Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

Book Review: Resistance by Jaye L. Knight

Happy Thursday, readers. Those of you who didn’t see the title will look at each other, cock you heads to the side and say, “What is she doing writing a
blog post on a Thursday? I’ve never seen a blog post on Thursday here!”

To those that said that, please look up at the title. Since most of you probably didn’t, well, don’t bother, because undoubtedly you read the title first.

Today I have the pleasure of reviewing Resistance, by Jaye L. Knight.

From the back cover:

“Don’t you know? Animals like you have no soul.”

Could God ever love a half-blood all of society looks upon with such fear and disdain? Jace once believed so, but when a tragic loss shatters the only peace he’s ever known, his faith crumbles as the nagging doubts he’s tried to put behind him descend on his grieving heart. With them come the haunting memories of the bloodstained past he longs to forget, but can never escape.

Taken from home at a young age and raised to serve the emperor, Kyrin Altair lives every day under a dangerous pretense of loyalty. After her unique observation skills and perfect memory place her into direct service to the emperor, Kyrin finds herself in further jeopardy as it becomes increasingly difficult to hide her belief in Elôm, the one true God.

Following the emperor’s declaration to enforce the worship of false gods under the penalty of death, many lives are endangered. But there are those willing to risk everything to take a stand and offer aid to the persecuted. With their lives traveling paths they never could have imagined, Jace and Kyrin must fight to overcome their own fears and conflicts with society as they become part of the resistance.

Note: I received this book in return for an honest review. And, really, I got the far better part of the deal.

A couple of months ago, I first saw the Blog Tour for the release of Resistance. It came up a couple of times in my blog reader, and I looked at the back and reviews. It sounded good, but I didn’t have a chance to get it until a little while ago, when I devoured it in day and thirty minutes. (It would have been a day, but when I started, it was 11:30 at night.)

I enjoyed the book immensely. People had been telling me that it was a good book, that I ought to get it, that I would love it, and they were right.

Characters – The characters were very well developed. They were excellent. Before starting the book, I expected to like Jace, judging by the back of the book and what I had seen of him online.

And I did like him. He, though slightly different than I had expected, lived up to every expectation. A hero who’s trying to make sense of the present while still struggling with his past and massive doubts? Yes, let’s get him through this. I’m not putting the book down.

I wasn’t, however, expecting to like Kyrin at all. Before we start talking about how pessimistic I am when it comes to new books, just let me note that it has been a long time since I’ve really liked both the male protagonist and the female protagonist. Thus, Kyrin completely ruined my expectations.

“How could you, Kyrin? You were supposed to be the un-relatable, slightly irritating female character! Who gave you permission to turn into an incredibly relatable, realistic character?”

Really, though, Kyrin completely took me off guard when she showed up. She was, surprisingly, a lot like me at some points. I could see myself doing and saying the same things, and she made an excellent female protagonist. She and Jace worked together as main characters very well.

The secondary characters and side characters were also awesome. Some of them stayed in the background, but some of them really stood out to me. I could tell that the author took time for each of them and cared for each of them, and because of this, I cared too. And, for those who have read it—can we just stop for a moment to appreciate how awesome Trask was?  Truly, I immensely enjoyed his whole existence.

“Hi, Trask! I’m your biggest fan! I think you’re awesome. And do just go marry the girl.”

As for the villain, I felt oddly sorry for him at some points. At times, he was the perfect traditional villain; he was cold and cruel and very good at hiding it, but at times, he was someone struggling through emotional trauma of his own, within his own family. I wish that Jaye L. Knight would have focused on this piece of the story a little bit more, but I expect that she will in the following books, so I am content to wait.

Plot – The plot stayed thoroughly engaging throughout the entire book. The inciting incident happened at just the right time for each of the characters: when we knew them well enough to be concerned, but before we grew tired of seeing their normal life. The way the chapters switched between two characters was slightly erratic; there would be five chapters in Kyrin’s point of view before another chapter in Jace’s. This wasn’t too bad, but at times it came across as odd me, when I have been used to the pattern of switching every other chapter.

The impression that I got was that the author knew what she was doing with her timing. The way the events were timed made a book that turned out to be 524 pages long seem quick and gripping to the very last page, and I wouldn’t have complained if it was longer. I noticed no plot holes, and the story led up to a climax with the tension noticeably growing as the list of endangered characters expanded to hold most of the cast. The danger increased to a more noticeable, definite level, and I didn’t put the book down even for a second from the beginning of the climax to the end of the book.

