Summer Writing Goals

(Friday Updates: I’ll post updates from my projects (about) every other Friday).

With my vacation from school well under way, and summer officially beginning next month, it’s time to get my writing goals organized (I’ve got a few game design projects going on too, but that’s a whole other post). Here’s what I’ll be writing over the season:


Writer’s Games 2018

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Each year, The Writer’s Workout hosts a contest in which participants write 1 short story a week for 7 weeks. Each week has its own theme, announced on Friday, with a story based on that theme due 72 hours later. It also offers feedback for each story and publication in the contest’s anthology for the top 5 stories of each theme. The contest is currently in its third week. I’ve dabbled with short fiction, but this is the first time I’ve really focused on it. I have to say, it’s definitely growing on me, and I feel like I’ve already learned a lot. It’s paying off, too – I found out just yesterday that my story for the second theme (silence) took 1st place! New, a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about a robot and a mermaid-like creature, will be published in the upcoming anthology.

The current round of the contest is closed to new entrants, but another will be starting in August. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to practice their short fiction. It’s been a great experience so far.

Re-Publishing Night Plague

Night Plague, my first novel, was originally published in 2014 by Severed Press. Its contract expired a couple of months ago and it’s quickly gone out of print, so I’ll self-publish and re-release it on June 10th to get it back out into the world. I’m currently taking the opportunity to review and edit it to bring it up to par with my current works (I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the four years since its publication). The changes are minor, but I’ve found that the little details definitely do make a difference. Reading it over again is actually pretty fun, since I keep on running into moments I’d forgotten about.

If you’re interested in reading Night Plague, subscribers to my email list will get a free digital copy upon release.

Querying or Self-Publishing Paragon

Paragon, a dark/high fantasy thriller about a wayward scientist who wants to rewrite his world, is my favorite child longest running novel project. Although I’m doing one more read-through to make sure it’s as polished as it can be, it’s essentially ready to go. I haven’t decided whether I want to query agents for it, or if self-publishing would be the better choice. I’m really torn. It’s also not particularly commercial in style, so I’m not sure whether the latter is an option or not. Either way, though, I’m excited to share it soon. If I do commit to shopping it around then I can’t say for sure how long the process will take, but if I go the self-publishing route, it’ll release sometime before 2019. I’ll post updates as they happen.

Finishing the Final Draft of The Atlantean Crown

I’ve got a few plot tweaks to make to the The Atlantean Crown, a YA sci-fi novel about a power-hungry princess and an impending apocalypse, and it’ll also need one more read-through for polish, but this one’s also within in range of querying or self-publishing this summer. At the very least, I’m aiming to finish the final draft. In terms of how it’ll actually release, it’s in a similar situation to Paragon.

Finishing a few First Drafts

There are a couple of other novels I’m not quite ready to talk about yet, but both are near ‘the end’. While not as high of a priority, I’d love to knock out their messy first drafts.

Participating in Activities and Challenges: Camp-2018-Writer-Profile-PhotoFrom Ninja Writers 30 Day Writing Challenge to Camp NaNoWriMo to Ela Thier’s 6-Day Freewriting Challenge, I’m pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and participating in as many activities as I can. It’s always interesting to meet other writers and try out new approaches to the craft. After all, with school on break, this is the best chance I have to experiment, grow, and of course, write like mad.


Whew! I don’t know if I’m going to manage all that, but I’m damn well going to try.

What goals are you writing towards over the summer?

 

 

Breaking Windows (Poem)

(Thoughtful Thursday: Every other Thursday (or so) I’ll post a poem or atmospheric piece.)

Night Sky Window

Breaking Windows

We pass windows as we walk.

We want to reach out,
touch our fingertips to the cool, smooth air

– the skies –

on the other side,
but are afraid to smudge the glass.
We ache to break through,
but don’t want to hear the sound

– the shatter –

to see what we knew in ruins,
and know we can’t repair it.
After all, the world on the other side might be illusion,
made of poison,
where the rain falls like fire.
We don’t know where we are isn’t better,
so we keep the windows closed,
their latches locked.
We keep walking,
turning away,
scared of our own reflections.

When I stop
and put my palm to the glass,

– so cold and fresh on my skin,
like a thirst finally sated
by the season’s breath –

the window cracks.

 

Halloween House (Short Fiction)

(Flash Friday: Every other Friday (or so), I’ll share a flash fiction story and the prompt that spawned it. Catching up for last week today.)

