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 “March, 2015”

Flash Fiction Challenge: One Chance

Today I’m participating in Rachelle O’Neil‘s Flash Fiction Challenge. In this challenge, participants are paired to receive a prompt from a participant, and give a prompt to another. I gave a prompt to Leined, and received this dialogue prompt from (my sister) Caiti Marie.

  “One chance. You know that, right? You have one chance.”

Since I have a certain love for secret agent stories, I decided to write about that. My flash fiction ended up at exactly 1000 words, by Word’s counter. I’d love to hear what you think of it!

One Chance

Photo Source (In the public domain)

Edit: WordPress seems to have eaten my formatting… :/ I’m sorry about that. It should be fixed now.

One Chance

Athelas Hale

Dusk covered the landscape of Western Europe. The last rays of a dying sun cast light upon Henry’s face, illuminating his fingers as he stirred sugar cubes into two cups of tea.

Odd little things. Hardy big enough to take two drinks from, he mused, but kept his commentary silent. Anderson, though he didn’t look like an overly sentimental man, was imperative to the operation. It would be best to avoid antagonizing him—or his country’s teacups.

They only had one chance.

“Of course, you have the codes,” Anderson murmured, voice deep even when quiet.

Henry smiled. “Of course.”

The sun slipped behind the horizon. Henry struck a match and lit two candles in one fluid motion. “You have your authorization?”

Anderson face remained still; no smirk, no frown, no expression. Those types always made Henry edgy.

“Are Americans so idiotic as to think I would come without them?”

Henry extinguished the match and pushed a teacup across the table to Anderson. No comment.

    Anderson glanced at Henry before politely reaching for the tea, and drank nothing. Henry waited.

After briefly pushing his hand into his pocket, Anderson lay several papers on the table.

A breeze from the open window rustled the papers. Henry lay a hand over the pages to steady them, glancing through them with a disinterested face that belied the nerves that fluttered in his stomach.

The open window felt like more than a breach of security, but in an abandoned hotel near a humid river in summer, the building simply became too stuffy to put up with—especially when meeting an agent you hoped to keep on good terms.

Hoped. Henry silently scoffed at the casual word. Desperately needed came closer to the truth.

This mission would be his most important—the agency’s most important. He couldn’t risk failure. Other agents patrolled the building, and no electronics would work within a mile, but there were a million and one things a person could do without electricity.

   Example, fire a gun.

After glancing through the documents, Henry looked up. “Verbal identification.”

Anderson rattled it off flawlessly. Though Henry didn’t smile, he mentally praised the work of the Linguistics. Nothing quite like a barely pronounceable sound for a password—no amount of torture or leak would have enough coaching to reproduce that.

Navajo code talkers all over again. They needed the security just as much.

A case in his pocket, apparently a metal mint box, used a fingerprint to unlock as Henry opened it. Sliding the papers out, he handed them over to Anderson.

For the first time, Henry’s contact smiled, and Henry allowed himself a small relieved breath, though he didn’t relax. It had gone well so far, but this was too important to slip up half way through.

“And the other part?”

Henry rose, both teas untouched, and nodded toward the door. “This way.”

Dust crowded the halls, mold gathering where the dinghy carpet met stained walls. Anderson wordlessly followed as Henry walked through three halls and two staircases. They stepped into the lobby at the bottom.

Broken glass doors opened outside, and long-dead elevators stood to the right.

Henry scanned the room, then glanced to Anderson. “This way.”

“Pardon me,” a French accent said from the direction of the elevator.

Mouth going dry, Henry half-turned. His right hand moved automatically toward his gun. This couldn’t go wrong—not when they were so close.

This building was supposed to be secured.

“No, no,” the man standing before the elevator said. “Don’t trouble yourselves for your weapons, please.”

Clad in black to blend in with the night, with red hair poking out from under the hat, the young man held himself with confidence—down to the cocked automatic in his left hand.