Setting – It was clear that Jaye L. Knight knew her world very well. The country seemed very well developed, with steady explanations of history and non-human races and no contradictions as far as I could tell. She told us very little unimportant information about her world, but in the way it was presented, it certainly felt like she knew exactly what she was talking about. It made the world feel more realistic than many Fantasy worlds I’ve read about, and I could tell that she worked to present her world in a realistic light. The result was as though it could be there, waiting, just outside our doorstep. Though, as far as I know, there has been no recorded travel between our world and theirs.

The world, country, and style was definitely based off of the Roman Empire during the gladiatorial days and the persecution of the Early Church. I very much like the stories of missionaries and people who did not turn away from the Truth at gun-point, sword-point, or whatever other point is possible, so I enjoyed that this was a major theme in the book, and the connection to our history provided an easy place to step into their world.

Writing – The writing style was very unnoticeable. Literally, I don’t believe there was one point while reading the book where I actually noticed the writing style at all. She used her words to tell the story, neither adding more or less than was needed. While I know that this would have bothered some people, it helped readers to keep their focus on the characters and the story instead of getting distracted with, “My, what a pretty sentence!” I was glad of that.

In summary – I definitely enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Young Adult Fantasy, especially Christian Fantasy. In spite of the fact that there are some battles, executions, and beatings employed by the villain in an attempt to get information, there was virtually no troublesome images, in that field or any other. It was lovely and clean, yet the tension was thorough and the story was riveting.

Well done, Jaye L. Knight. I’ll be looking out for the sequel.

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Writing with Music

Writing with Music

When I originally started writing seriously, I never suspected that I would end up listening to music nearly every time I wrote.

I wrote in whatever place I sat, with whatever computer, and whatever sound happened to be going on. If music was playing in the background, that was fine; I would ignore it. If dogs were barking in the background, that was fine; I would ignore it. If people were talking in the background, that was also fine.

I did an impressive amount of ignoring in those days.

Yet, at the same time, my family listened to a lot of music as we went about life. One song in particular stood out to me on day: Walk On, by 4Him, from their album of the same name. [You can listen to it here, if you’d like. The pictures are completely disconnected, but this is the only video of it that I could find.] One day, as I listened to it, it clicked with my major work-in-progress, and I had an unofficial theme song.

From that moment on, I had an “IOTW Playlist” on my computer. At first, I listened to it only occasionally, but slowly as time went on, I started to listen to it more and more.

In April, when I started a new story for Camp NaNoWriMo, I had reached the point where I listened to music very regularly when I wrote, so between that and the fact that I expected to write in unusual places for half the month and needed a familiar noise, I created a “Joy of Stars Playlist.”

It was at that point that I learned the power of listening to music while I wrote.

When before I had listened to only music that had reminded me of the plot and the story itself, this time I stopped and considered the question: What would my characters listen to? 

Thinking about the question not only led me to adding great music to my playlist, but it made the characters I was really only beginning to meet much more alive to me.

Headphones became an essential part of writing for me. I started to listen to music every time I wrote, and found that it helped me massively.

No matter where I was, when I heard the music, I could write the story. The songs automatically made me think of the story. The characters became a part of the song, and the songs a part of the characters. The songs added another, deeper level to the character arcs as I started to actually listen to the lyrics and realize, “Wow. This really fits the character, actually.”

I could assign music to characters and groups of characters, and immediately step into their head and point of view. On my Joy of Stars playlist, I had very distinctive music on there. From John Waller to Cloverton to Avalon, and then all the way to the soundtrack of Princess Bride, the styles, though mainly contemporary Christian, all had very different feel to them, which helped me to give very a different feel to each character.

It helped me manipulate my own emotions. Because, really, that’s what we writers do. We want our readers to feel things, but when we don’t, they won’t. When we feel the things that our characters do, we can write from their perspective so much better. When we can change what we feel, we can make it so that the character’s emotions come across strong.

It drowned out other noises and distractions and helped me to avoid Writer’s Block. Distractions are distracting–imagine that! But when writing sometimes, it seems like every noise that’s tossed about is screaming for attention. “No, you don’t want to write that novel! You want to look at me! Meee!” Music is a great way to tell the distraction to go find a corner to sit in, because you’re busy.

