Looking Back (Fearless)

It’s been a rough start to the new year. Work has been busy, yes, and social media has become a larger part of my job. Between that and homework home life, some things just need to get pushed to the side.

When life gets me down, I enjoy revisiting the stories that brought me joy, either in the creation, the characters, the story, or sometimes even just the memories of the process. Back in 2011, my NaNoWriMo project was a romance story called Fearless. I loved those characters so much, I returned to them in a 10-years-later glimpse in one of my “Finding Mister Wright” short stories (the story is no longer available online, but you can read about my reasons for writing it at the link). That’s not what this post is about, though.

Whenever I go back to older writing, I always get the urge to re-do it. In the case of Fearless, the story is already undergoing a major overhaul, but the guts of it are still there. The original scene below was one of the first things I wrote for this story, and it was conceived as a teaser opener, so online readers would know up-front what they were getting into. When I opened this up again the other day, I still liked it…but I knew it could use some work. The “rewrite” version below is not a final version, but I think it does do the job a bit better than the “original”. You’re welcome to read the comparison or skip over it; it’s there mostly as a personal prod that this is a work-in-progress that should get some of my attention.opening-rewrite

Most of my free reading time is devoted to pleasure books – on my bedside table right now are a Mankell Wallander crime book, Sapkowski’s second collection of The Witcher short stories, Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033, and a few others – but reading those stories of which I once felt proud for finishing gives me pleasure, too. Of course, it would be nice if someday some other person can enjoy a story I’ve written, but the journey is one of progress. I’ve said before that writing “The End” when we finish a story isn’t really The End. There’s a long road of re-reads, rewrites, and re-evaluations to be done. But it’s also fun just to play, and to wonder what could be.

So, I’m not dead…though, there are days when it feels like I’m not much more than that. As for you, dear friends, read well, write strong, and be excellent to each other out there. Your stories are worth telling.

Nev, revisited

One of my recent Timehop memories was a #TBT / #ThrowBackThursday to my very first 100 Word Challenge for Grown-Ups, from February 2012. At the time, I was deeply entrenched in writing the first draft of “Fearless,” which remains one of my hope-for novels. (It’s currently in draft 2.5, for anyone wondering.) That long-ago 100-word entry was titled “Everyone Loves Neville,” and, if you’re interested, you can see the original at the link. That first writing challenge started me on a path of picking up more over the years. Through those challenges, I learned a lot about the value of words.
There’s a lot in that first foray that I like. There’s also room for improvement. Here’s a second take on that effort, hopefully for the better:

The girl lingered beside him, her chest heaving even though they’d been out of the water for ten minutes. “Thanks for the lesson, Nev.” Her wet lashes flickered at him. “If there’s ever anything I can do…?”

“Just practise,” Nev said, before sending her on her way.

Ross sidled to his shoulder, to stare after the girl swaying up the shore. “You lucky bastard. Everyone loves you!”

Nev looked at him: his friend with the wide, luscious smile and eyes so deep and blue he often dreamt of drowning in them. He sniffed and picked up his board. “Not everyone.”

I tried to set myself to a 100-word story-a-day challenge this past May, but it didn’t pan out. I did manage a few short vignettes which ended up being pretty good, but the lack of readers and feedback quickly deflated my excitement.
There wasn’t much reason to go back and “fix” this bit of short challenge writing, except that Ross, Nev, and the others have been on my mind again, of late, and that Timehop reminder of my first 100WCGU challenge prompted me to revisit sweet, lovestruck Nev. Of course, I can never stop at rewriting just one thing. As it so goes, I’ve also been working on rewrites for lots of my “Finding Mister Wright” short stories (including the one I just sent in for 4amwriter’s Dare to Write summer challenge!), and Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens, the big sci-fi/action team novel from 2014’s NaNoWriMo. But, that’s an update for another day….
Who else out there remembers the 100WCGU challenges? Have you ever challenged yourself with a writing-limit goal? Working on any interesting rewrites, lately? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to know I’m not doing this alone. 🙂

Out of Decline

Earlier this week, I updated the main header image on this blog. The last image was a photo I’d taken a few years ago in La Jolla, and its setting sun scene was pretty, but, over time, I came to associate it too much with decline. Decline of readers, decline of interaction, decline of my self.

