Tag Archives: creative writing

Chairacters

So I started writing chapter 4 of Diffusion, the sequel to my fantasy book. And this is the first scene readers get with Josephine Delumiere, the Soulforged character from the first book. (Picture a “paladin” from Dungeons & Dragons, or some sort of holy warrior whose order alone is empowered to stand against the Fractured creatures of darkness that spawn throughout the world.)
In the first book, and in all four books that I have planned in my head, Josephine always had long blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun. Maybe that started with my wife’s World of Warcraft character, who once upon a time (before they put in a Barber Shop) was a blonde with long hair. 

But as I wrote the scene, suddenly Jo showed up with a haircut–short, unkempt, easy to care for, nothing for an enemy to grab hold of… the sort of “do” that you can run your fingers through and call it good to go. Enough hair to wave in the winds as Josephine dashes with divinely empowered speed, but nowhere near the length that for literally eight years up until half an hour ago I had always envisioned on this character.

Something like this sketch I whipped up in about twenty seconds for my wife…

   
I’m no fan of what I’ve heard described as “character development by haircut.” Tris Prior getting a short, pixie chop-job in Insurgent is the most recent example I can think of. So I’m not trying to tie a new hairstyle to some “new” Josephine.

But this is one of those rare instances where a character comes along, surprises me, and says, “Hey, I know you had such-and-such planned. I did this instead. Deal with it.”

Weird.

And awesome.

I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I’m having a blast.

In the Shadows – Blog Battle

This is my last Blog Battle entry (probably) until December, since NaNoWriMo beckons and will demand my attention. The genre is sci-fi.

 Clouds blanketed the sky, but the third moon’s violet glow pierced the veil with dim but unwavering light.
Dressed in clothing like dingy, tattered rags, a mother and her son huddled in the shadow of volcanic stone jutting from a nearby vent. Thick ash fluttered through air corrupted by sulfur’s stench.
 “I may not always be here to guide you to a new refuge.” She choked on the words, and not from the fumes. No one traveled at night, when the creatures swarmed across the barren landscape. But her last refuge lay in ruins. Her love most likely lay among the slain. Scattered and pursued, the survivors fled in every direction. 
 The sense of loss hounded her, hammered at her wavering strength, screamed in her ears to give up and die. Her son’s wide, innocent eyes kept her anchored, kept her from wailing and running into the night toward certain death.

 Squatting in the darkness, she looked her son in the eye. “You must be most cautious at night,” she said in a terse whisper.

 “Because Stoneskins hide in the shadows?” he asked, barely audible. He’d learned well.

 “No, because they’re nocturnal. Do you know what that word means?”

 The boy looked around, struggling for an answer. His eyes lit up with insight. “The knocking noise they make when they talk to each other?”

 She chuckled and kissed his soot-stained head. “No, sweetie. It means they only move around after sunset. But the good news is they stay out of the shadows. I don’t think they like the darkness either.”

 A gout of steam released from the vent behind them, and the ground shook. 

 The boy clapped his hand over his nose. “Ew,” he said with a giggle. “It stinks like Dad after dinner.”

 His mother shushed him and tried to keep composure, but the boy’s infectious delight could not be stopped. 

 Laughter felt foreign, alien, after so many years on the run since the colony ship landed on Beta Kaali Two. Sensors set for organic life offered no warning that the very stones of the planet might be alive. 

 A thought struck home and swept her joy away. “We might not see Dad again.” She patted the youngster, and put a finger to her lips.

 But the crack-crack of stones slamming together on the other side of the vent silenced them both at once. A Stoneskin drew near.

 She charged her nano-pistol and checked its settings. The gun’s nanites could disassemble the creatures on a molecular level. The devices proved the colonists’ only defense against the aliens. But supplies had long since dwindled. 

 If any of the Stoneskins attacked, she’d have three shots–maybe four.

 With one arm, she clutched her son to her chest and they became still as the rocky ground. No matter what, she thought, I will protect you. With my life, if I must.

 She closed her eyes and focused on the only sound that brought her peace, the too-fast beating of his heart.

 The rhythmic knocking of his brood mother soothed Ko-Kakrik and he clawed across the ground eager to follow her voice.

 “Do not wander into the shadows, little gravel-shell,” she said with fondness. 

 Ko-Kakrik sensed the vibrations around him and felt nothing apart from his mother’s movements and voice. He clacked his mandible stones together and asked, “Does the darkness deafen us to the sounds of the earth?” 

