Monday, August 31, 2009

Writing a Story from Conception to Conclusion: Part 2


My plan was to present the written story. Now I'm not because I cannot decide how to end it.

Knowing the end is the second part of story writing, the first being the original idea.

Since I failed to conceive an ending before, or soon after the plot idea gelled, the plot is dangling precariously over the precipice.

Due to this, I'm presenting the story as it stands now, and will let it sit for a few days until I invent an ending I feel is satisfying.

Rather like biting into a chocolate bar and discovering that the raspberry filling is delightful.

So here is the story so far. I would of course be interested in comments and even ideas of how this should end.

Please keep in mind that this is an incomplete first draft only. Stephanie may need to, and probably will, go though more difficulties and life changing events before I'm finished with this fragment of her existence.



Convergence (847 words and counting)

Stephanie walked barefoot to the bedroom door. As she passed the bed, the partially opened drawer in her husband's nightstand made her pause. Since her husband was very secretive, she grew curious and attempted to peek inside. She felt a quick tingle of trepidation as she reached for the small brass knob.

A glance over her shoulder let her see that the bathroom door stood closed, yet she still felt the need for caution. She pulled her hand back.

As she turned away, trying to decide whether to look or leave the room, she saw her reflection in the mirror over her dark oak dresser. The frown pinching her thin blonde eyebrows into steep arches changed her mind.

Once she heard the shower running, she quickly slid open the drawer, lifted out a white sheet of hotel stationary and saw what she believed was a ring of lipstick halfway down its right edge.

Jealousy lanced her heart, brought a sob to her lips, but when she held the paper under the light, she realized that the red smear was blood. Hesitantly, she pressed her fingertip to the surface. The stain felt slightly sticky as if it had not dried completely. Stephanie looked at her finger, saw nothing on it, but wiped it against the edge of the drawer.

Across the middle of the page in unfamiliar masculine handwriting, she read: Friday, 8:00am rear parking lot 1111, 63rd Street.

Glancing up, she attempted to picture the address mentally but failed.

Abruptly, the shower shut off. Her heart skipped and she tossed the paper in the drawer, closed it completely and lay back on her side of the bed with her eyes closed while she wondered, where did the blood come from? And who is he meeting?

She opened her eyes enough to see him as dressed in shorts as he slipped under the sheet, and seconds later, she heard his steady breathing.

Waiting until she felt certain he would not waken, she left the bedroom, and dressed in the laundry room. With her shoes in her hand, she went outside, sat on the white wicker porch chair, and slipped them on. Five minute later, Stephanie drove into town.

63rd Street wound through the central business district. Stephanie parked near the corner where Peterson Avenue bisected 63rd. She fed the parking meter, and glanced up at the street entrance of the building next to her.

"1001," she read under her breath, and walked to the next building, found it was 1013, and continued until she confronted an older brick three story that seemed dwarfed by its modern ten-story plus surroundings.

A narrow alley ran between 1111 and 1121. When she entered it, she discovered a well-worn uneven cobblestone path. The modern stone and steel wall to her left was lined with windows shaded by vertical blinds.

The brick wall on her right had three windows, two of which were bricked up. The last was at the rear corner, and behind it, she saw soiled curtains that obscured the interior.

Enough sunlight lit the alley that she felt confident that she might find some answers. As she reached the back corner of the building, the alley opened into a small fenced in courtyard.

Woven wooden fencing stood five feet tall and blocked access to the property. She approached it, lifted onto her toes, and peered over the top.

"Oh my God," she said louder than she wanted, when she spied what she believed was blood, gathered in a depression about fifteen feet away.

Determined to learn what her husband had gotten involved in she boldly looked for an entrance, saw one directly behind the brick building, and made for it as stealthily as possible.

She raised her hand to press the latch, and heard scuffing behind her, felt a hand grasp her upper arm tightly enough to force her to cry out.

"I'm sorry," she cried. "I just wanted to--"

"Nothing," a deep male voice demanded. "You will do nothing but turn around and leave here."

"Okay," she agreed and struggled to get free, glancing down at the fingers squeezing her arm and saw that his nails were raw and dirty, stained red.

"My husband is coming here soon." As soon as she said the words, she knew she'd made a serious mistake.

"Why would he come here?" The hand grasping her arm, twisted hard, forcing her to lean into it to avoid serious pain.

Nearly on her knees, looking up into his shadowed face, Stephanie gasped, "You're hurting me."

"Answer my question or you will know pain." He twisted again.

She felt her knees press into the stones yet he did not release her.

"I don't know why," she cried. "I found it written on a piece of paper and there was blo--" she stopped abruptly.

"There was what?" He leaned applying enough pressure to grind the bones in her elbow.

