Writing Prompt Response

Author: The Mostly Distracted Writer

Jack
Sam would be alright. Miss Frye would look after her. After all, she’d told Jack often enough that Sam was just what she’d look for in a kid if she could have her own: clever, artistic, strong willed. Strong willed. Jack ran his fingers through his hair and sighed.

Maybe that’s why she’d dealt with his disappearance with such amazing acceptance. He’d heard her. She’d talk to herself or her dolls while she sat in the trees behind their house. Or she’d talk to him, unaware that he heard every word. She couldn’t know he was beneath her. Dying. Healing. Barely clinging to his own humanity by feeding on worms and rabbits that burrowed too close to him instead of her sweet-smelling blood. She’d talked about her day, school, Miss Frye. But he’d never heard her cry about him being gone.

And now he would be gone. He’d had no idea they would come back. But then Jack hadn’t known that his current accidental existence was a crime and that he needed to be finished off. If he hadn’t lured them away into the forest, they would have found Sam and he’d worked too hard for too long to keep her safe and spared from the horror that was his existence.

There were two of them, though the night they’d murdered his parents and accidently left him to turn there had been three. Jack couldn’t let either of the two go back and report. He’d destroyed them, but not until they’d almost taken him too. He’d scraped and crawled his way into the ground before the sun could turn him to ash. Someone was still out there. So, there was someone for him to hunt. He would take the fight to them.

Sam would be alright.

 

Sam
She stood in her spot amongst the trees and stared at the ground. Sam’s eyes filled with tears as she realised her brother was gone. The two blackened shapes on the ground had faded over the years but she’d always felt Jack’s presence. And she’d always believed that he’d come back to her.

Jack was changed after their parents died, not a real boy anymore, but still good and loving. And he was in trouble. She was sure of it.

Sam nodded, making a decision.

She would find Jack no matter the cost. And she would save him.

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Read to Write: Nevernight

http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780008179991/#sm.0000zksme114kad0nwqdadambmcni

Author: The Mostly Distracted Writer

There is so much to say about Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff, I hardly know where to begin or how to stop from falling into a fan girl state, gushing about how much I love it.

Jay Kristoff is my kind of writer, and the kind of writer I want to be. Someone who seems able to build a whole world with wanton disregard for what people might think or feel about it. A simple case of, “it’s mine; I like it; I’m putting it in.”

The first thing that made me feel this, were the footnotes. They embellish the main story, drawing the reader deeper into the world Jay built (history, minor characters, places, etc.), yet they’re not pivotal to the plot, so you can choose whether you want to read them or not. I read them. I couldn’t help myself. Where there are words, I read. Jay has fun with the footnotes, though, sometimes adding to the plotline or world-building, but also talking to us directly as a narrator, making us a part of the story.

There is something exceedingly confident about the way Nevernight is written that made me believe everything I was taking in. This is one of those stories that will stay with me no matter the books that follow, but more significantly, and invaluably, this book has completely changed the way I feel about writing my own stories.

I write primarily fantasy and science fiction in both short stories and full novels and I’m terrified of completing them to submission status. I worry my characters have no personality and especially that my non-human characters are unbelievable and laughable. Yet I keep writing them. I try to control them and reign them in, but they just won’t be tamed. Jay Kristoff’s characters in Nevernight seem to be the kind that he had no control over either, particularly Mia, the protagonist and guide for our journey through the Republic of Itreya.

It is a world in which magic is real and different powers and skills abide in those who possess them. Notice I didn’t say in those who are lucky enough to possess them. This is because there is a cost for the magic used and it is one of the most interesting aspects of the magic in this story. Not every skill has the same cost for everyone and the magics aren’t common or easily controlled – the cost can be exceptionally high and sometimes gruesome. The plot and characters come together in a uniquely poignant way. You have sacrifice, assassins, deadly stakes and impossible challenges. It’s hard to discuss this in detail without ruining dramatic events or effects so instead I will ask a couple of questions the book triggered within me:
If you could have a magical ability to heal people from deathly injury and deformity, but every time you did it caused you an injury or deformity, would you do it? How about if there was no way for you to be healed in turn? What would this responsibility do to you? How would it mold your character and drive your actions?

