Writing Excuses, Week Five

Finally! A spare moment!

I mentioned not too long ago that this last Writing Excuses was really exciting to me. Well, I just sat down and wrote out the writing exercise, and I loved it!

Now, you’re probably wondering where Week Four went. Week Four was a Q&A week. There wasn’t a writing prompt or exercise, so I skipped it. Whoops.

So, Week Five was titled: “What Do You Mean My Main Character is Boring?”

It’s really common for new authors to have characters with two main flaws:

  1. Boring- meaning they aren’t interesting as individuals
  2. No responsibility/accountability

Just because your character is caught up in interesting scenarios, or maybe even has interesting abilities, doesn’t mean your character is actually interesting.

So how do you make sure your main character is interesting?

Consider why they are involved with the plot. Make sure they have an active role. If your character isn’t making decisions, if they just let things happen to them, chances are they might be boring. What’s at stake? What are the consequences of actions and in-actions? What makes your character tick?

Knowing your character’s background will be helpful. That doesn’t mean you need to include it in your story, but it will help you know your character even better. Knowing how they react to things, and why, will allow you to push your character’s limits. And desperate people are interesting.

But, I don’t want to rehash the entire episode. If you want to listen and learn, click here!

The Writing Exercise for this week was to take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question:

Walking through a marketplace and they need to do a dead-drop (dropping an item off for another person to pick up later, à la James Bond).
GordonThomson Marketplace

I would like to say here that these are complete and utter rough drafts. They are one off scenes of characters in my Work In Progress. In no way are these scenes meant to be in the novel, nor are they indicative of my finished works. These are the products of a writing exercise, and should be read accordingly. Thanks!

1. Joanna hurried through the market. The road was thick with shoppers, and she recoiled as someone bumped her. She clutched the small package to her chest. She couldn’t lose it.
Merchants called their wares, several singling her out.
“A lovey shawl for the Lady?” Cried one. He fluttered a green silk shawl, hoping she would fawn over it. On a normal day she would have, but today she looked down and hurried on her way.
She kept to herself, wading through the crowd. She heard the murmurs as she passed. Despite the pale hood hiding her red hair, people recognized her.
“Magister’s daughter,” one woman whispered as Joanna strode by.
“Lady Valtoran,” another curtsied. Joanna inclined her head and increased her speed.
How did she get herself into this? She clutched the parcel, worried that she might fumble it in the busy street.
“Third barrel to the right of the closed fruit stand,” she mumbled. She saw the stand and walked right past it. She stopped at a small cart selling specialty loaves of bread. She bought one made with an exotic blend of cheeses and then turned back the way she came.
Nibbling at the loaf calmed her some, but her hand still shook as she dropped the package into the assigned barrel.
This was ridiculous, but it was worth it. Troy needed this, even if he wouldn’t admit it.
She paused, making sure no one was watching her, and then merged back into the market traffic.

2. Usually, he liked markets. They were full of people who knew the value of hard work. Who knew the heat of the sun at their back, and the relief of a cool breeze in the middle of summer.
But the capitol’s market wasn’t like that.
Jordinn tried to keep the scowl from his face but it was far from easy. The smell hit him first. The mingle of hot bread and flowers. And rotting fruit, sweat, and too many perfumes. Markets should smell good. Fresh.
But not in the capitol.
Jordinn frowned and marched through the crowd. He was tall by most standards, and the long years of helping villages had earned him a none-too-subtle layer of muscle. It didn’t take the crowd long to give him his space.
He kept his head up, scanning the busy street. Some people stared as he passed, gawking at his thick-coiled hair and tan skin, both of which flew in the face of current Åmar fashion.
Jordinn smirked. He had no intentions of fitting in.
“Finest suits in all of Courdelon!” A merchant brandished a suit coat and gestured to Jordinn. He just shook his head, he knew better. Will was the best haberdasher in the capitol, and a friend. No one could offer him better, or make better. He ran a hand across the warm brown fabric of his coat and felt the lump there.
He’d almost forgotten. He frowned and refocused on the task at hand.
He was searching for the closed fruit stand when he saw the leather works stall. A large pack hung from the ceiling, and Jordinn knew he had to stop. As he approached the makeshift counter a woman exited the tented backroom.
She smiled when she saw him. “See anything you like?”
“I was looking at the pack there,” he said. “Mine’s seen better days.”
“And many roads.” She shook her head as she looked over his worn bag. She pulled the large pack from its post and toured him through each pocket. Then she told him about the work and care that went into tooling the fine leather.
Jordinn laughed. “You must me the leatherman’s wife.”
She held his gaze, her dark eyes glittering. “His daughter, actually.”
He knew she was flirting, and that he ought to be flattered. But this woman, with her mysterious dark hair and eyes couldn’t intrigue him. Not when he could think only of pale blonde hair and crystalline eyes.
“How much?”
“One Stand.”
Jordinn laughed. “I can buy a horse and tack for that.”
“Not a good one.”
“Even a bad horse is better than the best pack on the road.” Why did everyone here take him for some yokel?
She squinted at him and then sighed. “Fine. Sixty Reaches.”
Jordinn dug for the coins in his pocket.
“And dinner.”
He laughed. She didn’t.
“You can’t be serious.”
She raised a thin black eyebrow at him.
He sighed, “Fine. Sixty Reaches and dinner. With a friend.”
She glared at him, but then considered it. “Is he half so handsome as you?”
Jordinn shrugged. “That depends,” he smiled. “Do you like beards?”

