With three more weeks before graduation, I’m disheartened to see my Independent Project coming so quickly to an end! The experience and amount of time I’ve spent working with my incredible mentor has been utterly invaluable, and though I wish I could prolong our partnership, I’m grateful for every second he has set aside his own work in order to teach me. I owe my immense improvement in writing to his inspirational style of teaching and naturally powerful way with words. Continue reading
While I haven’t actually compiled a list of writing tips from pirates, Emily Wenstrom came up with a few from Captain Jack Sparrow in her post about writing first drafts on The Write Practice. In her helpful piece, Ms. Wenstrom’s first tip is, “The rules are more like guidelines.” When writing your first draft, don’t restrict yourself; explore your options and experiment. Her second tip is, “Improvise as needed.” All the time, events take an unexpected turn in writing, but the best thing to do in this situation is to just go with it. Thirdly, “All that matters is what you can do and what you can not do.” Continue reading
As I’m getting closer to the end of the semester, my mentor and I have decided to start reviewing all of my pieces in order to choose which two I’m going to use in my final project. As a result, for the past week, I’ve been doing lots of rewriting. The goal right now is to work on the changes my mentor gave me for each literary sketch, and after we’ve reviewed those, we’ll pick my final two to fine tune. This leads me to my topic for today: nothing but revisions!
Seeing as how each of my short pieces are completely different (more or less), one of the things I’ve been trying to figure out is how to revise them all so that they all stand at the same level of quality. While I would typically go straight to one of my usual sources (Nathan Bransford) to answer this question, this time, I decided to come up with my own revision checklist:
1. Look for a great density of material in the first paragraph, or at least the first page. It’s important to set the scene (main character, setting, tone) right away.
2. Use specificity and details, especially if you want to connect them to a metaphor (or an event later on in a larger piece)
3. Either bring up or allude to the characters’ background or history to help explain their actions and motives in the current situation
4. Even in a short piece, consider the transitions in a scene, how the situation might change (e.g. a twist to the story, a revelation, a changed desire, things gone wrong)
5. If your dialogue sounds stiff and formal, try reading it aloud to see where you can make it sound more casual and modern
6. Re-articulate the points in the story that could use more impact
7. Make sure your title isn’t obvious and doesn’t give away too much
What else do you look for when revising your writing?
I was browsing the usual websites I go to for inspiration when I found on Nathan Bransford’s blog a compilation of his best writing tips! After jumping for joy, I browsed the links and ended up looking into the one entitled, “How to choose an idea for a novel.” Granted, I’m currently taking a break from my novel Continue reading
In connection to my previous post on character motivation, my most recent literary sketch focuses on the great lengths a person will go in the pursuit of success. As my mentor advised, while writing this piece, I thought about what my character wants most, what she’s willing to do to get it, and how her life changes according to the decisions she makes. With the prompt, “Twist the key,” I looked at how my character got from point A to point B and what the aftermath of that transition would entail for her. As a result, my creation has come to life and has a taken a turn towards the dark side. Here’s my story, entitled, “The Devil in Disguise” :
I gazed at the half empty wine glass clutched between my middle and ring fingers, my thumb stroking the side of the smooth surface. With a frown, I swirled the dark liquid inside and flushed the reflection of my tightly shut lips and anxious brown eyes down the burgundy whirlpool. The rich scent of black cherries and plumbs clogged my airways and I felt my body going numb, my focus dulling more so than before. It had escaped my mind how I ended up in this luxurious pent house again, seated on a leather sofa at an ornate wooden coffee table.
No, not here, I remembered as I gathered my thoughts. I restudied my surroundings. Over there. I had stood at that floor-to-ceiling window expanding across the wall, staring blankly into the same city night with lights shining and streaking below. I had been holding a wine glass then, too, contemplating the offer before me as I waited for the same dark man to finish our deal.