Things change, though. Now, I don’t always listen to music while writing. For the past several months, I’ve listened to it every single time, but more recently, I’ve gone some writing sessions without it.

I’ve found that it’s not necessary to listen to music to write, and now I have seen both sides of the story and experienced both methods. Music isn’t necessary, but I certainly do appreciate it.

Do you write with music, or without? How have you found it helpful or unhelpful?

Get to Know Your Characters Challenge — Responses

Get to know your characters challenge protagonist

 

It’s Monday. Late Monday, though I planned on posting it earlier today, but as long as it’s before midnight, it’s not too terribly late, I suppose.

As those who read last Tuesday’s post know, this blog was the origin for a challenge: to write about your protagonist’s past from a list of ideas. Not many people participated this time around, but those who did made it worth it.

The Participants 

Katie – Cousins in Christ *

Emily Fisher – Posted Hers In the Comments of Tuesday’s Post.

Alyssa – Alyssa should post hers in the same place Emily did, on the comments of last Tuesday’s post.*

*These stories aren’t posted yet, but don’t fear. Watch. They will be seen.

 

My Snippet

I’m afraid what I wrote is not very good, and, indeed, might make “mediocre” look bad, had not a friend helped me with some editing. Read on, and do know that this is certainly not the best I’ve ever written. However, you get to meet two of my protagonists from my top-secret novel, IOTW. Nothing this detailed about them and their story has ever ended up on the internet before now.

I decided to mix these three prompts into the same story:

  • Write about your protagonist celebrating a major holiday, such as Christmas or New Year’s Day.
  • Write about a year before the adventure started.
  • Write about interaction with a childhood friend–while in childhood, or what would happen when the two met again after several years of not seeing each other.

Clumps of snow clung to my hair, stinging my already burning face whenever I moved my head. My smile had become too big for my cheeks, my face told me, and now it hurt as a consequence. I slumped onto the ground, leaning against the wall of my house. Nathaniel sat next to me, a grin firmly on his face.

I took a breath slowly. His bombardment of snowball were more than my lungs had agreed to put up with.  They decided to let only a small portion of the usual air in, intent on making me sit.

At least Nathaniel had suggested resting, not I.

Slowly, my breath returned and I pulled at my hair, dropping bits of snow onto the hard-packed ice beneath us. “Merry Christmas Eve,” I said. Bouncing, I added, “Papa said my cousins will be coming. Then everyone will be home.”

Nathaniel looked at me, his smile fading slightly. Drawing his knees up to his chest, he dipped his head in what might have been intended to look like a nod. “Merry Christmas Eve,” he said.

My forehead tied itself into small knots, and I leaned forward. “What’s wrong?”

Nathaniel blinked a few times, shaking his head. “Nothing.”

His answer came too quickly to be comforting, but I let it go. “Good.”

He smiled faintly, turning his gaze onto the snow beside his glove-clad hand. I watched him for a brief moment, then turned away and looked at the sun, dipping dangerously close to the horizon. “We’d better go inside.”

Nathaniel’s gaze stayed fixed on the invisible, fascinating thing on the snow. I sighed. “Nathaniel? Come on, it’s Christmas Eve. Let’s not do this today.”

Ever since I had known Nathaniel, he had moments where he seemed to be somewhere far away. Most of the time, it passed quickly. Every now and then, he would stay that way for hours.

He blinked, inhaling slowly. “I’m sorry. What were you saying?”

I let a smile break out over my face. “It’s okay. It’s going to be night soon, though.”

He let his gaze wonder to the Western sky, then got to his feet. “I’ll race you around the house again.”

I blinked, then lurched upright. “Okay, go!”

Mama called my name, and I glanced over to the door as she stepped out. I let my shoulders sag, though secretly I felt glad to avoid more running. “I guess we better go in now.”

Nathaniel nodded, brushing snow off of himself.

“We’re ready,” Mama called. I glanced at Nathaniel, then darted to the door. Nathaniel jogged after me.

Mama waited until we were both at the door before opening it, stepping back inside. I stepped in, followed by Nathaniel. He tugged the door shut after himself.

I had not realized how cold I was until I stepped into the warm house. Nathaniel grinned at me, sliding his coat off and brushing the snow onto the rug in front of the door.

“Just hang it up,” Mama said from across the room. “We’ll clean it up later.”

Nathaniel glanced at her and did as he was told.