 “No, my spawnling,” she replied, with a stuttering clack that indicated amusement. 

 The mirth vanished and she cracked out a warning. “That is where the humans often hide. If they see you, they will spit venom from their claws to eat you alive.”

 Ko-Kakrik paused and listened again. For a moment he thought he felt another sound, a pair of thumping drumbeats nearby. 

 His stones beat together in a panic. “Mother?” 

 His mother’s claw rested upon his back and she guided him away. “Come along, and fear not. I will protect you. Even with my life, if I must.”

Hungry

This is another Blog Battle entry, a military fiction or general fiction short story for the word, “Legumes.”

I almost let this one slip, because Mad Max came out yesterday and I just had to smash up some War Boys’ cars… 

But lunch is a good time to catch up. Here goes, with “Hungry” (996 words).

A cool breeze across the hilltop in Syria blunted summer’s heat and played through the green leaves blanketing the ground. Afternoon sunlight beat on two sentries patrolling the perimeter in full desert battle-rattle, carbines in hand.

The husky Airman Jackson squatted and ran his fingers over some violet-streaked white flowers. “Great place to set up a FOB,” he said. “Check this out, Sarge. You hungry?”

Young, with a deep brown complexion after a month of constant sun, Staff Sergeant Ramirez kicked his combat boot into the dirt, spraying dust into the air. “This is bull.”

Jackson ignored the outburst. “These look a lot like the kind we grew back home. Wild chickpeas, maybe. You know, garbanzos.” He said it with a heaping dose of hick, like it was an instrument in country music.

“Please, you think I don’t know what chickpeas are? Why you gotta use the Spanish-sounding word for it?” He took on a mock accusatory tone. “You a racist, Jackson.”

Jackson never took his eyes off the plants. “Screw you, Sarge. Just sayin’ I could pick some of these, soak ’em a while, make us a treat.”

Ramirez waved him off. “Man, I don’t believe in beans.”

“What? What does that even mean?”

A weak, choppy voice squawked over the radio, requesting status of all patrols. Ramirez acknowledged the call. “We’re on the southeast side of Hilltop Lima Seven-Two-Six. My squad established a position, and we’re watching for refugees.”

“Roger—advised, ISIL fighters have been spotted—five miles of your—hold Hilltop Lima Seven-Two-Six overnigh—air cav bringing reinforcements with the supply drop, how copy?”

“You’re coming in broken and stupid,” Ramirez muttered. Then he hit the transmit button twice, acknowledging the message.

“Heh,” Jackson chuckled. “Hey Sarge, it just hit me. Hilltop Lima has beans growing on it.”

“They’re not pronounced the same way, moron.”

Jackson’s cheeks flushed red. “I know.”

“Then you know your joke isn’t very funny.”

“Shut up, Sarge.”

“Aww, you go ahead and cry into your gar-ban-zos,” Ramirez said, mimicking Jackson’s pronunciation. “A little salt will help the flavor.”

 

A few hours later, as the sun melted into the horizon, Jackson reclined against a stone and popped chickpeas into his mouth from his canteen cup.

“Amazed you can cook anything in that,” Ramirez said. “Figured it might melt. You know, lowest bidder and all.”

Jackson smiled. “I remember an afternoon like this in Survival School. My partner an’ I found a patch-a wild strawberries during the field portion. Climbing up an’ down the hillsides of Spokane, picking our way through the woods, trying to evade the instructors, sweating our butts off in the heat…”

Ramirez glared at Jackson, but the man paid no heed.

“We settle down for a breather in a little patch of tall grass,” Jackson continued. “And my

partner says, ‘Wouldya look at that? Strawberries!’ Sure enough, there’s a bunch of ’em all around us. Tiny, sad things you wouldn’t pay money for in the market.” He held up two fingers pinched together.

“But after a couple days with nothing but MREs, we ate them berries like a Thanksgiving feast. Sat there an hour, I bet, evading view, just munchin’ and enjoyin’ the day–”

“Evasion?” Ramirez scoffed. “Not from infrared sensors on a drone or helo. Givin’ off all that heat, they’d spot you in seconds, day or night.”

Jackson sat upright and tugged at his camo blouse. “No, man, these uniforms have a special treatment that reduces IR visibility.”

“You believe that crap? ”

“That’s what they told us at Basic during Warrior Week.”

Ramirez rolled his eyes. “After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese handed out white cloth sheets blessed by the emperor. They promised it would protect citizens from nukes. I’m sure those had a special treatment too… of bull.”

