A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Fun - Contest Reminder

It's the last day of the contest folks. If you haven't put in your comment or (better yet) sent me a copy of some celebratory story, poem, etc, then you need to get on the ball. Click here and do your part. Then I can do my part, meaning randomly drawing your name. And then Elana will do her part, namely awarding the prize. Thank you again Elana, for contributing so much to my celebration of 200 posts.

I will perform the random drawing of a name sometime tomorrow morning, so join in on the fun before it's too late. Actually, I'm thinking I will have my youngest son pick the name randomly, and I'll maybe post some photos of said selection process.

On another note, I do plan on discussing how my critique session went with my short story class very soon. Unfortunately it's the end of the month, and that means I have articles due at Brighthub.com and possibly articles to edit as well. My post on the critique may have to wait until tomorrow.

Have a great Friday everyone, and good luck to those who have entered the contest.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writerly Wednesdays - Consequences

There should always be consequences for our characters' choices. There's a movie I love to hate that really illustrates what happens when we DON'T keep this in mind.

The movie The Family Man (starring Nicholas Cage) is a tragic example of characters lacking consequences. Allow me to explain. Cage plays a single, rich, successful president of a huge corporation. He's insanely rich. An angel (played by Don Cheadle) decides to give Cage a glimpse into how his life would have been different had he made different choices, and Cage wakes up the next morning with a wife and kids. The wife is his old girlfriend from college, whom (in his real life) he didn't stay with because he was pursuing his career. The resulting scenes while he is in this glimpse are actually hilarious and fun.

The ending is where the story fails however. Cage wakes up from his experience back in his old luxury apartment, rich once more. He rushes off to get in touch with his old girlfriend and (after a dramatic speech) they are together again.

The problem with this ending is that he is still rich, his girlfriend is a rich lawyer, and all the choices that brought them (and kept them) together as a family during the glimpse don't exist. They are able to ride off in the sunset and have an even better life together. There are no consequences though, because they are able to have their cake and eat it too. They've attained success in their various careers, and it is assumed that now their marriage (after the end of the movie) will also be successful, full of romance, etc. Every bit of the movie that made it entertaining up to this point has just been completely invalidated.

To take this discussion into the realm of writing, if we make the same mistake in our own story, we will invalidate our own characters and maybe even infuriate our reader. Consequences are a necessary part of writing. Every choice we make in our lives has a consequence. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. Our characters have to be exposed to this as well - even if they are unaware of the consequences or blatantly ignore them. This is a reality of life, and including it in our stories keeps the writing honest and authentic.

If we're writing a murder mystery for example, there has to be a consequence for the killings. If our MC chooses to marry Beth instead of Susie, there should be something given up (or lost out on) as well as something they attain. Becoming a bricklayer instead of a politician for example, means a difference in salary and social echelon. All of these are consequences our MC must experience and face up to if we want our writing to resonate with truth.

What are you thoughts on consequences in writing? Do you consider them as you create your characters?

Edit: Don't forget ladies and gents - only a couple more days to enter the contest. C'mon, you don't want to miss out on these awesome prizes, do you? Get your butt over here and drop off a comment. There's not much time left and you'll be kicking yourself if you don't.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday - I've Finally Decided

I don't remember if I've mentioned this before (primarily because it's not completely writing related) but I've been pondering where I want to go with my professional life. You see, I'm currently a govt IT worker and while I get paid decently enough, I find it no longer fulfilling like it used to be.

The problem with making good money is that switching jobs might mean making less - something that can be difficult when you're supporting a family. I have spent the many weeks since graduation examining where I am, where I'd like to be, and figuring out what it would take to get there. I take my role as my family's provider very seriously, and I have included my wife in all my thoughts and musings.

I decided on basically three possible courses of action. I could remain where I am and retire in another 16 years. I've worked there 16 already, but because of my age, I can't start receiving retirement for some time to come (age 55). This is a sobering thought, because I'm fairly certain I don't want to do this type of work for another 16 years and there really isn't anywhere to advance to.

Another option I have been considering is going back for my Masters degree. I could either go for a Masters in IT - Security or choose a degree in an entirely new direction. The IT degree has some great benefits, one of which is that the program fulfills the basic certifications required for employment by the National Security Agency (as well as other comparable security employers). Such a degree might open significant doors for me.