I fumbled with my buckles with numb fingers. When Mama made me the coat, she thought it too big for an eleven year-old girl like me, but I had insisted I could manage.

Well, when I haven’t frozen my fingers, I can manage.

The buckle came loose, and I worked my way through all the others, finally removing my coat and hanging it on the peg on the wall. My scarf I left in my hair to keep it away from my face, but my shoes quickly found themselves on the floor beneath my coat.

Picking my way around the various things that lay scattered in my way, I moved to sit next to Papa, looking over his shoulder at the well-worn Bible in his hands.

Nathaniel sat next to me and Marshall took the opportunity to sit on him. “Hol’ me, ‘Than’il?”

Nathaniel looked at Mama, and she nodded. He shifted Marshall until he sat still, then wrapped his arms around him and looked at Papa.

Papa glanced around once, then started. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”

The wind pushed against the ground, the cold from the snow and night air bothering it not a bit. Whooshing into the air and pushing against the faces of the boy and the girl’s father, the wind carried the cold with it in order to bother them.

    The girl’s father slowed, and the wind dashed away, observing what held his interest. “Are you sure you won’t stay with us tonight?”

    The wind pushed at the scrawny branches of nearby trees, then moved forward and entered the small house. Cold immediately greeted it, the house’s walls hardly held in place by now.

   Turning attention back to the girl’s father and the boy, the wind slid back to the ground again. The boy gave it a look, but the wind knew that, though the boy could see and hear the wind like the girl’s father could not, the boy would never address the wind. “No,” he said. “I’ll be fine. I know it doesn’t look very good, but the inside is warm enough. Thank you for letting me come over for dinner.”

   The girl’s father smiled, but the wind caught the doubtful look he cast the house. The wind’s amusement took the form of blown snow across the ground. The wind knew they had done this before, many times.  “It was my pleasure, Nathaniel.”

   The boy’s smile touched his face, but not, the wind noticed, his eyes. “Good night.”

   “Good night.”

   The boy made his way toward the house, and the wind left the girl’s father in peace, moving after the boy as he opened the door and stepped inside.

   He stopped, then smiled, inclining his head. “Lytton,” he said.

   The wind whispered to itself. The man, again, was here. The wind had not expected him to come this year, though he came every year at Christmas. Of course, the wind felt no surprise.

   The boy moved into the house, closing the door and moving to sit cross-legged before the man. The man sat on the floor, looking at the boy.

    For a moment, a long silence passed, broken only by the wind against the floor and the trees outside. The man glanced at the wind, a small smile tugging at his lips, but he, like the boy, did not address it. Instead, he turned to the boy, slowly inhaling.

   The boy up from the floor to meet the man’s gaze.

   “I wish you would come home.”

   The boy, the wind knew—for the wind knew a great many things—had not expected that. “I… I can’t.”

   The man leaned back, and the disappointment the wind knew he held remained far from his face.

   The silence stretched again until, finally, the boy leaned forward, dark eyes bright. “Tell me about it again?”

   The man smiled—for real this time, the wind noted with much whooshing about the room. “The night had long since fallen, but the sky was lit up still. They slept while we were there, and He alone knows we were present.”

   “You came to see Him?”

  “Yes,” the man said softly, eyes lost in the memory. “And we did. After the shepherds had left, we saw Him sleeping as a baby.”

— 

Well that is it. Now, I have a question for you: Did you enjoy this challenge, and do you like the idea of it? Would you be willing to participate if I did another? Would you like to see it return, or should this be a one-time thing? I need your comments now, more than ever.

This next part should get a prize for randomness. For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to decide if I want to post a link to a story I entered in the contest. Finally, I’ve decided that I should. You readers are getting the first look you’ve had into my writing, and I feel I ought to let you know that my writing isn’t always like the above bit. So, I present to you a story I wrote, which you can read here (mine is all the way at the bottom). I hope you enjoy it and the other stories… The others are so very good.

Writing Prompt: 07-25-2014

 

OriginWinter is Coming, by Jorge Jacinto. I don’t know this artist or his work, so beware and all that.

Feeling inspired? Write something from this picture, and post it in the comments, or move the prompt to your blog! I can’t wait to read any prompts! 

There have also been some pretty awesome snippets written recently in the other Prompts over the past couple of weeks… Go check them out!

[I really look forward to being able to read anything you write from this prompt, and I expect to enjoy it very much and for my readers to also enjoy it. That said, please keep everything as clean as it gets because otherwise I will delete the comment or link to your blog.”Only what is good for building up…” If in doubt, ask. My contact information is on the About page.] 