Not having built the same magical system as Jay, these questions don’t affect my world, but they do address a very real way in which to approach my characters, the way in which I need to be able to put myself in their shoes, their steps dictated by a very specific set of rules. A set of rules I am free to set out in whatever way I choose, as long as I stay true to them.

Thanks to reading Nevernight, I suddenly feel less afraid of what I am creating. The usual questions of “Will people like it? Is this too much? Is this character even likable?” are gone. I have found a renewed sense of resolve to finish what I started. The rest can come later.

I can’t tell you exactly what it is about Nevernight that inspires this sense of confidence in the process. Perhaps it’s the thoroughness of the world-building that has me convinced. The maps are the first thing inside the book and they’re beautiful. I’ve also already mentioned the multitude of footnotes for the reading aficionado to get lost in the history and back stories of Nevernight. The story itself, though fast-paced, still leaves plenty of room to breathe, and the characters are deliciously flawed, making them more tangible. Whether one of the above, or a combination of all, the fact remains that Jay’s writing inspires freedom in my own. He doesn’t seem to hold anything back. It is about what you can do, what your story wants to do, who your characters could be and what your crazy writer’s brain can make real or present to anyone anywhere. It’s writing that seemed to demand I stop questioning what people would believe and start forcing them to believe it. My world is something I can share, but not if I try to contain those elements that are unique to it. It’s my world. I built it.

Build your worlds your way.

Writing Prompt Response

(Quick note:  This awesome piece is a contribution from one of my Facebook followers who does not yet have a blog page and wanted to stay anonymous.)
Author: The Mostly Distracted Writer

 

It looked innocent: brown leather, rubber band holding it closed, curling edges and stained pages. It looked like nothing special. But it was worth a hefty bounty to the kid that found it.

And if they were lucky, just maybe save the world.

“Which one?” Patricks asked his partner. Jameson nodded to a handful of desperates. He saw the kid right off. He was the only one smiling.

“Baseball cap?”

Jameson nodded. “He found the journal on the train.”

Unbelievable. He picked up a plastic envelope.

“Baseball cap!” The kid jumped to his feet, a blonde woman watching. Patricks knew the look. The kid would have to leave the back way.

“Tell me about the journal.”

The kid frowned. “Tell you what? I already told that copper. Found it on the train.”

“Did you look in it?”

“Nah. I snatched that thing up and A-lined it here before some wanker jumped me for it.”

Makes sense. He opened the envelope.

“Your pass into a secure lodging, your pass for the next convoy leaving town, and your pass onto the ship for The Colony.” He laid the documents on the table. The kid wept.

“Thanks m…”

But the kid’s words were cut off by screams.

“One of them’s turned.” Jameson said as Patricks swept up the documents and journal and handed them to the kid.

Patricks followed Jameson, the kid between them, out the back as soldiers stormed through the front. The station was compromised; there would be no going back.

They flanked the kid across town to The Wall, curfew sirens blasting because of the station going down.

At Midzone, a barbed wire maze, Hazmat checked the kid’s mouth, eyes and ears before stabbing him with a fat needle connected to a machine that beeped once. All clear.

Hazmat turned to Patricks but he shook his head.

“Me neither.” Jameson said. The kid looked horrified.

“You’re infected?”

“Cops are cops. Someone has to keep things sane until, well, you get that journal to the idiot that lost it so they can save us.” The kid nodded. Hazmat held a thumb up to the top of The Wall and machine guns pointing at them lowered.

The kid turned to them, crying again. “Thanks fellas. Good luck.”

Patricks smiled until the kid vanished inside The Wall.

Then his stomach grumbled.

Dinner would be a bullet.

 

A Piece Only (Date: 14/03/2016)

Author: wordledger

I pull the journal out from under three biographies on my overcrowded bookshelf. It’s been over a decade since the last time I even thought about it, but a woman was writing on the commute to work this morning and it got me thinking. The leather binding is still beautiful, an intricate pattern impressed in soft material. It would’ve cost a fortune, which is partly why I kept it. Another part is the mystery.

I open the cover to read the first entry, but there’s no need; it still makes no sense.

Find me.
I ………… didn’t  …………………….
…… believe …  .
I   …………  disappear,  …………………broken ……….… ………over.

