets his guide told him.

“You will make mistakes. Make sure they’re ones you can afford,” Fox told him. “You don’t want to repeat them out here.” Fox drank from his bowl, a soup that he had prepared. The water was melted from snow and nourished with the tubers Jack was struggling with now. Fox had always managed to soften the vegetables so that the skins slipped right off, leaving only the nutritious and hardy meat. This was the first time Jack had met Fox.

Jack did not fare well in the initial hours of his exile. The winds ripped through the cheap leathers the village had permitted him. The sunlight reflecting off of the snow blinded him, and he couldn’t tell the difference from one drift to the other. He remembered climbing up to the top of a drift, and seeing nothing but vast fields of white, and feeling, for the first time, remorse and despair for his future.

Fox found Jack slipping up the side of a drift, but the greeting was far from standard. Jack was unaware of Fox’s presence until a crude spear pierced the snow next to Jack’s hand. Jack retracted his arm, but the reflex threw off his balance and Jack slipped quickly to the bottom of the drift. Another crude spear tapped the bottom of his chin.

Fox was only as tall as a barrel and a half. The man was layered immensely in pelts and furs, making it impossible to tell his actual frame. A quiver full of crude spears hung from his side. In front of his eyes sat what appeared to be smoked glass. His mouth was covered with a brown worn cloth.

“Talk.” The command was muffled, yet Jack could hear a slight strain in it. The man in front of him was old.

“I- I don’t know what to say,” Jack spoke for the first time in eight hours, his own voice sounding raspy. His lips cracked at the movement.

“That’s fine.” Fox lowered his spear. “Follow me, quickly.” Fox turned quickly and walked away, prodding at the ground with one of his spears every so often. Jack stumbled along, struggling to maintain pace in the drifts. After one particularly rough fall, where he floundered in the snow for a minute trying to stand, Fox had disappeared from sight.

“Fox!” Jack shouted, trying to follow the paces in the snow. The footptrints were disappearing quickly in the heavy snow and Jack’s flailing was demolishing the rest. He paused, his heart beat quickening. “Fox!”

His voice sounded muted in the rising storm. The wind was picking up. All around him were pristine drifts, disturbed only by his destructive pacing. Yet in the distance, he could see a dark shape coming towards him. “Fox!” he shouted again, moving towards the figure. He crashed into the snow when a hand reached out from the snow and grabbed his ankle.

Character Profile – Sigurd “Fox” Tomasson

Sigurd Tomasson, at his tallest, would have been just about the average height of man, but his aged years has caused his spine to curl and shrink. His features, once sharp and angular, have drooped and sagged in his older years. His nose is long, but blunted. His ears are large and pointed. His clothes are furs and pelts, results of various trappings and patience. On his back is a set of crude spears, wrapped and kept together by a leather bag.

From his time out in Exile, Sigurd has learned to step cautiously and carefully. Each foot is placed carefully, as if he is walking an already well-worn path. His eyes track the distant horizon, open wide and constantly watching his peripherals. Every few moments he clutches his bag, counting the number of spears without looking.

Sigurd’s life has been harsh, but rather than facing it head on, he chooses to run and hide. Avoiding problems, only facing them with an overwhelming odds has been how he gets through life. As such, his outlook of the world is not a bleak or fearful one, but one of careful and quick study, with an innate distrust.

Like or dislike this character? Have an idea for a character that you want me to try? Let me know by leaving a comment (look just below the title of the post!).

The Argument For: The Outline

The world has always been full of seemingly contradictory information. While we as both humans and writers often organize this information into strict black-white-blue-red-green categories, often reality proves to be that muddy-grey color that happens when you mix all of your paints together. The importance is to find where the conflict starts and where it ends. As such, today’s post can be viewed as a contradiction to the last Argument, where we discussed the importance of just sitting down and writing without a guide or goal. Today is a day regarding the importance for having an outline.

If vomiting out words is the engine (also called “pantsing”), then the outline is the map. The outline shows all of your prep work completed: research, scene planning, plot structure, dramatic tones, etc. It seems like a lot, but that makes it surprisingly easier to write. You don’t have to worry about where you’re going or what came before because you already know that. The outline also serves as a guide for your subconscious. As you vomit out words, having your outline around will slowly guide your writing to the next step.

The outline is a physical representation of work flow and what needs to get done. The great thing about writing is that while it has to be read in sequential order (from page 1 to 100, page by page), it does not have to be written in sequential order. You can start with the end one day and start with the third chapter the next. The outline keeps track of it all. You’ll also find it easier to write since you’ve done all the heavy lifting before the writing process, allowing only your creative juices to flow.

