...if no one says to you, "Oh Sam (or Amy)! This is wonderful!," you are a lot less apt to slack off or to start concentrating on the wrong thing ... being wonderful for instance, instead of telling the (expletive) story."
Friday, April 29, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. There he stood in all his wicked glory, Prince Allisane.He looked exactly as I remembered him, his long golden hair tied back with a velvet ribbon, and his thunderstorm eyes boring into me with a dead coldness.Allisane sat rigidly in my father’s high-backed chair; his white-knuckled fingers gripped the armrests, as if trying to gain control on his emotions. His face was livid. I’d seen that face more times than I cared to count, more times than I should have as his betrothed.I hadn’t wanted to marry him, so I’d run.After six months, he’d found me.
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. My first thought was that I must have opened the wrong door. Why else would I be facing a centaur with a huge sword?I closed the door. Yes, it was definitely my door. Maybe I’d imagined it. I swung the door open again. No, the centaur was still there. Well, this made a change from the dwarves and fairies that normally followed me around. Not that anyone believed they were real. Except me.“That’s a big sword,” I said. “Can I hold it?”“Why was I given this one?” the centaur sighed. He grabbed my arm. “Let’s go.”
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. The apartment was in shambles. Every movable object had been tossed across the tiny living space. Glass shards were everywhere and a knife had ripped open my brand-new La-Z-Boy.But that’s not what made my heart stop.The bloody body of my private detective lay draped across the couch, red dying the white leather.My scream echoed off the walls of the apartment. Horror clawed up my stomach and burned my chest as I read the three words written in blood across the wall behind the corpse—Looking for us?My ex and his cronies had found me.
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. My pulse quickened along with my pace as I entered the room before me. I don’t know why I was so nervous. After all, I had signed the papers myself. When they had asked me, I was the one that said yes; I was the one that had wanted to see her. Before I realized it, the gaping expanse of the room that had once stood before me was now reduced to nothing. As I lifted my head, my gaze slowly fell onto the most beautiful face I had ever seen… the face of my daughter. It didn’t matter then, what I had said before. All I knew was that I could not let them take her from me.
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw.The Director was here.“What’s going on?”My father looked at me with tears-filled eyes. In that moment, I knew. I held his gaze until the Director cleared his throat. I tore my eyes from my father, knowing I would never see him again.“Lillian, you have been chosen for the Program,” the Director stated. “We must depart. Goodbye, Mr. Rochester.”He pulled me out the door. I glanced back, searching for my father, but he was lost in the darkness.I was shoved into the car; a rag pressed to my face. My vision slowly faded to black.
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw. Had my wish for excitement come true? Did the real, sword-slashing, crazy-riding Zorro himself stand before me?Dressed in black; check. A black scarf over his nose and mouth; check. It was confirmed. I stood face to face with my childhood hero.“Hello,” I squeaked, looking around for his sword.“Hi,” he said through the black cloth, “I’m here to sweep your chimney. The appointment was at…” he peered past me into the house. “Is your mother at home?”I pointed to the kitchen and then slunk back to the TV. Somehow, though, I didn’t feel like watching Zorro anymore.
When I opened the door, I could hardly believe what I saw.It's not that I wasn't used to my older sister Petra being on the computer - she was always on there doing something. But that something usually wasn't hacking into military databases.Petra spun around. I stared at her."So you're the one who's been stealing stuff out of Dad's office," was all I could say. "Won't he be so mad when he finds out."Petra grabbed my arm and dragged me into the room. I heard a click and something pressed against the side of my head. I hadn't known Petra owned a gun."Did you have any last words before this goes off?"
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Susie stared at Joel as he paced around their shoebox of an apartment. With his ragged hair and wild eyes, he hardly resembled the man she'd pledged herself to just six months ago."There's something else, isn't there?" Susie said. Joel only paced like this when he was wrestling with something.He glanced at her. "No."But she knew better. "Out with it, Joel. I know you've got something else to tell me.""You think you're so smart, don't you?" He sneered. "You've got this whole world figured out, huh, Suz?"Her teeth ground together. "I'm smart enough to know when you're not being honest with me.""Fine. You wanna know what's going on? You wanna know why I haven't been sleeping? Because it's gone, Susie. It's all gone."Susie's stomach twisted into an aching knot. "What's gone, Joel?"He leveled his gaze on her and said it oh-so-quietly. "The money.""No." She pressed her eyes shut, willing this to be some kind of strange, sick joke. "It can't be."He handed her the receipt from the ATM that declared their account balance to be $2.30. "It's all gone."