Source: This is a slightly longer story from the 2017 Fall Writing Contest at The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break (this piece didn’t place, but was shortlisted).

Prompt: A love story themed around the autumn.


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Even though a year had passed since Emma had seen Clyde, his face looked exactly as she remembered it. Unkempt amber hair framed painfully familiar features. His lips seemed as tender as they had during the first and last kisses they’d shared. His soul shimmered in his speckled blue gaze.

She smiled, and he smiled, too.

“Emma…”

Clyde’s voice drifted through the otherwise silent bedroom, and Emma savored it like a favorite song replayed on the radio after years of static. That sound – so deeply embedded in her memories – was all the proof she needed that he was really there.

“I shouldn’t have come,” he said, his smile wilting.

Emma searched for his gaze through the dusky flickers of candlelight. He was right. Maisey and the rest of her friends would think her insane if they knew about her visits with her former fiance. Her reputation would never recover from the scandal. “I don’t care,” she decided. “This is what we want, so what does it matter what everyone else thinks? You’re the only one I need.”

“No, Emma…” His features tied themselves into an anxious shape she’d never seen them in before. “I…don’t want this anymore.”

Her joy disappeared as if she’d been dunked beneath the autumn ocean. Her mouth opened, searching for words and failing to find any that made sense.

“You’re miserable, Emma,” he sighed. “We both need to move on.”

“No!” Emma startled at the volume of her own voice. “I waited for you, just like I will next year! I don’t mind, as long as we have Halloween night.” Her fingers wrapped around the cross pendant laying across her chest – the same one that had once belonged to him.

His eyes hardened, narrowing in on the pendant. “Give that back to me, Emma.”

She shook her head, her grip tightening around the cold silver. “If I don’t, you’ll keep coming back, won’t you?”

“You may as well be holding me hostage,” he growled. “Do you really think this is anything like what we had? Clinging to memories won’t give us our old life back.”

Three knocks echoed up through the floorboards from the front door below.

Emma held Clyde’s stare for a few seconds longer, sucking down the hurt with a deep breath. “Don’t you go anywhere,” she ordered. “I’ll be right back.”

***

Emma pounded down the stairs, the house groaning beneath each footfall like a weary, living thing.

Her visitors were probably the same damn kids who pranked her each year. She lived in the so-called Halloween House, after all. The neighborhood entertained itself with tales of strange voices, inexplicable shadows, and slamming doors. Boys and girls in costume had taken it upon themselves to knock on the door during the dead of Halloween night as proof of their bravery.

She grimaced with an anger that wasn’t entirely directed at the children when she reached out for the doorknob, already imagining the shouts she’d use to shoo them away. If those brats were searching for a good scare, she’d give it to them. This was the one night of the year she shared with Clyde. No one was going to ruin it for her.

[Read more…]

MBTI for Characters

(Tip Thursday: Every other Thursday (or so), I’ll post writing/editing tips or techniques that I’ve personally found useful. Catching up for last week today.)

The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality theory seems trendier than ever. While there are plenty of debates surrounding its validity, it makes for a fun way to learn about yourself and others as long as it’s taken as a tool for thought rather than anything absolute. It’s also a fun – and simple – way to learn about your characters.

Try taking the test from your protagonist’s point of view – the results might solidify some of the traits you already knew about them in an easy to digest form, or offer some surprisingly useful insights into the way they interact with the world around them.

The test I usually use for characters is HumanMetrics. Another excellent test is 16Personalities, which combines the MBTI with the also popular Big Five personality theory. There are plenty of in depth explanations available online, but essentially, the MBTI provides scores across four spectrums:

  • Introversion vs Extroversion: Extroverts regain energy from social activity. Introverts regain energy through time alone.
  • Sensing vs Intuitive: People who score high in Sensing tend to rely directly on their senses and stay present in the moment. People who score high in Intuitive seek to add meaning to the information their senses bring them, and focus more on their imaginative internal world.
  • Thinking vs Feeling: People who score high in Thinking tend to rely on facts, logic, and experiences to make decisions. People who score high in Feeling tend to make decisions based on gut feelings, situational context, and the people involved.
  • Judging vs Perceiving: People who score high in Judging like to be organized and have a plan for everything. People who score high in Perceiving like to keep their options open and react to events as they happen.

The 16Personalities test also includes an additional spectrum:

  • Assertive vs Turbulent: Assertive people are steady, strong, and confident in their ability to handle whatever life throws their way. Turbulent people tend to be  anxious, but are also highly passionate and driven to succeed.