 

Show Don’t Tell Rule: Is It a Necessity?

Show, Don't Tell?

 

“Show don’t tell,” they say. “Show don’t tell!”

The words are repeated so often in writing circles that they’ve almost become a cliché. Writing blogs, writing groups, writing books all use it so frequently that writers get sick of it.

And so, you might ask, why am I writing about it?

Sometimes it’s good to run beside the bandwagon.  Not get on it, mind you, but move beside it and tell people what they’re really getting into. I shan’t repeat the phrase over and over to you, making a theme all throughout my posts, but for this one time, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t stone me for speaking of the Show Don’t Tell rule. I won’t mention it again. Really.

I have heard of some published authors who say the Show Don’t Tell rule is the biggest nonsense rule when it comes to writing. Others say it’s the most important. To be quite blunt—actually, let’s call it direct. Direct sounds much nicer than blunt. To be quite directboth groups are wrong.

Certainly, this rule can’t be the most important part of the story, since that title goes uncontested to characters (have you ever seen someone fangirl over an excellent plot? A fantastic writing style? These are certainly important, but the readers love the characters the most). Nor can it be the worst advice given, because that goes to any number of things starting with the word never.

Showing and telling are tools; no more, no less, and both should be used in their proper places. There is a time and place for both, without people squabbling over which is correct, when, and where. Folks, your tools should work together and compliment each other, filling in spaces  where they can and leaving the spaces they can’t to the others. There’s no need to leave one and overuse the other.

For example, “Neil slumped against the cabinet, dropping his head into his hands,” does not need to be changed to: “Neil’s knees bent yet he remained on his feet, and his shoulders released their tension, turning into what resembled an upside-down U. His back rested against the edge of the pale blue cabinet, and his neck bent, lowering his head until it reached his raised hands.”

To extend this into the second example is, as they say, overkill. It’s useful when you’re working toward a specific word-count goal, but that’s the only purpose it serves. Slumping is, well, slumping. When he slumps against the cabinet rather than onto the cabinet, we know he’s still on his feet. Since he’s dropping his head into his hands and slumping, we can assume that his shoulders aren’t as straight as they might normally be, and when we’re told he drops his head into his hands, we can guess that his neck is bending. Neil could be putting his head into his hands without his neck bending, but that usually would be something more of a face-palm, but he certainly wouldn’t be dropping his head then, now would he? As to the cabinet, we all like blue, but in this case the color is irrelevant. In this case, we want to know that Neil is acting dejected.

There are times that simply stating things won’t do, though. Feelings, in particular, are the things that people cry the rule at most of the time. We, as readers, want to know what your character is feeling, and it’s your job to help us.

Since most of you have probably seen anger used as an example several times, I’ll use something else.

“Niel felt lonely,” simply isn’t enough. Perhaps we can try, “Niel took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. His stomach twisted and churned until finally settling into a dull ache, the emptiness he had first felt upon leaving home spreading until it took the form of numbness that spread to his fingertips. He would give anything in the world to go home, even for just a minute.” 

I’m sure that this isn’t the best example that I could come up with, but nothing else comes to mind, and I’m sure you get the general idea. We want to be able to feel the emotion of the characters. Tell us things in a way we’ll not only register, but understand. 

In summary, Give us what we need to know and then stop telling us things. It’s nice that the cabinet is blue, the carpet is stained, or the car is a green SUV, but tell us why we should care why the cabinet is blue. Tell us not only that it’s blue, but that it used to be bright but has faded, the center almost a pale off-white now from being used so frequently, then tell us why that matters. Tell us who cooks there — or who used to cook there. Tell us that the carpet is stained because of the children who ran through it in muddy boots, or because of the murder committed in that room eighteen years ago. I’ve seen people who go overboard with descriptions, trying to show and not tell, but you don’t have to show with descriptions. Give us enough information for us to get our bearings: about the wall the character is leaning on and let us know more about the character by the things they’ll notice.

Give us the information we need to fit the mood you’re going for. 

Whether it’s that the sky is dark grey, the antique tea kettle came from the girl’s grandmother, or that Neil has got happiness practically spilling all over his face, tell us what we need to know to fit the mood and don’t go any farther. Give us impressions and facts and personality of characters, but don’t overdo either and don’t ever try and use all overly descriptive words or all direct statements.