While Anderson swore, Henry smiled. His every instinct focused on the mission, leaving emotions behind. “Hello again, Percy. Or is it Benedict this time?”

How he had gotten past the other agents, Henry didn’t know—he hoped they were all right.

“Neither, this time.” He inclined his head slightly toward Anderson. “But I would like the codes, if you please.”

While the gun seemed relaxed in his hand, Henry knew he could shoot both before either managed to draw.

“Oh, well. Frenchie wants the codes, Anderson.”

“Drop them on the floor, please,” Frenchie politely requested.

Again swearing under his breath, Anderson tossed them.

Gun still trained on Henry and Anderson, Frenchie bent and picked up the papers. “Pleasure,” said he, and walked backwards to the window. Neatly, he slid through the open glass.

Henry was calling for back-up and running toward the window before they heard him hit the ground. Sliding out his gun, he strained his eyes to see.

Clearly, once again, they had a leak. What a joy to work with Intelligence.

It took Drake three seconds to reach the river and launch into the boat.

“Got both,” he told Frederick, dropping the French accent. Automatically, he reverted to his Irish brogue as Frederick powered up the gasoline engine. Their first priority now was speed.

They roared out of there.

By the time they were five miles away, Drake had every code memorized, the papers in ashes on the boat floor, the object in his pocket.

Within minutes, Fred pulled the boat into the harbor and, as they scanned the skies for choppers, both dashed toward the waiting car.

Ten minutes of a lightless car drive later, Fred was dropping him off at a waiting vehicle.

“One chance. You know that, right? You’ve got one chance.”

Drake pushed the door open. “I know.”

Fred almost smiled. “Blow the operation open.”

Drake smiled and temporarily reverted back to his French accent. “As an agent,” he said, “it’s in the pride.”

Stepping out of the car, he paused, dropping the accent. “As a human, I’m not considering the consequences for failure.”

He closed the door as silently as possible, and Fred pulled away. Running the codes through his mind, Drake smiled grimly.

One chance.

Hold that Miraculous Healing, Please!

Hold that Miraculous Healing, Please!

“Please, Neil!” I sobbed, pushing the bandage harder against the wound. Regardless of the pressure, the bleeding didn’t stop. His body convulsed with his uneven breaths. His face glimmered with sweat. 

Blood mingled with my tears as they fell upon the cobblestones. “Please, don’t… don’t die,” I forced out through tremulous lips. 

The wound didn’t listen, the dying didn’t stop, and I knew – this was the end.

Then, all of a sudden! No worries, someone random steps out from behind a bush and magically heals Neil. Everything’s fixed, Neil can still save the day, and all you readers who were worried about poor Neil — you don’t feel cheated at all, do you?

Putting conflict in our stories requires things to be hard for our characters. Sometimes, we take that to an extreme level before realizing that, since we’ve done our research on injuries, we can’t get away with having the characters heal rapidly.

Ah, we awkwardly say, he still needs to save the world…

The easiest solution springs into our minds: we can just miraculously heal the characters! Problem solved!

After the characters have been magically healed with no troublesome after-affects, they go quickly back to living their life. Everything is fine.

Except… maybe it’s not.

Your reader had clutched the book in their hands, their grip tightening as the tension rose. How would Neil get out of this? “What if… What if he doesn’t?”

Your readers were expecting a dramatic rescue (or a tragedy). They certainly wasn’t expecting a sudden and anti-climatic departure of the drama.

Suddenly, with Neil okay and charging off to defeat the bad guys, your reader slowly backs up.  Their grip on the book loosens as their eyes remain wide.

While certainly it wasn’t your intent, you just cheated your reader. The emotions you brought up, the suspense you formed, the desperate, “No, Neil, don’t die!” running through their brain just disappeared in a whiff of smoke. The emotions were forced and – apparently – worthless.

Even if your reader doesn’t care about dear, dear Neil, you would have shocked them from the story and left them feeling bewildered.