A third option I have been weighing is working towards becoming a full time writer. This is what we'd all like to do, isn't it. Be able to sit at home and just write all day, in our pajamas no less. There are significant drawbacks to this choice however, most importantly the lack of benefits of any kind (i.e. medical, 401K, etc). I know there are plenty of you out there who do it all the time (and probably make a decent enough living), but this one scares me more than any other.

Last but not least, I have been considering a mentor position working for Western Governors University - the college I recently graduated from. You see, every student at WGU is assigned a mentor that guides them through their degree and helps keep them focused, all the way through to graduation. I was extremely impressed by my own mentor, and I have thought for some time now how much fun that would be. I have also thought how fulfilling it could be, helping people make it through college. The kicker of course is that the entire school is online, so (after a 4-6 month training period at WGU) I would be able to work from home. They also have great benefits, which satisfies the provider in me.

In the end, I've decided I am going back to get my Masters degree after all. I haven't decided WHICH one I will go for, but I'm scheduled to talk to an enrollment councillor soon. I have also decided that I will keep my options open, but I will either be using my degree to go somewhere security related in IT or become a mentor. It will just depend on what opportunities present themselves when I am done.

Don't worry though, fellow writers. Despite the fact that currently I am discounting becoming a full-time writer, I have no intention of stopping. I am just not ready to bet my family's farm (so-to-speak) on it. If I do manage to write a best seller (that sells millions of course), you can rest assured that my plans will change once more. I will continue to write every day, and I will probably still take a writing class here and there where I can.

I feel much better now that I've made a decision - now that I know where I want to go. Kind of ironic, isn't it? In my real life, I like to know where I'm headed. I like to know that my world is safe and secure. In my writing however, I'm content to let the story go where it will, no matter what dangers it holds for my characters. Kind of funny, actually.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday - Criticisms and Class Notes

Today I'd like to talk about my thoughts regarding my short story class session this past Wednesday. Jody Hedlund is responsible for getting me going on this though, since she put up a great post on handling feedback on our writing. This particular topic is important to me because (as I've mentioned previously) I just handed my short story to everyone to workshop it.

This is an interesting feeling, putting my work out there to a group of relative strangers and waiting for their feedback. On the one hand, I like to think I enjoy sharing what I write whether it's first draft quality or revised a bit. I know how good (or bad) a writer I am, and I don't have a problem facing up to the mistakes I make.

On the other hand, this is the first thing I have written where I am actively hoping to work it up to publishable quality. What I mean by this is that with the WiPs I've written before, I would like to publish them but that destination is a long way off. With this short story, I can actually see the glow at the end of publication tunnel (and I'm hoping it's not a train). With this thought in mind, I guess I'm a bit more nervous about what these other people might say. I'm trying to remain positive, trying to remember that whatever criticisms they have will only improve my writing. I won't deny however, that part of me hopes they aren't cringing or feeling frustrated at having to workshop a story that (in their viewpoint) obviously isn't ready.

No matter how it turns out, posts like Jody's helps me keep in mind the positive things that can come out of criticism.

Besides turning in my story, class was really fun. We had a few people read off their flash fiction exercises (I didn't do any since I was getting my story ready). I was extremely impressed by the quality of the writing that my fellow students displayed. If I can capture even a little bit of what these people do so well, it'll be awesome.

We also had some on-demand, timed writing exercises that really challenged me. I liked it alot though, because the pressure of time made me just write and not think. That's not to say I didn't pause a couple times, but for the most part I just kept my fingers typing away and it was fun. The exercises involved being given a single word and using that as a launching point for writing something creative. If you've never done this before, I highly recommend it. Just pick a noun or a verb at random, set yourself a short time frame (like 5 - 10 minutes) and write. It was really cool and it was probably the first time I've ever felt like I was writing almost nonstop.