Depending on the answers given, your character will be assigned a letter-based type according to which sides of each spectrum they land on. For instance, one character might be an INFJ-T – they are Introverted, INtuitive, Feeling, Judging, and Turbulent. These five letters actually say a lot about this character. The combination of Intuition and Feeling likely means they spend a lot of time in their own head and feel things deeply – they are imaginative and empathetic. However, as an Introvert, they are more likely to search out meaningful connections rather than collect acquaintances. They probably prefer reading a good book that stimulates their empathy and emotions to attending shallow social events. The combination of Judging and Turbulent also means they are highly organized, driven, and perhaps a bit of a perfectionist, which may make them come across as cold to other characters, when internally, they are anything but.

It’s important to note that there are no right or wrong answers – every MBTI type has its flaws and gifts. It’s also interesting to note that, in some ways, the MBTI types aren’t actually personality types at all. I prefer to think of them as frameworks – the ways in which the character approaches life, makes decisions, and relates to others. The juicy bits that actually build someone’s personality – their likes and dislikes, their past experiences, their quirks, all the details that make them who they are – go far beyond the skeleton built by a few letters. Two people with the same MBTI type can be wildly different. However, I’ve found the MBTI test to be an easy way of gaining insight into a character’s point of view. When faced with writer’s block, knowing how a character makes decisions or how they might react to an emotional situation can be key to breaking through a challenging scene.

Monday Blues: Seconds

(“Monday” Blues: At the start of every other week, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

Seconds

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A Graphic Novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley

What It Is: A supernatural graphic novel about a troubled young chef who stumbles upon a way to edit her mistakes out of reality.

Why You Should Read It: Seconds is both relatable and fanciful, funny and poignant. Its art is atmospheric, and the way it brushes up against metafiction elements (such as the protagonist’s banter with the narrator, the way it uses certain terms, and its creative use of certain panels) is entertaining. The characters, while not especially deep, are lovable. I also enjoyed how it grappled with the concepts of selfishness, desperation, and choice in honest and fresh ways. The world building, however, felt a little underdeveloped and rushed towards the end, as did some of the late plot twists and the ending. Still, Seconds is one of the most unique and fun graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, and makes for a definite page turner.

Paragon Preview

(Friday Updates: I’ll post updates from my projects every other Friday).

Well, school is over for the summer, but with over 5 books in various stages of (near) completion and 3 indie games in the works, I’ll be staying busy.

I’d like to share an excerpt from Paragon, a dark fantasy thriller and my favorite child longest standing novel project, for the first time.


CW: violence, blood, death

End of Summer

“Tell me, what is it like to die?” the woman hissed, so close that the man tasted the heat of her words. “I’ve always wondered.”

The man couldn’t breathe. Pain pulsed up through his spine and tied knots around his lungs. He lay on his stomach, wet grass cooling his dry tongue.

Every instinct told him to pull out the chakram embedded in his back, but he couldn’t. His body simply wouldn’t work anymore. The wound itself wasn’t particularly deep, but it burned. It burned like he’d been gouged by fire instead of a blade. It burned, and then it was cold. Cold like there was nothing left of his tingling skin at all. He shuddered, fresh blood trickling down his sides with each tiny movement.

Memories from the last few moments flickered in and out through black haze. Even as his fellow soldiers had fled, he hadn’t. He’d charged that woman – the one who’d sliced his brother nearly in half – out of anger. Blind, desperate, stupid anger.

Her circular blade had blocked his dagger. She’d stopped him, sent him stumbling, and thrown the chakram after him. His armor had already worn away through the hours of combat, and the weapon had buried itself into him without mercy.

What a childish mistake. A Lyrum should never confront a Human, not physically. He should have guarded his distance and relied on his Translation instead, if only the long struggle hadn’t exhausted his strength to summon it. He’d let his rage take hold of him. He was a fool.

The Human approached the Lyrum soldier, fallen leaves crunching beneath her boots and signaling the end of summer. Her paced movements belied the chaos of just minutes earlier. It seemed the conflict was nearing its end.

“I suppose it’s foolish to ask you about something so frightful as death when you don’t feel fear in the same way Humans do,” the soldier’s voice was as calm and dissonant as her body. “You’re lucky, really, even if that makes my job less satisfying.”

She yanked the weapon from his back, spurting blood splattering her stained armor.

The Lyrum snarled, “you’re the one who feels nothing! I don’t know what kind of soul you have that lets you do this, but it’s one that has much more to fear from death than mine.”