……………………………… memories. ………  … Park, at … ……… of Feb, ……….

 

The journal contains clues, but no indication as to what it’s about.

I look around my study, the books and artworks, the desk, the laptop. There’s no reason to assume the internet holds more answers now than back then, but there is a chance. I place the journal on the desk. It falls open to a page containing a single photo of dirt and a shovel. These are the clues: a few photos throughout the journal, never anything definitive and, sporadically across the pages, words, as though paragraphs have been written and all but a word here or there has been omitted.

The page that always intrigues me the most is right near the end:

I …………………………… kill ……………… chance. ……  my life ………… …………. … packed …………,  ………………………………………………………………. My wounds ………………… healed. ………………… … … even to me, he was  …………. Behind closed doors…………… vehemently …………….
Every ……………………………………, help …  , and …………, …… sincerity………….
I want to believe him, …………………………………………………… doubtful of my motivations.  …………………………………………………………,
watching ………………………………………………… the facts. He was still jealous. ………………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………  I couldn’t be sure ………………………………  he needed me to need him, ……………………………………………
…………………in  ……………………………………………… traffic …………… I said I was leaving …………….…………………………………………………………… I devised this plan ………………………………………………… with the instructions to find me  …………………………………………………………………………………………………  

when him and I ………………………………………………… broke the pieces of my whereabouts apart   …………………………………………………………  and each other ………………………………………………….

With love,
Libby

 

I drop every word into the search bar, obsession sinking its teeth in. I dig deeper, scan the photographs and try an image search. Hours (or days) later I’m still at it. Then the most random link-to-a-link-to-another-link-to-an-obscure-footnote-to-a-vague-looking-other-link suddenly lands me on a page of pieces.

About nine years ago, six journals surfaced, each containing different words, different images, or headings to photos not there, but in my book. Words to fill gaps in my paragraphs. Seven pieces to the puzzle of a single journal. Seven people. Six friends. One stranger unaccounted for: Me.

I look at the first entry again, words falling into place.

 

Find me.

I wish I didn’t have to do this.
Do not believe him.
I needed to disappear, believing I wasn’t broken and my life not over.

Find me at the tree of our best memories. Duncan Park, at noon on the 5th of Feb, 2009.

.

I sit back. Unmoving. Silent.

I’m seven years too late.

Read to Write: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: wordledger

There are few books out there that pack a punch quite like this one. The possibility of it all, the plausibility. There are small moments only, in which the severity of it can’t be fathomed.

Dystopian tales are everywhere these days. They’ve been around for decades, centuries even, but were arguably kicked off in earnest for our generation with The Hunger Games.  The Handmaid’s Tale  was published several decades earlier, and yet I feel it is an immensely important read – both for me as a writer and as a human being.

How do you control a gender?  One method that has been around for millennia is the guise of protection. Or the removal of education. Money.

oswolf

How do you change a society, a culture, all at once and to the extreme? How do you write something contrary to what is known and lived, turning a strong, able-minded, thinking being into a passive follower? For those of us (women) living in the western world, we have rights, we have education. We can largely protect ourselves, make our own money and attain whatever luxuries or freedoms we may want. And yet, the possibility this book represents doesn’t seem outrageous, impossible or even unthinkable. The Handmaid’s Tale is immensely compelling, brilliant and terrifying.

It’s a dystopia, yes, but unlike other dystopian tales I’ve read of late,  The Handmaid’s Tale presents something immediately plausible. And as such, I think it’s an excellent example of just how impressive and effective a dystopian tale can be. They don’t need to be literary works of art, though this one certainly is. They just need to take something familiar to illuminate something sinister currently present in our society.

ww_q2

There are two questions I believe are critical to dystopian writing:

  • What do we need to survive?
  • How do we currently use or squander it?

There are so many ways in which the Handmaid’s Tale flays our current existence and demonstrates how tenuous our struggles have been, how small our victories, and how fragile our stance. We live forever on a knife’s edge, we revel in it, and a writer has the beautiful opportunity to play with what might happen if we were to tip over the edge.

So do it. Play with what can be. Take something crucial, or seemingly crucial, out of existence and see where it leads you. Dystopian tales offer commentary on our society in a far more illustrative way than other genres. If civilisation, or the illusion thereof, remains, but the foundations of what enabled it are lost, what then?