I will pick things up again probably on Monday, since I have alot of reading and class exercises to do this weekend. I also want to mention that I received my copy of Hearts Of The Morning Calm by Galen Kindley a couple days ago. I'm a few chapters in and I am blown away. His writing is phenomenal and I am so happy to be the recipient of this book. I will say that I'm not exactly thrilled by the cover though. Pink is not a color I spend much time with (okay, I actually avoid getting anywhere near pink), and this book has lots of pink on it. The words within the pages however, are more than worth dealing with the barrage of pink.

Sir Kindley has been gracious enough to agree to an interview, which I will conduct once I'm through reading his wonderful tome. Keep your eyes peeled for that coming up soon. And if you haven't entered my contest, get on it. There is only one more week to go, since it ends on April 30th. The prizes to choose from are awesome folks; you'll be kicking yourself if you miss out.

In closing, remember this:

You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose.

But you can't pick your friend's nose.

Ba dum dum dum!

Happy Friday, everyone.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hit 39...Turn The Page

I have been toying with the idea of this post and I almost wasn't going to put it up until I read something Sandra wrote. It's an interesting post you should read.

People mention the 40th birthday as a significant event, but I'm sitting here at 39 (as of Monday the 19th) and thinking it has more of an impact. It's the silent breath before the battle, the toes extending out over the cliff. Okay, that's a little melodramatic, but hitting 39 does make you think about things.

For starters, my birthday is not as fun as it used to be. I live in Denver, so my birthday is too close to the tragedy at Columbine High School. I even have a cousin who was a teacher there. Then of course there's the Oklahoma City Bombing, another terrible tragedy. And of course, having your birthday right next to Hitler's isn't exactly cool either.

I was not personally affected by these things, but they weigh on my mind nonetheless. When I think about these events, I am saddened by the loss of life for no real purpose.

Turn the page...

Time to get back to more optimistic things. I finished my short story (tentatively titled "The Job") for my writing class. I even managed to do a bit of editing on it. I changed the first section because I felt it didn't catch attention quick enough. The ending is a little abrupt, but I think that's how it has to be.

Since I'm turning it over to the workshop crew this evening, I'm feeling more anxious than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. To make matters worse, I had a co-worker read it this morning and I typed the wrong word in a sentence halfway through. But they're already printed and I really don't want to re-print 10 new copies. Grrrrr.

Oh well, at least I know the error is there and it's not a HUGE error, just a wrong word. Here's hoping there aren't ten million more.

Last but not least, if you haven't entered my contest, get your butt over here. The prizes are awesome, folks. You don't want to miss out on this, and entering is as easy as commenting on a post. Get to it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ten Word Tuesday - Criticism

Which is worse...

Preparing for criticism or actually receiving it?

Blog Chain - Different Characters And Exercises

Before I launch into the blog chain question, I want to make sure everyone knows about the contest in progress. If you haven't stopped by this post, you need to. The contest is fun and the prizes are awesome (care of Elana Johnson, writer extraordinaire). Get your butt over there and enter today. I'll wait.

Okay, now that the housekeeping is out of the way, let's get to it. The amazing and talented Sandra has started off this round with two questions. She gave the option to answer one or the other, but I'll do em both. Sandra asks:

Have you ever created a character different from yourself in some significant way, such as (but not limited to) different gender, race, ethnic group, religion, or sexual orientation? If so, what, if any, research did you do to portray these differences? Was this character a main character, secondary character, or walk-on? Did these differences have an impact on the story?


Have you ever written writing exercises? If so, did you find the experience useful? What type of writing exercises were they, and did you do them on your own or as part of a writing class or workshop?

My first attempt at a novel (before I really knew anything at all) had a young Hispanic woman as one of the main characters. Other than being married to a wonderful Hispanic woman who is eternally young (that's right baby, I won't put your age in here. You're 29 and holding, right?), I had no background to pull from. This woman is also homeless, which is another aspect of life I thankfully have not had to deal with. Did I panic? I think not.

I searched around and was able to interview a woman who was working at a place that assists homeless women. She was a young Hispanic woman who had been homeless herself at one point. I wish I could relate her story to the world because it was so amazing. I will say however, that she had a profound effect on how I viewed my main character from that point on. Although I have put the story on hold for now, I will go back to it someday when my writing is significantly improved.