He handed her the receipt from the ATM that declared their account balance to be $2.30. "It's all gone."#"Who wants cake?"Susie marveled at her sister as she passed out cake to the group of eager children.
Susie spotted Paul looping his arm around Molly's waist and felt envy stab at her. Her sister's husband would never gamble away $1500. Paul was too smart for that. Not like somebody else she knew.It had been three days since Joel dropped the bomb on her. He'd apologized, of course, but...
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
I wanted to refuse Eli, but I couldn’t after the night we’d had. At the snap of the gas pump, he pulled back from the kiss and looked into my eyes, awaiting my reaction. If my giving in surprised him, it didn’t show. He smiled, and instead of saying what I already knew—that getting together was a mistake—I forced myself to smile back. Just like that, I became Eli’s girlfriend.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Did you ever arrive early for a party? It's awkward, isn't it? The music isn't yet playing. Your host and hostess make hurried conversation with you while they set out the chips and dip. You offer to help, but there's nothing you can do. You feel dumb for getting there too soon.That's how I feel when I read the opening pages of many manuscripts. Pieces of the story are being assembled, but nothing has happened just yet, and often the guest of honor, the protagonist, hasn't arrived. In fact, no one I like has shown up yet. Later on the story will be in full swing, but for now I wonder why I bothered to accept this invitation.
"You're leaving for Madison's already?" Mom asked as I entered the kitchen.
I didn't get a chance to ask Abbie about Chris until we'd eaten lunch, cake had been served, and everyone else was occupied by Curtis and his gifts.
"Sixth grade," Jodi said into her custard."Sixth grade?" I said. "How did I not know this?"
My first opportunity to be civil to Jodi arrived Wednesday night.I arrived late at the sports complex because I left the house wearing outfit number seven and hairstyle number four. When I finally spotted our church team (Connor had neglected to tell me which field they'd be playing on), I found Jodi seated in the bleachers with Amy Ross and Cameron and Curtis.
Monday, April 18, 2011
So how do you do that?
This will all be here when I get back, I remind myself. The house, my friends, my date with Evan. It’s just six weeks of helping out, and then I come back to my real life.#As I select skirts and tops from my closet, Mom follows me around the room, reading from a typed list she apparently made last night of things to tell me.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am. White lights burn the top of my head where my hair has been rolled into curls tighter than I thought humanly possible. The pressure makes my face tingle. I twist my knuckles and run my tongue over my lips, pulling away shreds of lipstick that taste like crayon, folding them under my tongue and trying to concentrate on the acidic taste instead of the camera bearing down on me. Breathe. Please breathe.I hear the click and whirr of the camera before the faceless row of an audience that assumes me guilty.“I did not kill my brother,” I say.
I never thought I’d come back, yet here I am. Blossoms quiver on tree branches. The spring air tastes sweet. I want to spit it out.This is where I lost him. Right here on this street corner. They came. The men. The car. The guns. They came.That day he had been grinning, tugging my curls. I gazed into his soft brown eyes. I laced my fingers through his.They took him.Tires squealing. Strange voices barking orders. Hands grabbing, throwing him into a car.I couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t even think. Not until it was over.Besides, if they could kidnap a spy, what could I do?
I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am. My brother Aaron stands with me before Ramses, who was also once my brother. Their piercing stares challenge each other to realize their true positions - the one a slave to Egypt, the other a slave to power."Great Pharaoh, the God of our fathers demands that you release Israel from bondage.""And why should I believe that your God has spoken this?"I drop my stick and even before it touches the ground it begins to writhe and turn into a snake. Ramses remains unmoved."Quite impressive, Moses. So you ran away to the desert to become a magician?"
I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am.Ed wastes no time. He slaps me across the face as hard as he can before asking in a low voice, “Where have you been?”My cheek stings where his hand made contact with my skin. “I-I was at school...”“LIAR!”Suddenly, I find myself lying on the ground, my head throbbing. The world around me slowly turns to black and the lines that define my surroundings begin to fade. Ed is reduced to an indistinct shadow, dark and foreboding, looming over me.“No more lies, Abby. Where were you?”If I only knew.
I never thought I’d come back, yet here I am. No other reason I could have come back. Leilani. Aloalo. Her simple songs were kahaulani, slipping down to earth. Her music, forever beautiful. Even when paralyzed from the waist down at fifteen, my best friend never lost faith, always hoped. She loved me even when I, Lani left her and Moloka'i for silly dreams. I always admired her for being someone that I knew I could never be. Leilani had never forgotten me. Now she was gone, leaving me with only bittersweet memories and music. She had truly learned hakumele--to weave a song, a song of hope and redemption.