Jackson’s eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips. “You’re a real downer, you know that?”

“Yeah? So’s life. Come on, we should get back soon.”

The attack came ten minutes later, when darkness swallowed up the last glimmer of twilight on the horizon. Mortar shells scattered clods of dirt, cutting Ramirez and Jackson off from their team. Radio calls flooded the net with enemy sightings on all sides. Gunfire echoed across the hilltop, sporadic at first then more frequent, like a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

“I got visual!” Jackson declared. “My one o’clock. Three—no, four adult males carrying AKs.”

“Engage,” Ramirez shouted as he took aim and squeezed off a burst of bullets.

Another mortar shell exploded to their left, and Jackson screamed.

Ramirez shook off disorientation from the blast and opened fire once more. “I need you focused, Jackson! Guys coming up our right flank, I’m on them. But you cover our front.”

Jackson crouched and snapped off a few shots. “We need to regroup with the others, Sarge!”

Ramirez hustled backward up the hill, shooting whenever enemy fire revealed a position. “Let’s work our way back, nice and easy—“

He froze at the sharp whistle of an incoming shell. Then with strength beyond his thin frame, Ramirez shoved Jackson away.

A fuzzy silence and sudden numbness swept over Ramirez. He blinked at the stars in the sky. Then Jackson appeared over him, the young man’s white face speckled with blood. He pumped the sergeant’s chest in between bursts of return fire, and shouted something that looked like, “Hang on, Sarge.”

But the way his wide eyes took in the scene told Ramirez all he needed to know. Ramirez coughed up blood and gripped Jackson’s sleeve. “Just… please don’t tell my wife I died for nothin’ but a hill o’ beans.”

Seven years later, Technical Sergeant Jackson traced the white petals of a chickpea flower and planted a white wooden cross into the dirt. Behind him, a young woman watched the green slope below FOB Ramirez, her trigger finger ready.

Jackson called her over. “I told you they’d be here.” He offered her a wistful smile. “You hungry?”

Opportunities

Here’s a fantasy entry for Rachael Ritchey’s weekly Blog Battle, this time centered on the word, “troop.”
Anyone who is willing to read all the short stories posted today (until midnight Tuesday Pacific time) is allowed to give three votes for their favorites. Check out the other participants’ works and let Rachael know what you think.

—-

Mokreesh watched the oncoming merchant caravan with hungry yellow eyes. His misty breath slipped through sharp teeth slick with saliva.

A line of human travelers wound its way like a serpent through the hills south of Aulivar’s glistening white walls. Several mules–tasty if stewed long enough–pulled creaking wagons burdened with crates and barrels. Human scrawl marked the contents, but Mokreesh couldn’t make any of that out. Besides, the mystery was half the fun of collecting the spoils.

First, we have to win… which means breaking the streak of bad luck. His gloved finger traced the scar tissue that covered the right side of his face, a constant reminder of an Arcanist’s fireball.

That was two months ago, Mokreesh thought. And every raid has gone to piss since. Supplies are dwindling, and anger is brewing.

His second in command Grunnash drew his massive blade. Metal rasped and gleamed in the afternoon sun. Grunnash stood with hands on hips, glaring down at the humans. Never one to stoop or kneel, even if it risks giving us away.

He grinned at Mokreesh. “These sheep are fat for the slaughter. Surely this opportunity is ours to seize. On your signal, my chieftain.”

The other marauders hunkered in the bush and bramble along the hillside, awaiting the word. Mokreesh looked on them with pride. He would restore theirs soon.

“Watch out for your troops” had been the previous chieftain’s last words so many years ago. Mokreesh understood. If you take care of your men, they’ll get the job done. In the two decades since Mokreesh became chieftain, that wisdom brought the clan greatness and wealth.

Until that old crone Kalgha cursed him as a stubborn oaf before the altar of Kurnn. Then the bad luck started. Broken weapons in the middle of a fight, unexpected enemy reinforcements when victory seemed certain, the stray spellcast with a one-in-a-million chance that “happened” to sear off half his face.

Mokreesh didn’t buy into all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo Kalgha used to keep the clan in line. But every time he passed the altar now, he felt the flaming eye of Kurnn watching him. And he’d even tried prayer once, using a young human merchant guard as an offering. The man seemed devout; for six hours he had cried out to his gods for deliverance.

Neither of them got the answer they wanted that day.

Today changes everything.

Mokreesh hefted his battle-axe and raised it high. All around him, his warriors tensed, ready for the charge. Bloodlust and hunger shone on their grinning faces.