Jordinn sat on a barrel, his back against the abandoned fruit stand. He’d emptied his old, beaten bag and was organizing the new one. His journal, thick with her letters went in last, just after the carefully wrapped mirror. He tied off the pack and smiled.
He took the small package from his breast pocket and dropped it in the third barrel. Then he left to tell Will to be prepared for company that night.

3. Runella’s crop of bright white hair bobbed through the crowded market. With all the commotion it was easy to ignore the weight in her bag. She perused stalls, making purchases at the Herbalist’s and the Chemist’s. She picked out a small bouquet of daffodils to bring some sunshine into her kitchen, and was searching for something to eat when she passed the shut down fruit stand. She noted its location and kept searching.
She had more than one errand that day.
She bought a small loaf of coarse bread and an even smaller wedge of cheese. She ate quickly and then went through her acquisitions.
Raider’s Root and Thornbrush for cleaning. She handled them gingerly; they were abrasive stuff. Camden Tree Sap and Garlic for Warding. Someone had to look after Jordinn. And Wraith’s Breath and Drydenseed Oil. She didn’t like to use the stuff, but it was best to have it than to need it. And of course, daffodils for the kitchen.
As she put the goods back in her bag she glimpsed the small, carefully wrapped parcel. It was her last errand.
She tucked the remaining bread in her bag, popped the last piece of cheese into her mouth and headed on her way.
She strode toward the stand, opened the third barrel, and put the package inside.
As she rejoined the market crowd, Runella grinned. There was nothing better than a productive day.

Sorry this was so long. That second scene really ran away with me. But, I really had fun with this, and now you guys will know a little bit about the people I’m talking about all the time. Plus, it was fun to give Runella some screen time. I haven’t seen a lot of her in this story so far.

Let me know what you guys think, and please share your exercises if you’re participating in this year’s season of Writing Excuses!

BZ

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

I’m exhausted. I just finished my six page paper on Science in The Time Machine. With a migraine. And a looming 3am wake up call. I open tomorrow morning, and I am so not looking forward to it. Also, I have a mountain of French homework and a chapter exam tomorrow. And Trevor’s been sick for days, with an incredibly persistent cough, meaning I haven’t slept right in days.

So why am I here?

Well, it’s Sunday, and despite my quiet week here, I have plans for the coming week. I listened to the next Writing Excuses Podcast today, and I really enjoyed it. It got my writing juices going again. I haven’t written anything new since school started up, and though working on edits and tweaks for A Stranger Comes Knocking is fun, it’s not the same as writing new scenes.

I look forward to sharing my writing exercise with you guys!

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I’ve been reading like mad. I posted both the Firefight book review and the review of The Slow Regard of Silent Things this week. And next week I’ll be writing reviews of both Legion books. I haven’t decided if I’ll write individual reviews or if I’ll stack them. Guess we’ll find out.
LegionLegion Skin Deep

I’ve got some last minute tidying to do for my second Caladria story, and then it will be ready for publication. That’s always a great feeling. Also, if you haven’t swung by our website, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I had my Library interview this past Thursday, and I feel like it went really well. I should hear back within two weeks about whether I got the position of not. Please send all the good vibes my way!

Tomorrow I’ll start reading Ready Player One. Hopefully it goes quickly so I can move on to Sunrunner’s Fire. After that… I don’t really know. I think either The Lies of Locke Lamora or The Black Prism. Once school’s over I really want to reread Jurassic Park and The Lost World before Jurassic World releases in June.

Anyway, it’s time for this girl to shower and fall asleep. I have to get up in 5 hours.

… Oh, gag.

BZ

Handwriting and Tempations

Today is all about temptation.

I have two short stories and a novella to read for my Sci-Fi class by Sunday. It’s Friday. And all I really want to do is read the last 70 pages of The Star Scroll. So instead of being disciplined and reading my assigned works first, I’m trolling twitter and WordPress.

