The Great Escapist

Most of my childhood was not spent on Planet Earth.

I was constantly and consistently travelling among the stars, exploring new civilizations or visiting ancient times long since past. I was a part of my favourite films and books, not just re-enacting but changing their courses entirely. I lived in fantastic lands where anything could happen.

And I mean I lived in those places.

I wasn’t ever in school or a supermarket or the dentist’s office. No, those places were merely the blank canvas I would paint my own reality onto. And I would stay submerged in that place for weeks. Sometimes months. I would not allow outside distractions to break the illusion. Of course, I would answer politely and appropriately when spoken to – but that was akin to being occasionally distracted from my own world. If at all possible I incorporated it into my fantasy. If it was a temporary break, I tolerated it.

It wasn’t just my early years either, it was the entirety of my childhood. And probably then some.

I actually had quite a few friends as a teenager. The majority were in fact girls, but still I whisked myself away as often as I could. And I wish I meant that in a stared-off-into-the-distance-daydreaming kind of way. No, I was running and jumping and wielding and vanquishing and yelling and conversing.

I quit with the sound effects after a couple very embarrassing instances and kept the conversing down to times when I was alone, but I still couldn’t give up the escape from reality.

Eventually, I had responsibilities and relationships and things that generally ground a person into reality. Things that we associate with the trappings of adulthood. So, knowing I couldn’t live in those places any longer, I escaped instead into the more “legitimate” fantasies of video games.

But those other places never really went away. The fantasy land wouldn’t die. I knew I couldn’t live there anymore, but I would watch through the window of my mind as often as I could. I could still escape.

Even now, with wife, children, career… I legitimize it by being a writer. But really, I’m just looking into those places and recording some of the things that happen. I’m still escaping to those other worlds, still going on adventures. I just tell people that I’m writing.

And if you hear me talking at my desk, I’m just working out a bit of dialogue.

Really.

Now go out because I can’t swing the Shard of the Whispering with you in the way. It’ll disembody you with a single touch.

The Word Search

I have a problem.

The words that I’m writing here, I’ve erased and rewritten about five times now.

There are better words to use. There are better ways to phrase this.

I can do better. I can always do better.

While this attitude can be very helpful in editing and trying to write something of quality, it horribly impedes my progress in first drafts and things like NaNoWriMo.

Because I’m always trying to edit as I write.

It’s an incredibly difficult habit to just put on hold while I write. But it just doesn’t work to sit and stare at the screen for ten minutes while I try to think of the absolute best way to word my wordy words. That’s what editing is for.

One way I combat this is to use a typewriter (no, I don’t take it to Starbucks with my curly mustache and big front-wheeled bicycle). It’s my version of writing with a pen instead of a pencil. As I write, I go along and whoops there’s a mistake oh well we must press on! Embrace the imperfections!

When I use the computer, I end up looking up every word to see if there is a better synonym out there (there is) or looking up pictures and researching the exact layout of the Louvre because one of my characters stopped by once. Google Street View is great for getting an impression of a real location, but it is terrible for actually writing something down.

This inner editor problem isn’t even relegated to writing. People ask me a question and the Jeopardy! theme song starts as I try to form the perfect answer. The clocks tick. Time passes. The leaves change colour and fall to the ground. Still, I search for the right words.

My sisters had a phrase when conversing with me: “Spit it out!”

I hear it when someone asks how my weekend went. I hear it when the burger jockey asks if that’ll be all. I hear it when I sit down at the keyboard.

Spit it out.

Spit it out.

SPIT IT OUT.

Get the words out of my brain space and into the real world.

Other than the basic not-enough-hours-in-the-day conundrum, this is definitively my biggest obstacle when it comes to writing.

The Heavyweight

When I think about the act of writing, I tend to picture a montage. There I am, typing away at the keyboard, marking a timeline on a whiteboard, pinning pictures and pieces of paper to a wall connected together with yarn strings to map out a complex web of ideas, Eye of the Tiger is playing loudly and a quirky personal coach is egging me on.

Reality is a little closer to fifteen rounds in the ring with Apollo.

