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. 🙂

A bit of simplicity

I try to keep my eyes on various writing challenges around the Web. Some I’ve bitten, while others I decided to forego, for one reason or another. Here are three I’ve done in the last few weeks.

1. Scottish Book Trust runs a 50 Word Fiction contest. The prompt for this particular one was “takes place at a birthday party.” As with all prompts, I like to go with my first gut reaction, and I try to keep the effort to no more than an hour, since I’ve got other projects to work on. I did end up submitting this one.
As a side note, I got the heads-up for this particular contest from the Limebird Writers’ Writing Competitions and Opportunities Digest from January 13, 2014. These are updated weekly, so take a look if you’re interested in any kind of challenge, big or small.

Momma’s Come Home

He’d wept her first day, as her baby smell filled his nostrils. Six years later, when he’d cradled her broken body at the icy roadside. And today, her tenth birthday, when her mother returned, leaving him with only the haunting squeak of an empty swing, and his aching, lonely tears.

2. Neeks’s The Short and the Long of it blog has been running a 3-word prompt fiction challenge. For this one, the words were “beginning, ending, life.” I didn’t stick perfectly to this one, and I felt it ran a bit long and rambling for the challenge, so I decided not to submit. Still, it was fun to look at somewhat familiar characters through a different lens.

Collateral Damage

In the beginning, he’d had a dream. A perfect dream of perfect logic, where choices led to consequences, actions forged results, research brought conclusions.

She’d been a perfect mentor for him, teaching him well with her professional dedication and insistence on probing background checks, thoughtful interviews, and detailed evidence reports. Together, their clearance rates went unmatched in the department.

It was a good life, if solitary. Because no woman ever lasted. None could do, not against the tugging allure of the next murder to catch, the next criminal to convict, the next opportunity to show his pompous, prideful captain how very, very good he was at his job.

“Because of me,” Susan always reminded him with a smirk.

“Because of you,” Luke always admitted, equally smirking.

A good life, if solitary. Until that one stakeout, when a shaft of streetlamp light shining through the window struck her face in just the right way to make him realize his clearance rate, his success record, his whole life was nothing at all, without her.

She’d drawn back from his kiss…for a moment. Then, with a sigh, she’d put her arms around him and joined him in his clandestine desire.

She was more mentor to him in that cramped hotel bed than for any case they’d ever worked, though she’d always told him he was a fast learner, and he made sure to prove that to her. Again. And again.

He should have just stopped then, because endings weren’t something he’d ever done well. But he’d wanted her to know all the foolish, short-sighted mistakes of his youthful heart had been only that: missteps taken too quickly, too recklessly, for suppressed want of the only woman who’d ever taken the time to understand and know him as anything more than a fact-checking drone.

“Susan,” he whispered before a kiss, the rest of the words from his heart ready and willing at the tip of his tongue.

Except this time, the cringing drift of her lips was more than a moment.

“This can’t ever happen again,” she muttered, and shifted up from the bed to dress. Professional. Solitary.

He never kissed her again, or held her in his arms, or made love with the same tender, honest feeling as he’d done that night.

Except in his dreams.

3. Lillie McFerrin runs Five Sentence Fiction, where, each week, she gives readers a one word prompt for inspiration. The prompt for this next one was “Moonlight.” I…don’t know why I didn’t submit this one. I think it was too late (each challenge runs for one week). I had fun writing it, though, which is mostly why it appears here.

Nobody Does it Better

He watches in a stare as her blades slice, hissing and precise, scattering snow in their wake. She leaps and lands, one slender line carving its cutting edge deep. Turning, now, she races through a cloud of breath straight toward him, moonlight kissing her white-as-ice smile, and he thinks, even if he dies tonight, he’ll go happily, for this glimpse of her grace set free.

“I’m not going to just let you watch,” she says, as he’s blinded a moment by a fountain of flakes. “Come skate with me.”