A shiver rippled through me when I looked at him sitting across the table. Damon Cavanaugh, a man as mysterious as he is calculative, as sinister as his skin is moon-pale. He may have the chiseled looks, the custom suits, and the reptilian leather shoes of a successful businessman, but it couldn’t hide the darkness that seemed to ooze from his pores along with his expensive cologne. He fools others with his dazzling smile, myself included at one point, but I discovered a while back the chilling nature that creeps beneath his storm gray eyes. Mr. Cavanaugh was no man of God, if he was even a man at all.
I didn’t think I’d need him again, But under different circumstances, I reminded myself and tried to relax. I was different now and better off. This was just another business transaction, a chance to stabilize my already soaring fashion line. That young helpless girl from before was gone and only Rachel Howard remained: grown, confident, and independent…or so I wanted to believe.
And yet you’re back here, the ever increasing cynical voice in my mind said. I looked back at my reflection in the glass of wine, as if the nervous woman staring up at me was the one who spoke the truth. In a flash, she morphed into the girl who had stood at the wall-sized window years ago, dressed in sullied ripped clothes and forcing herself to sip her glass of wine like it wasn’t the first sanitary drink she’d had in over two months.
“I…” I began, as if to respond.
“You what?” I froze, the sound of Mr. Cavanaugh’s eerily suave voice shaking me from my thoughts. Turning in his direction, I stared in apprehension as a shadow seemed to hover over his black curls like a murky distorted halo. “Not having second thoughts, are we?” he joked with an unsettling chuckle.
“Of course not,” I answered, forcing myself to smile and taking another sip of wine.
“Of course,” he repeated, his voice now holding an edge to it. Mr. Cavanaugh’s eyes studied my face as he slid the contract across the table, a stack of papers that would have taken hours to read and conveniently had the signature box on the cover page. “Sign there,” he said, pointing to the dotted outline, “and it’s all yours.”
I took a deep breath as I stared at the official document. A measly signature and it’s done, I tried convincing myself. Then why did it feel like I was signing my soul over to the devil?
“Ms. Howard?” he inquired. While the courtesy was still present in his tone, it was clear Mr. Cavanaugh had less patience than before. “Something wrong?”
I bit my lip, building up the courage to say something. “It’s just—” I cut off midsentence upon meeting his gaze. His storm gray eyes had somehow darkened to black and his dazzling smile had changed into a sneer, his teeth looking sharp like a demon’s maw.
“We’ve already discussed this, Ms. Howard,” he said in a voice both so threatening and reasonable that it made my stomach churn. “I didn’t think you’d be an ungrateful client. Do you know what happens to my ungrateful clientele?” My eyes found their way to my cup of wine and I pushed the glass away, the now bloody looking liquid nauseating me.
“I’m not ungrate—” I started and ceased when his eyes pierced me like knives. I didn’t dare to interrupt again.
“Let me remind you that it’s because of me your good fortune has surfaced. You may have graduated from your rags to those nice $500 suits you like wearing; you may have even lulled yourself into a false sense of security, decided that you don’t need me anymore,” he said simply, a lilt to his voice. “But you and I both know that you’re not secure, that you still keep that tattered denim jacket you first wore here in a box at the back of a walk-in closet I gave you. That you keep it for fear your business flying off into a million dollar industry is nothing but a dream and that glorious Rachel Howard will revert back to Millie, a dirt poor girl picking pockets, dumpster diving, and living from shelter to shelter before I was gracious enough to sweep up the trash and turn her into the piece of art I have sitting before me tonight.” He readjusted the cuffs of his sleeves, like this was idle chatter he mentioned every night. “Now I gave you the money and restarted your business myself. Seven years was the agreement for you to clean up your debt, and if you still needed help, to come back and sign an official contract with me, yes?” I was too staggered to respond and only nodded. “And you’re here now not because of the loans and unpaid bills, but because you do. Need. Me. Every dime—every penny spent on your fashion is mine, and I will burn down your company as fast as I built it up if you betray me.”