Which has led me to the following decision. Once I’m done with this post, I’m going to work to sit in the lobby and read. I have plenty of time to finish my personal reading tomorrow. Today is about school work.

While I was perusing twitter I discovered that it’s National Handwriting Day. Not sure why it gets a day, but I’m more than happy to take a great quote from a favorite book and write it down, take a picture of it, and post it on the internet.
I am Hope

And, of course, my handwriting was particularly rubbish today.

Speaking of Mistborn, Trevor took it to work today. He’s been on page 112 for about two months now. I keep teasing him, telling him to put the book back on the shelf if he isn’t going to read it. But, he kept saying he was going to read it.

A couple days ago I reorganized my bookshelves. When I first set them up I hadn’t stretched my fantasy wings. I was reading fantasy, but not writing it. So, my general fiction and literary fiction were on the top shelves. It was my proclamation, “Look at how well read I am! I’m so smart!”

Gross.

Now the top shelves are reserved for my fantasy and sci-fi novels. Brandon Sanderson books on the top left, Patrick Rothfuss and other favorite series on the top right.

Anyway, when I reorganized, I put Mistborn back on the shelf. Not because he wasn’t going to read it, but because I wanted to account for it in my organization. I left it there, and today it’s gone.

It better come back to me in one piece...
It better come back to me in one piece…

Trevor remembered to grab it! He might actually read it. I hope he does, because I’ve wanted someone to talk to about Mistborn for about six years now.

So, today I read all kinds of school stuff, and I listen to Writing Excuses Week 3 tonight on my lunch break. Tomorrow is my day off, meaning I’ll be reading The Star Scroll. Once that’s done, I’ll be reading my assigned works.

And then it will be Sunday.

Sunday is the day Caladria goes live! It’s free to join, just set up a profile and you’ll have access to our Library, where you can purchase and download our first publication Fab Fables! The site will also allow you to follow your favorite authors. As soon as the site goes live, I’ll put a permanent link in the ‘About’ page, as well as link it in my posts, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

Expect next week to be a busy week on the blog. I should have the Review of The Star Scroll, Writing Excuses Week 3, and The Caladria announcement posts all up before Wednesday. And then we’re going to the Patton Oswalt signing in Portland on Thursday. So I’m sure I’ll have a lot to talk about come Friday.
patton's book

I finished the edits on A Stranger Comes Knocking. It was just the first round, so lots of tidying and sharpening. It’s not 100% there yet, but it’s close. The ending falls a touch flat, and we’re working on strengthening it. I should get some more feedback in a couple days, when Leah and co., aren’t so incredibly swamped with the website going live.

Until then, I’ve got a stack of reading and French homework to do.

See you next week Blogland!

BZ

Writing Excuses, Week 2

Good thing I’m not just in this blogging thing for the stats. Apparently people very much dislike book reviews. Or maybe they’re all too common. Either way, yesterdays post saw a steep decline in viewership.

But, I don’t intend to stop discussing the books I’ve read. The Book Review posts will continue, and since I’m spread thin when it comes to reading, they’ll be few and far between. Maybe it’s for the best.

And so today brings us to week 2 of the Writing Excuses podcast!

Week 2 entitled, “I Have an Idea; What do I do Now?” is all about further developing ideas. It was just as fun to listen to as the first episode, and I’m looking forward to listening to episode 3 during my lunch break Thursday night.

Some things to consider when developing ideas:

  • Turn the simplest thing into conflict; Ruin somebody’s day
  • Look at specific characters; who has stake? Who has agency?
  • Combine story ideas to add complexity
  • Ask Questions to flesh out  ideas
  • Dig deeper, find the complexities
  • Come up with a problem you don’t have a solution to, yet
  • Don’t over-complicate problems

I don’t want to rehash the entire episode, so if this interests you, follow the link above to listen for yourself!

The writing exercises for this week used the story ideas we came up with in week 1.

Using the five ideas from week 1:

  1. Combine two ideas
  2. Change the genre of one
  3. Swap ages and genders of everyone
  4. Have a character make the opposite decision

And here’s what I came up with. Keep in mind that I am transcribing this straight from the small journal I use while listening to the podcast on my lunch breaks…

  1. I combined the idea of the Space Academy/Flight school with the Asshole Character that has to deal with consequences of classmate’s decision. So, the Asshole embarrasses and demeans another student until they break rules to attempt an extremely dangerous maneuver. They die in the attempt and the main character has to deal with the consequences.
  2. Instead of Flight Academy, it could be some sort of school of magic, or some other learning institution. Mage towers are pretty cliched, but so are flight academies…
  3. Change the genders of the characters in Seashells. I was already considering this, if I’m honest. So, we’d have a teenage girl, newly single father, grumpy grandpa, and a merman. This suddenly seems much more interesting to me, and has a lot of potential to be humorous than the original concept. Grandpa is a widower, wife collected the “mermaid treasure”, he keeps the jars as sentiment. Main character is troubled. Smokes, sneaks out to go to concerts, general attitudinal problems. Tired but concerned father.
  4. Instead of letting the cadet die in their maneuver attempt, Asshole character saves them, getting injured in the process. Crippled, actually. He becomes even more of an asshole, but he’s earned an unlikely friend. One he’s not even sure he wants.