It’s ugly. It’s brutal. I am fighting to keep this story going but I can’t see where I’m going any more. I’m just taking swings at the keyboard, hoping something lands. I’m asking friends, relatives, and random strangers bizarre questions just so that I can bleed out some new ideas. Cut me, Mick!

Maybe I’ll lose this one. Maybe I’ll look at it once it’s finished and chuck it in the garbage. Maybe there’s nothing worth salvaging in the whole lot.

But it’ll be finished.

I’ll have stood up to the challenge. Seen it through to the end.

I ain’t no bum, Mick. I ain’t no bum.

In the Beginning…

The blank page offers itself as an untapped realm of opportunity. It is full of potential to be the incredible tale, emotionally poignant poem, or enrapturing truth. It is all up to you.

While all that open freedom for creation is exciting, it can at times be intimidating.

Where do I start?

In my tale of galactic battles of good vs evil, do I start with the unsuspecting farmboy on his home planet? Do I start with the theft of the blueprints that set the whole chain of events in motion? Do I begin my tale with the farmboy’s father and the setup of how galactic politics became the way they are?

As far as the actual words, do I start with ‘Once upon a time’? Or maybe ‘A long time ago in the future’?

With so many options, it’s overwhelming!

Take a breath. And another.

It doesn’t matter where you start. It doesn’t matter what words you put down first.

You’ll probably change it all later. You’re not going to ruin any potential story. But you’ll never tap into any of that potential unless you write something down.

This is something I have had to remind myself many times: it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around. It doesn’t even have to be good. It just has to be. Improvement comes later.

You’re not painting the Mona Lisa. You’re not even sketching the Mona Lisa yet. This is the stick figure idea on the canvas of some Lisa person. The details and refinement will come later.

Sometimes I have to start out vague. Really vague. Then the details work themselves into a scene.

Sometime, somewhere, there is this galactic civilization ruled over by this really evil guy and his second in command. They make this big thing that can blow up planets, but the good guys steal the secret blueprints to stop it. They are on the lam, flying over this desert planet when one of the bad guy ships totally catches up with them and starts blasting the ship up. Two robots that have no clue as to what’s really going on are wandering around the ship, trying to stay out of trouble when they hear the announcement that the ship will be boarded.

“Did you hear that? They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!”

Rebel troopers rush past the robots….

Sometimes getting that exposition out of the way and really getting into a scene is what it takes to get the snowball rolling. Those blurbs that are barely an outline of a story, maybe later you’ll tune them up. Maybe you’ll cut them out. But that’s not something to worry about now.

Right now, it’s time to put down some words.

We’ll make them pretty later.

 

Because It’s There

Inevitably, when I tell someone about NaNoWriMo they get this incredulous look and ask one question.

Why?

The goal of writing 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month sounds absurd to many. The prizes for reaching the end are meager, there is no notoriety, and what you write isn’t going to be published. In most cases, what you write will barely even be readable without massive editing. So, why do it?

To that I answer: Why not?

Why not run the Boston Marathon of writing? Why not have a go at the Ironman Triathalon of literature? The El Capitan of Novel National Park awaits. Why not climb it?

Just like any physical endurance, this creative endurance trial pushes your limits and helps you to grow and discover new things about yourself. Accomplishing the monumental task is a reward in itself.

And you’ll always remember the journey.

Those I have spoken with about their experiences in marathons and triathlons always reflect on the journey. Yes, there is a little bit about the actual miles, but the journey they reminisce about are the early morning alarms for runs that started while sun was still below the horizon, the different shoes they tried to keep their feet from blistering, the foods they cut out of their diet to get in shape, the discovery that the wrong shirts can make your nipples bleed. They speak proudly of the scraped knees, the sore ankles, and how they learned to breath through side pain. Then there are the people they met. The people at the starting line who have gone through similar preparations, who are excited to endure and conquer the very same challenge. The people that they met several hours in, who were struggling the same way or maybe even worse, but somehow found the determination to continue.

Then comes “The Wall”. That point where they felt like they had pushed as hard and as far as they could. The point where they were on the edge of failure. Then they pushed some more. They reached down into reserves that they didn’t know they had and forced themselves forward. And they made it to the end. They finished. They conquered.

The trophy? Invisible.

The prize? Immaterial.

The experience? Everything.