Mokreesh opened his mouth to bellow a war cry–

A glint of bronze on a merchant’s face struck fear into Mokreesh’s heart like an icy spear. Unbidden memories of anguish and flame filled his mind. Is that an Arcanist’s etching? This caravan may have magic users protecting it.

He noted a flash of armor beneath a wagon driver’s cloak. Are those trained guardsmen disguised among the caravan?

Was that a Gracemark on that woman’s hand? What powers might she possess?

“No good,” he muttered. “No good.” He lowered his weapon to the ground. The thick axehead thudded into the dirt.

Grunnash hung his head and shook with rage. “Fifth time in a row.”

“It’s a trap,” Mokreesh said. “Let them pass. Let’s relocate to the north road. We might catch some craftsmen bringing wares to–”

A sudden searing pain flared to life in his chest. He blinked at the length of bloody metal thrusting out of his ribcage. Words failed him. Weariness rushed through his body, and standing seemed impossible.

Mokreesh slid down Grunnash’s blade and fell to his knees, clutching the gaping wound. His vision blurred, but he could make out his warriors turning their backs and striding away through the brush. Following Grunnash.

Breathing became beyond difficult, and no amount of pressure stopped the flow. Mokreesh gurgled in the leaves and grass. Stabbed through the heart, from behind no less.  

An image of Mokreesh’s former chieftain floated into his mind–a glimpse from the day Mokreesh bested him in combat and took control of the clan.

“Watch out for your troops,” he had whispered as he died.

And now Mokreesh understood.

Watt a Bargain!

So I joined WattPad and started a project.

I’ll be honest. At first, I was put off by grammar errors and amateur mistakes. Even more, the commenters who gush over the simplest sentences with “I so get u” and “omg this ^^^ right here” and other such text-style feedback.

Then my wife kindly reminded me that everyone’s on a journey to being a better writer, and any mistakes I see now are only because I’ve had quality writer friends supporting and educating me along the way. I’m guilty of some of the same–if not right now, then certainly in the past.

And let’s face it. Feedback is feedback. If a character, quip, or interaction resonates with a reader, I am happy, whether they tell me, “Poignant and touching; Splendid work” or “oh wow sooooo many feels.” Any connection with a reader is a good thing, and the teen fangirl who says “omg” today is the young adult who clicks “buy” on Amazon tomorrow.

The short stories I’ll be posting in “Pieces” aren’t all new. Many appear somewhere on this blog. But I figure WattPad is another avenue to gain a following, and a fun way of doing so. My “Echoes” story (mentioned in a few previous blogs) will be posted entirely to WattPad.

Plus, my wife’s comment reminded me of the point of all this. WattPad is full of unique content and interesting takes on existing material. It’s a bunch of people who are expressing their passion for good characters and stories. Is that what I find valuable? Is that what excites me? Or is it grammatically correct, properly formatted, everything-just-so writing?

No, the point is to have fun and share the experience with others.

So I went ahead and drew an amateur cover for my project, incorporating scenes of most of the various stories into sections of different puzzles. No, it’s not professional quality. No, it’s not what will garner attention.

But I loved the process of expressing myself through a different medium, and I’m having fun with my own amateur mistake.

Here’s the cover to Pieces:

The cover to my short story compilation on WattPad
The cover to my short story compilation on WattPad

I hope you’ll visit me on WattPad, especially if you have an account and post your own work.

Back Where I Started

On a deployment six and a half years ago, to a “secret” undisclosed location in Southwest Asia (that everyone knew all about), I picked up some D&D rulebooks to keep boredom at bay.

I read through the rules of the game, and noted some of the authors’ suggestions for ideas players could use for their characters–or Dungeon Masters could use to write stories those characters could star in, like a Choose Your Own Adventure.

And it struck me that no matter how well I planned a story, real live people would make decisions I didn’t anticipate, causing the Adventure to go in any of several exciting ways–but not the way I first envisioned.

So why not write the story the way I wanted to?

I sat under the Memorial Plaza’s massive double-tent (affectionately referred to by most as “the bra” for how it appears from a distance) or at the Coffee Beanery shop across the street, and I began to write.

I’ve written things before, of course. But during my two trips here several years ago, I decided to take writing seriously. Within a couple years of studying novel writing and elements of style, over the course of six plus months deployed (and time writing at home), I’d typed out over 100,000 words of a massive fantasy tale.