If you’re participating, leave your responses, or links to them, in the comments!

See you tomorrow Blogland!

BZ

Writing Excuses, Week 1

Oh, hi there!

I mentioned in my last post that I’m listening to The Writing Excuses Podcast on my lunch breaks at work. I was going to put my work on the Writing Exercise in that post, but it was entirely too long. So, here’s a whole separate post, just for Writing Excuses!

So, in order to learn and keep my creative juices flowing through this semester, I’m participating in the Writing Exercises offered at the end of the episodes this season.

Week One was all about how to generate ideas. The exercise was to come up with 5 ideas, each at 150 words, from these various methods:

  1. An idea from a conversation or interview with another person
  2. An idea from some sort of research
  3. An idea from an observation: take a walk
  4. An idea from the media you consume
  5. An idea from a piece of music

My answers:

  1. Talked with my french instructor. She told me a story about when she spent 4 weeks in Ireland. It rained every single day, and by the end of her stay she never wanted to see a potato again. I want to take this concept of an amazing trip gone wrong. Play with family dynamics/cultures. Make it humorous but with a solid moral/theme. And… maybe put it in space?
  2. Do research on Anti-gravity. I’m bad at science in general, but I really like Science Fiction. I could see a story about people training for space missions, this uber competitive thing, and depending on the science, it could drastically affect who gets to go into space and who doesn’t.
  3. I’m sort of cheating on this one. I took this walk 4.5 years ago. Trevor and I visited his parents in North Carolina back in the fall of 2010. We met a woman who was collecting shells, but she was oddly particular. She showed me that she would only keep the ones that glimmered or were shiny in some way, because she’d told her grandson they were mermaid treasures. Since that day I’ve had the idea for a story I refer to as Seashells. A teenager is sent to live with his grandmother for the summer while his parents settle their divorce. While bored in the tiny seaside town he meets a real mermaid. I originally envisioned this story to feature a male protagonist, but as the details filter in I think it would work even better with a girl lead. I haven’t decided yet.
  4. I’ve been watching a lot of Community and House M.D. lately. I mean a lot. It makes me really want to write an asshole character. Someone who makes you doubt them on the daily.I also saw this picture on twitter of a man skiing down this insane slope (it sounds lame but it was an intense black and white photo; it look otherworldly). So, the asshole character tears down a person so much that they attempt an insane stunt to win the character’s favor. The asshole deals with the consequences. This would also be set in a fictional world of some kind… because that’s what I write.
  5. You guys know by now that I make playlists for every story. Music is already a part of my writing. It heavily affects my tone and atmosphere in my stories. So, to pick a single piece of music is almost painful for me. But, I’ve been listening to a mixture of Evanesence and Cage the Elephant. Throw in this awesome digital loop from 30 Seconds to Mars’s “Bright Lights” and I’ve got a very dark, high energy piece set in space. I may have to explore that further when I’ve got the spare time.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. These ideas are terrible. I know. Again, this isn’t my usual method for brainstorming ideas. I’m terrible at forcing ideas. They come to me unbidden and are often the product of a powerful lyric or image. Or I’ll have a dream where some weird thing happens. Like the other night I dreamed that in order to get the Library job, I had to grab an invisible scarf and pull it from an invisible trunk in the secret attic of the Library. Basically, in order to join the ranks of the Librarians, I had to believe in magic, and believe it enough to let me feel and grab something that my brain told me wasn’t even there.

That’s how my story ideas start. And I usually sit on them for a while. Like Seashells. That story is only just starting to stir and have enough detail to ask to be put in the project Que. Jordinn’s Story was the same way. I wrote that first short story back in early 2009, but didn’t feel ready to start the novel until late last year.

Plus, there are short stories that want attention. I haven’t forgotten about The Portrait, my ghost story, or my space short series. Which was terrible. Just awful. But I really like the scenario and my characters. I’m just not familiar enough with the tropes and clichés of Science Fiction to do it justice. Yet.

Maybe by the end of this semester I’ll have a firmer grasp.

See you soon!

BZ