So, here I go again, stretching my mental muscles and plotting the route I will take to write a novel in November. Some say it sounds a little crazy. Maybe so, but I prefer to call it a challenge. Some baulk at the idea. Some question why.

I have my answer.

 

 

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

– Sir Edmund Hillary

Use It or Lose It

I recently read an Isaac Asimov article on how people get new ideas. While it was interesting, coming up with ideas isn’t something I feel that I’ve struggled with in my writing. Most writers I’ve spoken with don’t seem to be plagued with a lack of ideas. Usually, it’s quite the opposite.

That’s not to say that airing out topics and ideas isn’t productive. Meeting with other writers, or even just other creative types can be invaluable when forming a new story. And while the article by Asimov related mostly to scientists and inventors, it could definitely apply to story tellers.

But as I said, most writers I have spoken with feel that they have an abundance of ideas. They find inspiration from anything and everything at totally random intervals.

The best thing to do when inspiration strikes?

Write it down.

I have many times fallen into the trap of thinking that an idea was so great that I would undoubtedly remember it at the end of the day when I would have a chance to sit down at the computer and document it.

And then life happens.

So, now I try to keep a notebook by my bed when I wake up. And a notebook in the living room. And the office. And I use the notpad app on my phone. And I have a small notebook at work.

Excessive? Maybe.

But while the pessimists say that every story has already been told, each person’s viewpoint is unique. That idea you have is your idea and nobody else will have it quite like you. Or quite like me.

Don’t let that idea go. Write it down. Own it.

Story Time: The Road to Darkness

“Are you awake over there?”

Abbigayle’s head snapped up from her desk.

“Uh, yeah. I just haven’t gotten a lot of rest lately.”

Abbigayle didn’t bother to wait for the look. Instead, she rubbed her swollen eyes in an attempt to suppress the dull buzzing in her head.

“Don’t worry, I’m okay. Just tired from all the legal stuff. The process takes a long time.” The line came out mechanically.

“If you’re sure you’re alright…”

Of course I’m not, but I’m not going to discuss this with middle management.

“Yep. Don’t worry, I’m not sleeping at my desk.”

And wait for it…

“You can always take more time if you need to.”

Bingo. What do we have for him Johnny?

“Thanks, but it’s good to be doing something again. Get back into the flow of things.”

A big vacation trip to anywhere but here, if only he’d cash it in.

Abbigayle pasted a smile on her face and endured the look from him. He nodded, flashed several variations of the look, then continued down the row of cubicles in the drab office space.

Why am I doing this? Where am I going? I am I just going through life on cruise control? I must be on the highway to hell.

“Oh my god Abbi, what happened to your eye?”

She startled again, feeling a flush of embarrassment at being caught off guard yet again. A thick set blonde stood in front of her, gawking.

“My eye? What? Nothing happened to my eye.” she replied, touching around her eyes reflexively. Still the blonde was a pantomime of horror. Her thick round face looked oddly stretched as her mouth gaped open around her short pudgy fingers ineffectively covering her gasp.

Hey look, it’s tubby what’s-her-name. She looks like she’s about to chow down on those fingers, suck all the fat right off the bones. Maybe if they were deep fried. Finger lickin’ good.

Abbigayle rolled here eyes as she realized the cause of the blonde’s concerns.

“Ughh, I must have rubbed my mascara. Do I look like I have a black eye?”

Her name is Tina… or Tanya… or Tammy. Something like that. Tubby Tina?

“No, you look like a raccoon!” she squealed.

Tubby Tabitha? That sounds better.

“Thanks…”

Abbigayle stood from her desk and squeezed past the wide-load blonde.

“I’m just gonna go wash this off.”

“Maybe if you took better care of yourself they wouldn’t have died.”

For a second she wasn’t quite sure she had actually heard the blonde say the words. That fat face had been smiling, red lips shiny as they spoke.

From all the bloody fingers.

Abbigayle was already walking away and couldn’t muster the will to turn around. She must have imagined those words, because nobody would have said that. No, people don’t say things like that. They say ‘I’m so sorry’ and give the look because they can’t put into words what they can’t feel. They don’t understand, so the look is supposed to say that they understand when it really just says ‘I pity you’.