Most writing challenges seem to be designed for people who want to write but don’t have a work in progress or current project on their plate. For someone who is working on a standing story, challenges and contests can offer a distraction from the heavy thinking of a draft or edit. Or, they can be an excuse to procrastinate. No matter how you choose to view them (both perceptions are valid), I can’t deny they often let my brain venture into new areas I might not consider while working on a larger project. And, sometimes, I just like to procrastinate a bit, too.

Everybody needs a break now and again. What’s your favorite way to take a break from your writing? Do you try a challenge? Free write? Take a walk? Have a dance party?

 

Finding Mister Wright

Even though I currently have two full works-in-progress running through my head, my evil brain decided at 4am this past Thursday morning (hi, Kate!) to come up with a completely new plot bunny. The good news is that this potential plot develops rather organically from the stories I’ve been writing these last few years, so I think I’m in a better place now to tackle some of the issues to be presented therein than I would have been even a year or two ago. The bad news, of course, is that I don’t need a new story to write right now.

I’ve had persistent plot bunnies hijack my waking brain before. Usually, writing down the one or two integral scenes in my head allows me to move on. This happened most recently with that bit of Pacific Rim side character story I had. But, this new one is more elaborate than a single scene. It’s grown from a place of inner turmoil and dissatisfaction, one that would take more than a few thousand words to satisfy the nagging in my head and guts.

I keep thinking the stories and characters to have come before each new story are simply leading me to The Story of my writerly life…which each successive story still fails to be. Too long, too complicated, too much sex, not enough action – there’s a slew of reasons why my inner critic and editor always decides any particular story is not The Story I’m meant to share with the world…if there even is such a thing, for me. I write and share those stories anyway, of course, because I can’t not write, and I feel like a story not shared is hardly a story at all. But, how am I supposed to know where to put my efforts? Just keep moving forward, absorbing and learning and creating as I go? Should I just give up on The Story and write the lesser stories that come into my head but still manage (somehow, folks surely wonder) to bring me joy?

For anyone interested, below is the plot idea I had, the story’s working title being the title of this post. I guess I’m curious to know from any of you if the idea is worth pursuing…though, I’m pretty sure it will get written no matter what anyone says, if I decide so. Because I’ve been in an FTW sort of mood when it comes to my writing, lately. 😉

Marshall Wright has the perfect uncomplicated life. He loves his days as a paramedic pilot and even more his nights of bachelor autonomy. No clamoring kids, no ball-and-chain, not even a nagging girlfriend to make him stop drinking milk from the carton and leaving the toilet seat up. No one to help him finish off that opened bottle of Shiraz, either, but that’s all right. His freedom isn’t worth the cost of a woman’s saved mobile number, not when there are so many beautiful women to be had.

Civil rights attorney Sasha Price should have been just another beauty to share his bed one night. But, oh! That night! Marshall can’t stop thinking about that night, about the woman who gave as well as she got, enough to make his head spin.

He looks for her again, back at the bar where they met. That one night leads to two, three, four, and more, full of wine and roses. His friends think Sasha may be the one to get Marshall to move on from his swinging bachelor ways. Marshall even starts to think so, too, when the woman of his dreams drops a bomb he never could have suspected.

A girlfriend is complication enough in Marshall’s life. The secret of Sasha Price’s past adds a whole new set of ingredients to the mix.

…But, damn. She might just be worth it.

(This is also a first attempt at me writing a synopsis. I don’t know if it gives away too much of the “plot” in these few paragraphs, and it’s a bit too long to satisfy most submission rules (232 words). The story itself has less to do with the “surprise” than it does with the ramifications of the protagonist learning it. Though, I do wonder whether I should make that particular hurdle known in the synopsis, so readers would know what sort of story they’re in for.)

I won’t put you on the spot about this idea or the synopsis itself, so how about this question: how do you decide on which story you should concentrate, when you’ve got more than one (or two, or three!) fighting for your attention? 