The Human laughed, “why would I be afraid when I have nothing to lose?”

Her boot slammed into his skull.

The Lyrum’s teeth clamped shut on his tongue with a screech.

“Tell me,” the Human ordered, “what are you and your kind after? This whole mess was futile from the start. Surely you’re at least intelligent enough to realize that. What were you trying to do?”

The Lyrum glowered up at her, the embers of his hatred smoldering in his eyes.

“Tell me!” she snarled. “Tell me, and I’ll end this quickly. Otherwise, I’ll hear you beg.” Her nostrils flared. “I know how to make you suffer.”

The Lyrum remained silent.

The Human’s fingers clenched around her chakram. “You -”

“Johanne, that’s enough!” a voice ordered from somewhere behind her. “There’s no need for this.”

A Human general strode towards them, a scowl on his face. The gold accents on his armor gave his title away, shimmering under an afternoon sun as beautiful as any other during the first days of autumn.

The woman didn’t look at him. “For creatures that live on instinct, Lyrum make so little sense. It should have fled with the others.” Her dull face lit up, “still, this gives us quite the opportunity.”

She rammed her heel into the Lyrum’s skull a second time, and he rewarded her with a series of sputtered coughs.

“Stop!” the general spat. “Shakaya Johanne, I order you to stop. It’s not going to talk. They never do.”

Shakaya hesitated, but her narrowed eyes never left the Lyrum.

The general’s face hardened, “have at least a little honor. Put the poor thing out of its misery and call it done. I believe it’s the last of them.”

The Lyrum stared at the mud, no longer able to move. It seemed he’d be heading out for Heaven early. He thought one last time of his family in Riksharre, assuring himself they’d be just fine without him. Just fine…

Shakaya glanced up at her general with the gaze of a scolded child. Something flickered behind her blue eyes – something cold – but it faded just as quickly. A smirk took its place, “with pleasure.”

The Lyrum smiled. The second squad should have arrived at the Academy by now. If his comrades succeeded…if they succeeded, then everything would be worth it. He might be a fool, but so were the Humans standing over him.

He closed his eyes. He never saw Shakaya raise the chakram a final time and slam it down where his head met his shoulders.


Thanks for reading. Feel free to chime in with thoughts or comments, or to share excerpts from your own projects in the comments for feedback.

If you’re interested in finding out what happens next, my email list will feature more updates and previews, and discounts when Paragon and my other projects find their way to release.

(Wake Up) Yesterday (Poem)

(Thoughtful Friday Thursday: Every other Thursday I’ll post a poem or atmospheric piece.)

(Wake Up) Yesterday

I want to wake up yesterday,
when the sun seemed warmer,
when snowflakes were falling stars,
when the crickets were a chorus.

Old words,
warm and strange,
I want to read familiar pages like they’re new.

I want to sleep backwards, to
when summer lasted longer,
when winter was a journey,
when the sunset was a theater.

Old songs,
soft and cruel,
I want to hear familiar melodies like they’re new.

I want to wake up yesterday,
when the garden was a jungle,
when I could close my eyes and fly,
when everything was new.

If I watch the same sky
who can tell me that time has changed?
I’ll believe I’m just a child
but it still won’t be the same.

A warm ache,
Pleasant and painful.
Can’t swim against the tide of time.
Can’t stay here in yesteryear.


I’m working on a poetry chapbook with plans to publish it this summer.
If you enjoyed this poem, feel free to join my email list for a discount when it releases
(+ a free re-release of my novel, Night Plague, in June).

A King (Flash Fiction)

(Flash Friday: Every other Friday, I’ll share a flash fiction story and the prompt that spawned it.)

Source: This prompt came from a page in this workbook, which I highly recommended.

Prompt: Begin a story with the following sentences: “I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and most of the time that’s fine by me. But in late fall when the sky fills with birds migrating south for the winter, traveling thousands of miles, I get homesick for places I’ve never been. Places like”.


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I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and most of the time that’s fine by me. But in late fall when the sky fills with birds migrating south for the winter, traveling thousands of miles, I get homesick for places I’ve never been. Places like the wide wheat fields of Hyrule, the pixelated sea of Goldenrod City, Sylvarant’s cozy towns, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or my farm in Stardew Valley. As much of a homebody as I am, if a train pulled up and offered to take me to any of these places, I’m sure I’d step on board. Growing up as the weird, bookish loner, these places were as much home to me as anywhere else. I still visit them now and then, dusting off old disks and pages and letting my imagination take me there as best as it can. Even if my favorite destinations only come to life in my head, they change the color of the real world. They reawaken my wonder.