"Blood, there was blood on it!" Stephanie screamed.

He lifted her and then shoved her hard, releasing her arm at the same time.

She threw out her hands, but her head slammed into the pavement and she collapsed, blacked out.

--

To be continued.
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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Vampire Life Part 6: Protecting Your Vampire Lover


Keep in mind that the first requirement for vampiric transformation is death. With that knowledge, one must reevaluate the title Vampire Slayer. To slay is to kill, meaning the final product of slaying is a corpse.

Well of course, if you begin your slaying by killing the dead, you can understand the confusion. How does one kill what is already dead?

Therefore, how do we define the efforts of those brave men and women who cast aside fear, dark scary places, and numerous spider webs to slay what is already dead?

Before we do that, let us step outside the parameters of such unreality and examine the vampiric transformation process itself with a brief story.

Joe Bledsoe walked casually along a narrow southern country lane on his way to his local church. He carried with him a well-worn bible and around his neck hung a hand carved crucifix he received for his baptism. Joe was pleased with himself having accomplished so much in such a short number of years. As the Parish's newly appointed pastor, his flock looked up to him for his spiritual guidance and wisdom. At 27, he knew his life path was established with the security of Divine Guidance.

A rustling in the trees to his left, slowed his step. "Hello?" he called confidently. "Do not be afraid, brother or sister."

He allowed a note of optimistic compassion into his voice to encourage the stranger to step from the obscurity of hiding and onto the moonlit path, which Joe trod with the footfall of the blessed.

The rustling came again, only this time the sound was behind him, not to the front as the noise had been a moment earlier. Joe, feeling a lance of trepidation spear into his chest, lifted his free hand to grasp his crucifix rubbing the pad of his thumb over the well-worn surface.

When a heavy cold hand landed firmly on his shoulder, Joe gasped out a sound like a squeak and turned to look at the man now standing directly behind him.

"I didn't hear your approach, brother," he said, hearing a note of excitement in his voice and wondering why the pale stranger made him feel so elated rather than afraid.

"You would not have, brother Bledsoe," the stranger's rich sonorous voice told him. "Nor will you resist me as I relieve you of your earthly coil."

"My earthly coil?" Joe asked sounding confused as he watched the man lower his head, saw him curl back his lips to expose twin incisors as they touched and then pierced the flesh of Joe's neck.

Joe died standing, feeling all that he had been moments before evaporate into memory that, too, blinked out and left him standing in a spiritual void.

Now, for this example to work as I wish it to, the vampire must revive Joe so he becomes a member of the living dead.

Oh, you noticed that the crucifix did not deter the vampire? Nor did the Bible, it seems. Well, not all myths are firmly grounded in reality.

The vampire lowered Joe's body to the dusty earth, and kneeling alongside him, suddenly understood the irony of the moment. With a blood-dripping grin, he used one long fingernail as tough as a knife's edge, to slice his own wrist. Carefully peeling open Joe's lips, prying down his lower jaw, the vampire allowed his reconstituted blood to drain into his victim's mouth.

Joe's eyes popped open as the strangely potent life reviving fluid worked its magic and the vampire withdrew. His wound healed instantly.

Okay, now Joe is a member of the living dead, yet he left something behind. Well, other than his life. He left behind his beliefs, his emotions, and his desire to live a productive existence. After all, he is now a member of that rare breed of humans known as vampires.

I wonder how much we'd fear vampires if they only killed the worst criminals -- oh sorry, I grew distracted.

You see, vampires must feed just like the rest of humanity. The difference being that living humans feed on animals and plants they kill, and vampires live on animals and humans they kill. Hmmm.

Of course, living humans still deal with conflicting emotions, striving for success in their daily activities so they feel accomplishment. After all, life is a gift, right? A gift so stupendous, to waste it might be the worst criminal act a living human can commit.

"Really," said the vampire curiously. "Is that so? Humans do much to enjoy wasting time, hours a day watching TV, online, texting, chatting. Why, I say, that's just criminal."

Yet, the living dead have shed the burdens of emotional entanglement, except for an occasional attraction, or need for companionship. Perhaps immortality confounds immortals.

Living humans know of their finite existence, despite their best efforts to ignore death's carnage and flee its approach.

So where or what is the line that separates the two "life" forms: Living humans from the living dead?

I think it might be that immortality thing again. Did Joe Bledsoe think while he lived, Should a vampire be granted everlasting life here on earth when I am not and will never be?

The only recourse is to encourage those pesky, vampire slayers.

Living humans kill humans with the death penalty right, so why should this be different? Killing the living dead is just repeating that action to make sure it takes the second time.

Therefore, we return to the problem of slaying a human who is dead. Some slayers have reported that a few vampires invite the end with relief. They attempted to starve themselves, but slipped into a "blackout" the way alcoholics do and fed anyway. Heartbreaking really.