Furthermore, even if your reader isn’t the bewildered type, you just sacrificed the drama of the long nights of your heroine sitting by Neil’s bedside as he hovers between life and death. You’ve lost the possible growth and character arc caused by the near-death experience. You no longer have the ability to have Neil continually suffer from the half-healed wound as he dramatically waves his sword around.

Miraculous healings can be done well (though I can’t at the moment think of a time I’ve seen it). If the healing takes away the mortality of the wound, but leaves the pain, you would have an added layer of tension and emotion. If miraculous healing requires the death of another character, you’ve kept up the tension and have more potential in your story.

Perhaps once, these sudden healings were original, but now, they reek of overuse. While your books is yours to decide about, always think twice about miraculous healings. Always ask yourself: is what you gain worth what you lose?

To Camp, or Not to Camp

To Camp or Not to Camp(In case of curiosity, aye; I did change the wording of the picture simply so I would not be quoting Shakespeare.)

It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote about NaNoWriMo or Camp; most of you who are here now reading this post will remember both. A few of you are new here – and for ye who haven’t read the other posts, the next paragraph is for you.

Ever since my first time doing NaNoWriMo , a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November, I have continued to come back. I’ve won all four times I’ve participated, and twice during the three times I’ve done Camp (in which you can set your own word goal). Ever since my first time doing NaNo, I’ve supported it wholeheartedly; in fact, I prefer to write my first drafts in a short period of time. A month full of stats, web badges and encouragement just makes it all the better.

November is my favorite month of the year, with April and July coming in close behind. One of my (unofficial) goals for this year is to participate in every event (and edit in between… oh, joy).

I have, for these four years told people that they should try it; that it is a very good writing tool for every writer.

Now I am older and perhaps slightly wiser, and, while I still love NaNo and will still participate every chance I get, I now know that NaNo may not be best for some writers.

Those of you who are full-fledged NaNo supporters are now staring at me blankly. “What…? But–!” You say.

No, wait. Let me finish.

I prefer to write my first drafts as fast as possible. In fact, I epic-ly failed a 100 words for 100 days challenge, for that is not the way I write – I write all at once, as fast and hard as I can, to reach a specific overall goal.

Yet some writers need more time to write as they go. They write slowly so they can be sure the material is good. They work to smaller goals on the way to the bigger ones.

We are all writers, but as different people, we have different styles. As we learn the way we write best, we will produce the most quality work we can.

If NaNo makes you feel rushed, don’t do it. If editing as you go makes you lose your creativity, don’t do it.

Try out different methods, even if your writing friends do it a different way, or you’ve heard it done in a particular manner. As soon as you learn how you write, you’ll enjoy it, you’ll be more productive, and you’ll be more likely to keep up with whatever goals you choose to set. Do try out NaNo, Camp, or other writing programs, but be ready to change your strategy if necessary.

If you do participate in Camp, I would love to know what you’re working on and what your word goal is.

Your Novel DOESN’T Follow a Formula

Your Novel DOESN'T Follow a Formula

So many times recently, I’ve seen so many posts in so many writing blogs, giving so much writing advice that offers a formula.

This is how your beginning should go, they say — or, perhaps worse, Your novel should have a character type from all of these.

And to this, while they’re all very talented writers, all I can say is, HA!

Of course, I wouldn’t state it like that if I was speaking to an individual.

To keep certain novels from suffering with low self esteem, the AfPoCR (they’ve branched out since they named themselves the Association for Protection of Character’s Rights, but chose to remain the AfPoCR) came up with a slogan: Every novel is loved – Every novel is special – Every novel is unique. 

And, indeed (though the AfPoCR tends to be a little extreme at times), the last part is very, very true.

Imagine A Tale of Two Cities compared to Left Behind*. Both are novels, both fiction, both written by men —and yet, they are two drastically different stories.