A header image is rather like a book cover. It should say something about the writer, and that “declining” feeling of the old header image wasn’t what I wanted to project as indicative of me or my work. So, I went through my drawing archives and picked out a bunch of pictures that represent me and the stories – or attempts at stories – I’ve made over the years. Long-time readers may recognize one or more of the characters and stories on display, but, from current left to right, they are:

  • My adulterer/lovers, from many 100 Word Challenges for Grown-Ups and Five Sentence Fiction entries
  • Amber, from Fearless
  • Chie and Yousuke, from 1 More Chance!
  • Nev, from Fearless
  • Fram, who is the only one not from a story, but whose helmet I spent too long researching and drawing not to include here
  • Sally, from “Slave Girls and Shining Knights”
  • Ross, from Fearless
    and
  • Zera, from “Anywhere but Here”

These selections may change over time, as I hope to develop my drawing skills along with my writing, because I really want to get some representation for my Borderlands From Hell (A Love Story) continuity up there. Someone or someones from my “Finding Mister Wright” stories needs to be up there, too, because even as I write this post, I’m finishing up yet another tale of love, growth, and honesty with the Wrights and McAllisters. But, for right now, this is what I’ve got.

This is me.

I Really Did Love My Father

…but, for some reason, many of my characters have difficult relationships with their own fathers. It’s the reverse of the Disney Princess situation, where it’s the mothers who are missing (seriously: many Disney Princesses just seem to not have had mothers at all!). In the majority of my stories, main characters challenge their fathers, are estranged from their fathers, their fathers are dead, or some semblance of all three. I honestly don’t know where this particular character detail comes from, since I had a pretty good relationship with my own father, and I honestly did love him. I think the admission of that love is what I’ve enjoyed exploring through these stories of children challenging and reconciling with the patriarchs of their families. Or, maybe it has something to do with the idea of The Patriarch being emotionally removed from his children, so he doesn’t show a lot of love to them. Whatever the reason, the fathers of my characters tend to get the short end of the stick. That must be the reason why, when my characters grow up and have children of their own, they are so determined to be openly loving men to their kids.

Chie, from 1 More Chance!, which I wrote between 2009-2011, rebelled against her father in her choice of boyfriend, but that was a tame conflict compared to the stark animosity Amber showed to her father in Fearless, whose first draft I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2011. Daniel’s conflict with his father, written over the last few weeks and linked to below, is somewhere in the middle between those two perspectives…and, I have to admit, related to some of my own feelings about my dad, which I haven’t examined too closely since he died in 2014.

“Butterfly”
[~13K words / 51 pages Calibri DS- PDF opens in a new window]

This story plays with time in a way I haven’t attempted before, but I’d recently read a novel that jumped back and forth in time in a similar fashion, to share story details between scenes, that I found interesting. I don’t know if I was completely successful in my attempt – I wondered if I should have done more jumping, just to break things up – but I always enjoy writing these characters, and the opportunity felt right.

Two of the guest characters in this story are returns for me, while another is based on a university colleague, and another is an homage to a writer friend’s adventuring archaeologist. I really enjoyed bringing back my own characters into this fold, and I do hope my friends don’t take offense to me envisioning them and their creations in a way that fit into my story. But, that’s the beauty of relationships, right? You never know where they’re going to take you.

On thinking more about it, the challenge of writing this story that I really enjoyed wasn’t so much the technical aspect of skipping around in time or between worlds of my making, but the Daniel character’s uniqueness in this situation, in that he is both a child and a parent, struggling to find the balance between both aspects of himself.

How do your personal relationships with family or friends affect your characters and their stories? Do you ever find yourself writing a little bit about yourself in your stories? From a technical perspective, what are your thoughts on time-jumps in storytelling? I’m happy to hear your answers to any of these questions! (And, if you’re hearty enough to actually read the story, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about that, too!)