The outline is a bit of prepatory work that a lot of people underrate. After all, if you’re sitting down to write, why bother doing something that isn’t really writing? Hence the negative stereotype of un-motivated students and dead-beat writers in coffee shops, ranting and raving to all who can hear about an outline of the next Great WorkTM, if only they could just figure out the last step of their outline. Keep in mind that those are not writers, fore they are not writing. A good writer knows when to do prep work and when to write, as well as how to balance the two together.

There’s no single way to write an outline, and a lot of it relies on personal preference. If you have a way you like to write an outline, or if you think I’m wrong, click Leave a comment (just below the title of the post!) and tell me all about it.

If you want to know how to write an outline, I present a post from a blog of one of my former professors, Scott Myers. He’s a screenwriter and teacher, as well as all around good dude. Very passionate, very intelligent, and holds classes for those interested.

My Veins are Asphalt

P: Come in. How are you feeling today?

C: A bit worse than from my last visit. I’m not sleeping at all at night anymore and my nerves felt fried the other day.

P: That’s not good. Is there anything else?

C: No, nothing I can think of.

P: Step on the scale, please… Okay, you’re a bit overweight for someone your age, but you are showing healthy growth. You’ve also gotten a bit taller, which will even things out a bit. Deep breath now… and again… Now cough for me. How did that feel for you?

C: Not so great. I think I’ve been having trouble breathing too.

P: You’ve been staying away from smoking?

C: Yes.

P: How about cars?

C: Uh, not so much.

P: Well, I suppose that can’t be helped.

C: You said on the phone that my test results came back?

P: Yes. For your symptoms, loss of touch, dizzyness, trouble breathing-

C: Fatigue, lack of energy.

P: Right. You’ve also mentioned feeling aches and pains all around. However, the tests I sent for show returned negative, and you are otherwise healthy.

C: So, there’s nothing wrong with me?

P: According to the tests we’ve done so far, no.

C: Then why am I having these problems?

P: I’m not an expert on either of these subjects, but either your symptoms are psychosomatic, which means you are under mental stress and thus these symptoms are manifesting as a result, or you could have an autoimmune disorder.

C: What?

P: The people that live within you are spending resources on attacking each other instead of working together. So your infrastructure is falling apart. Diseases are having an easier time settling in and spreading. Eventually, if unchecked, your power will go out and no one will be around to turn it back on.

C: Oh. What are my options?

P: I’m unsure. I have never worked a case like this. I don’t want to treat the symptoms and not the disease. I’ll try and find a specialist to send you to.

C: Is there anything I can do?

P: I don’t know. You could hope for the problems to resolve themselves, but I understand if you don’t want to wait. You’re only three hundred years old, and you still have time left. You could reach out to friends and family and request help.

C: Okay, I will.

P: In the meantime, keep an eye on your symptoms. If anything happens that should worry you, like a complete blackout or water problems, or if something collapses, call me immediately.

 

Character Profile – Interview

For some, the brevity of the previous template may not provide enough fuel for thought. You also might be looking for a template that assists in your creation of the character, rather than a simple outline of the main parts. For those who are struggling, here’s an interview you can have with your character to help you with creating your character. This interview comes from a class I had under the tutelage of Jacqueline Lawton and as such, I give the credit to her. Jacequeline Lawton is a playwright and astounding in both her passion and insight. If one has a chance to pick up her works or hear her speak, I recommend it.

In answering this interview, more is better. You can always trim the fat away in your piece, but it’s best to know as much about your character as you possibly can.

The following is paraphrased and adapted (slightly) from plays to work for most pieces of fiction.

The Character Interview:

Interview your characters. Make the answers up if they are not obvious in the piece. Family and personal history are things that may be in the piece.

Family/Personal History

  1. When and where as your character born?
  2. Who are your character’s parents?
    • Are they living or dead? If living, do they get along?
    • Are they in the piece? If so, what are they like?
  3. Does your character have children?
    • If not, do they want children?
    • If so, do they get along? Did they want to have children?
  4. Does your character have any siblings? If so, are is your character the oldest, youngest, or somewhere in between?
  5. Does your character have many friends? Any enemies?
  6. Is your character married, divorced, engaged or single? What is that like?
  7. What is your character’s religious affiliation? Devout or not? Loyally observant of rituals, feasts, spirituality, etc. or not?
  8. What is your character’s educational background?
  9. What is your character’s work experience?
  10. Who is your character’s best friend? Why?
  11. Who is your character’s enemy? Why? Do they present danger (physical or emotional) to character?
  12. Describe one or two childhood experiences that determine or explain the character now. (You might not use these incidents in the story, but they will help you to understand the character’s motivations).