Tis better to select a victim than kill randomly unless you dread the procedure.

Now, how does this help you protect your new vampire lover? Well, understanding your opponent is the first step to a successful defense.

The slayer feels driven by normal human desire that is tweaked, not to be mistaken for tweeted. Of course, not every human believes that killing is good. Some despise the death penalty. However, the vampire slayer is not one of them, but instead believes in an eye for an eye.

Think of approaching the living dead and succeeding, ending its existence. The slayer can only safely kill during daylight hours.

Yet what happens if you are with your lover while he sleeps? You can protect him. Use a Taser to stun the slayer and then tie him up. When your vampire awakens, well you understand the consequences and your vampire will feel deeply grateful.

Of course, there is the rare vampire who does not need to avoid sunlight. Unfortunately, he may not be interested in companionship, unless you are willing to be Turned. I know, there is that immortality thing again. However, what would you do to protect and keep your lover happy? Immortality, here you come.

Good luck and happy hunting!
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Show Me Don't Tell Me How-To


Writers hear those words frequently, but rarely will the phrase be accompanied with an example.

One of my favorite sayings is "Keep it simple." I am sure you've heard it spoken.

I am going to write an example of Show me, don't tell me and do my best to keep it simple.

Here is my Tell me.

Jonathan stood at the edge of the cliff and peered into the valley. A spark of light caught his attention. The light came from the end of a scope mounted on a rifle held by the sniper he tried to escape. He knew if he could sneak up on the man, he might disarm him and become the hunter.


He nearly fell, but did not and dropped to a ledge below where he crouched, found an animal trail, and carefully made his way down to the floor of the valley. The sniper must have heard him or saw him, and approached warily.

Jonathan drew his own gun and when he thought the sniper was close enough, stood and shot him.

Now, here is my Show me.


His foot slipped, sending loose rocks tumbling over the cliff. Jonathan waved his arms frantically, as he began to fall. Movement about two-hundred feet below him that seemed in reaction to his stumble, flashed like a mirror's reflection.

He groaned as his elbow hit the rocky surface, as his fingers dug in scrabbling to stop his fall.

Damn sniper, he thought as he heard a rifle's report, and felt his legs dangle over the edge.

Rock shattered around his face, sent razor splinters into his left forearm. He cried out in pain, but refused to quit, refused to die.

Finally he stabilized, but instead of pulling up, he lowered himself down, nearly panting with fear, knowing the next shot might be the last sound he heard.

After a quick glance, he saw a ledge covered with boulders and let go of the cliff, dropped fast and hard. He hit, rolled, and collided with a huge stone that hid him from the sniper.

"Hope you think you killed me," he muttered, crept around the end of the boulder, and spied a narrow goat path that wound downward.

After examining his wounds and deciding they were superficial, Jonathan low-crawled to the start of the path. A glance down showed him that the terrain would offer him shelter with an occasional opening that might leave him vulnerable if the sniper saw him as he crossed it.

He painfully crab-walked the first one hundred fifty feet, stopped before crossing an open area, searched for his adversary, did not see him, and then stood and ran. His ankle twisted as he neared the bottom, as his foot landed on loose stones. Jonathan threw out his arms, stopping his fall, and knew he was safely down.

However, he heard approaching footsteps. They sounded steady and determined. Reaching behind him, his fingers fumbled with the hold-down, forced open the snap and lifted out the short barrel .38 he carried in a waist holster.

Waiting, holding his breath, Jonathan braced for confrontation. Stones tumbled about ten feet to his left. He flipped off the safety, stood, and blindly fired three shots.

Two echoed off stone. The third hit something soft sounding as if the bullet had passed through water.

He heard a loud clatter, a heavy boneless thud, and then silence. Jonathan held his handgun in front of him, walked over and looked down on the sniper's corpse. The arteries on the right side of his neck pulsed out the last of the snipers blood.

Jonathan kicked the scoped rifle aside, and sat on the nearest large stone with a flat surface, and ran his hands through his thinning brown hair allowing his heart to slow before phoning for help.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How-To-Write a story from conception to completion

I begin with a mental image.

Rule number one for me. Let the image write the story. I do not force it, or attempt to direct its flow. If I am stuck, I will stop and find something else to do. The story will usually pull me back.

The following example began when a misplaced sheet of paper in my office grabbed my attention. As I walked past, I saw the color red and printed words.

In my mind, this developed into an image of a sheet of white paper in a drawer with writing or printing on the paper and a red smear that appeared to be a fingerprint.

The paper could’ve been from any source. The printing or words might’ve been a note, a message, or something else. The red might’ve been lipstick, strawberry jam, or something ominous like blood.