But the material borrowed too heavily from genre tropes. It sounded too much like World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons in novel form. It had no unique element to separate it from the rest of the books on any fantasy shelf, along with too many elements I discovered had been done before and better than anything I’d write.

I decided to shelve the thing until I could devise some fixes to all the problems I saw. And I worked on other projects until I found the solutions to those glaring issues.

I regret that decision. It took me six and a half years to develop the discipline to finish a full novel manuscript–not of this fantasy project, just a novel–because I’d learned to give up part way whenever I felt a project had too many flaws.

So here I sit, where I began years ago, halfway through the almost-completely-rewritten manuscript of my long-planned fantasy novel. A lot has changed. Almost everything about the world, the magic systems, and the long-term plan for the story is different than when I first envisioned it. Also, I’m allowed to sit here in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt instead of wearing Air Force PT gear.

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Most important, I’ve proven to myself through NaNoWriMo that I can finish what I start, flawed or not.

So this time, I will have a completed draft before I depart for home. I may find my way out here again in the next few years, but I don’t want this novel to come with me for a fourth trip.

Winner Winner

Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

I’m happy to declare that I’ve validated the rough draft of my NaNoWriMo novel, “Not to the Swift,” and have won the event.

More importantly, I’ve actually completed a start-to-finish draft of a novel.

Up to this point, I’ve had outlines and chapters and scenes from multiple works-in-perpetual-progress, but never a finished draft. So the milestone is particularly exciting to me.

I could have uploaded the 50,000+ words my Friday evening, but the goal for me has been to actually get to a point where I could write two important words: The End.

It’s imperfect, no doubt dreadful in some places. There are scenes missing and plot problems I already realize I need to fix.

But for now I will enjoy the sense of victory.

Because if I can finish this one–about an unfamiliar topic in an unfamiliar genre–then I have no excuses for not knocking out the projects I’m really excited about.

No more excuses.

Oh no NaNoWrimo

Yes, it’s that time of year, and I’m participating! National Novel Writing Month is upon us!

You can find me as Sonworshiper on the NaNo site at http://nanowrimo.org

Let’s be generous and say I’ll be posting at a slower rate than usual here for the next month.

I’ll probably post short snippets along the way, but I can’t justify writing other things often if I have a 2000 word count daily goal to live up to.

I’d love to hear from you if you’re also participating.

Catch you all soon!

Details Details

Nothing draws a reader of out the story like a glaring error.

(Did you catch that one? I bet some of you cringed at the sight of it.)

Despite my comments about Cinema Sins and other such critics that love to tear apart every film or TV show released, there’s a valuable lesson from seeing one of their reviews.

They point out glaring errors. These might not be glaring to you or me, but to someone it’s obvious that Katniss was holding the bow in her left hand, and suddenly it was in her right. Or Hawkeye had only one arrow left, and then he had four in the next scene.

They catch mistakes in movies where it was daytime when the main character arrived at a building, then suddenly it’s nighttime when the characters are near a window, then it’s day outside again when they leave.

Man, that’s a long meeting!

The reason I bring this up is because the same can be true in our writing… especially with the rise of self-publishing and a decline in use of services like professional editing.

When I write, sometimes there are facts I need to research, something I’m worried would expose my limited knowledge on a subject. More often, there are details I haven’t sorted out yet. Or there are names, places and descriptions I jotted down weeks ago (let’s be honest, months ago) which I don’t remember right now.

I normally deal with this, if I remember exactly where to look, by double-checking the applicable part earlier in the draft. Or I take advantage of being a “planner” writer–I keep lengthy spreadsheets and scattered files documenting all future plans and essential plot details.

I don’t know how “pantsers” do it (that is, those who write by the seat of their pants, no significant planning involved).

But that fact-checking kills momentum, and when I’m writing in the moment, I want to keep it going as long as possible.

So I leave notes. But I’ve ignored those in the past, so I leave notes in ALLCAPS, and yes, in bold, underlined italics… maybe even turned RED.

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See? I’m not kidding.

I’ll type:

“a cool autumn day — IS IT REALLY AUTUMN??”

“Jo revealed her Gracebrand — is that what I gave her?”

“Lyllithe saw no sign of the Mudborn — check name”

I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve even sent out critique pieces with these included.

But the fact is, these details matter. People notice. Lazy writing throws off readers, who then throw out books (or give bad reviews online).

Since we all have to go back and edit anyway, might as well take the time to get the little things right.

What fact-checking / detail-noticing plan works best for you? Let me know in a comment.