She made her way down the long row of cubicles. It was like they repeated, the same people in the same little boxes that just blurred together as she walked down the lane.

People with no souls, that’s what they are. Just bags of flesh held together by their frilly blouses and branded polo shirts. If you opened them up, you’d see that they’re dead inside. Rotten and dead.

With a push, the heavy restroom door swung open and she stepped into the darkness. Ever since they replaced the light switch with motion sensors, you had to step into the pitch black for a second before the lights turned on.

This time, however, the door slammed shut and no light came. Just darkness.

If her eyes were open or closed, she couldn’t tell. Just the nothing of darkness and now the sensation that she was drifting, maybe falling. Her heart pounded in her chest and the buzzing in her head grew. She groped for the door or the wall or anything, but nothing was there. Moving her arms took so much effort, like they had just been turned to lead. The buzzing was worse, now like a roaring thunder in her head. It was so much that she saw stars and colorless explosions behind her eyes.

They’re in here with you. Just open your head.

The thunder had grown to an all consuming wail, a terrible screaming thing that vibrated in her skull. The pain was white hot and her eyes felt as though they were staring into the sun. She squeezed her eyes tighter closed but the burning brightness only grew. Instead of eyes, she now had hot burning coals that burned the inside of her eyelids and sent lightning bolts of pain through her brain.

She was screaming.

You banished the darkness with pain. How foolish. Stop the pain and let the darkness come back.

Abbigayle opened her eyes. The restroom stalls were empty. The lights were on, but they felt dull after the white hot that had tortured her. Her head had quieted down to a light buzzing.

Shakily, she went over to the sink and turned on the cold water tap. It felt cool in her hands, but when she splashed it on her face there was no feeling. her face was numb. She tried again, but still no feeling in her face. Not even the touch of her hand registered, like her fingers were touching someone else’s face.

Looking up in to the mirror, it was indeed her reflection. The same soft complexion, but more pale than it used to be. Her brown hair seemed wiry and messier than she had let it get before. She looked tired. She looked drained of life. There were dark blotches around her eyes.

Eyes that were closed.

Don’t look.

She stared at her face in the mirror. Still, the dark eyelids were shut.

Don’t look. Or she’ll see you.

As she leaned closer to the mirror, the reflection didn’t move. Standing. Eyes shut.

She sees you.

White hot brightness exploded from the mirror, driving Abbigayle back. The floor vibrated, the walls and everything. The room felt tilted, shifted on its axis and everything wanted to go sideways. The water was still flowing from the faucet, but now it missed the sink entirely.

Legs unsteady and heavy, she ran.

Run, run as fast as you can.

She made it out into the office, but everything was still tilted and shifting. People were working and walking and standing around. All with their eyes shut.

You can’t catch me.

In each cubicle she passed, more people with eyes shut and brightness coming from their computer screens. White hot brightness that sent searing pain through the middle of her head. Somehow she pushed her heavy limbs farther down the lane.

I’m on the highway to hell.

Her cubicle. Her desk. She sank into her chair, her chest pounding. Light was beaming from her computer screen, but this time she couldn’t look away.

That’s right. Look.

The pain was immense and the sound, the terrible sound was consuming.

Look. Just a little longer. Look.

Tears streamed down her face, but she couldn’t look away. She couldn’t move. She was strapped to her chair.

Abbigayle looked at the brightness.

This is how you die.

Then the brightness was gone. Something else was on her computer screen. A long, dark road.

You know where you’re going.

Everything around her grew dark, except the road. It was a dark, slick black road lined with the shadows of trees. There was a sharp turn ahead.

And then she knew.

How could you do this to yourself?

Her arms were so heavy. So slow.

Did you really have to work the overtime?

Eyelids like heavy weights pressed down on her eyes. She couldn’t…keep… them… open…

You should have known your limits. You just killed them too.

“MOMMY WAKE UP!!”

Talking the Talk

“Alright everyone, if you could just take your seats then we can get this started. So, can anyone in class tell me what they think makes effective dialogue? Hmm? What do you feel works and what doesn’t work for dialogue in writing? Come on, don’t be shy. Yes, Mr. Miller, what are your thoughts?”