The Handmaid’s Tale inspired in me a need to explore these questions further. It may well do the same for you. If this is something you’re already contemplating, I strongly encourage you to read this book and find the nuances that make this protagonist and her situation so distressing. Answering the need for a changed perspective, one that is at once familiar and completely foreign, is one of the sincerest and most distinct requirements for a significant, fathomable dystopia. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

 

Other dystopian tales I enjoyed:

Read to Write: Spark

Author: wordledger

I found this one particularly hard to dissect beyond the usual scope of reading to write. Young adult (YA) stories often presents an interesting conundrum. I’ve often heard the argument that they are easier, more simplistic, escapism at its least challenging. I’ve also heard YA novels compared to burgers – superficially satisfying and delightful, but over quickly and without stimulation. And, while I by no means think this is true for all YA, I also believe that, unless you have an innate talent (in which case, I totally hate you) to get the formula just right, creating a YA burger is an extremely challenging task.

For one thing, a lot of YA fiction pretends to be easy. It pretends to lack complexity. Getting it just right, so that the pace drags you along, the writing captivates you, the characters matter to you, the story seems individualistic and the words match the situation … YA is everything world-building and plot demands from fiction / fantasy / sci-fi / literature / crime / thrillers / etc. but it has to be accessible and simple. You need to be able to believe the characters are both more mature than your average teenager, while still maintaining that distinctly teenaged air. Everything they feel, they feel to the extreme and more often than not, for the first time. Everywhere they go, it’s either a treat, trespass, or oversight due to neglect. Teenagers are constantly skirting the line between being unable to see the big picture, needing to make mistakes, and their actions defining the rest of their lives. And as a writer, it’s your job to enhance and extrapolate on all of the above.

I feel Spark managed this, for the most part. I’m still a little tentative on the romance, but I’m willing to wait to see what happens. The main reason I thought it’s a good focus for a Read to Write, is because it demands a lot of additional information.

Like most sci-fi works, there’s science beyond what we currently know, or slightly altered from what we currently know. And, inherent in this, is the need to inform the reader of where the science is from and what it means for the wider population.

Reading the reviews on Spark, this is one area in which the book might have needed some work. There seem to be a lot of readers who were confused by what was happening and became lost in all the explanations. I didn’t really find this myself, but having read the book, I can well understand why some did. With world-building, this is the eternal risk. You are always trying to strike the balance between giving enough information at the right time so readers aren’t confused, don’t become overwhelmed, and also don’t get bored or bogged down by an info dump. As a YA tale, this balance is harder to achieve. Spark in particular is a complex tale delving into the possibilities within genetics and the possible effects of manipulated gene in humans. On top of that it has a complex plot riddled with intrigue and conspiracies. There are readers who were confused by these complexities and felt they didn’t get the information they needed to understand what was happening. As a writer, how would you have improved on it? What would you have done differently, or when would you have brought certain bits of information forward?

There are still some things that remain unknown. I have questions and they are part of what makes me look forward to reading the next installment. But in writing my own YA sci-fi or fantasy, dystopian or historical novel, I definitely feel this balance is worth investigating further, and reading Spark with the intention of finding where more information might have been needed, and how it could have been presented, could well be a starting point.

Let the man come

Image SourceAuthor: wordledger

Sometimes, the story begins before you take up your part in it. This was such a time.

I nursed you, watched over you. Cried with you. You were always going to cry, you were barely two months old. And I … well, I’d been told this was my life now. The child I’d had before was gone and you would be my little penny.

I wish I knew what happened to the man who brought me to you. If he’d had the gall to stay around for five moments more, he might have heard my desperation, the notes of my despair. He might have heard my despising you. I cannot forgive it. I had a child. A little one. And I’ve heard it all before. One turnip is as good as any other, but for the fact that you were never mine. I was nursing you until I wasn’t, waiting until the man would come back for you once more. I had no say in any part of it.

Or so they thought. So they would like to think, those that take and displace, moving one controlled life into another.

And here, with you, they relied on a mother’s instinct. A woman’s nurturing nature. But they defined my child’s life. And to define is such a luxury. This is the choice that was not granted me.

Let the man come. It is done.