I never thought I'd come back here, yet here I am. Guilt consumes my body like the fire burning the apartments in front of me, my old home. Innocent people were killed because of someone I should and could have stopped. He's gone too far now. All his other crimes were innocent with no deaths and I didn't mind being his partner in crime. We needed some way to survive in New York City. But now, as firefighters try to fight the growing blaze, I vow to stop him at all costs. I'm coming after you, John. You're no longer safe as my brother.
I never thought I'd come back, yet here I am.I had hoped that it wouldn’t happen, that I wouldn’t become one of the monsters that my parents told me stories about so long ago before they were murdered. I remember seeing their fangs, long and sharp and dripping of their blood. They spared me, but I didn’t understand why and still don’t, but maybe I’ll get my answer even though it’s not how I want it. I wished had been quicker, stronger, smarter, but that’s what every predator says before they’re killed by something better, faster, stronger.“I hope you make it,” a man whispered into my ear before I blacked out from the pain.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I wrote my first two published novels, Carrie and 'Salem's Lot, in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer, pounding away on my wife's portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child's desk on my thighs ... The space can be humble (probably should be, as I think I've already suggested), and it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Don't wait for the muse ... Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you're going to be every day from nine 'til noon or seven 'til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he'll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Okay, it feels like it's been forever since I did any talking on here. Tomorrow we'll be back to continue our very loose conversation about first drafts. We'll talk about the benefits of having a designated writing time and place. Other upcoming topics are writing in scenes, how long manuscripts should be, and when you should consider letting others read what you've written.
Stories germinate best when I’m tired or lying around in that half-wake/half-sleep state. When they grow into full characters with missions and problems, then I begin to take note. Here’s what I do to get their tales from my sleepy brain onto paper. . .
1. Interview the characters (I like to use The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines by Tami D. Cowden). We discuss their likes, dislikes, quirks, family relationships and how that’s impacted their outlook on life. What types of people they get along with best and who they just can’t stand. What they dream of becoming when they grow up and what drives them to get there. When we’re done, notes from our interview are scattered on pages of OneNote so I can pull together a style sheet (a page containing each characters traits, setting information, and any other quirks that are special to one’s work-in-progress).
2. With each character outlined, I determine the main character’s known goal (what do they think they need to accomplish or overcome) and their real goal (what they’ll actually accomplish or overcome). I use a worksheet that walks through the four acts of a good story to help me plot the rest of the tale.
3. Each scene is sketched by identifying three points:
a. A want or need of the mc
b. The obstacles that prevent the mc from getting what they want
c. And the decision or action the mc takes to get around/through the obstacle. This decision should lead into the next need. (I picked this up from Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver).
4. By now, I should have a pretty strong outline, so the fun can begin. It’s time to write the story. It’s always messy at first, but I’m okay with that. Edits and polishing come later.
5. Once the first draft is complete, the story receives its first round of edits looking for weak verbs, too many adjectives/adverbs, sloppy grammar, wimpy characters, and slow beginnings among many other things. I like to work the mess out of my beginnings. They’re my favorite part.
6. Then it’s off to my critique partners for another round of edits. And then another. And another. And another.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
I'm getting ready to jet off to Career Day - armed with the list of suggested questions you guys were so wonderful to provide. I'm nervous (which I tend to be when heading into any situation where people will be focused on me) but feel pretty confident in my material.
“All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players...”
- William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Begin at the Beginning. Every story happens somewhere. That “somewhere” is the stage on which your characters move about and have their adventures, and worldbuilding is the process of creating it. Where you start depends on the sort of story you’re writing. For a story set in the here and now, the job is pretty straightforward. If your story takes place in
Question Yourself. If you’re writing a science fiction or fantasy story, it can get a little more complicated. You’ll have to make some very basic decisions about what sort of world you’re working with. You can start out with a list of questions. Imagine it’s your first visit to this planet—what are some basic things you’d want to know about it? Is it similar to Earth? If not, what’s different? What are its gravity, atmosphere, and climate? How about the geography? Is it mountainous, or flat? Dominated by oceans or land? Full of life or sparsely populated? What kinds of creatures live there? What creature dominates? Is it intelligent? If it’s intelligent, does it have simple or advanced technology? Does it live in large communities or small groups? Are the communities organized into broader kingdoms or nations, and what are the relationships among them? If it’s a fantasy world, is there magic?