“Well, in my writing I used to start or end every spoken bit with ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ but it seemed really repetitive.”

“Ah, the use of identifiers! Was there something that inspired your stance on the matter?”

“I guess it started when I first read Ernest Hemingway. It felt like in The Sun Also Rises there was alot of conversations, but he didn’t use those identifiers very often.”

“And yet you still knew who was speaking, didn’t you? That’s the power of using context to identify your characters. If you want an exaggerated experience, with little to no identifiers, try reading No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. A very unique experience in my opinion. What else? Yes, Miss Atwood?”

“What if there are, like, tons of people talking all at once? Don’t you need ‘he said/she said’?”

“Not always. I’m not entirely discouraging the use of identifiers, don’t get me wrong. They are often quite appropriate for various situations, but the can be a crutch that bogs down the flow of reading. One effective tool to help your reader distinguish the various characters in a dialogue is the use of unique syntax.”

“Umm, like, what’s a syntax?”

“Perhaps Mr. Perrelli would like to join our discussion and expound on syntax. Yes, welcome back to the conscious world. This is not nap time. Please, Mr. Perrelli, explain to Miss Atwood the effects of syntax on dialogue.”

“Sure, yeah. No sweat, prof. Syntax is like the way peoples put their words together in a sentence. So, if you’re from the south and gots a funny way of talking, it can show in your syntax.”

“Or if you’re from Brooklyn, it would seem. Not an entirely kosher explanation, but it serves our purposes today. Think of it like this, if I were to say, ‘Know me by my words, you do. A different way of speaking, I have. Size matters not.’  you immediately recognize the character as Yoda. A writer would almost never have to tag on, ‘said Yoda’ to something Yoda says because it would be clear as daylight! His syntax is that unique and recognizable. You too can create characters with unique ways of speaking!”

“I totally get it! So, if I had a guy that talked like Christopher Walken, that’d, like, be his syntax.”

“Close. You’re almost there. Just because someone has a specific way they sound, even if it’s a character in your head, that doesn’t always translate to the written word. Penning someone with an Australian accent is more than just spouting the phrase ‘shrimp on the barbie’ and hoping your readers are hearing the same voice you are. It involves the overall choice in wording as well as sentence structure. And of course, much research in the accent you’re gunning for. Beyond accents, you can also give the reader a huge sense of a character’s background. Are they well read and grammatically correct? Is their verbosity so veraciously vivacious and vibrant that it stands vigil to their very vaudevillian vanity? Or do the words they speak lend towards a simple, straight forward way of thinking? Do they even fully speak the words, or cut them short when they’re talkin and goin bout their work?”

“I gotcha, Prof! Dialogues is like a script. We write the story parts, but the characters write the talking parts. Not every character is gonna be written the same. The viva-verb-vanity guy isn’t gonna suddenly say, ‘Aww crap! This sucks wads’.  Plus, the more different a guy talks, the easier it is to pick him out of a bunch of dialogue.”

“Well said. Variety is the spice of character dialogue. Hark! My good students, heed my warning. Playing around too much with syntax or going too far can be very objectionable. I call it the Jar Jar Binks effect!”

“Like, OMG, total nerd alert.”

“Does anyone here care for Jar Jar Binks? No? Not one? Part of it is because he has so alienated the audience by his manner of speaking. A character can become so utterly involved in their unique way of speaking that it actually distracts from the story and disengages the reader. Someone who seems to know just how far to push unique syntax choices would be Terry Pratchett in his Discworld series. Very unique dialects and very funny.”

“But, like, what if I want the dialogue to sound real? I don’t do that fake accent, nerd stuff. I want totally realistic conversations.”

“A valid point as there is a very large audience for that. In fact, I would hazard that most fiction is done in this manner. There are several excellence exercises that will help you tune into ‘realistic’ conversations and how to artificially create them. One is to simply pay attention to the conversations around you and to the very ones you conduct. Another is to pick your favorite shows, ones that have dialogue and characters that you adore, and watch it with the closed captioning on. It will help you to make that link between the thing heard and the thing read. One show that I think did especially well when it comes to witty and glib dialogue was Gilmore Girls. I don’t know if I can readily be called a fan of the show, but I did appreciate the caliber of writing involved in the dialogue.”