First Tries and Second Chances

NeeksWriteWeek1

Maybe you know Neeks? Well, if you don’t, this is a great introduction!

Over at her neekswrite blog, sweet Neeks has started a brand new contest of sorts, called “The Short and the Long of it.” Each week, Neeks will give her readers 3 words to use as prompt for a story or poem. It doesn’t matter how long or short the story/poem, though there are a few standing caveats regarding subject matter and word usage (specifically, no XXX, no swearing, no harming of children). For Week 1, we’ve been given these three words:
Plaid Moisture Defenseless

Now, my own judgment on what counts for XXX and harm is somewhat lapsing, these days, so I’m posting here instead of over at Neeks’s blog. Plus, my entry goes over 500 words, though only a bit. I’m also horribly mired in one particular story right now, so my mind couldn’t jump from these characters as readily as I might have liked. I did tweak them, though, but I think any readers of the sci-fi story will get ’em right away. Anyhow, here goes….

She pinned the clothes to the line, the sum total of her life: two denim coveralls, six colored shirts, three plaid miniskirts, and a pair of baggy trousers. Candy-cane-striped socks and boyshort underwear. And one lone dress, slender and colored crème, little more than a slip, really. But, it always made her feel a real woman. A fact everyone else on the planet conveniently seemed to forget.

Except for him.

Sure, twenty-seven wasn’t what she’d been looking for. But, she’d come to know him for who he was. More than just a hunter, grifter, or rogue. She knew him as a man. She’d heard it in his voice, felt it in his touch, tasted it on his lips. Against them, she’d been defenseless.

Sure, nineteen was young. But, he saw her for who she was. More than just a hacker, mechanic, or getaway driver. He saw her as a woman. He’d told her so in his whispers to God when they were alone beneath the stars, in the pattering of her heart when he’d squeezed her hand as they’d run, and in the tart need of his kiss before he’d made his farewell, followed by a hushed promise to return. Left with only that, she’d felt naked.

That had been a week ago.

Of course, she’d worried he’d been waylaid by roving scavengers or bandits. But, worrying didn’t make the time pass any faster. And, of course, she’d wondered if he’d been diverted by other, more…familial distractions. But, wondering didn’t make it true.

So, she waited. And tinkered. And washed. And put her clothes on the line, watching the dewy wetness in the creases dry beneath the desert sun…until she heard the rustle of tyres in the dirt.

The cloud of his stop was still hanging in the air as he jumped from the driver’s seat, with the spryness of a boy closer to her age than his. He scooped her up with a whoop and spun her about, hushing his own voice against her lips.

She laughed when they parted. “I can’t believe they let you go,” she said, smoothing her fingers over the scar at his temple, where once there had been the insignia of the hunters’ guild.

He grinned up at her, still caught in his arms. “Nobody’s gonna tell us what to do. Not anymore, and never again.”

She just laughed again, flicking away the moisture on her lashes with three quick blinks.

Her tear bounced to his cheek, making his grin soften. He squeezed his arms tighter around her, murmuring, “You ready to marry me, darlin’?”

She bobbed her head, a fresh slew of tears brimming on her lashes. “Just let me get my dress,” she said, and grabbed his face to kiss him again.

She spent her wedding day in that crème slip of a dress, but not her wedding night. That, she spent in his arms and a wind of rough motel sheet that kept them together for what felt like it could be forever.

“I love you,” she whispered during one relaxing lull.

His face, half-lit by the streaming moonlight from the window, smiled down at her. “I never want to be with anyone else,” he said, and bowed his head to hers.

She closed her eyes and waited for the press of his kiss, when something wet touched her lips. Again, wet.

She licked them. Salt.

She opened her eyes but couldn’t scream, despite the dripping blade sticking out her new husband’s neck.

Behind his head, she saw the black mask of a hunter, who muttered, “You won’t.” His eyes flashed to hers, as he added, “Daddy says it’s time to come home.”