Show us emotions in the way you describe, or tell us about the apple tree your hero is about to fall out of. When people are feeling things, give their feelings to us. When people are seeing things, give us the things they’d notice. That said, don’t ever feel like there’s only one formula. Everyone disagrees about the Show Don’t Tell Rule. Set your own style and tell us the things you think we ought to know, but definitely avoid giving us less than we would like to see, and avoid overloading us with information we don’t need.

What do you think of the Show Don’t Tell rule? What have you learned about it, and what are you learning? You know the game – Comment! 

And, as a slightly random side note, I’m interested in this Neil fellow now. Who do you think he is, reader?

Get To Know Your Characters Challenge – Protagonist

Happy Tuesday, readers. For those of you concerned that this post signals the end of all character interviews on Red Lettering, don’t worry. We’ll resume the normal posting schedule with character interviews two weeks from today.

Today, though, seemed like a good day to test-run an idea of mine. Somehow, it seemed fitting to do it on a character interview day, not only because everybody gets excited about character interviews and I hope to have people look at this, but because in a way, I get to do something similar to interviewing all of your characters.

 

Get to know your characters challenge protagonistEven though tags and challenges abound in the blogging community, very few focus on what we writers do best: write. Occasionally, people will do character and writing-related tags, but those are few and far between. And so, I thought, what if there was a challenge to help writers develop their writing skills while learning more about their characters?

What if there was a challenge on someone’s blog where people would be challenged to pick a couple of options from a list, and write about their protagonist’s past?

Here’s How it Works

If you’re willing to participate, pick one or more challenges from the list below and post your completed snippet-type stories about your protagonists on your blog this coming Monday (July 28). Steal the picture and leave a link back here, and leave a comment on this post sometime between now and Sunday with the link to your blog. I’ll include a list of all participating blogs with links when I post my challenge snippets on Monday.

 

The List

  • Write  about your protagonist from when he or she was between three and ten. Write something short that represents how their life was that point.
  • Write about your protagonist celebrating a major holiday, such as Christmas or New Year’s Day.
  • Write about a major turning point in your character’s life: the death of a loved one, a point where they find out a secret that changes their life, ect.
  • Write about a year before the adventure started.
  • Write about interaction with a childhood friend–while in childhood, or what would happen when the two met again after several years of not seeing each other.
  • Write about when your character first interacted with your villain. (This for those who have already met their villains.)

Interested? Want to get to know your protagonist better and exercise your writing muscles? Want to absolutely make my day? I’d absolutely love to have you participate. The longer the list of participating blogs posted on Monday, the better.

Note: Those of you who don’t have blogs, but would like to participate anyway, can leave their challenge snippets in the comments on this post or the other.

Writing Prompt: 07-18-2014

Origin: Reclamation, by Matt Stewart. For those of you who are new here, let it be known: I don’t know the artist, so I would advise caution if you look at any of his other works.

Feeling inspired? Tell me her story. You can write something in the comment box, or move the Prompt to your blog and leave the link in the comment box! I can’t wait to see what you all come up with.

[I really look forward to being able to read anything you write from this prompt, and I expect to enjoy it very much and for my readers to also enjoy it. That said, please keep everything as clean as it gets because otherwise I will delete the comment or link to your blog.”Only what is good for building up…” If in doubt, ask. My contact information is on the About page.] 

Stories Are Like Tapestries

WIN_20140716_164355

 

 

On November of 2011, I, a young girl who hardly knew what it meant to craft a good story, participated in NaNoWriMo. Hastily drawing up a quick outline on the day before, I felt sure it would bring me to the end of the fifty-thousand words I had committed to write.

I was wrong.

Before I reached the middle of the novel, I was faced with a problem: after my outline ran out, I became the most extreme seat-of-the-pants-NaNoer ever. I had no idea what to do next, so I wracked my brain and went with the first source of drama that came to mind.

Adding another villain was the obvious choice.  Well, thought I, unsure of where to go and what to do after the new villain came, let’s just have the main character kidnapped by a mysterious group. Simple, right? But let’s do this the right way. Very large, scary looking beasts should do. 

And so my main character was kidnapped and put into an unconscious state for the better part of the year (that novel spanned a huge amount of time). While her father and best friend started frantically looking for her, my original villains disappeared–oh, well. They were mostly defeated at that point anyway. They probably slunk back into a hole to regroup and let the characters go about their lives even when they were completely unprepared for the attack the villains would logically be completely prepared to deliver.