My bottom lip started quivering as tears blurred the edge of my vision. Mr. Cavanaugh sighed with satisfaction, perhaps even pity, as his features returned to their human-like appearance. “Ms. Howard, all I’m saying is that you asked me to make your dreams come true, despite the risk of losing everything again like I warned you might happen. And even though you’re on the verge of repeating your mistakes, I’m here to fix it all. The debt can be gone, and your company can flourish as you become the finest female designer in the nation. I’ve set up the door to your dream and have given you the means to enter it. All you have to do is twist the key.” With his dazzling smile, he pulled an engraved pen from his pocket and held it out to me. “It’s time to make your dreams come true, Millie…permanently.”
With only a moment’s hesitation, I took the pen and opened the cap, a few tears escaping my lashes as I pulled myself together. “Ms. Howard,” I said in a hollow voice. “Only Ms. Howard.”
I hope you enjoyed and will share your thoughts in the comment section! My prompt for the next assignment is “Fragile hearts and minds,” and thus far, it looks like the piece will involve a bloody mess… Stay tuned!
At last, it’s great to be back! Although I wasn’t writing short stories while away in New York for a project, I have been working on an assignment my mentor gave me. As he put it:
“Your Assignment 4 for the period of your Senior Project is to observe, and to question motives (either internally or verbally, your choice) of everyone you meet, strangers and intimates alike. What are their goals, large and small? What moves them? What decisions in their pasts might have led them to this moment, this choice, this course of action. Can you peer into the mundane, banal, and quotidian choices, and discover when these god-like creatures before you rendered an infinite array of possibilities down to the singular choice, let’s say, to purchase a cup of coffee as the best, the only way to live this moment?”
Before I share the notes I took on this assignment, I did a little research on tips about character motivation. The first two that came to mind were from one of my previous posts involving Lisa Cron’s 7th Random Writing Tip, “There are two basic motivating factors for all human action: Fear and desire,” and Kurt Vonnegut’s 3rd Basic Creative Writing Tip, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
After that, I found “How to Explore Characters’ Motivations” by Joe Bunting. In his post, Bunting says that in order to show readers why your characters do the things they do, try interrogations: “To understand the motivations of your characters, you need to interrogate them. Strap them to a chair, shine a bright light in their eyes, and make them talk.” It’s the responses you get from your characters that you need to convey to your audience.
Elizabeth Moon’s, “Motivation: Attaching Character to Plot,” has great advice, too, adding how characters’ personal experiences greatly influence their actions: “Motivation is the power behind the plot…Your character’s prior experiences gave the character values to apply to situations–to recognize problems as problems–to decide to act–and how to act in those situations. So the most important things to know about your character are internal things, things that make him/her behave believably in human terms, not just physical-science terms. Motivation attaches character and plot and converts events and traits into Story.”
As I’ve learned, every artist needs the power of observation in order to better understand the way people act and to help convey the behaviors of characters in writing. It’s important to discover which motives are exciting to you and make you want to write more about them. While my observations of people’s motivations didn’t go into a lot of depth, here are some of the choices I saw people make in New York and what I determined might be the influence behind them:
- Career Path:
– Filling a void, creating an awareness about something you’re passionate about
– Choosing the ideal to search for a lucrative job instead of pursing what you love
– Use as a stepping stone for a larger goal
– Following your dream
– To learn and become your own person
– Find something where you’re happy with what you’re doing
– Obligation/promise to someone close to you
– Family connections/ family business
– Provide for family
- Getting a cup tea:
– Getting over illness
– Linking to positive memory
– Only drink available
– Climb the company ladder
– Start a family
– Get hired from an intern to an official employee
– Building connections/relationships
- Going Out to Eat
– Exploring the different food options available
– Enjoyment of eating at restaurants
– Don’t have anything to cook
– Meeting people
- Staying in a hotel
– Cheaper than renting an apartment
– Resources at the tips of your fingers
– Hotel closer to where working
– Don’t have any friends or family members to stay with
- Taking on an intern
– Chance to pass on what you know
– Open a door to opportunities for someone else
– Getting the chance to learn from the intern
– To help, just as someone once helped you
– Remembering what it was like when you were an intern
– Wanting to see someone succeed
What other motivations have you found in people or your characters?