They both have drastically different characters, different beginnings, and different endings (something about the world ending in one). And yet, both of them are good novels, beloved by many readers.

There are many such book out there. Though they’re incredibly different, both are good; neither is correct or incorrect.

You do not need to have eighteen different types of characters in your novel. If you think you can’t properly manage that many characters—or if you don’t think it wouldn’t be best for your novel—you can dispense with the father, stepmother, guide, and multilingual best friend. You don’t necessarily need your hero to have an elderly guide. While monkey wrenches are sometimes fun to have around, they don’t always need to be there.

And, while the three-act structure is common and clever, there are other forms of story structure which you can use.

The odd thing about writing, the one thing that we all end up both loving and hating, is that there is no formula. There is no Seven Steps to the Perfect Novel; if there was, what would the use of reading novels  anymore? They would all be the same story with slightly different characters and only vaguely different plots. You, as the writer, posses the imagination, the skill, and the power to create your own characters, your own novel, your own story structure. While you can do things similar to another author, you don’t have to follow all the steps. 

Do read them; do learn from them; do consider them. Yet always be aware that, whether your favorite author, a bestselling author, or a random name you don’t know states it, they don’t have the perfect formula for your novel.

You have that.

I have actually not read Left Behind, but instead am basing my assumptions about it off of what my sister told me.

Creating Fantasy Holidays

Creating Fantasy Holidays


Today is Purim.

“What is Purim?” You may ask, “And why are you mentioning it on a writing blog?”

Well, as some of you (clearly not those who asked) may know, Purim is the Jewish holiday celebrating the events that took place during the book of Esther. As for why I’m mentioning it here— you remember when we spoke about Creating a Fantasy Culture a few weeks ago?

That was more of an overview. Today, since Purim is on my mind (and possibly some of yours) we can go more in-depth about part of the practices of your culture.

Namely, holidays.

As a general rule, in every country that ever existed, holidays mean something. Whether people remember their meanings clearly depends on the people and the length of time since the holiday was first celebrated; but if you dig beneath the layers, you will find a meaning to almost every holiday that exists in our world.

Holidays help people to remember.

Usually events, but occasionally people. Purim celebrates the rescue of the people of Israel from brutal slaughter at the hands of a man named Haman. Over the years, it has also begun to be used to remember other times of suffering or oppression for the Jews. Every time Purim comes around, they remember suffering and, ultimately, rescue.

(In case you were curious; yes, Purim is going to be my example for this whole post.)

Of course, some people who celebrate this holiday don’t honestly care; it’s merely yet another holiday for them. And there will always be people who don’t care about what the holidays mean anymore, wherever you go.

Holidays almost always have to do with beliefs or history.

Christmas, anyone? (We’ll talk about that later.) Easter?

Holidays form out of exuberant people wanting to celebrate, or out of frightened people trying to prevent something.

Most of the Jewish holidays (Purim included) are born from a desire to celebrate. The so-called holiday of Halloween came from a pagan belief that they needed to scare away evil spirits by dressing up as demons and devils (no doubt here as to my opinion on Halloween). They were frightened people who went to drastic measures.

Holidays come up with bizarre traditions.

Have you ever noticed how strange it is to haul a tree into a house and hang things on it? Or to tack your socks up onto the fireplace?

Usually, the traditions had a beginning at some point; people rarely remember what it is. So while you may want to find out why they have their traditions, it probably shan’t be important to mention in your novel.

People forget.

They forget the original point of the holiday. They assign different meanings to it. Christmas was originally a pagan feast day, which Christian missionaries decided they could keep if they called it Christ’s birthday.

People have forgotten what certain holidays mean, and people will forget in every culture—sometimes the meaning they assign anew to a holiday is better than the original; sometimes, it is worse.

Holidays show a lot about your fantasy cultures. It shows what they’re willing to celebrate, what they’re willing to call tradition, and what they call holy. 

Does your fantasy culture have any holidays or celebrations?

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