As for the second question, I am currently embroiled in a short story writing workshop. Although we're only a few classes in, we've already been doing some really cool exercises. The first one involved writing an entire story in only 550 words. That was pure torture for me. I guess I'm a masochist though; I didn't quit the class and I can actually say I'm glad I worked through the exercise.

We've also done writing-on-demand, where the teacher gives us a sentence and tell us to go from there. We're dealing with flash fiction currently, something I've never worked on before. Oh, and of course we're writing our own short story, to be workshopped by the group. Did I mention that I get the honor of turning mine in first tomorrow? Can you say stressed out? I'm more than a little nervous.

In any event, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Michelle Hickman is following me tomorrow, so make sure you stop by and read what she has to say.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Contests

If it's not enough to enter my contest, you can always head over to Sarah With A Chance. She's holding a contest that makes mine look positively weak by comparison. Still, if one of you manage to win it, that'd still be cool. If I do, you know I'll be shouting to the rafters. So head on over, fill out the form, comment on her blog, put up a post about it. Oh, and if you do manage to announce it (successfully) to Oprah, I definitely want to know you have those kind of connections.

Good luck!

Friday Celebrations - Contest Alert!

Since I recently put up my 200th post, it's time to celebrate. And what better way to celebrate than with a contest?

What are the details of this contest? It took me a few days to decide how I wanted to do this, but I've come up with something I think will be really fun. I love reading what others write, so I'd like you to write something for the contest. The topic is a celebration. You can relate a funny story involving a real celebration or you can make up something completely fictional. It can be short or long, any genre. If you don't want to put it into the comments section (because you don't want anyone else reading it), email it to me at estallsworth@comcast.net. Just make sure you put in a comment mentioning that you did that. I will then randomly select a winner.

Just to make this clear, I will NOT be judging the quality of your writing. I just enjoy reading how different people handle the same topic. And I am learning how important it is that we keep writing all the time, so this is a great excuse to motivate you all.

Now, I can hear some of you out there groaning. You don't really want to share your writing, you hate writing exercises, whatever it is. I'm not about to be an ogre, so if you just want to be entered in the contest without being forced to write, that's fine. Just get me a note from your mother (just kidding). All commentors will be included in the drawing regardless of whether they actively participate or not. I'm of course hoping that alot of you WILL write, but I'm not going to require it. This is about fun and celebrating, after all.

The closing date for this contest will be in two weeks on April 30th. That will (hopefully) give everyone plenty of time to write something (if they so desire).

The prize for this contest is awesome. Somehow I have managed to convince the extremely talented Elana Johnson to pony up her services. Whoever wins this contest get their choice of one of the following:

1. A critique of the first 10 pages of a work in progess/final draft/whatever.
2. A critique of your query letter.
3. A free copy of Elana's magnificent e-book From The Query To The Call.

Don't ask how I managed to obtain the prizes from Elana. I offered up my soul, but Elana replied she'd rather have cash. Kidding people, kidding. She was actually okay with a soul contract.

In closing, enjoy the following video. Feel free to dance along in your office/cubicle/living room.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bare Bones Homework

Here is what I finally ended up with, though it's not completely finished.

Peter grabbed the rough wooden rail with a calloused hand. He exhaled and straightened with effort. Today marked his third attempt at impressing Cynthia, to no avail. His complete lack of agility made Peter nothing more than a practice dummy for the real knights. He wished there were an easier way to win Cynthia’s heart than combat on the practice field, but gallantry seemed to be the only thing she cared about.

With these thoughts in mind, Peter ignored the pain and puffed his chest out. He nodded at the man who’d sent him sprawling and strutted off the field. Peter kept up the pretense until he was out of sight of the castle, even though every step reminded him of the bruises he’d sport tomorrow.

No matter how often Peter practiced with sword and shield however, his skill never improved. Peter refused to give up. Every afternoon he swung a rough wooden sword at a makeshift target. His daydreams were filled with the sounds of steel upon steel, his body encased in brilliant armor, and Cynthia cheering him on. Every evening however, Peter faced the grim reality of his destitute life. There was no beautiful, wealthy woman to admire his prowess – only barren farmlands and a crumbling home.