My last literary sketch based on the prompt, “She must live!” was a great success and I’m very excited to share it with you all in this post. I will admit, the piece does have some necromancy in it, but if you’re expecting something along the lines of the Zombie Apocalypse, you’ve come to wrong place (though please stay and read on anyway!).
Before I get to my sketch, however, I quickly wanted to provide another writing resource I found here on WordPress. StereoTopical Blog is a space that offers advice, tips, and tutorials on writing. It’s also a spot for new writers to display their work in prose and articles, and, as the site put it so nicely, a place “to build a strong community of writers of all walks of life and of any caliber.” Their posts range from Writing Basics and How-To’s, Tips, & Hints, to Book Club, Competitions, and Writers’ Review. You can check it out here at http://stereotopical.net/!
Now, as promised, here’s my short story, entitled, “The Other Side”:
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. It should’ve been him lying there, not her. Controlling the tremors of his hand, Griffyn reached out and brushed Narissa’s cheek with the tips of his fingers. The paled dark skin felt unrecognizably cold. Moving closer, he mimicked a memory of him caressing her face, touching her as if she might turn to dust. Only this time, Narissa’s still features didn’t light up with a smile, her hand didn’t move to tuck her dark curls behind her ears, and her eyes didn’t flutter open to gaze back at him. With every passing second she lay on the stone altar, she seemed deader than before, and Griffyn couldn’t take it.
“You’re sure this’ll work?” he asked, his voice and demeanor still able to maintain composure over the ache in his throat and the piercing pain in his chest.
“For the second time, yes,” said the melodic voice, still eerily beautiful in its tone of annoyance. “It takes time. I won’t tell you again.”
Tearing his gaze from her corpse, Griffyn glared at the thing that had the audacity to speak to him with such condescension. The creature stood on the other side of the altar, eyes closed and pale lips moving as he whispered in his cursed language. His gloved hands were lighting what seemed to Griffyn like the fiftieth candle. The rest were arranged in a circle around them, the burning smell of incense mixing with the musky air of the forest. It unnerved Griffyn to see the flames so close to the ground, yet harmless to the blades of grass they licked.
“Then get on with it!” he snapped. “I don’t have all night!” Though Griffyn would wait decades if it meant getting Narissa back, he refused to let this thing know how desperate he was. The creature called Raphael opened his eyes, his silver stare sending a chill down Griffyn’s spine. Griffyn disguised his unease by readjusting his grey suit jacket and running his hand through his usually immaculate blonde hair, now tousled from this nervous habit.
“If you hadn’t messed with dark magic in the first place, your girlfriend wouldn’t be dead,” Raphael said, the moon lighting up his translucent face and reflecting in his ebony hair. He placed the candle above Narissa’s head. “Be grateful I’m willing to break the law for this.”
Both of them knew any demon caught practicing magic would be arrested on the spot and a twenty dollar bill would erase the company of any human present. That being said, it puzzled Griffyn why Raphael was helping at all. From the lessons his parents had taught him to the crimes on the news and the deal-gone-wrong that had put him in this mess, Griffyn rightly believed that these things were demons in human form. Yet, Raphael wasn’t like any other creature Griffyn had met, not that he frequently interacted with their kind to begin with. The thing had even offered to do the job for free, though Griffyn wouldn’t be fooled by another one of these abominations. Being left in its debt would be the second worst mistake of his life; he was already trying to fix the first.
“Just do what I’m paying you to do or I’ll call the authorities,” Griffyn threatened.
The creature narrowed his eyes at him. “Mind your tongue, human. Your patience isn’t the only one that runs thin.” Griffyn grimaced before taking a step back, allowing Raphael to continue with the ritual.
Raphael pinched the tips of his leather gloves and pulled them from his hands, revealing his black magic-stained nails. He closed his eyes and raised his palms, chanting in the cursed language again. Every foreign word and syllable burned Griffyn’s ears.