This one took me to a place I hadn’t expected. So, I think I’ll borrow from Neeks’s own name, here, and end with… EEK!

Why not try your hand at Neeks’s new contest? It’s great fun!

Confettifall Christmas Contest – Processing a submission

Earlier this week, LimebirdVanessa over at Limebird Writers posted the 25th edition of their Writing Competitions and Opportunities Digest. The series in itself is full of great opportunities for writers of all genres, interests, and skill levels, but one of them stood out in particular: the Confettifall Christmas Contest. Head on over to the Limebird Writers post to get the full details (and more!).

You back? Okay.

As you’ve read, the Confettifall Christmas Contest is to create a 140-character story. Confettifall’s site says there is no particular theme for this contest, so we could write whatever we wanted, with a few caveats (no profanity, no pornography, and no poems this time around). Ordinarily, these guidelines alone would hamper my ability to tell a story, but with only 140 characters to do the deed, I couldn’t waste my character count on foul words or play. I’m wordy enough as it is!

I wanted to have a very simple theme – romance/revenge – and a moment from my past struck me. On a lark, I’d gone to a palm reader with some friends of mine. We each had our pasts/futures read, with varying degrees of accuracy. The experience was mostly just a five-dollar jaunt into something silly we’d never done before, a fun way to pass the time while we waited for the guys in our party to show up. But, one line from my fortune teller stuck with me that night, and has continued to stay with me for many years. You’ll see what I mean….

Below is the process I took for this particular challenge. It’s pretty standard to my normal challenge process, though I’ve put in some of my internal monologue, just to keep things interesting:

Goal: Write a story in 140 characters.

First try:

The tarot reader had been spectacularly wrong on most counts: she had no children, no white picket fence, no important job. Certainly, the loving, faithful husband bit was a joke. But, the old woman had said one thing that had resonated with young Cecilia: “That which you cannot create, you are destined to destroy.”

Jace, her “loving” and “faithful” husband, never saw the shot coming.

Character count: 386. Okay, that’s way too long, but I’ve got an idea going. Now, to start whittling.

Second try:

While wrong on most counts, the psychic had made one correct prediction: What Cecilia couldn’t have, she’d destroy. Shame Jace didn’t hear it, too, or he’d have known about the gun.

Character count: 181. Not bad, but it doesn’t punch. And, 41 characters too many.

Third try:

What Cecilia couldn’t have, she would destroy. That had been her tarot reading.

Jace had called it cryptic nonsense. Maybe if he’d listened, she wouldn’t have shot him.

Character count: 167. I like this one better. It’s closer, but STILL too many characters. Need to whittle it down by 27.

Fourth try:

“What you can’t have, you will destroy,” the psychic said.

Her husband called such advice money-grabbing malarkey.

Maybe. She still shot him, though.

Character count: 147. I’m drifting into slightly more black comedy territory, here. Maybe not a bad idea.

Fifth try (Starting to wear thin):

“She told me, what I can’t have, I’ll destroy.”

“Bull,” her husband said, swinging his wandering eyes back to her.

“Really?” she said, and shot him.

Character count: 146. I’m starting to hate this contest. And my writing.

Sixth try:

“The psychic said, what I can’t have, I’ll destroy.”

“Bull,” her husband said, swinging his roving gaze her way.

Maybe. She still shot him.

Character count: 140 (tested in a Twitter window). Huzzah! Perhaps this isn’t prize-winning material, but I’ll leave this one where it stands. While fun in terms of a contest challenge, it’s not quite worth it to spend any extra time on.

The whole exercise took me about an hour, from first initial draft idea to what I came up with at the end. Even though this is an “official” contest with a prize and everything, I decided I wouldn’t spend more than an hour on it, just so it wouldn’t distract me all day from the rest of my writing projects. But, it was still fun.

What do you think? What sort of process do you go through for prompts/challenges like this? On a less writer-y note, have you ever had your fortune told?

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