But, wait! What if I hurt the main character’s father badly? Well, yes, I already had three villains at that point, but how could it hurt to have another one? More villains, more drama!

And so another villain was introduced.

I believe you get the idea.

That novel is still painful to think about it, but I did carry away some very valuable lessons. One of the most valuable being that all events in a novel must tie back into each other.

To be completely honest, as writer who plans only in my  head, and even in that case very little, I still struggle with this. Characters try to step in and step out, someone makes a cryptic comment which never gets followed up, there will be a very dramatic chase scene with nothing to come of it and no explanation.

Some of these things are problems we need to deal with during editing, but even during the original writing, sometimes the writing gets hard and slow and we make a snap decision. We’re bored with what’s going on, so we introduce a dramatic character or scene, but it goes nowhere. Then as we get out of our writing trouble, we forget about it. This is avoidable.

I don’t think it’s at all wrong to introduce new plots or subplots or new characters. They can change the entire direction of the novel in a good way. The problem comes when we forget the event and let it slip past us instead of weaving it into the rest of the story.

Though I’m no weaver, I know one thing: if you let a string stay loose, the entire piece of fabric will unravel. Slowly, one thread at a time, that one untied thread pulls the others loose until you only have a mat of loose threads hardly attached to anything anymore.

It’s the same way when it comes to stories.

As the writers and the masterminds of our stories, it’s our job to tie in every loose thread. If it doesn’t fit with the pattern, it’s our job to cut it out. We’re weaving a tapestry, telling our story through threads of stories. Every character, scene and subplot belongs on the tapestry, and if even one thread is left dangling by the end of the story, the whole thing will come unraveled.

Sometimes there will be novels that don’t answer all the questions, and yet are excellently done. When at the end of the story every end has been tied up but one, a question the author is carefully not answering, sometimes it’s a very good way of doing things.

Some tapestries have tassels at their ends. They stay there letting the reader know that, no, the author isn’t answering this question, but in these cases, it takes a lot of work to reach a point where the readers will understand that this answer was intentionally left blank. Authors must approach these circumstances carefully, weighing all the options in their head before they finally decide if it will be best for the story, and if they finally do, pointing the reader to it and saying, “See? Look at that question there. Oh, wait! The end of the book. Oh, well. I guess that answer will never be spelled out. Tragic, isn’t it?”

In such cases, it must be done carefully. It cannot be the car chase in chapter three by the unknown villains, or the airplane dropping bombs on the city. It might be the explanation of who that masked man was, though (Note: Unless you’re going to go back in time and precede The Lone Ranger, this is not a suggested course of action), or what the real name of the supporting character really was.

In most cases, it’s best to weave all of your threads back into the tapestry, creating the whole picture that all readers will be able to see. It’s excellent to have a reputation for full plots without excess questions lying around—especially if you plan on having a question your readers are expecting an answer to, which they’ll never get.

Writing Prompt: 07-11-2014

 

Origin: “In Time of Peril” By Edmund Blair Leighton (1897)

What’s their story, reader? Tell me their story. You can comment with a few (or several, if you’d like!) paragraphs, or move the prompt to your own blog, and leave a link in the comments. I’d love to read something you wrote from it!

 

[I really look forward to being able to read anything you write from this prompt, and I expect to enjoy it very much and for my readers to also enjoy it. That said, please keep everything as clean as it gets because otherwise I will delete the comment or link to your blog.”Only what is good for building up…” If in doubt, ask. My contact information is on the About page.] 

 

Believability: The Effects of Trauma

 Whether it’s burning buildings, car wrecks, fighting dragons or evil-overlords, or the ever-popular armed henchman (hopefully with better aim than to get your characters shoulder!) out to get them, characters face terrifying moments in stories. In some, it’s easier, but where would stories be without conflict?

As I said in the previous Believability post, everybody likes drama.  It’s the main portion of the story. Whatever happens to the character changes him or her; it powers their character arc, it makes them fall in love with someone, it brings them to a point they would not have reached before. Everything that happens to a person changes them, if only a little bit. While we can’t go through and make every action, every song they listen to, change a certain character (though it would be fascinating to do so, what author has time?), big events cause big reactions.

When a character goes through something terrible, it doesn’t stop when they get to safety.