I like ominous best.

At first, I considered that the drawer was in a desk, and then moved it to a nightstand.

The printing on the paper became hotel letterhead.

Now, it was used hotel stationary in a nightstand. This was a beginning, but lacked tension.

The red could be lipstick, but then it runs the risk of cliché. It could be paint, which sounds terribly mundane. It could be jam left by a child‘s fingers.

Hmm, a missing child? Something to consider.

By that point, I had what I felt were two workable plot ideas. Since I really enjoy mysteries, be it murder or horror, blood won out.

Therefore, I now had hotel stationary in a bedside nightstand with a smear of blood along one edge.

What I needed then were people. Otherwise, no one found it, and no one cared that the paper was in the drawer.

I decided that a couple would work best. You can adjust gender according to how the plot develops. For my first attempt, I went with husband and wife. The wife finds the paper, and this is the initial result.

~
She walked towards the bedroom doorway. As she passed the bed, the slightly opened drawer in her husband's nightstand caught her attention. Curious as to what she saw, she stopped as she was about to step into the hallway and returned. Since her husband was normally somewhat secretive, she felt a quiver of trepidation as she reached for the small brass knob.

A glance over her shoulder told her that the bathroom door was closed, yet she still felt the need for caution.

As she turned away, deciding whether she should look or leave, she saw her reflection in the mirror over her dark oak dresser. The frown pinching her thin blonde eyebrows into steep arches changed her mind. She couldn't understand exactly why, and decided she would think about that later.

Once she heard the shower running, she cautiously opened the nightstand drawer, lifted out a sheet of hotel stationary with what she believed was a lipstick stain on the edge.

Pain lanced her heart, but when she held the paper under the light, she realized that the red smear was blood. Hesitantly, she touched the surface. The stain felt slightly sticky as if it had not dried completely.

The water shut off. She dropped the paper in the drawer, closed it completely and lay back on her side of the bed with her eyes closed while she wondered if he'd gotten a paper cut, and if not, how the blood came to be on the paper.

She could not recall seeing any cuts on his fingers or hands, but since he'd just returned from a business trip, climbing into bed at 5 am, she had not had the opportunity to look with the light on.

~
That takes care of the beginning and the basic plot foundation. Except there is an important element missing, plausibility.

A story must be plausible from the first sentence. Break the flow of plausibility and the story collapses.

In this example, I now asked, "Why would her husband bring hotel stationary with a smear of blood on it home and place the paper in his bedside drawer?" Of course, we know he is secretive, and believes the drawer is private.

The solution could be one of several. However, I decided to add, “printed across the middle of the page, she read a day, time, and location (in the actual story, I'd use a real day, time and place, which can be fictional).”

One more consideration. What I've written of the actual story so far can be "fleshed out" using the protagonist's five senses. The wife is my protagonist.

Here is an example:

Quickly, she lifted the paper to her nose, intentionally staying away from the blood. What she smelled was not what she expected. The odor seemed masculine, not feminine like perfume, and was not the familiar scent she knew belonged to her husband. As she moved the paper, the odor of blood confirmed her worst suspicion. What did he do? She wondered feeling a flutter of fear stir in her chest.

Using this technique, the 289 words I've written of the story, can become four hundred or more, but never overdo description. If your protagonist is walking or driving through a town or city, go easy on the travelogue, unless you are trying to write a fictional guidebook, which already sounds non-fictional.

Too much descriptive narrative becomes an obvious attempt to add to the word count. You will not fool your readers. Keep your characters anchored in place with just enough detail, but always remember it’s the plot and characterization (action and reaction) that tells the story.

The wife in my example faces a conundrum. Should she confront her husband? Should she follow him or be certain she is at the location and well hidden when he arrives for his rendezvous?

She's not about to call the police and perhaps feels nervous about confrontation. That might produce an unwanted result, like his denial, or even anger that she looked at his private papers. We know he is secretive.

In my opinion, her logical choice is to do nothing or be on site when he arrives to meet the man who wrote the note. We also know she is curious, so it is quite plausible that she will spy on him to assuage her concern.

The writer now has several excellent options. The man he meets might assault her husband, or the two men might plan a crime, or discuss how to cover up a crime. The husband might kill the other man. Whichever, the wife will discover that her husband is not the man she believed him to be (character development).

I understand that this is a well-used plot, but that does not mean it cannot be used again as long as the story does not read like any other developed from a similar plot device.

Regardless of how the plot develops, the writer must weave in ideas and clues from the start of the story. Make the blood smear important in the men's discussion. Ultimately, that should help define the story's conclusion.

Finally, the story must end by answering any questions that the plot presented, and add a nice nasty twist if possible.

Next, I'll write a first draft of the story.
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