A little breathing room

September seems to be a popular birthday month. It must have something to do with cuddling together when it’s cold outside during the traditional winter. I celebrated my birthday this past week, too. While I may not have been able to celebrate with everyone I would have wanted there, I did enjoy a very fun and filling tasting menu supper in the city.

But I’m not here to talk about indulgent food.

Recently, several storyteller friends of mine have brought up the topic of scenes or chapters in a story where nothing really happens. There’s no big action, no deep conflict, just the characters slowing down to talk, reflect, or enjoy themselves. The prevalent argument in today’s how-to columns is that every scene should push the story forward. In some cases, that technique works: strict short stories, for example, where the prose should be so airtight that every dialogue and action needs to contribute to the plot. For a longer story, though, I believe slow-downs are necessary.

A story can’t stay at 11 all of the time. The characters – and the reader – need some breathing room between the big conflicts. This downtime can be represented in any number of ways: a conversation, a love scene, even a birthday party.

For some reason, I like using birthday celebrations to look at a character’s life. In 1 More Chance!, I used Chie’s boyfriend’s birthday to introduce her to his family (among other things). In Fearless, Ross’s birthday is an excuse for his crew to get together for a party on the beach. In the “Finding Mister Wright” universe, Rob’s birthday is used to contrast the ideas of life and death. And, in my most recent story on the subject, one of my From Hell bounty hunters uses an old birthday to bury his past. Now, 1 More Chance! is a massive, meandering relationship story, and the “Finding Mister Wright” and From Hell examples are self-indulgent free-writes, so they follow their own non-rules. The Fearless birthday chapter, though, offers what I’ve always thought to be a necessary moment of relaxation between the second and third arcs, where the characters get to have a little bit of simple happiness before the new conflict hits. Seen alone, the party on the beach doesn’t do much for the novel as a whole. The main point of the chapter is to show how well these characters fit together, and how far they’ve come from the beginning of the story. There’s not much more to it than that. But I think it’s good to have smaller, calmer moments like this in a story, to show the reader who and what has been affected by the conflict that’s happened, or by the conflict yet to come. And, just as it’s good to have these smaller, calmer moments in stories, it’s good to have them in life.

Birthdays are as much about our own growth as they are about family, friends, noisemakers, and food. That growth includes rest as well as action. So let’s push on with our stories. But let’s also not forget to allow for a little bit of breathing room now and again.

What are your thoughts on quiet moments in stories? Do you ever use a birthday occasion in your stories? What kind of birthday cake do you like best? 🙂

First Choices [includes yet another "Finding Mister Wright" free write]

Writing has a lot to do with first choices. We write from the tips of our fingers, trying to get down all the words running in our heads. When we sit back and take a read through what’s on the paper or screen, we can start to second-guess those words. I’ve written enough first drafts – enough words – to know it’s okay to trust my first choices. They’re usually right. But, sometimes, they’re not.

After I’ve finished a story, I’ll let it sit a while. For a short story, maybe a few days; for a novel, sometimes as long as a year or more. When I go back and read it again, it’s easier to see which first choices were right and which ones were, well, not so right as I’d originally thought. That distance is important. It grants us a fresh eye and fresh mind. It also grants us greater honesty with our work. Hopefully, we’ve grown from that first draft, using other stories. The distance, honesty, and experience work together to help us see that draft in a new light. If we’re ready, and inclined, it puts us in a better place to cut, weave, and create a more perfect story than what used to be there.

All of this is just me saying that I’m back in editing mode again. I’ve pulled up Fearless and have started to go through it piece by piece, chapter by chapter, conflict by conflict, to make it a better story than it was, even if it’s never perfect. I loved the story then and I love it still. I’ll likely be doing some more off-the-cuff writing while I edit this time, though, because I learned from the From Hell edit that I get a little lost when I’m not creating anything new. But I’m ready for this next challenge. Let’s see how good my choices were the first time around.

To celebrate this new chapter in my own journey, I pounded out another short-ish free-write set in my “Finding Mister Wright” universe, where the Wrights and McAllisters talk about, fret over, and celebrate their own first (and second) choices.

“First Choices” (~2700 words/9 pages; PDF will open in a new window)

Have you made any first choices lately with your writing?

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