As you answer these questions, you’ll begin to develop a picture in your mind’s eye of what your world is like. The broader questions will lead you to more specific questions, and may begin to impose limits on the characteristics of your world’s inhabitants. For example, on a high-gravity world, creatures will likely be big-boned, muscular, and short. Tall, willowy creatures won’t be able to handle the gravity, and flying may not be possible, either. Dwelling places will likely be built close to the ground or burrowed into it. Likewise, plants will probably be broad and stumpy, growing close to the surface.
Be Consistent. All worlds, no matter how alien or fantastic, have rules. The questioning process establishes the general boundaries, and those limits will become less fuzzy as you go along. Everything that happens in your story should make sense within the rules you’ve established for your world. Let’s say you’ve created a fantasy world where magic works, but only females can use magic. You can’t just randomly have a male character casting spells, at least without providing a reasonable explanation for why he’s an exception to the rule. Depending on the scope of your story, and how much of your world your characters will move around in, you may need to sketch out some maps to keep the lay of the land straight in your mind. It wouldn’t do to have mountain ranges and rivers changing position at different spots in your story.
Ready, Set...Wait a minute! Once your world is fully imagined, you’re ready to turn your characters loose on it and get your story moving, right? Not so fast—you have a solid picture of your world now, but you can’t assume your readers know anything about it. You have to help them see what you see. You have to find a way to immerse readers in this world without overwhelming them or your story. Worldbuilding is fun, and it can be easy to get so wrapped up in the intricate details of creating a new world that your story gets lost in pages and pages of details about plants and animals and architecture and the bizarre effects of your planet’s crazy orbit. Sure, you want your readers to love this world as much as you do, and there’s a lot of information to share—but what’s the best way to do that?
Leave Room for the Reader’s Imagination. Remember, worldbuilding is like creating a theater stage, and the complexity of your backgrounds and props will depend on the story you’re telling. You may want to provide only a simple outline of the environment, and let the readers fill in the rest. The human imagination is pretty powerful and can do a lot of work for you.
If you’ve seen a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, you know what I mean. Using only a few props, the play creates a complete image of the town in the audience’s imagination. This can be especially effective in short stories, where there’s not a lot of time to set the stage. In a novel, you have room to be more lavish in your descriptions, and sometimes key characteristics of your world can be pivotal to the story. In novels like Dune, or movies like Avatar, the planet itself is so important to the story, it actually becomes a character.
Avoid the “Data Dump.” Writers often get anxious about introducing the reader to their world, so they’ll pour all that carefully crafted information into a few paragraphs at the beginning of the story and then, having gotten that bit of administrative business out of the way, proceed to tell their tale. The problem is, they lost their reader’s interest halfway through the Professor’s lecture on “Obscure Flora and Fauna of Planet Xangesa.” The worldbuilding is there to support your tale, not steal the spotlight. It’s better to seed little details throughout the story. Show your world through your characters’ eyes. Describe the color of the sky, the feel of the wind, the sound of a bird’s call in the distance, the smell of the vegetation, the taste of an exotic spice. Engage all five senses. Bring out important facts in conversations among your characters, as they would naturally arise. If you’ve developed some maps in the course of your worldbuilding, you may be able to pretty them up and include them as a supplement. It’s not a substitute for describing the geography, but it can reduce the level of detail you have to provide.
Writing by the Book. For a large, complicated world, it can be useful to organize your worldbuilding ideas into a notebook you can reference as you write. If you’re writing a short story, it may be enough to walk through the questioning process until you form a clear mental picture of your environment, and then write from that. Sometimes it will work backwards for me—I’ll get the image first, then have to sort out why things look the way they do, which can become a story all by itself. Some writers can carry half a dozen alien worlds around in their head without taking any notes. Other writers will fill dozens of notebooks with a comprehensive encyclopedia of knowledge about a single island. Depending on your personal creative process and mental “wiring,” any of these approaches can get you to the same destination.Go Forth and Build! I’ve only scratched the surface of things to consider as you construct and portray worlds from your imagination. Go back to some of your favorite books and focus on how the authors build and describe their worlds. Take some of those ideas and apply them to your own writing. Some of them will help, but others probably won’t fit your style. There’s no one “right” way to build a world. Bottom-line, have fun with it, and do what works best for you.
Fred Warren writes science fiction and fantasy. His short stories have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines, including Kaleidotrope, Every Day Fiction, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and Allegory. His first novel, The Muse, debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books, and was a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Fred works as a government contractor in eastern