Then one evening as Peter was rubbing sore arm muscles and cursing his luck, a knock came at the door. Nobody ventured out here, he thought. Maybe it’s a bandit. He shrugged and headed for the door. He had nothing to steal, and killing him was probably not worth anyone’s time. The well-dressed man at his door was not what Peter had expected. The man caught him off guard, so much so that Peter didn’t even object when the man strode in without so much as a word.

“You are in need of help, young man. And I can provide it…for a price, of course.” The man’s deep voice sent chills down Peter’s spine.

“Sir, I don’t know what you’re selling, but I ain’t got a single coin to hold in muh hand.”

The man touched a finger on the dusty table, clucking his tongue. “Oh, I think we can come to an agreement, my young friend.” He turned to face Peter. “You wish to win the girl’s heart, don’t you? I can provide you with a sword that rivals all others. And all I need is your signature.”

None of this made sense to Peter, but any chance to win Cynthia’s heart was worthwhile no matter how odd. He signed the paper with an odd quill the man provided, and then the odd man folded the document carefully.

“You don’t have a seal, do you?” the man asked. Peter shook his head, so the man said, “Don’t worry, a drop of your blood will do in place of wax. I will seal it myself.” A prick from the man’s long fingernail, and the agreement was sealed. Then the man pulled forth a magnificent sword that gleamed in the faint light. “With this sword, you will never lose.”

Feel free to comment. I've got thick enough skin so don't worry about hurting my feelings.

Week Two Of Class - Almosts and Uh Oh's

This week's session in my short story class was...interesting. For starters, I arrived a few minutes early rather than stumbling in late like last week. That helped a bunch, since I don't enjoy the embarrassment I feel whenever I arrive late somewhere.

We had a writing assignment to create a bare bones story. We were supposed to write something very short that adhered to a basic framework. Somebody wants something. They are striving to obtain it. Something blocks their way. They overcome this with the help of something supernatural. Tada, The End. Note, I'm keeping this very general because my teacher asked me to not re-iterate the workings of the class. But this is the general idea of our homework.

Those of you who remember I'm a pantster, raise your hands. Can you imagine how much I struggled to plot out the story? I fought against my natural writing instincts, I wrote passages and abandoned them as either inept or not following instructions. I even wrote the entire thing before realizing that while it was a decent story, it didn't really fit the proposed exercise. I started over too many times to count. And in the end, I wasn't able to completely finish the story (though I did come extremely close). I just ran out of time, to be honest.

I will post an excerpt of this final version of my story in the next post. Then you can all point, giggle behind your hands (the ladies, that is. I'm hoping none of you men out there would giggle behind your hands), and see what happens when I am out of my comfort zone. It's not my best work, I fully admit.

The one good thing I got out of this however, was a clear understanding of why I need to do something similar to this when I am writing. While I might not want to plot everything out, I do need to answer the basic questions. Why is my character here? What do they want? What is keeping them from it? So the exercise did help me, even if I didn't quite finish it successfully.

One other thing I noticed during the class was how much it reminded me of a group meeting. The only thing missing was each of us standing up to say "Hi, my name is Eric and I'm a writer." I've never been involved in this type of atmosphere, and I honestly can't say whether I really like it or really hate it. Sometimes I feel like I talk too much, and then other times I feel like I should speak up and I don't. I have this war going on inside my head, pride fighting against my lack of self confidence. Or maybe it's the idea that what I have to say will sound incredibly idiotic, as if everyone else views the sky as blue and for some reason I'm seeing purple.

The 'Uh Oh' hit at the end of class when we had to pick workshop dates for our short stories (the ones we will be receiving direct feedback on). The teacher started the signup sheet going the other way around the circle, so of course by the time it got to me, the only spot left was to be the first one to submit. So yeah, I have to have my story ready to go by next Wednesday. I'm so glad I started messing around with this thing a month ago or I'd really be stressing. I'm still stressing a bit because I know how rough it is. It's a first draft still. And I still have the last quarter of it to write. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I should have the results on it in two weeks.

A question for you all as I wrap this up. Have you been in a writing class or something like this before? If so, how did you deal with feeling comfortable about speaking up, being a part of the discussion?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Moments

There are a couple of things I've been meaning to mention, just in case you haven't stumbled upon them yourself. These are posts by others that have piqued my interest and are noteworthy for one reason or another.