Suddenly, the still forest burst with a violent rush of air and the flames of the candles erupted skyward, blazing above Griffyn’s head. He gasped at the rising ring of fire and felt his skin crawl at the rush of the magic gale. The atmosphere felt thick with heat, the smell of sickly sweet smoke now filling his lungs. He looked back at Raphael and found the creature unfazed, the wind pulling at his hair and his words echoing louder into the night.
Though his heart was ready to leap out his chest, Griffyn found himself smiling; he could feel Narissa’s presence coming from the other side. At that moment, the smoke from the flames billowed upward and swirled like a tornado, the heart of the mass, now glowing gold, whirlpooling down in the direction of Narissa’s body. Griffyn used his arm to shield his eyes from the rapid gusts; nothing would stop him from watching his love’s soul reenter her body.
Before the golden tip plummeted into her chest the ground shook. Cracks ripped through the earth beneath the altar and the flames of the candles wavered. The swirling smoke possessing Narissa’s soul hesitated before vanishing in front of Griffyn’s eyes.
“No!” He rushed forward, grabbing his love’s body in his arms. “What’s happening?”
Raphael’s eyes were now open, staring at the helpless man and the lifeless body he held.
“It’s too late,” he said as the ground settled. “There’s nothing I can do.”
“How is it too late?” Griffyn exclaimed. But the creature merely shook his head, the flames around them dying down.
“No!” Griffyn yelled, clutching Narissa’s body tightly against his. “She must live! Bring her back to me!”
Nature didn’t respond to him as it had to Raphael. The ground remained still and the candles went out with a puff. Griffyn was left with his face buried in Narissa’s hair, her curls drinking his tears, and the wind carrying away his helpless pleas.
Thanks for taking the time to read my work and I hope you enjoyed it! I’d also love to hear your thoughts and advice in the comments section, as well as other writing resources you find particularly helpful. My next writing prompt is “Shatter the Bone,” and I’m drifting towards connecting it with notorious tomb raiders. Look for my next post to see how I take a crack at my next short story!
First off, I’d like to thank everyone who responded to my last post. The advice and links you shared with me were fantastic! Here are just a few of the writing tips I picked up from other sources:
From Lisa Cron’s 8 Random Writing Tips…
1. “Make sure every scene gives new information; never tell the same information twice.”
2. “Everything must be earned; there’s no such thing as free lunch–unless it’s poisoned.”
3. “There are two basic motivating factors for all human action: Fear & Desire.”
From Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Basics of Creative Writing…
1. “Every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water.”
2. “Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action.”
3. “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them so that your reader can see what they’re made of.”
For more tips from Lisa Cron and Kurt Vonnegut, you can find them at http://wiredforstory.com/8-random-writing-tips/ and http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/538.
And as I said last week, here’s an excerpt from my literary sketch based on the prompt, “The Sun Will Die Tomorrow,” titled, “The Last Chance”:
“Brandon stared at her door with the extinct ocelot motion-poster, the familiar brown feline eyes shifting from side to side. Becky was supposed to have met him at the mudflats of the pond in the Dome Garden. There, they always dug up good material for research and experiments. Even with the Emergency Announcement that was broadcasted in everyone’s homes last month by the holographic Mr. Finney, their parents wouldn’t extend their bedtimes past 8:30; work had to be done on the weekend mornings. But meeting her today was especially important. Wednesday, April 15, 2153, would be a day to remember, which was why Brandon insisted that Becky find him before all the chaos started. She hadn’t.”
Thanks again to everyone who gave me advice! My mentor and I will be reviewing my sketch this Monday. Until then, my next sketch will be based on my interpretation of the phrase, “She must live!”
After making some final touches to our plans, it’s been decided that for the rest of the semester, my mentor and I will be working on lots and lots of short literary sketches! My final project will include two of these sketches to be edited and refined into finished pieces, logs of the conversations I have with my mentor, and a sit down discussion of my work with a small committee of peers and faculty. Continue reading
This past week, I tried writing the next five pages to my novel and found that not only was I struggling to get through the first page, but that I was in fact, stuck. Why? One would think writer’s block, which many people have come up with various solutions to. But soon, I realized that the problem wasn’t as much of a mental block as it was a chink in my plan. Continue reading