“That show is soo seven years ago.”

“Yes, that is why it is on Netflix.”

“They spoke, like, hella fast too. Like, cocaine fast.”

“Thus the recommendation for closed captions.”

“I think at the end, she totally went for Jess. I have this idea that -”

“Which brings me to another aspect of realistic dialogue. People generally don’t spend five minutes at time spewing words from their face unless they are giving a speech. Speeches should be used sparingly in dialogue.”

“You said it, Prof. Maybe you should, ya know, be done with yours.”

“Dialogue is an exchange. Turns must be taken.”

“Yeah, and turns should be over by now, Prof.”

“It is much like a conversation ball being tossed between two people.”

“-and he’s, like, in his bookshop when she shows up. And they see each other and just know, cause they were totally meant to be-”

“Or tossed between some and bounced off of the unaware.”

“Yeah, and sometimes a guy doesn’t know when to give up the ball. Amiright?”

“Of course, if you’re doing a period piece, one should consider…”

“Oh jeez.”

 

Why Sex is Important

There has been quite a bit of commentary about the state of the female character in entertainment as of late. In evolutionary terms, many female characters, especially strong female characters, feel about as developed as the male action hero of the 80’s.

One dimensional. Emotionally shallow. Simplistically motivated. Dialogue challenged.

Flat.

No self respecting writer wants any of their characters to be flat, wallpaper background that is easily dismissed. So, why does this happen?

The first notion many cite is ignorance. Obviously, a male writer would struggle to write a female character because he’s never experienced life as a woman. Or so the argument goes.

I think that argument is lame and perhaps a little sexist in itself. It’s doubtful that Jeff Lindsay wrote about his serial killing main character from all that real life experience he had killing others. And please tell me how Anne Rice reflected on all her experience as a centuries old male vampire to form characters like Lestat.

No, “ignorance” is not exactly the word for it. For some, the word is “lazy”. For many others, it is probably “misguided”.

When a writer starts the outline of a character with “I want them to be a strong female character“, the results are probably going to be sub-par. It’s just like starting an outline of the antagonist with “I want them to be a smart bad guy“. That’s not a character, it’s a vague aspect of a character. It’s the tl;dr version of a character.

It’s flat as flat can be.

As writers, we try to make our characters as multifaceted as possible. We forge our characters out of their past experiences and the conflict we put them through in the story. We try to make them jump off the page.

Which is why I try not to start any story with the genders already in mind. Or, if I started, I take a moment to plug and play.

Take your story, your newly budding idea of awesomeness, and plug in a different gender for the characters. Sometimes this takes the story in an unseen direction. Sometimes it shows the shortcomings of the characters you already have in mind.

For example, let’s plug and play with the story of Robin Hood:

Her name is Robin and she just got back to her homeland from a brutal foreign war to find that her family was murdered and her land taken. The perpetrator of this crime? The sister to the king, Princess Johanna, who is abusing the power she has gained in her brother’s absence and is planning a coupe while he is away. Robin has an ally and possible love interest in Lord Marion, who is trying to stave off Johanna’s political ambitions through his influence among the noble families but often finds her one step ahead of him in their deadly game. 

Desperate to make a difference for the suffering public, Robin gathers a number of men and women who join her to fight the tyranny as outlaws.

There. We’ve taken a story that has been around the block many times and found some new aspects to it. More importantly, deciding to change the genders shows how certain characters stand out much stronger and how others fall flat.

Big example, Lady Marion. I almost forgot about her. Her character is mostly around to let Robin Hood ‘get the girl’ in the end. But as Lord Marion, it made me think of ways he would be actively doing something. Now, if I were to plug Lady Marion back in, I would definitely make hers a more active role now that I’ve realized some of her character’s deficits.

You might notice that I didn’t make Robin’s accomplices the band of merry women. I think switching to an all female cast would have just as many issues as an all male cast. Speaking of, Lady Marion is the only female character? How uncool is that? How can you expect to create a rounded, living story with half of the human race barely represented? Granted, some stories would call for that (like a single sex boarding school scenario) but most benefit from having a bouquet of characters of both sexes.