Secrets/Fears/Wishes:

  1. Name one secret your character has never admitted to anyone.
  2. Name one of your character’s deepest fears.
  3. If your character had 3 wishes, what would they be?

Everyday Life:

  1. Sloppy or neat?
  2. Selfish or giving?
  3. What makes your character laugh?
  4. What makes your character cry?
  5. What annoys your character most in the world?
  6. What is one thing they would like to change about themselves?

Style and Fashion:

  1. Favorite song?
  2. Favorite food?
  3. Favorite book?
  4. Favorite movie?
  5. Favorite TV show or cartoon?
  6. Favorite color?

Psychological traits

Habits- smokes, drinks, takes drugs (legality?)?

How do they see themselves?

How do others view them?

Do they have a sense of humor or not? If so, what kind?

How does your character react under pressure?

Can the character see their own faults? Are they capable of self reflection and introspection?

Is your character self-contained, or are they easily influenced by outside forces?

Is your character educated in worldly things or ways? Is this a positive or negative effect on their life and attitudes?

What is your character’s attitude towards money and material things, or lack thereof?

The Character’s Journey:

What is your character’s journey through the piece?

What are they trying to achieve by the end of the piece?

Who or what is in the way of that goal?

 

Don’t worry if you can’t answer all of these questions. Think of them as a helpful guideline, showing you what you need to work on to make your characters seem more realistic.

Have you ever interviewed a character before? Did something work or not work? Let me know in the comments below!

The Argument For: Vomiting Out Words

Tomorrow is for editing. Today is for writing.

The blank page is a foreboding and terrifying thing. Part of its terror is that we often count our writing in terms of words and pages and often we are forced to stare at vast empty white as the time we have to spend on it slowly fades away.

There’s also a strange sensation for writers, where we seek, on the first try, to write the most completely profound and intelligent sentences that are so beautiful, angels sweep down from on high, and escort us personally to Heaven, where God congratulates us on our prose. This has not and will not ever happen. Yet each time I sit down, I wonder if today is the day that I’ll find out the existence of the Creator.

This is destructive behavior. If you are writing, you are a writer. If you aren’t writing, you’re not. It’s as simple as that. Staring at an empty page either in fear or focus is not writing. Some call this writer’s block. I call it procrastination.

I’d like to introduce something called automatic writing. Many of you have likely heard of this already, but it is essentially spending a few minutes writing non-stop. You do not edit. You do not delete. You do not punctuate. You just keep going, even if you’re writing I don’t know a dozen times. If you’re typing, close your eyes or turn off the monitor. Now you’re writing!

There’s another reason to do this. Your mind is stronger than you realize, and it often works on problems during the day. If you’ve ever had a profound idea in the shower, this is part of it. You’re doing something that allows you to focus without thinking directly about it.

And finally, it’s far simpler to work with a piece that’s already there. Editing is a slow and diligent process, but it’s infinitely easier to edit something that already exists (even if it’s crap) than to try and write a perfect novel into being (especially if it’s crap). Remember, in order to be great at something, you first have to be bad at it.

Writing is a discipline. And if you find yourself staring at a page far too often, trying to figure out what comes next, then stop thinking and just write. Tomorrow is for editing, today is for writing.

 

The Frozen Exile – Part 1

The air stabbed at his lungs with tiny knives. His breaths came in short gasps. The snow crunched and sank below his foot. He didn’t care anymore if the ground gave way and cast him into a crevasse, as then he would be free from the blizzard that was threatening to bury him. Snow battered him, violent and sadistic, clinging and covering its brethren to stop him. The first flakes were long melted into his clothes, turning them sopping wet. A wet that was now well into its way to refreezing, cracking with each movement.

A gust of wind from behind knocked him to his knees, bringing more snow, and blinding him. He couldn’t see much past his extended hand, and didn’t have the energy to stand. He crawled on all fours, grasping through the snow for a hint of purchase to drag him along. His hands were long numb.

Suddenly, in the snow, his fingers closed around what felt like a rock. Knowing how scarce something that wasn’t snow and ice was, he pulled at it with both arms. Bursting out was a small, but thick root. It looked like a baby’s hands with too many fingers. The root was a Dob, a starchy tuber that grew across the frozen wastes. It had a small brown shoot that extended only a little above the ground, but down below it grew freely. Fully mature dobs could be peeled and eaten raw or boiled until the skin sloughs off. However, the younger the dob is, the thicker its skin, making it impossible to get to the nutritious meat.

His hunger overruled any higher brain process, and he rose the dob to his lip and gnashed at the skin. He gnarled and bit until his gums bled. He closed his eyes, trying and hoping to get inside the root. And when the sun rose, it shown on his frozen corpse, the dob still clutched in his hands.