For starters, if you haven't heard about Shaun's book The Deathday Letter, you're missing out. If you want to see what all the fuss is about though, Shaun is offering a glimpse at his work in the form of the first chapter (and the second as well, if you become a fan of the Facebook page). I have read excerpts of what Shaun can do, but this view into his book is awesome.

Once you come back from reading Shaun's chapter, you need to dance your way over to a post by The Surly Writer. Michelle takes a simple idea like walking around and turns it into an incredible experience. She depicts those around her with an unnerving accuracy - would that I could grab even a sliver of that skill. Her post left me visibly shaken, because of how wonderful it is to see the world through her literary eyes for a moment.

Finally, I wanted to talk about a story from another medium that I recently re-watched. I sat down with my sons yesterday to watch Soylent Green. If you've never had the pleasure of watching this one, I highly recommend it. It's understandably an older flick, but I think it has still aged well. In fact, my 16 year old and 11 year old sons enjoyed it as well. The big stars you may recognize are Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. I won't spoil the story for you either, other than to say it's apolyptic sci-fi fun.

In ending this post, I just realized this is post# 199. Wow, where did the time go? I am going to have to think of what to do for my 200th post.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blog Chain - Marketing For 100, Alex

That's right sports...er...literary fans, its blog chain time. The question this time around comes care of our own wonderful Michelle Mclean (yeah, we have two Michelles on the blog chain now, so I gotta specify). She poses the following question:

Do you write for the market or for yourself? Why? Are there times you do both? Or times when you've written something specifically because it was "hot" at the moment? If so, how did it turn out?

This is a fairly easy question for me to answer because I'm the resident newbie on the blog chain (or at least I feel like one most times). You see, I am not yet at the level where I am ready to market my works, put myself out there, etc. So when I write, it's for me and me alone. Now this is not to say that I don't wonder if what I am writing will ever be marketable, but I don't feel educated enough yet to worry too much about it.

For just a moment however, I will expand my thoughts and answer the question as if I WERE ready to market my writing. Knowing myself, I think I'd still have to write what I write because it's in my head at the time. I've never been very good at writing what others expect me to write. I don't think it helps my creativity at all, and in the end the writing just comes out forced. The times when I feel like I've written something well confirm this; the writing is good because I lose myself in the words, not because I am writing something I think will sell.

I'm an eternal optimist I guess. I truly do believe that if the writing is good, it'll sell no matter what. A perfect example of this is Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford. Yes, I'm a vocal champion of his work, but that's beside the point. The story involves the time period right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. While there may be older generations who can directly identify with this time period, there are a ton of us who can't. For many people these days, the bombing of Pearl Harbor is something that happened in the history books, not something they identify with. Regardless of this fact however, it is my belief that the writing on the page is incredible enough that any generation could get happily lost in the story. I also believe (after interviewing the author himself) that he just wrote the story because it was a good story, not because he thought he could sell it.

My heart tells me this is true. The part of me who believes that good writing is marketable, no matter what the subject matter. Optimistic to the extreme perhaps, but it keeps me working at my craft so that I can improve.

Someday I hope to be ready to put my works out there, to be querying alongside all the rest of you. I'm quite certain however, that whatever I put out there will be whatever I manage to scrawl on a page. It may not be part of the current trend, and then again it might. What I hope it will always be is my best work.

If you haven't had a chance to read my predecessor Sandra's answer, you really should stop by. And tomorrow, you can read an answer from one of our newest members of the blog chain, Michelle Hickman a.k.a. The Surly Writer(she's not really that surly, btw).

What are your thoughts on this question? Do you write for the market or yourself? And no, your answer doesn't have to be in the form of a question.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Class Writing Prompt #1

Henry’s gift to Clara was a cruise to the Arctic, just for her. He’d been planning this for months. The day he was ready to present it however, Clara was late coming home from work. 5 PM came by. 6 PM. Where the heck could she be? Her law firm was known for late hours, but he didn’t know of any pending cases she was working on.

“Yes, I’m looking for my wife. Is she in a meeting?”