The final thing I’d like to point out from that little exercise is that you’re not just limited to experimenting with the protagonists. Bad guys can be bad girls. Too often we make a bad guy evil just for evil’s sake and make people listen to him because he’s intimidating.

Women can be intimidating too, don’t doubt that the Queen of Hearts was certainly intimidating. But, no character should be one dimensional. If you plug in a different gender for a character in your story and decide that they would take completely different actions, you better analyze why. The answer can’t just be gender. People are complex and the gender of a character is a very large facet of who they are, but it is not all they are.

The sex of your characters impacts your story immensely. Take the time to choose the sex that makes for better characters and a better story. Change it up. Experiment. Don’t be lazy.

 

 

Yes, I am a male writer. No, I have never to my knowledge been a woman, but I do know a few. I think the people I respect and admire the most in my life happen to be women. They are strong, they are humble, and boy you better believe they can be fierce. They include my ever patient wife, without whom I would be lost. My mother, who insisted that a determined mind can accomplish anything. My sister, who’s quiet inner strength I will always envy. My friend, who has often been a grounding wire back to reality. I may not always understand, but I’m always trying to learn.

Story Time: Of Fruit Not Tasted

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by the challenge presented by Chuck Wendig at his blog.

A fruit deigned forbidden holds sway over the desires of man.

She examined the ruby colored, gold flecked apple in her fingers. Such a small, delicate thing to carve out the fates of empires. One day, when her work was done, she would taste one.

“Tempted?” a deep baritone whispered behind her.

“I hunger for a fruit far more satisfying.” She whispered in return.

“…mango?”

With a turn she faced him, the tall dark haired, dark eyed man whose crooked smirk belied his hard and scruffy exterior.

“I was more thinking the fruits of my labours.”

“Always comes back to labour with you women, doesn’t it? The pain and miracle of birth that men just don’t understand… cluck, cluck, cluck.”

“Cluck?”

“You know, a hen. Cluck.”

“Yes, of course. I have known a few. I am just questioning why I ever pried you away from the farm animals you are so obviously well suited for. Life must be so confusing away from the other mud wallowers.”

He shrugged nonchalantly, but his dark eyes never left hers.

“Sometimes. But the view can’t be beaten.” he slowly pointed past her.

She hesitated, then turned to follow his line of site.

Just at the edge of the horizon, where clouds and darkness had melded all night, light began to paint the gentlest of hues on the sky. The soft contours of the clouds they sailed above slowly grew more distinct with each passing second, as though the stars above were bleeding their light out into the dark blue sky to awaken the day.

The view was made possible only because they stood on the deck of an old wooden aeroship as it sailed silently through the sky.

“It never stops being beautiful, does it?” he asked.

“I used to imagine that each vista, each water-colored sunset and sunrise were just for me.”

“Rather selfish.”

“No… just desperate for some peaceful moments.”

They stood next to each other, taking in the vast open tapestry of blue as it brightened. And when the tiniest sliver of golden sun hit the horizon, she turned away.

“All eyes on deck!” She barked hoarsely. “Rigged for silent run!”

There was the shuffling of feet on the wooden deck as a dozen men jumped into action, making for the side rails. She held out her hand as she scanned the horizon, and immediately a brass cylinder was placed in her palm by the dark man. With a fluid motion she lengthened the telescoping lens and brought it to her eye.

“They should be dead ahead of us.”

“If the winds didn’t push us about too much. Or push them too much.” he replied gently.

“And if we calculated speed and course, yes, yes, I know. They are directly ahead. They have to be. The real question is just how daring was Captain Spurle feeling last night?”

“You mean, did he want to push out of the storm or batten down? Makes quite the difference.”

The icy wind gusted once more, but she didn’t even notice. Her eyes searched the expanse of sky in front of her intently.

“No… He pushed. He always does. The question is, just how hard? Surely, the king would be quite unhappy if his expected cargo arrived in a smashed mess because the fool didn’t know when to slow down.”

As imperceptible as it was, she felt him step away slightly.

“I always forget that you know these people.” he whispered quietly.

“Knew. I knew these people. Which gives me the advantage.”

“But they knew you too.”

“Who knows the other better, the horse or the rider?”

“Aren’t they symbiotic? They have to work together.”