Still, once place stands out to me the most – the castle where I made myself a Prince. I excelled in all my classes there and learned so many delightful things. I was whatever I wanted to be. I was a storyteller who hypnotized my audience with every word, I was a singer who lit up the stage and a dancer who blazed through the ballroom, I was a chef and my guests came from miles away for a bite of my food. I knew the answer to every question I was asked. I met all kinds of friends who became part of me. I was loved, wise, unafraid.

So, why is this place the one I haven’t visited? Perhaps it’s because it has no disc, no pages, no pictures. Somehow, as I grew up, I convinced myself that I couldn’t go there anymore. That it was gone. But how can that be when the castle itself is me? Perhaps it’s time I go back and become a king.

I watch the birds a moment longer, then close my eyes.


If you write your own story with this prompt, feel free to post it in the comments!

Impactful Character Flaws

(Tip Thursday: Every other Thursday, I’ll post writing/editing tips or techniques that I’ve personally found useful.)

One topic inevitably comes up when discussing character creation: flaws. Characters must be flawed in order to be real people in readers’ eyes. However, just making a character hot-headed or shy and calling it done doesn’t cut it. For a flaw to add dimension to your character and story, three things should generally be true:

1. It shouldn’t be a “likable” flaw.

Often, the flaws protagonists grapple with seem relatively harmless: they might lack confidence, be socially awkward, or have a bit of a temper. Exploring these minor flaws and traits helps flesh out a character, but alone, usually fails to add depth.

There’s a tendency to believe that characters must be conventionally “likable”. For characters, however, “likable” often actually means interesting. Your readers don’t need to be friends with your character – they need to be able to understand their motivations (even if they don’t necessarily agree with them) and root for them to overcome their obstacles. Giving your character real, significant flaws increases the stakes and the impact of their internal conflicts.

For instance, rather than just being a bit hot-headed, maybe your character gets so angry that they sometimes cause physical harm. Maybe they hold onto grudges to the extent that they enact revenge. Maybe they have a mean streak. Maybe they’re selfish or jealous or judgemental. Maybe they lie a lot. Maybe they’re an honest-to-goodness coward, legitimately lazy, or obnoxiously arrogant. Maybe they care more about power than people.

These less “likable” flaws are often associated with villains, but a hero with such flaws has room to grow in meaningful ways throughout the story, will have engaging internal struggles, and feels more like a genuinely imperfect human than a heroic archetype.

2. It should influence the character’s external world.

For a flaw and its stakes to seem real, it must manifest in the character’s world in some way. If they struggle with extreme anger, perhaps it’s destroyed past relationships or they’ve had outbursts that cost them a job. If they’re selfish, perhaps their colleagues have learned to avoid and distrust them. If they’re cowardly, perhaps they’re embarrassed to try new things because they cry easily in public when stressed or their fear has held them back from applying to their dream job. Regardless of what their flaws are, their internal struggles need to in some way affect their external reality.

3. It should tie into the story’s themes.

Ideally, a character’s flaws should also emphasize the story’s themes. For instance, a character who starts off selfish and arrogant but who learns to sacrifice for others makes for a powerful protagonist in story about empathy. Another technique is giving the antagonist a similar flaw, but letting them fail to overcome it while the protagonist succeeds. Supporting characters can also express the theme in unique ways through their flaws and virtues. After all, a story is made of internal conflict, external conflict, and its message. If all these elements reinforce each other, the story – and its characters – have a strong foundation.

Monday Blues: Peter Darling

(With the end of school for the summer, it’s time to get back to blogging.)

(Tuesday Monday Blues: At the start of every other week, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

Peter Darling

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A Novel by Austin Chant

What It Is: A queer, imaginative take on what might’ve come after the classic Peter Pan story.

Why You Should Read It: I picked this up as a light read while traveling, but it ended up becoming my favorite fairy tale retelling. The author has turned the Peter Pan who finally grew up into a fascinating character in his own right, exploring what sometimes seems to be a lack of empathy, and why he might not have wanted to grow up in the first place. This melancholy but whimsical version of Hook is fun, too. I don’t read a lot of romance because I’m personally not huge on either sappiness or sex scenes, but neither of those aspects overpower the romance subplot in this book, and the connection between the characters felt genuine. I enjoyed the queer representation, and those elements are well handled. I also especially enjoyed the themes around escapism and storytelling – it felt like a celebration of storytelling itself.