“I’ll have to check, Mr. Robbins.” The hold music dragged on. “I’m sorry Mr. Robbins, Mrs. Robbins has left for the day.”

Too many unspoken questions waited on his lips. He didn’t want to cause a scene , but he was getting worried. Clara was too well known by the city’s underbelly. Death threats were almost becoming commonplace, despite her assurance that they amounted to nothing. Truth be told, he was the timid one. Clara was a bulldog with a law degree.

“Thank you for checking. I’ll call her on her cell.”

He hung up and dialed again, knowing that she wouldn’t answer. Clara was a stickler for turning off her cell phone while driving. The fact that she should already be home didn’t escape him, but Henry was ignoring the warnings pounding in his head.

There was a knock on the door. Clara wouldn’t knock. He jumped towards the door and yanked it open, but he wasn’t surprised by the badge and the gun. Henry just leaned against the doorframe and closed his eyes. Too late.

Where Have I Been? Man, Let Me Tell You...

I hadn't planned on being unplugged from 'Da Muse for an entire week. But like my writing, life rarely works out as planned.

Today is the beginning of a new series of posts. I am currently enrolled in a class about writing short stories, and I intend to chronicle my thoughts on each Thursday (for the next 8 weeks, anyway). I promised my teacher I would not discuss the details about the class, I wouldn't post the work of others, and I would make this just about me. If you get anything out of this (even if it's laughter at my feeble attempts), the posts are worthwhile.

I arrived barely on time (maybe even a minute or two late), which is not a good thing for me. Arriving fifteen minutes early was burned into my brain before I even left the womb. Being late made me a tad bit nervous, which I didn't need since my stomach was already doing flips.

The class was already involved in an exercise to get to know one another, and ironically that helped make me feel better. It was fun, I got to see how similar and different we all are, and I didn't feel THAT different. There are some people in the class who are very experienced (maybe) and there are those like me who need more guidance. The range of personalities is across the spectrum too, which is cool. Me, I'm not the quietest of the bunch but I don't think I'm the most vocal either. Another guy holds that title.

After we got to know one another, we read a short story and discussed it. I like and yet don't like this type of thing. I like the fact that I get to hear so many different perspectives. There were things I didn't notice when I read the story that others did. That was interesting. What I don't like however, is trying to discuss why the author wrote one thing as opposed to another. That type of discussion just bugs me, primarily because I don't think that's a question anyone else can answer. But overall, it was still fun and useful.

The last thing we did was a writing prompt. We were given one sentence and told to write the rest. I'm going to post what I wrote on the next entry (since this one has dragged on a bit), but I'd like to say this was the most enjoyable part of yesterday's class. It challenged me to write without thinking. I did a very good job of not editing, and I kept typing the whole time (pretty much anyway). And despite the first draft nature of the writing, I like what I churned out. It has potential anyway. I now have some homework to work on, which involves some reading AND some writing. I'm really excited and looking forward to next week.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Do Your Characters Order You Around?

For most writers, I can guess the answer to that question. I was talking to some friend's last night though and the conversation cracked me up inside. My friend's daughter was talking about Stephanie Meyers and a quote that she said. She basically stated that the characters in the Twilight series made her write the books a certain way, that she had no choice in the matter.

The daughter thought that idea was crazy. I explained to her that I didn't think that was all that bizarre and that alot of writers feel that way about their characters. She gave me a weird look, but didn't really say anything.

This morning though, I was thinking about this again and I had to laugh. If you had told me a year ago about something like this, I would have thought the idea was a little crazy too. It's funny how I don't think that's too weird now. I can hear all you plotters out there siding with my friend's daughter though. If I planned my novel out, I'd be in control, right? Yeah, that particular habit is something I doubt I'll ever adopt in any big way. For one thing, I get a thrill out of seeing where my characters are taking me. It's that bit of unknown that makes me chuckle and keep writing.

On the other hand, I can see how being in control might make it easier for me to guide the story. I'd be telling the character what to say and where to go. But in the end, they wouldn't be themselves; they'd be mirrors of me, walking through the storyline. By letting them work their own way through the story, I believe it lets me envision them in clearer detail and with more realism.

What about all of you out there? Do your characters order you around? Do they tell you how the story needs to be? And how often do you listen?