“Big word, farmboy. They do work together, but while a rider must know how to direct his steed and estimate it’s limitations, the horse must know what the slightest movement means. The horse learns to interpret the will of the rider instantaneously and unabashedly. It lets the master’s will become its own.”

For a moment, he just watched her. The icy wind gusted and whipped her auburn hair around in a flurry, despite it being pulled back. The cold reddened the cheeks on her otherwise fair skinned face. Her stance was as still as a statue, clad in brown leathers with wool under layers, she was utterly focused on her search on the horizon.

He had never met anyone, man or woman, who had so much willpower and who seemed to make things happen by sheer power of being. Like a force of nature, nothing seemed to be able to stop her when her mind was set. Part of him was in complete awe of her, though he had never voiced it.

There were many things he had never put to words. Perhaps someday he would change that.

Suddenly, she was shoving the brass monocular at him.

“There. The edge of the pressure system, where the clouds are dropping off. There is our spot.”

“But that still… wait. I think…”

He handed the brass back to her.

“There. Follow the tip of my finger.”

He leaned over her shoulder, trying to line up their site lines enough, and pointed to the horizon. Still attempting to get her to see just the right place, he adjusted, wrapping an arm around her and moving his lips near her hear.

“Just there. Right where that patch is breaking off…”

She rested herself against his frame as she scanned. Then she gasped.

“I see it! It’s the Court Pendu Plat!”

Her body went rigid.

“Damn it! She’s already rising! She’ll fly past our ceiling before we’re anywhere close enough.”

In an instant she was racing about the old wooden ship, giving out orders and adjusting the course. It had amazed him that she had even gotten the Crow Egg in the air all those months ago, but to see it now he never would have guessed that she had discovered the old hull half buried on his farm.

The design was old, very old, but she had explained to him once that she had sought it out with an exact purpose. The Crow Egg was originally the creation of a wholly unique engineer named VanStutten. VanStutten had in his lifetime crafted less than a dozen Aeroships and eventually gone bankrupt on the venture. What was remarkable, however, were the designs he employed. They were decades ahead of their time and many features were still not fully understood.

To many, they were historical oddities. To her, it was the linchpin of the revolution.

He had never been one to idle away time with politics, but she had impressed him with a seemingly simple plan. Stop the flow of the cider.

The royal family maintained a private distilling venture that, by law, had no competition. The apples used in making the cider were prohibited from being grown anywhere other than on royal grounds. The legal precedence was jumbled in a lot of ceremonial… what had she called it… self-servicing. Needless to say the cider, named Husk Spice, was a huge part of the king’s treasury. Attempts to choke it off had been made before, but now that it was shipped solely by aeroship, it was nearly untouchable.

Not only was the royal fleet doubling as cargo haulers but the pride of the fleet, the Court Pendu Plat, was the largest, fastest and highest flying ship ever. And if that wasn’t enough, it was one of the most well armed.

And yet, on the seemingly half-wit plan of an impertinent woman, here they were trying to stop it. Not only stop it, but raid the Court Pendu Plat. Yes, they planned on pirating it.

It was a plan that was over five years in the making and they knew they would only have one shot.

“Damn it all. We were caught on our heels. The only way we can approach it is to come down on top of it, like we planned. We can still make it, but we have to ascend quickly.” She said to him, breaking him from his reverie.

“You mean we have to lose weight.”

“Fast.”

“How much?”

“At least… 40 stone… probably more.”

He grimaced.

“I’ll start looking.”

“No time.”

He faced her and saw the grim determination in her eyes.

“Jeran.”

“Yes.”

“Kell.”

“Yes.”

“Ben.”

“No. Best hand to hand we have. I’ll need him for boarding.”

“Roen.”

“No. He’s the best helmsman we have.”

“…Then I guess it’s me.”

Her mouth opened in protest, but he quickly shook his head. He gestured two of the crewmen over, grabbed them and pulled them over the railing, into the sky.

For a moment, all she could manage was to will herself to breath. Then the Crow Egg began to rise.

Someday, after all this was over, she could reap what she had sown. Some of it would be sweet. Some of it bitter. Unbearably bitter. But for now, there was the sky.

And it was her sky.