 

[Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, but I have done research on the effects trauma can have on people. While I won’t be using technical terms for my readers who are enough like me to have no idea what they would mean, the information that I put here is verifiable on official sites and medical-type places.]  

If I were a psychologist, I would lump all the events mentioned above, along with many more, into one term: traumatic event. Since the information that I’m putting down here does come from psychologists, well, I’ll lump it all into the aforementioned term.

Have you ever heard of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder? Well, now you’ve read about it, and that’s as good as hearing about it, anyway.  Nearly all traumatic events cause an after-effect in all people. Someone more used to the type of event is much more likely to be able to handle it well, but in the end, it has nothing to do with how strong a character is. Occasionally someone will be able to withstand what they’re going through, but most often, they can’t.

Trauma influences not only the part of the brain that we can control–how we think, memories which we can control to some extent–it influences all of people. It influences their subconscious and physical parts of the brain, too. People can’t fight Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on their own.

In fiction, nightmares are certainly the most common symptom of emotional trauma. What author doesn’t love a good nightmare? While Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (hereafter, PTSD) certainly contains nightmares, there are other, deeper consequences coming from it. Nightmares hardly brush the surface.

Called a close cousin to the nightmares is re-experiencing the event. Not in sleep, not feeling like a memory.  Occasionally called intrusive memories, the character will feel it again. Physical pain, emotions, sound, and sight all come together again as though the person is really there again, and again, and again, lasting sometimes for seconds, sometimes for days. When a character isn’t suffering from intrusive memories or nightmares, they often will be unable to get the event out of their head. It becomes an obsession that they frequently can’t help, taking over their lives.

Emotions go crazy. When they once enjoyed an event, they’ll avoid it; when they once loved being around a person, they’ll avoid him or her, especially if the person has a connection to the event that triggered it. People with PTSD rarely want to ask for help, because they don’t understand what’s going on inside themselves and don’t see a reason to bother someone, especially if it means opening up to them or talking about the event. Another emotion that people suffer from is guilt: survivor’s guilt, the question of “Why did I survive when other people didn’t?” is common after events where there was injury or death.

Sufferers of PTSD often have paranoia-like symptoms. They’ll have trouble concentrating, and frequently be looking over their shoulder, or starting at sudden noises. They’ll have trouble sleeping, and wake up frequently even when they aren’t suffering from nightmares, because they’re simply scared to death that the thing will happen again. They feel like they need to defend themselves with the least provocation, leading to snappish behavior and angry outbursts. They’re scared, and they won’t every admit it, because to admit it would be to make themselves vulnerable.

When authors (especially those of Science Fiction and Fantasy) think of wars, they think of drama; the battle between good and evil; perhaps death, and certainly opportunity for a back-drop or a main plot. Most of us won’t immediately think of Shell Shock.

Shell Shock was a condition similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but more quick and dramatic. Coined during the first World War, Shell Shock was a condition that left doctors and soldiers either baffled, or certain that it had been faked or consisted solely of the cowardice of the soldier.

It consisted of much more than that, though, and brought on somewhat bizarre symptoms; a soldier would return from a trip out of the trenches unable to speak, talk, hear, or paralyzed. Men would be unable to eat or sleep, and oftentimes be gripped with nightmares of unending fighting. As with PTSD, even when a person was not sleeping, the soldier would suddenly feel as though he was in a battle again. A soldier might have stomach cramps after shooting or stabbing someone in the stomach, and many would frequently relive moments of fighting.

Shell Shock is now officially considered to be a part of PTSD, but stereotypically, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder isn’t diagnosed as such until the symptoms have been there for longer than Shell Shock, and most people who suffer from PTSD don’t lose their ability to walk, talk, or hear.

While some people are less susceptible to PTSD and it’s close cousins, no one walks away from a traumatic event the same. Sometimes people will still be experiencing the effects of it years afterwards, sometimes up to the end of their lives. Sometimes the symptoms lessen; sometimes they get worse. It’s unpredictable; sometimes people will be fine after a few days to recover, sometimes it’s very difficult to tell that they have PSTD, sometimes people need extensive help. Everyone handles it differently, and characters should have a different set of symptoms based on their character.

People simply cannot shrug off something so earth-shattering as, say, being in a war, or being shot at by unspecified henchmen, even if they do have bad aim.

Have you used Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in your novels, or are your characters more likely to be perfectly fine after witnessing or being a part of a traumatic event? Do tell!

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